20 June 2015: Personal & Profane–50 Years of Verse

Personal and profane

Cecil’s poems are like the multiverse wonders of music and paintings, songs and parts of great speeches. They often provide deep insights, inspiration and even ignite people’s conscience into action.
– Anwar Fazal, Director, Right Livelihood College”

Cecil Rajendra’s free verse compositions have been likened to music, songs and ballads. This is not surprising – as the energy of poetry – often combined with music has, for the longest time, been widely harnessed as a popular tool for social and political messages and activism. Names like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Mahmoud Darwish are synonymous with anti-war and civil rights protest movements. Like them, Rajendra has, through his numerous outpourings, stoked the flames of controversy and inspired countless debates – all of which have earned him an equal number of bouquets and brickbats. Comments heaped upon the poet and his poetry run the gamut from “a conscience for the country” and “a great heart expressing compassion”to “subversive, seditious and anti-national”. Suffice to say that there is little room in Rajendra’s fiery passion for the indifferent fence sitter – you either love him or loathe him.

Like Janus, the Roman god that is depicted with two opposite faces, Personal & Profane: 50 Years of Verse is a double-sided ‘greatest hits’ album of selected poems celebrating the fiftieth year since since Rajendra’s debut Embryo. As implied in the title, the collected works are neatly cleaved along a fissure into antipodean halves. A good example of his ‘iconoclastic and irreverent’ approach to conventional dogma can be found in a poem from Profane, entitled If Only Our Prophets Were Women:

If only our prophets were women
the Herstory of our world
would have been so different…
for starters, we would have been
bequeathed Universal Motherhood
not bloody Brotherhood or Martyrhood.


Rajendra describes himself as “a lawyer by profession but a poet by compulsion” and has been writing poems since the age of 11 when he discovered the works of Tagore and Omar Khayyam. He has since gone on to publish 22 other collections, and his poems have appeared in over 50 countries and translated into numerous languages. In 2005, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.