Marathi poet Hemant Divate talks about his latest collection translated into English, and his poetry publishing house Poetrywala turning 10 this year
Bought a house, am paying installments
bought a TV, am paying installments
took birth, am paying installments
The parallelism of these
three freshly thought-of lines
gives me the answer to
why I live…
In well-known Marathi poet Hemant Divate’s verses, the lived experiences of today’s globalised times are a thriving presence. The above lines picked from his poem “When Depression Begins” — recently translated into English by Delhi-based poet Sarabjeet Garcha as part of Divate’s poetry collection titled “A Depressing Monotonous Landscape” — are yet another example of this dominant thread of being. A mundane, meaningless life steeped in ennui and surrounded by high rises, shopping malls, traffic, factories and technology competes relentlessly with a craving for nature, the rain, butterflies, vanishing memories of a childhood lived with the bare minimum in a village, in this Mumbai-based poet’s canvas.
Divate, in an email interview, is categorical, however, in stating that he doesn’t think of globalisation as having a paralyzing effect on us. “It has definitely changed our lives. We are economically growing which has resulted in a better life, something we could have never dreamt of. And it has given us a better understanding of our culture, language and heritage. It is like a hard reaction to a hard action. It was always all-embracing. I feel that the poets who have accepted this change with a keen awareness and positivity can stay afloat and produce original and very good poetry and those who have denied its force are seen to be grappling with it.”
Looking at poetry with “a single track mind and therefore always expecting it to be traditional, with no sense of the present attached to it,” upsets Divate. “This leads to a wrong evaluation of poetry and doesn’t do any good to the readers, especially the youth and the students who are exposed to the same old traditional writing through textbooks,” he feels. “A good poem always carries its code in it,” he says, “which enables the reader to decipher it at various levels and from several angles.”
During his initial years, he remembers being “erratically influenced” by romantic and popular poetry “which was most easily available in bookshops and most unfortunately through academic textbooks.” He notes, “Out of my 25 years of writing, it took me a good 10 to 12 years to understand Marathi poetry and carve my own style and language to write the poetry which I firmly believed in.”
If listening to bhajans in temples and at home and to teachers reciting poetry in his village school in Shenva and later in Shahpur made him want to become a poet, shifting to Mumbai and feeling the influence of globalisation in the way he worked and his sense of living, became a definer of his verses. “Thereafter I could write in my language,” he says. The works of eminent poets and writers in Marathi, like B.S. Mardhekar, Vasant Abaji Dahake, Vilas Sarang and those involved in the “little magazine movement” in the State, such as Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar and Namdeo Dhasal, made a huge impact on his thinking. Though this movement in Marathi poetry lost its momentum in the ’70s, Divate points out that in the 1990s young poets like him began searching for their individual voices.
Abhidhanantar, a prominent little magazine in Marathi which Divate edits, gave a platform to poets “to do something different and original” besides bringing out authoritative issues on the likes of Dilip Chitre and Arun Kolatkar. “It was one of the earliest literary magazines in Marathi to recognise and respond creatively to globalisation which was rapidly transforming our lives,” says Divate.
From this poetic journey — and also from his work as a translator — sprouted another initiative called Poetrywala. It is perhaps the country’s only publishing house exclusively for contemporary poetry in various languages today. This year, Poetrywala is turning 10 and Divate is busy preparing for a function in Mumbai on September 21 to mark the occasion.
“In celebration of the vibrant linguistic diversity that the most ancient means of expression has witnessed, poetry will be read on the occasion in Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam, English, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew and Irish,” he says. Poetrywala’s journey began with Dilip Chitre’s translation of Divate’s collection of poems, “Virus Alert”. “Since then, we have brought out more than 45 collections of new and veteran voices in the country and abroad,” he adds.