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Updated: December 20, 2009 17:41 IST

Farewell Dilip bhai

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Deep, intense and moving: Dilip Chitre's work left an indelible impression. Photo: R. Ragu
Deep, intense and moving: Dilip Chitre's work left an indelible impression. Photo: R. Ragu

Remembering a personal relationship with poet-translator Dilip Chitre who passed away recently.

Undoubtedly the passing away of Dilip Chitre, poet, translator, filmmaker, teacher, mentor, artist and most importantly humanist is an irreparable loss in the world of poetry and letters.

Noted for his work from the time he published his first collection of Marathi poetry, Kavita in 1960 Chitre straddled the world of Marathi and English poetry like a colossus, doing along the way many wonderful projects that coloured his world view and broadened his bandwidth of fans, followers and ‘groupies' as they are now called.


To be fluent and followed in both languages was indeed something this influential bilingual poet himself thought deeply about and said of it. “A bilingual writer's literary orientation is assumed to be like the erotic orientation of a bisexual – dangerously ambiguous and oblique. Somehow, on either side of the language divide, one's loyalty to one's audience is held suspect”. This, however, was not the case with him since in both worlds he and his work were regarded with great respect.

Dilip was also interested in films. His movie “Godam” and then a series of short films on poets are also the first of their kind. He painted too and recently held a show with great success where many well known artists bought his work. Then there was also a deep abiding interest in the mytho- religious and cultural landscape of Maharashtra. Tukaram, the 17{+t}{+h} Century Marathi mystic, was the inspiration for one of his most loved and famous translation projects called Says Tuka. It won him the Sahitya Akademi Award for translation in 1994. Coincidentally it was the year he won the Sahitya Akademi Award for poetry as well for his first volume of three, of his collected Marathi poems called Ekoon Kavita.

My encounters with Dilip bhai, as I chose to respectfully call him, occurred in recent times and were few. However, they left an indelible impression and created a rare intimacy. I felt privileged. He arrived in Chennai in August 2007 for a reading and discussion of his translation of Namdeo Dhasal, the Dalit poet's work. In a luminous evening of reading, talking about Dhasal with noted Mumbai playwright Ramu Ramanathan, Dilip bhai made Dhasal's world come alive for the audience. Conversation followed, deep, intense and moving. In Pune later that year at a conference, I dropped in for lunch and spent an entire afternoon getting to know the story of his life and times.

Frank and honest about the personal daemons he encountered, the way he ingested grief and then excavated it from the deep regions of his psyche were, for me, a window into the workings of his art and craft but mostly the sharing of an adventure on the journey of life. He was most ably supported by his wife Vijaya (Viju), who gave up an art career to nurture and support his.

Doors of coincidences open and shut/Therefore we met and behind us/All doors disappeared…. We remained together…./Supportless, surprised we held each other's hands/That remained in our hands…… life was over!(“Doors of Coincidence Open and Shut” Dilip Chitre)


He advised me on poets to invite to the Poetry with Prakriti Festival and friends to meet who would in turn inspire me. Prominent amongst these were G.N. Devy and his work in Gujarat with his alternative university, reminisces of Ebrahim Alkazi in the old days and J. Swaminathan of the Bhopal Bharat Bhavan.

In the winter of 2008 he came as the star senior poet at the Poetry with Prakriti Festival and stayed a few days in my home in Chennai and established a rapport with my family. We planned his art exhibition and other collaborative projects. Since he left I had not had much news until last month when I called his wife for some poems for an anthology that we were putting together. That is when she told me of his failing health.

Something in her voice made me anxious and a week later I was with them in Pune. We had lunch. Dilip bhai would sit up for a few moments chat in incandescent passages and lie down from exhaustion. We made plans again… Of exhibitions, book in translation, travel to his friend's farm in Portugal, he talked of the light there! He reminisced again about his role in setting up Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, knowing the German Indologist Gunther Sontheimier and also Anne Feldhaus. His wife made him autograph a small poem book she had published of his encounter with a German poet/artiste at Somavati Amavasya (no moon monday) held by the Karha. I opened it again after I heard of his death. Strange words, premonitory, given in trust to me, a poetic summa.

“This is not about light but the lightness of one's last breath/This is not about the dark but the moment of seeing it all./This is not about death but the memory of the beginning/Or the beginning of memory and structured time./The prosody death dictates holds between its bars/The delicate flow of every felt ripple,/The shiver in the spine, the lightning in the brain,/The pain that shatters windows and brings down the door/At which we stood for a lifetime.”

Dilip Chitre died here on a No Moon Monday/In a cloud of turmeric dust.

The writer is the curator of the Poetry with Prakriti Festival.


Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012



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