Pritish Nandy revisits memories of collaborating with Kamala Das, as Manu Parekh's paintings breathe freshness into 'Tonight, This Savage Rite'
Kamala Das and Pritish Nandy came together to pen their thoughts on celebration of love. The result was Tonight, This Savage Rite (TTSR), first published in 1979. Three decades passed by and Pritish Nandy had taken a long sabbatical from poetry ever since he turned full-time journalist and then a film-maker. When Nandy returned to poetry with Again in 2010, Harper Collins urged him to revisit TTSR. The memorable poems remained untouched but the book acquired a contemporary look with the new design by Nandy's daughter Ishita and a fresh set of drawings by Manu Parekh. In an interview, Pritish Nandy speaks about his book, poetry and Kamala Das. Excerpts:
Manu Parekh's paintings have added a new dimension to Tonight, This Savage Rite. How did his association come about?
It struck me that it may be a good idea to change the artist and redesign the book to make it look more contemporary. So Manu Parekh replaced Gopal Sanyal and Ishita redesigned the entire look of the book. As a result, bingo! we have a book that looks, feels, reads very today. Manu understands my poetry and has worked with me earlier. So the collaboration gives the book not only a more contemporary feel but also a new cutting edge.
You have known Manu Parekh's work for years. Did that familiarity help in this collaboration?
Yes, Manu and I have known each other from my Kolkata days. So there is a familiarity with each other's work. In any case, the drawings are not illustrations to the book. They work along with the poems to convey the passion, power and magic of the imagery. There is a rare integration that has taken place. I enjoyed the experience. It is rare that a book of poems resurrects after three decades. I must thank Krishan Chopra of Harper Collins who encouraged me to rethink the book in a new form.
Were you tempted to pen more poems for the new version?
I was tempted, yes. But I also felt that may disturb the integrity of the original manuscript. I would have possibly added more poems if Kamala Das was around to add more poems of hers as well. Then we could have jointly reworked the manuscript together preserving its original texture and tenor. To do it alone, post her passing away, would have been unfair. So I kept it the way it was.
From the 70s to now, the idea of love and romance has changed. Your views on love then and now?
The ideology of love certainly changes with every new generation. What remains constant however is its sense of immediacy, its passion. That's why sexuality plays such an important role in poetry and literature. If you read Lorca today, you will feel the same intensity of love and deep sexuality when he talks of The Unfaithful Wife. It's the ultimate poem about faithlessness and love. The amazing, all powerful passion that drives us all to infidelity. On the other hand, if you read Jibanananda Das, you will rediscover the purity, the magic of love that a poem like Banalata Sen encapsulates. It captures the truly eternal quality about love and the sheer lyricism of the poem's imagery takes you across time and history, creating an unforgettable experience that only great poetry can offer.
If you penned poems on love and longing today, would it remain the same?
No. There are some poems of love and longing in my new book of poems, Again. But they are very different. In form, treatment, style. Even in approach. I guess people change over the years and their writing reflects that change. Poetry, being autobiographical in nature, reflects that change even more. You are constantly dipping into your life to find images, experiences, feelings to articulate what you set out to say. So, as you change, so does your poetry.
You returned to poetry after a gap of 25 years with ‘Again' in 2010. Did you have to reinvent yourself to reach out to the present generation?
That's a difficult question to answer. I don't think I have reinvented myself. But yes, I have changed. So has my poetry. The flamboyance of language has been replaced by a more austere and brittle style. I am perhaps still searching for the answers from life that I once sought but the search is different, the anxiety is less, the language is quieter, the intensity is less obvious and yet more heightened. I often try to understand the change but I always end up ignoring it and moving on. After all, life is a constant quest for meaning to things that are actually meaningless. Ask Dr. Faustus if you don't believe me.
What are your memories of collaborating with Kamala Das in the 70s?
Kamala was undoubtedly the first major woman poet in English we produced. She brought a magic of her own to poetry and created a presence that no one else, and certainly no woman, had till then. She wrote being a woman, about being in love, about sex, desire, infidelity. And she wrote with rare honesty. That's what set her apart and made her who she was. One of the best poets of her generation.
Will we see more of you as a writer?
I hope so. I keep writing all the time. But it's only when I feel confident of what I have written that I publish it. I am doing a very unusual book of poems, again for Harper Collins, and I hope to finish it soon. It exploits an unusual format that's very contemporary. With a little bit of luck, it could bring young people back to poetry. There was a time when everyone I knew read, quoted and loved poetry. Poetry books occupied the pride of place in a bookshop. There were poetry albums that outsold music. Like Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas. My own Lonesong Street did incredible numbers. I see no reason why we can't get back there one day.