Aesthetics Of Madness
Nabanipa Bhattacharjee
EATING GOD: A BOOK OF BHAKTI POETRY by Arundhathi Subramaniam Penguin Books India, 2017, 287 pp., 599
April 2017, volume 41, No 4

The moment Arundhathi Subra- maniam’s book came to my hands I was reminded of a song and a story. The song, composed by the eighteenth century Bengali Bhakti (Sakta) saint-poet Ramprasad Sen, is themed around the act of devouring the Goddess Kali (the opening words are: Ebar Kali tomay khabo ….) by Ramprasad, her ardent devotee.

Cut to another space and time, and there is this story of Salvador Dali and his wife Gala eating their beloved pet rabbit; while Dali vomited, Gala, having devoured her loved one, turned ecstatic. ‘For her’, writes Milan Kundera narrating the story in Immortality, ‘there existed no more perfect fulfilment of love than eating the beloved’.

The expression and experience of intense love is indeed deeply connected with the desire (and threat) to eat, metaphorically or otherwise, the loved (O)ne. Bhakti, as Subramaniam notes in the comprehensive and dazzling editorial introduction to the two hundred odd translated poems collected in the volume, is about this kind of mad, all-consuming prem or (devotional) love. Bhakti is a human ache, a throb demanding the merger of bodies, the ‘exchange of blood’ and ‘total embrace’ as Joan Miro famously opines, complete possession, and finally, transcendental bliss. In Subramaniam’s words it is a ‘throb that demands everything—all that ever was and ever will be, all that is here and now, and all that is before and beyond …. This is a throb … that … blurs the … divide between the sacred and the profane …. It … demands union and annihilation, love and liberation, ecstasy and extinction, more and no more ….’ It invokes Eros and Thanatos in the same breath as if they were one and the same.

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