Review: Satyapal Anand in “A Vagrant Mirror”

In Shakespeare’s language, if world is a stage, Satyapal Anand is an amazing performer on this stage who is constantly narrating mythologies, philosophies and human mysteries to his mesmerized, captive audience. With a vagrant mirror in his hand, he is showing them a real face.

Title:                        A Vagrant Mirror

Poet:                        Satyapal Anand

Publisher:             Trafford Publishing, Bloomington, Indiana, U.S.

Year:                        December, 2, 2011

Contents:              70 Poems, 125 Pages

Pick any Urdu literary magazine and chances are you will find a poem or two by Stayapal Anand in it. For half a century or so,he has been writing Urdu poetry with a distinctive style and substance that separate him from other contemporary Urdu poets.

Standing tall with the stalwarts of Urdu poetry who mastered in the poetic form of Nazm (as opposed to Ghazal) such as Noon Meem Rashid, Meeraji, Gulzar, Saqi Farooqi, Kishwar Naheed, Majeed Amjad and Vazir Agha, Satyapal has become a household name in Urdu literature.

As an Urdu poet, he brings mysterious phenomena and deep philosophical notions of the forgotten past into his contemporary world. He lives in the world of mankind’s mythological past, narrating Roman, Greek and Hindu folklore and connecting them to his own era. He discovers centuries-old myths, defines them and then re-discovers them in his own century. By doing this, he tears them apart, exposes their contradictions, and makes a sense out of them within a new context.

In his poem, “Mater Amoris,” inspired by one of his Urdu poems, he goes back to the myth of Adam and Eve in an attempt to grasp an unending trial of human violence. In the stunning opening a female serpent gives birth to tiny snakes and swallows them up while some of them disappear in the grass. Then the poem compares it to Eve who was taught the mystery of sexual procreation by Satan in the guise of a serpent. Eve, after giving birth to Cane and Abel, mercifully spares them to live. However, by doing so she was never able to stop violence as one of them later kills the other.

In the end the poem beautifully connects human brutality to today’s violence:

Was mater amorist’s love that saved them?

Why didn’t she act like today’s snake mom?

We don’t know but what’s happening is

Here missed chance (not devouring her two sons)

Has made every Cane kill every Abel

(Vice Versa, too?)

Lately, after writing in Urdu for a pretty long period, he has been writing English poetry and already has published five collections to his credit: “If Winter Comes”, “Sunset Strands”, “The Dream Weaver” and “A Vagrant Mirror.” These include both translations, which he calls trans-creation, of his Urdu Nazms, and original English poems. Earlier he also published English translation of Urdu poems on Buddha, titled “One Hundred Buddhas.” With images of 40 Buddha icons chosen from different parts of Asia, including Pakistan, the book has been hailed by critics as ‘Once-in-a-life-time book’.

Unlike his reputation as a narrator of myths and deep folklores, “A Vagrant Mirror” includes mostly his subjective deliberations on the external world, convolutions of life and death, human relations and his reflections on how he understands the mystery of life and death.

I Am Not a Right Angled Triangle” reveals the circle of life and death through the poet’s own life which is not static like a triangle which can be mathematically measured.

I am not that triangle

I am the fully rounded moon

Waning gradually, I wane through

Till I am invisible

But then when I raise anew

Once again I will be whole, a full moon.

He further explores the same circle within the contexts of continuing life from father to his son. Holding his newly born son in his arms he calls the little one his killer in the poem “Come My Slayer.” The son as a symbol of life also reminds the coming end as he gets older.

When it will be the noon of your life

I will be doddering old man

Day after when you are my age as today

I will be breathing my last.

You my babe, are the first ever reminder

That you will live and I will die.

In the poem “A Vagrant Mirror”, the poet claims to be a mirror himself that shows the town dwellers their real faces which they might have conveniently left somewhere in their past and adopted a new one. He claims:

I am a footloose magical mirror

If I come in front of you

I present to you nothing but

Your true God-given face.

He ends his oration declaring that everyone has a false face and he will show them the real one:

You the weavers of false faces

Come to the street

I stand here and hawk my wares

Many like you are already gathered Queued up to see what

Once upon a time, they really were.

Remember, I ma a mirror

A vagrant but truthful mirror— a poet.

It looks as if the poet is desperately trying to understand himself, his relationship with the people around him, and the mysteries of existence and decay. However, two major themes, intricacies of human relations and the cycle of life and death, surface again and again throughout the volume.

In his lonely nights “Waiting for the Morn” he is in search of his long lost companion and feels her presence in the room:

You are not on my bedside, I know

Yet you weave fingers through my hair

Breathe heavily

Your breath has an anesthetic aroma–


With a baby in his arms, he is trying to comprehend his own journey of life, “I and I”:

I look at my new born baby boy

To discern in his face some token of my own self

Some traces of my face, my features, my eyes

A cipher or two of what I look like


And he even reveals interaction between two strangers, “Quiet-Both of Them,” waiting silently for their flights at the airport:

Both of us were quiet

Both of us were sunk in thoughts

She had heard it all.

I had heard too.

Through the mirror of 70 poems in the book, he is busy addressing his audience through a multiple of techniques of narration, such as soliloquy, colloquy and public eloquence.  In “A Surrealistic Self-Portrait” he talks to himself, in “The Path and I” he communicates with his lonely trail, and in“A Vagrant Mirror” he is addressing his audience.

What kind of poet is Satyapal in terms of his subject matter and style? His poetic discourse might be better comprehended by understanding intellectual and cultural contexts as his poetic inspiration.

Let me clarify first that Satyapal has never been committed to any politically inspired ideological leaning, at least as he appears in his poetic discourse. On the contrary, he denies any association with the once popular intellectual movement of “Progressive Writers” in the South Asian subcontinent. He is neither a postmodernist poet who lives in the 21st century and writes about its monstrous issues, nor a romantic poet who always lives in a dream world of his own.

Although he does believe in divinity of some sort, he does not subscribe to a single faith, religiously. His poetry is full of icons, symbols and metaphors from Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism without a real commitment to their religious indoctrinations. Perhaps his commitment to religion comes from his spiritual renderings and theological idealities, rather than a rigid system of rituals and faith, as I understand it. In this sense he is an all-faith man.

In Shakespeare’s language, if world is a stage, Satyapal Anand is an amazing performer on this stage who is constantly narrating his mythologies, philosophies and human mysteries to his mesmerized, captive audience. With a vagrant mirror in his hand, he is showing them a real face.

After establishing himself as an eminent Urdu poet, Satyapal Anand is trying to rediscover himself as an accomplished English poet and in this volume he seems to be extremely successful in it.

  3 comments for “Review: Satyapal Anand in “A Vagrant Mirror”

    Qazi Naimullah
    March 31, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Surely Satyapal Anand is a great contemporary Urdu poet. His poetry is inspiring and opens eyes to see what we miss to see and visualize we lack to imagine. you said every thing right.

    Khalid Hussain
    April 1, 2012 at 8:42 am

    No doubt about it. What Qazi Naimullah has said, I endorse it. Satyapal Anand’s poetry is different from run-of-the-mill poetry in Urdu. He is dead set against conventional Ghazal poetry. He is of the tribe of Noon Meem Rashid but what a difference. What Rashid could not do was to give a sizable body of poems. A hundred or fewer poems in all, some not worth his own set standard. Dr. Anand has given Urdu something like 600 poems of what 340 have been rendered into English and five books, of which the book under review is one, are a concrete evidence of it. My colleagues in the university tell me that Satyapal Anand can be put alongside the best poets of America. The reviewer has ably brought out the salient features of his poems. I congratulate him.

    Khalid Hussain
    April 1, 2012 at 8:47 am

    I forgot to mention in my previous note that the title poem of the book A Vagrant Mirror I had read in original Urdu under the title “Shehr meiN Ghoomta Aaiena” شہر میں گھومتا آئینہ and it had such profound effect on me that when ever I went out in the street I would stare at other people’s faces to see if they were really wearing a mask. It resulted in some times people getting angry. But…let me see, that the mood lasted for a number of days.

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