Thursday, June 25, 2020



Two-Way Mirror
Author: B.S.M. Murty
Publisher: Vagishwari Prakashan

The poem is, for some, what we need to hear—but don’t want to hear.

The poem pours morals all over us.

But forgive me. As a critic, I’ve already ruined everything, defining morals as some vague, liquid, cure-all which we don’t want.

This poem by B.S.M. Murty, the third poem in his just published, elegant book, Two Way Mirror, demonstrates how not to ruin everything:


    Forgiveness is a blessing
    A divine Benediction
    That only comes to a heart
    Cleansed by true Repentance

    True Forgiveness comes
    Not from incontrite solicitation
    But from earning it the hard way
    Through sustained Repentance

    It will only enter into a heart
    Purified by overflowing Lovingkindness

The poem is the best device for admonishment and punishment—it comes from the wise, but we receive it alone, and anonymously, so our pride is intact; the punishment costs little, and the admonishment is over in a few moments, and, far from the clutter and confusion and ego of life, it gives us a simple truth.

As a critic, we pass over “Forgiveness” in silence; “Forgiveness” has no image, no rhyme; we cannot say anything about it. Why should we? To the poet, to the readers, and to the truth of the poem, we would only look like a fool.

There are some poems which cannot be reviewed.

Most poets don’t dare admonish the reader.

Here’s what most ingratiating poets do. You all know them. They say: Let me flatter the reader and tell them what they want to hear: that I am a rogue, exactly like them; oh and here’s a story for them anyone might tell at night after a few drinks. You’ve read countless poems like this, and if read aloud in public, this kind of poem always gets a burst of relieved laughter and applause.

B.S.M Murty is not such a poet.

B.S.M Murty is a student of Edgar Allan Poe.

Beauty—impersonal beauty—is the flip side of Murty’s truth which does not flatter.

This is also from Two-Way Mirror. They are the first lines we meet in the book:

    You cannot have the aura alone.
    A bright clear smile must be
    On a soft-swaying anemone
    In the heart of a darkening sea.

These lines, from “The Aura,” are more beautiful than what most poets write—you know these poets, the poets who never tell a truth or a moral, but laugh and confuse us, or, like those Instagram flatterers, say: if there is a truth, it is only you, reader, and only what you feel.

You will never get easy advice from B.S.M. Murty.

In our deep pride, we would turn away, If someone, in person, were to tell us to be a better person.

So the reader hopes the poem will be the medium to anonymously and delicately impart what he or she will otherwise be too proud to hear.

And if there is beauty also, we have two reasons to celebrate.

We are happy to report that this double splendor is accessible in the work of B.S.M. Murty.

But now, in “The Pitcher,” we have a third type of poem. Once the poet establishes himself in the first two—moral poetry and poetry which is beautiful—the muse may grant him a completely different kind of poem, which uses a voice, seeking answers among his fellows:

    I am an earthen pitcher
    Lying in a pitcher-maker’s backyard.
    As I look around, I find many pitchers
    Lying around me, some of them
    Have their necks broken.
    Others appear misshapen.
    Hardly any are perfect in shape.

    I get worried about myself:
    Am I all well made?
    Free from all defects?
    Round and sound in shape?
    How can I see myself?
    They are all looking at me?
    Am I in good shape?
    Is nothing wrong with me?
    How do I know?
    Who can tell me?
    Only the pitcher maker perhaps.

In the social arena, among his peers, the wise poet loses confidence, asking a host of questions.

But the wisdom is not absent, as we see in the sly modesty of the last line: “Only the pitcher maker perhaps.”

Questions do not indicate a lack of wisdom; questioning is the default setting of any gathering; no one can read minds; no one, no matter how wise, is not given to wondering (“How can I see myself”). The good individual and the healthy society are full of questions.

And so B.S.M. Murty, the wise poet, triumphs in the third type of poem.

How many types of poems are there?

We can’t forget the ‘immersion’ poem, which transports the reader to a familiar, yet strange place, enfolding one in the atmosphere of a reality one can taste—and the mere words of the poet have put you there.

We find examples of this kind of poetry in Two-Way Mirror, as well:

    The Jetty

    Dusk sat
    At the dark stairs of death.
    The jetty lay still
    In the black tranquility.
    The sound of wing-flap
    Amid the leaves unquivering
    Three dogs dancing blackly
    Vanishing and reappearing

    The path from the Temple
    Led it to the Pavilion of Death
    Where a ray of prayer
    Lay prostrate begging for
    Love and life.
    Beneath the porch
    Behind the library
    Once upon a time not so dark
    In the harsh glare
    Of a 100 watt electric bulb
    It was torn
    To be torn again
    And again ad infinitum.

“The Jetty” takes the reader into the abyss pleasantly. Anything a reviewer might say about “The Jetty’s” “black tranquility” and “sound of wing-flap” would not do this poem justice; this reader can only stand in silence before this higher order of poetry.

We get many kinds of poems in Two-Way Mirror, including happy hymns to the gods, and this poem, whose philosophy is so white-hot, pure, and rare, we wonder whether this may not be the burning flame in the mind of the poet which creates all his poems:


    My presence is in my absence;
    In my being, my cessation.
    I am because I am not.
    I am not because I am.
    All you know, you don’t know.
    You only see what you don’t see,
    Hear what is not audible,
    Touch what is ephemeral,
    Smell only the deja vu.

    I am untruth
    The whole untruth,
    And nothing but the untruth.

    Yes, I am all, I’m everything.
    Because I am nothing at all.

    Whoever says there is no God
    Knows not, because God Is;
    Because his ‘isnotness’
    Is impossible to prove,
    Because what you don’t see
    Or believe, also Is.

    The invisible
    The inaudible
    The untouchable
    Is the whole reality.

This poem almost scorches us with its philosophy; we shut the door on its boiler room heat.

But there are many rooms in Two-Way Mirror.  Some are loud and small; some are wide and airy.

Have I forgotten to tell you there are also first-person poems in which the poet experiences life in hope and whimsy?

In “Ganapati,” the poet has anguishing writer’s block—and the elephant deity comes to his rescue, surprising him by stroking the poet’s back with his trunk.

And there are poems where wisdom is applied to contemporary social matters.

    Technology today
    Is like an all-enveloping smog
    Creating a choking pollution
    That it seeks to wipe out
    But which is slowly
    Strangling itself.

We get illusions of the common folk, and hints of Marxism.

B.S.M. Murty moves from philosophical priest, to kindly father, to humble poet, to religious devotee, to political priest, surprisingly quickly.

We don’t find rancor and irritation in Two-Way Mirror. We don’t say this to praise Murty for being nice.  Some of the greatest poets were full of hate. The major poets know all the emotions, and put every emotion with a mood and every mood with a thought and every thought with a poem.

Two-Way Mirror is that unusual book where the author (in fulfilling the prophecy of the title of his book) is looking at you as you look at him.

As soon as you think he is one thing, he is another.  You think you see him, but you do not.

There is no escape from B.S.M Murty.

Aesthetically, this is a good thing, even if it may cause a bit of social discomfort.

Murty often comes across as a kindly professor, but this is not even close to all that he is.

In “Patriotism On Sleeves!” he sings the praises of the salt of the earth of India, but before that, he puts things in perspective:

    Is a Cinema Hall—nowadays in Multiplexes—
    the fittest place to make it mandatory
    for the big-money viewers to stand up
    in respect as the National Anthem
    plays on for fifty four seconds
    before the film show begins?
    (The film will have plenty of noisy
    hip-swinging, lovey-doveying,
    and comical fighting to absurdity.)
    Will that be OK there?

    Yes—why not, because all
    the nouveau riche in our society,
    spending their thousands over tickets
    for their family & friends,
    assemble there only
    to while away their time
    munching vigorously
    on peppered popcorns
    or swilling with slurps
    their cans of Coke—
    they are the people enjoying fruits
    of their ill-begotten wealth,
    living off the misery and poverty
    of the common people

Perspective, perspective.  Murty understands perspective. He has prepared the ground—and now when he praises the patriotism of the poor, wearing patriotism “on their sleeves,” even as India’s poor do not have “sleeves” because they can’t afford them, well now you’ve got a poem.

In finding things we like, we are afraid we will end up quoting the whole book.

If you want love poetry, there are few love poems as passionate as the following:

    My Old Love

    I took her in my arms, my old Love
    Now withered and shriveled
    Her bones brittle, coming unstuck
    Her spine bent with decrepitude
    Scarcely breathing, almost senseless
    Dead in my arms? I wondered awhile
    And put my ear on her once-charming
    Unheaving, perspiring bosom

    It felt snowy cold and motionless
    She had left me alas, alone and forlorn
    I fell into a swoon. She was gone.
    Was she to be wrapped in a shroud
    Laid down into a wooden coffin
    Down into a grave to be dug

    All my ocular nerves were awash with tears
    Ringing with a melancholy music
    The final moment of bodily separation was come
    She had to be buried into earth
    ‘Dust thou art, to dust returnest’
    Said the poet singing his psalm

    But my soul cried, she was a mummy
    Let her remain a mummy

    Rather than bury her to be eaten by worms
    Keep her by your bedside, on a hallowed shelf

    Drape her in her bridal clothes
    And let her be a memento mori
    For she will then outlive you
    Lying on that shelf of eternal memory
    To be remembered even while
    You are forgotten.

This harrowing song of self-effacement smashes love even as it builds it; it is hyper-Romanticism before Romanticism is even born.

“My Old Love” is more melancholy than even the masterpieces of medieval German melancholy.

Poems like this guarantee B.S.M. Murty’s immortality.

Two-Way Mirror may also be seen as a deck of prophetic playing cards—not prophecy, exactly; truths which are true forever; look at this startling poem:

    The Mask

    Who are these people
    Who surround me
    At this late hour
    With their faces masked

    In weird grimaces
    Ogling with green, glinting eyes
    Their bat-ears protruding wide
    Swaddled under their dark cloaks

    In their hairy nakedness
    I seem to know them
    Each one of them
    At one point of time

    Beyond the present
    In the labyrinths of the past
    I have often seen them
    Lurking in dark alleys

    Peering into half-shut windows
    Mumbling cabbalistic syllables
    Scratching their pubes
    Spitting out venom

    Singed by their own flames
    Of pride, envy and hatred
    Burning to ashes
    To nothing.

“The Mask” glows with the metallurgic fury of Dante.

And look at this poem.

We know there are millions of sports metaphors.

Here’s the best one, perhaps; from Murty’s “The Football; a humbling observation which really does sum up life:

    Football is a game
    Where the football
    Runs always faster
    Than the footballer […]

Two-Way Mirror finishes with this stanza, as the plain-speaking, melancholy, lynx-eyed, theme rings its knell.

The grateful, wise, but obedient, poet bids us adieu:


    You’re my will-power.
    The more you stay with me
    The more power I’ll have
    To fight the darkening despair
    Which keeps surrounding
    Me terribly.

The humane, selfless, and gracious professor returns, at page 100, giving us a long (65 pages) encore performance—notable Hindi poems translated into English.

The translations have the same high quality as Murty’s poems, and feature a sensual masterpiece by Suryakant Tripathi (“The Joohi Bud”); the lovely “Seadusk” by Nalin Vilochan Sharma; “The Boatman” and “The Etcher,” revealing the singular genius of, Ram Gopal Sharma; political poems by Dharmveer Bharati and Ramdhari Singh Dinkar; and many poems by Kedarnath Singh, evoking his uncanny wisdom—the spookiness of simplicity, symbolic and uncanny, using material from simple nature, including the entrancing “Tiger Poems;” translations by Murty of nine poets in all.

The notes which follow the translations are informative and interesting.

Two-Way Mirror by B.S.M. Murty is a wise, holy—and literary—treasure.

                                                    Thomas Graves
                                                     Editor, Blog Scarriet
                                                     Professor, Lesley University, cambridge, MA (US)


Salem, MA 6/19/20

The book is available on (also soon in US by arrangement). Or contact : Mob. 7752922938 / 7985017549