Three books of poetry leave Gopikrishnan Kottoor reflecting on the difference between poet and pretender.

Elephant Bathing is the first of two books of poems by Anand Thakore published this year. The poems, with a spread of themes varying from the general to the specific, are classified under distinct subheads. In some of the poems, such as “Negotiating Negativity on the Western Ghats”, Anand shows his ability to turn the familiar into the novel: “I long more strongly for the fog to come down, covering in a single length of shroud, the bright greens it wrapped in shrouds of grey.”

The poem “Elephant Bathing” emerges successful with adroitly carved imagery: “A great lone tusker taking the plunge, his vast grey bulk sinking below the river line against the clear black sky, till there is no more of him to see than a single tusk white as a quarter moon in mid July before the coming of a cloud.”

But this is also the kind of skill Anand misses to come up with in other poems such as “Dead at your Mother’s Funeral”, “Ghazal”, or “Tusker Kills Mahout at Religious Festival”, and they go down sans the desired poetic effect.

Where Anand ruminates on major themes of character (Kunti reminiscences, Dhritarastra laments, Karna on giving up armour), they too end up like anybody’s passing thoughts without the required poetic lift.

In “Apostrophe to a Fondue Pot” Anand goes on like a local politician given a mike, who cannot make a distinction between what is relevant and what is not. Another painful chore is the unnecessary refrain in many of the poems. Poems such as “Dream Catcher”, “Punching Bag”, and “Wind Chime” speak intimately to the reader and remind us `of early Brian Patten. Anand’s successful poems, with their devotion to the senses and reach for feeling, give the impression of a calm glide.

Melodic background

Anand’s second book, Mughal Sequence comes with recital in a CD against a background of soulful classical music. This book probes side events in the lives of some of the Great Mughals, Babur, his daughter Gulbadan (the rose body princess), her brother Humayun, and her nephew, Akbar, who has an unorthodox attitude to religion from his boyhood days. The poem “Koh-i-noor” on the famed diamond, that brought only misfortune to those who held it, is an impressive one, (though it drags a bit with too many “too many”s in the narration). The poem ends with the powerful lines “Return me to the mines, carry me back to the dark that scorned me”.

The other poems in the collection, though beset with themes of grandeur, appear overdrawn. The poem “Babur, After The Victory Of Khanua” is about the emperor’s taste for marihuana (majoon), following which he orders his wine to be wasted and the casks filled with lemonade. The occasion has a theme built around pleasure zones, providing ample opportunities for Anand to excel with his creativity. What could have been made eminently exceptional, however, falls in the manner of mere narration by statements. For all his splashing around, Anand leaves us wishing for much more in terms of craft, precision, and éclat.

In “Dancing Girl”, Anand convincingly enters his character and portrays her persona with feeling. Once Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi’s beloved concubine, the dancing girl is gifted by his vanquisher Babur to one of his begums as a trivial object. The narration by the emperor’s adornment turned to ravished slave, who must let “these lissome shoulders ripple, these elbows lengthen to floating stems, these fingers blossom to moonstruck lotuses” at the begum’s command, is touching.

Between Flower And Flame by Manas Bakshi, has page for page line sketches by Debabrata Chakrabarti. Both the reader and the poet’s artist are at a loss to find any worthwhile poems in the collection. Very often the artist appears confused, and his far-fetched sketches look meaningless as they fail to align or sync with the contents. Had the poet been younger, he could have been excused on grounds of being juvenile.

There are two issues to deal with when you work with poetry. There is sublime poetry in your hands when something you read touches you, moves, surprises or allures, and holds you in its unnamed power without quite letting you go. Then there’s the issue of the pretender, or poetaster with his oddities and gimmicks that look good for the moment, but cannot last. This is not to dishearten those who must keep trying, because it is important to keep the faith, and faith moves mountains. But there is no use pretending, because Time works like the paramhans or the supreme swan separating truth from delusion, especially so with poetry, classically regarded as art of the highest order.

Elephant Bathing and Mughal Sequence; Anand Thakore (2012), published by Poetrywala.

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