An ode Vijay Nambisan, a poet with a schoolboy humour

His caring is in his poems often smeared with schoolboy humour

Updated - August 12, 2017 04:03 pm IST

Published - August 10, 2017 10:49 pm IST

Vijay Nambisan

Vijay Nambisan

It was a literary festival and someone large and important was on the well-lit stage. I turned away and saw Vijay Nambisan (gone today, born 1964, is it possible even?) lurking in the shadows. He was smoking and drinking and giving the white-light space a measure of compassionate attention. I thought of Dom Moraes comparing him and Jeet Thayil to flamingos, ‘birds of colour and elegance’. Dom has called people worse things, I thought.

“I hear you’re translating bhakti poetry?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Who are you translating?”

“Would you know them if I told you their names?” he asked. I shrugged and turned away, thinking, ‘Poor guys, you get stuck with Vijay Nambisan for a translator.’

From behind me, “Puntanam and Melpattur.

I turned and said, “Ah, them.” We laughed together because I liked Vijay, because there are very few poets who are so resolute about not caring about their careers, not caring about self-promotion, not caring about much really. I could never tell whether this was a pose or it was camouflage. Perhaps the answer was to be found in the foreword he wrote for his book of poems, First Infinities (Poetrywala, 2015):

“Too much sensitivity always makes for bad poetry...Too much sensitivity prevents wounds from healing also; and I must therefore thank all our political parties, and prominent national figures, in business, journalism, publishing, the arts, sport and Hindi cinema for contributing to the deadening, the cautery of those tendrils which demand fresh air and love, and peace, in excess. It is a poetical mistake to use abstractions. Let me say, then, that I thank everyone by whose means I have become so accustomed to living in this country, on this planet, that I should be much more a misfit anywhere else.”


The caring was in the poems.

“I would like my poem to be

Like my grandfather’s beard, to be airy

In the lean wind, to look up at the clouds

And laugh.”

(‘Grandfather’s beard.)

But even here it is carefully disguised. It is often smeared over with a schoolboy humour which is often forgiveable because it is so clearly marked as such. There is an observer’s distance between poet and subject and an arm stretches over the gap to make small scratch marks on the wall of poetry. Nuns, puppies, manholes, pills ...the alien and the intimate get the same treatment.

“I am pouring my sorrow into a little cup,

Just to drown the gods in — a libation, nothing more.

And when we are being happy and the roof is on the floor

Someone can reach out and casually drink me up.”

(‘After six drinks’)

Someone did.

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