In a world filled with intolerance, it sometimes feels there’s little that can be done except be a mute spectator. Poets are, perhaps, more fortunate because they can do something — write poems in response to that world. Their poetry can shake us out of indifference and paralysis, even if through paranoia.
Hemant Divate is one such fortunate poet. His new book of poems, Paranoia, translated from Marathi into English by Mustansir Dalvi, is a mirror reflecting the ruinous society we live in.
The Marathi book, also Paranoia, won Maharashtra’s Kavi Keshavsut Puraskar. The book has four sections, ‘Paranoia’, ‘Life of Purpose’, ‘We are Cursed to Keep Speaking’ and ‘I’ve brought a river with me’. And Divate’s clean, sterile, prose-poetic style is captured brilliantly by Dalvi, also a poet.
Don’t seek comfort in Divate’s poems. You won’t find any. If it is paranoia the poet persona feels, it seeps onto the pages, growing like a shadow, till the reader is stripped of false hope and gripped by panic: at everything that’s slowly taking us to a time we wouldn’t want to live in.
The title poem sets the tone, especially when it says: Being constantly terrified becomes a habit/ An addiction you can never overcome/ Once you are hooked, you’ll never/ Be able to shake it off.
The images in this section are disturbing: a mob of man-eaters that wants to finish off the middle-class, a fascist plan to behead and put an end to the average people of the world. (‘Mubarak’)
But the most haunting poem is ‘Terror’, worthy of being quoted in whole:
The act of writing takes on frightening connotations. And what remains unsaid between the lines makes this the most compelling poem in the book.
Writing and poetry are frequent preoccupations in Divate’s poems. Nothing can be more peaceful than dying while writing poetry, in ‘Death of a Poet’, while in another, the poet’s language and the poet play a game to change the language of the world.
Hanging on to hope
Then, rises the perennial question — what is the job of the poet? In Divate’s universe, it is “to keep speaking” until everyone hears, speaks and sees.
There are many endearing images in this collection, but what stays is a sense of hope, despite the paranoia. There may be terror when the poet sits down to write, but as ‘I’ve brought a river with me’ says, Poems are never orphaned,/ There’s always someone seeking them.
In the chaos that our world is, The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart, as Yeats foretold in ‘The Second Coming’. But despite the slight quibble I have with the proofing errors, it is books like Paranoia that reassure us there will always be room for poetry, even during chaos. Those who write must keep writing, especially when anarchy reigns supreme.
Hemant Divate, trs Mustansir Dalvi
The reviewer is a poet, translator, communications professional and author of C: A Novel and Nine.