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Book Review: L.S. Rathore’s ‘Romance Over Coffee’

By Nishi Pulugurtha

A new addition to the world of poetry is L.S. Rathore’s collection of poetry, Romance Over Coffee. Fabulously mounted on glossy paper with photographs, the volume consists of quite a number of poems that are arranged into three sections – ‘The Coffee Kingdom,’ ‘Preludes to Bollywood Classics – Music’s Bower’ and ‘Poetic Out-pourings’. In his foreword to the volume, the poet, critic and translator, Jaydeep Sarangi describes the poems as narratives that speak of “identity, roots, life-spring, dreams, passions” and also notes that they are “explorations of human relationships.”

Much larger than poetry volumes usually seen and read, Romance over Coffee brings various images and ideas together to speak of themes and subjects that cover the entire range of human life. The first poem in the volume, “MDL’s Coffee” is a long poem that speaks of the hot beverage in terms that bring in various references to it, to all the various associations the beverage has, good and bad. There is a matter-of-factness in the lines as he speaks about various notions that one has with coffee.

Does coffee really possess
At least half the virtue
Of which it always boasts.

The first section of the volume, “The Coffee Kingdom” has a number of poems that are centred around the beverage – “Rosy Coffee,” Fresh Beverage,” Cupid’s Coffee,” “The Sizzling Coffee,” “The Miracle of a Coffee Sip,” “A Coffee Affair,” to name a few. Sitting with a cup, the speaker in “The Miracle of a Coffee Sip” is reminded of the passage of time – “The clock ticking away brutally reminds us/ Of our mortality and pleasures’ evanescence.”

What is interesting about the poems in the volume is that many of them have Hindi titles like the poem “Tota-Myena” with no explanation of it given. Using the common use of the idea of the love of the parrot and mynah, the poem speaks of their steadfastness in love and how separation causes pain. “Chanda and Chakor” belongs to the same category and speaks of the moon and the owl who epitomize true love in the North Indian imagination. Poems which use these and such North Indian idioms, speak primarily of love, of relationships that have withstood the test of time, of Radha and Krishna and the love they epitomize.

The second section consists of poems that are inspired by Hindi film songs, most of them popular numbers that most of us hum and sing along as they play on. The contents section gives us the name of the song that inspired, of the lyricist who wrote them and the films they feature in. The titles of his poems are the same as the songs that inspired him to write the poem and hence they are in Hindi. Here, too, Rathore does not provide any explanations as to their meanings.

The poems in this section are like an ode to the film songs and the films they are part of. Some of them begin as literal translations of the lyrics but then soon move on to describe the setting and scenario of the song in the film. Some of them situate the song in the context of the film itself. There are some that narrate the story of the film in brief. There are some where he refers to the actors in the film too. The title of each of the poems in this section is followed by the name of the film in brackets. Here too he uses Hindi/Urdu words in the poems offering no translation of them.

She glides slowly and rhythmically
Whirling like a Dervish ecstatically.

Written in a simple poetic idiom that makes the poems easy to read, the poems lack complexity. However, the poems reveal a sensitivity that the simple idiom conveys very well. There are references to Greek mythology in some of the poems. In “Mile Do Badan”, he refers to Orpheus and his music. The stray dog that he refers to in the poem “reminded me of Cereberus/ The dog which guarded the gates of hell.”

The third and final section of the poem, “Poetic Out-pourings” has small poems that the poet refers to as “Banter,” “Limerick,” “Lullaby,” “Protest”. However, humour that is an important feature of the limerick is missing. It is as if Rathore is using them as merely titles to his poem and not the form itself. The rest of the poems in this section are poems which speak of sensitivity to nature and natural phenomenon, of hope and longing, of the personal and the social. In “Razia” he speaks of the “The story goes back to the times medieval/ When people would revere a minstrel.” This poem that is inspired by Razia Sultana, the ruler of Delhi in the 13th century, speaks of qualities of the empress, qualities which marked her as very different from others:

A captivating princess appeared wearing a crown
Her face reflected divine glory and not a single frown.

“Winning Rosalind’s Heart” harks back to Shakespeare’s As You Like It and speaks of the basic idea of the play to talk about the nature of love. The poem ends with a reference to the speaker’s own love for his ideal woman. “The Bard’s Wish” also recollects Shakespeare and brings in reference to his poetic art. The poem refers to Shakespeare’s sonnets which speak so wonderfully about love. “Welcome Home” brings in references to T.S. Eliot and Chaucer.

Rathore’s poetry draws on the everyday, to emotions and feelings that are real and perceptive, to literature, history and Indian myths and stories that have to do chiefly with love. This collection, his first volume of poems, records impressions and facets of lived everyday moments.

Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University and Rabindra Bharati University. Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora, film and Shakespeare adaptation in film. She is a creative writer and writes on travel, Alzheimer’s Disease, film, short stories and poetry. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Café DissensusColdnoonQueen Mob’s Tea House and Setu. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019).


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