Summary and analysis of K. Satchidanandan’s ‘Stammer’ (Vikku), a nice little poem on poetry, language, and life.
K. Satchidanandan’s ‘Stammer’ is a beautiful poem that amazes the readers with its delightful ease of expression. The poem is presented as a series of half-humorous musings on stammering. With wonderful facility, the poet makes stammer the key to an exploration of the imperfections that mark the mettle of the human kind.
The poem opens with a paradoxical assertion that challenges all our notions of stammer. The poet says that stammer is not a handicap. It is only a mode of speech. Then he moves on to justify this statement.
There is a well-known story about the late Indian Communist leader EMS Namboodiripad, who was prone to stuttering. A reporter once asked EMS if he always stammered. “No, only when I speak, ” replied EMS, leaving the reporter dumbstruck.
Well, those who knew EMS will always remember him as a man who never stammered in action. As the poem progresses, the readers are reminded that stammering may not be confined to speech alone. It can also be in action. Here the poet compares stammering in speech to lameness in walking. Lameness is a stammering in action and stammering is a lameness in speech. Both involve a gap or a silence in between. It seems very clear which one is more serious: if stammering is the silence that falls between the word and its meaning, lameness is the silence that falls between the word and the deed. When there is a disparity between the word and the deed, it becomes stammering in action.
Now that stammer has become a synonym for all the imperfections in speech and action, the poet moves on to the nature and cause of stammer. He wonders whether stammer preceded language or succeeded it. Another question is whether stammer is a language or a dialect only. These are paradoxical questions that may confuse even linguists. But if stammer stands for imperfections, it is built into the fabric of human beings. Thus it becomes a language rather than a dialect. And it should have preceded language.
Having given stammer a universal dimension, the poet now proceeds to look into the cause of human imperfections. Here Satchidanandan rolls out his world view that we are living in an imperfect world created by an imperfect God. There are two notions that are basic to almost every religion on this earth. One is that God is perfect; and the other is that God created man in His likeness. These notions taken together lead to a pertinent question: ‘Then why are human beings imperfect?’ If we think the other way round, God too must be imperfect. We don’t sacrifice any defective things to God because He is the perfect one. If God Himself is imperfect, what can be a better sacrifice to God than our imperfections? Each time we stammer, we prove that we are the children of God and offer sacrifice to him. It is rather these imperfections that prove again and again that we are human beings.
Now, there is no doubt as to whether stammer is a language or a dialect. When a whole people stammer it becomes more than a language. It becomes a mother tongue, just as it is with us now. The tongue-in-cheek satire here is unmistakable. While he underlines the universal nature of imperfections, the poet also pokes fun at our reactions to burning social issues. Why do we hesitate? Why do we stammer when it needs action on our part? Why this dangerous silence and inaction? Still we consider mere stammering in speech a handicap!
When do we stammer? We stammer in speech when we do not know if we are going to say the right thing. We stammer in action if we are not sure that we are going to do the right thing. So God too must have stammered when He created man. What else could He do while creating an imperfect creature and entrusting this world with him? The stammer of the Creator has got into his creation and that is why we all stammer today. That is why we do not have convictions. That is why we speak one thing and mean another thing. That is why all our commands and prayers suffer from a lack of conviction. That is why we stammer. Where stammer is the rule rather than the exception, and where there are graver stammers than the stammering in speech, is stammer really a handicap?
The story of stammer doesn’t end here. The story of stammer is the story of creation. God created man. Man too became a creator when he created language. The poet too is a creator. Imperfection runs through life, language, and poetry. If language were perfect there would be a definite meaning to words, just as there would be a definite meaning to life if human beings were perfect. Poetry too suffers from this imperfection, and meanings differ with each reader and each reading. That is why the poem ends, ‘like poetry’.
But these different meanings of a word, or the different meanings of a poem, cannot be treated as handicaps. They add charm to language and poetry. And in life, can you imagine a world where everyone is perfect? A world with a definite single meaning to life? Without these little imperfections, life would suffer from a great monotony. These imperfections, these differences, are actually the spice of life.
Now, what do you say? Is stammer really a handicap?
Analysis of the poem: The poem brings together life, language, and literature and shows the reader how imperfections run through all three. As the reader begins to fill the silences in the poem that the poet has deliberately left, he realizes how stammer has become his own mother tongue. At the same time these different meanings that arise from these silences add variety and charm – not only to poetry, but also to life.
The poet makes effective use of the word ‘meaning’ at different places. The meanings of the word range from the meaning of a word, to purpose and intention, and again to the ultimate meaning of life. Writing poetry also involves a search for the ultimate meaning. But the poet doesn’t hide his self-mockery and admits that what he can create is only stammer. But it is a mode of speech where silence also becomes meaningful. One has to read between the lines and fill in the gaps to comprehend the glamour of stammer.
Thus ‘Stammer’ becomes a masterpiece where the form and the theme become one, as life, language, and poetry join together in a search for the perfect meaning, which is absent.