Books

Lead hesitant light

The lit fest season is upon us. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

The lit fest season is upon us. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras   | Photo Credit: Rohit Jain Paras

Lead hesitant light
Come winter and literary festivals bloom and boom. We never had anything like this in our days. Fests need young voices, young faces, beautiful faces. No one wants bent backbones, wrinkles, a spray of blackheads and warts sprouting from eyelid and cheekbone. Voices must spark, anything staid or tame needs to be blacklisted. And yet, thank God, poetry has not gone pop after that guitarist, yea, got it Bob Dylan, not to be confused with that other Dylan, the Welsh guy — ‘Where once the waters of your face/ spun to my screws’ walah.’

Well, despite wrinkle and wart, I got invited to the Tata Lit Fest — it was almost as diverse and big as Jaipur, without the dust and the hordes of gawkers and onlookers at the JLF. It was a cultural treat, but also a glitzy affair with Shashi Tharoor, Amitav Ghosh, Ramachandra Guha, Gulzar, Mark Tully, the aloof Simon Armitage and Martin Amis, to name a few. Amis... sigh. I picked up his novel Time’s Arrow. He should have called it ‘Sorrow of Reader’. I have struggled through just 60 pages in two flights to Chennai and back. Sixty pages in six hours! It was tabled as a story of a Nazi doctor (Tod T. Friendly) backwards, whatever that may mean. The doc dies, his consciousness separates from the body and starts writing! The doc also comes back to life and both the revenant and his consciousness have affairs with women. It was shortlisted for the Booker. Never read such crap since I read Coelho’s Alchemist.

There was a lovely poetry session at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCP). Ranjit Hoskote was at his towering best. But the sensation was the beautiful Italian poet, Zingonia Zingone. Her translations have been published in Mumbai by the ubiquitous Poetrywala. Bits of her poems get to the reader in spasms. In her book Light, the Temptation, the first poem is all sufi, the divine as the beloved. It goes: Eyes full/ Of your face/ Palms together/ Your voice/ filling my depths/ I love you/ In the mysticism you embody/ The strength of your arm/ Stirs the air/ Embraced I am/ By the morning’s/ Gripping silence/ Never/ A desire as high.

A section called ‘Shadows of filtered light’ starts with the lines:

She didn’t know that

Fractures are everywhere

From the newborn seed

Cracked soil

and ends cleverly with Now she knows No cracks, no light.

Zingone also writes on Nizamuddin and a sufi poem has these fine lines:

Rose’s purity lies in the bud

Not in the spectacle of its petals.

At another poetry reading session at Prithvi Theatre, Tishani Doshi held centrestage, reciting her poems with grace and elan.

Two new books by well-known poets have landed on my table, Jayanta Mahapatra’s Hesitant Light and Bibhu Padhi’s Selected Poems. Mahapatra is one of our finest poets and at 88 seems to be saying a goodbye to the world in his last book. The very first poem is called ‘The Crossing’.

And now should I tie my life

that is being born out of death

for one night , realizing well

that the morning/ already means farewell the living never ask?

Memory and sorrow seem to be the leitmotifs of the volume. And solitude.

I climb down childhood, and see nothing,

no one , no return, no lovely rose light/ that leaps in the far depth of wonderland.

Later in the poem he talks of ‘the slow drip of the sky’s immensity’, how beautifully put. We need to take Mahapatra on his own terms. If he says ‘Old widowed violins of legends/ fill the air with a mute sleepless wailing’, just accept. With Mahapatra you find yourself ‘in their infinities/ of disconsolate dreams, in the unexpected tenderness/ seen at times in the holocausts/ of nature itself.’

One gets the impression he is looking for something dismal to write about. I remember him writing a poem on the miners who died in a flooded mine in Chasnala. Here he writes about the 142 children killed by the Pakistani Taliban on December 16, 2014. In the title poem ‘Hesitant Light’ he recalls a well ‘in which villagers up north/ had found seven corpses in the first light.’ Why must he dig into the dismal and the morbid?

Bibhu Padhi, also from Orissa, has not got his due. He is easily one of the best poets we have, and it is hoped that journals dealing solely with reviewing, bring out before the reader, a life’s work of an established poet. A plaintive note of sadness and nostalgia runs through his oeuvre. A poem on the beating of drums ends thus:

Different sounds prevail now,

lonelier notes of a lifetime of forgetting,

a remembrance of losing things, an afternoon left

behind by the drumbeats of another land, another kind.

In another poem ‘Now Darkness is Falling over Cuttack’, he first speaks of ‘darkness falling on every falling leaf’ and ‘every single line of grass-life’. He moves on in the second stanza to darkness falling on ‘every bright wish and flying bird/every song and singing voice.’ The poem ends with ‘Now darkness is falling, without rest,/ like a slow expanding rain/ like an unceasing invisible dream that plays/ around my eyes and turns around my skin.’ This leaves us with a question. Why are these poets from Orissa (now Odisha) so melancholic?

Keki N. Daruwalla is a poet and novelist.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 7:46:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/Lead-hesitant-light/article16784281.ece

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