Mysticism in the Poetry of Gopi Kottoor

by Umar Nizarudeen

Gopi Kottoor is a poet from Kerala, who writes mostly in English. He has won the All India poetry contest of the All India Poetry Society, multiple times. In the poetry of Gopi Kottoor can be found a curious amalgamation of sophisticated sentiment and rustic devotion. The depths of romance that the poet mines owe much to the efflorescence of that religion of love-bhakti, in early modern India. No other modern Indian English poet has brought the energies of Krishna Bhakti and naked devotion into the urbane romantic idiom of love. This transmogrification has been achieved through the catalyst that is the persona of the poet, who sets out in soft pursuit of poetic love. The affective valences evoked by the poetry of Gopi Kottoor produce an ethical stream in which the linguistic alterity of English as a foreign/colonizing language melts away. One is reminded of Raja Rao’s dictum, `one has to express in a language that is not one’s own a spirit that is one’s’. Thus the reappropriation of the oriental spirit is achieved through a tri-partite process.

The story of the `Transposed Heads’, as adapted by Hesse from the Indic Kathasarithsagara is complicated by the further reterritorialization of the same in the `Hayavadana’ of Girish Karnad. Thus an Indian work was adapted and deterritorialized by the occident which again was reterritorialized in Karnad’s magisterial play on the same theme. This process of deterritorialization followed by reterritorialization can be seen in other instances also: Buddhism which was effaced by Sankara advaita is again reterritorialized in the corpus of Bhakti literature.

Gopi Kottoor’s poetry bears eloquent testimony to the spirit of the Bhakti movement. The Indic idiom that was appropriated/deterritorialized by the orientalist writers, is again reterritorialized in his oeuvre.

In `The Waters of the Ganges’, the poet writes:

` Have these waters of the Gangesbeen flowing down the memoryfor small change?In these wet bones I see the winterof a dead man’s eyes, he could havesailed my blood.Have these ghats burnt their dead in waste?Ashes blow the air, fall in the eye

of the spread peacock featherssearching first rainas the boat drifts ashore,A white flower floating on the wateris a translucence of God.

The river Ganges becomes a character effortlessly in the Anthropocene, a tragic reminder of the non-righteous times of the Kaliyuga. The floating bodies and the boat evoke the effervescent bubbles of superficial emanations on the surface of the eternally undulating `maya’.

In his poem `The White Spider’ the poet writes, “ She has grace, and  is Miss Beautiful/

As she spreads her beauty in white mat/Upon the orchid flowers./

Her blue eyes are  dark roses,/Bred in sky breeding among the white clouds./

She knows she is beautiful,/That she won’t scare you/letting you get near her.

Her web knows the art/Of turning diamonds into morning dew’.

The poet here ironically invokes the misogynist predilections of much of modernist as well as classical poetry. The spider is a wonderful image that harks back to Paul Bowles’ `The Spiders’ House’ which itself is an allusion to the Holy Quran.

In a love poem, titled Glass, Kottoor unabashedly writes of the precarity of affect in the contemporary:We tell each other/it must never crack/that’s why you blow the sand bubbles so light/like your first time kisses./that’s why you wash it/beautiful in the river./like your tears that mirrored all our love./let the glass be,/let the glass be,/ so that its crystal flowers will look/like love looks/as though it is born never to die,/but we know when love dies, don’t we/though we don’t tell each other/

The object reality of love and its fleeting nature are induced through the painterly portrait of glass. The effect is uncanny since the reader of the poem is interpellated into the ephemerality of a transient moment. You unwittingly witness a private moment.

In the poem titled `In Waiting’ the poet says: `


`One among them in waiting,

Helps her with a red winter coat,

And she disappears into the fog,

Having won the night and all its dead stars.


Then the lights go down  in the ocean,

Gently, one by one,

Leaving all the poets to wonder.’

-Gopi Kottoor, In Waiting


The slight misogynist allusion to the feminine mystique reminds you of the Bengali poet Jibanananda Das’ poem `Banalata Sen, which also uses images from the maritime ecosystem.

Kottoor, like senior Malayalam poet K.Satchidanandan walks along the righteous path of poetry, which is the easiest-that of love. The erotic and the romantic are fused into one single affective quality of bare protoplasmic love in the oeuvre of Kottoor.

About the Author:

Umar Nizarudeen is with the University of Calicut, India. He has a Ph.D. in Bhakti Studies from the Centre for English Studies in JNU, New Delhi. His poems and articles have been published in Vayavya, Muse India, Culture Cafe Journal of the British Library, The Hindu, The New Indian Express, The Bombay Review,  The Madras Courier, FemAsia, Sabrang India,  India Gazette London, Ibex Press Year’s Best Selection, and also broadcast by the All India Radio.

One Comment

  1. Jayachandran Ramachandran

    A masterly review of a master-poet’s work.