Back in the fold of music and poetry

A look at a few whose works make one happy to be back dealing with poetry again

November 07, 2015 04:53 pm | Updated 04:53 pm IST

Anand Thakore reading from 'Elephant Bathing'.

Anand Thakore reading from 'Elephant Bathing'.

Good to be away from the clamour and drama of writers versus the Akademi and the farce of being called intolerant by sections whose fringe groups have bumped off three respected rationalists, including M.M. Kalburgi.

Nice to be with music and poetry again. If anyone blends the two in himself it is Anand Thakore. I wonder how some writers, musicians and painters have light and shadow sketched over their horoscopes, a mixed chiaroscuro landscape of brittle fame and more substantial anonymity.

I am thinking of two Mumbai poets, Thakore and Menka Shivdasani. Schooled in the U.K. and Cathedral School, Bombay, Thakore is a Hindustani classical vocalist trained under his guru, Satyasheel Pande. (In music and dance, gurus come first. Most Bombay poets were mentored by Nissim Ezekiel or, over half a gallon of liquor, by Dom Moraes. But there is a big difference in mentoring. We will leave it at that.) Thakore has to his credit a number of khayal compositions under the pseudonym Shabadpiya (lover of shabad ).

His first book, Elephant Bathing , was a corker. The poem “Nineteen Forty Two” where he interweaves a family’s history with national events, should find a place in our better anthologies. Mother in jail, a strict father who forbids the use of Gujarati in the house, “a coarse unmusical purely functional tongue”, the son at seven befriends “ the frets of an old sitar,/urging the strings to embrace desertion,/conjuring a lost void, till they are taut with images .” Only a classical vocalist can think of images on sitar strings, and you follow the poem till the last note billows out “ like a windy tent ”.

There is a section on Mahabharata poems, but the luminous image that lingers in memory is the bathing elephant’s tusk above the river-line, “ white as a quarter-moon ”.

His second book, Mughal Sequence , consisting of five voices from Mogul history, Babur moving from wine to Majun, bhang ; Humayun singing of loss, “ My fall from power shall be an Act of praise ” and talking about books and an observatory rather than battle; Gulbadan, Akbar’s aunt chastising him lovingly for his errant ways: “ When we left Agra,/a loud celebration had just been held in his halls/commemorating the birth/of a little blue thief who played the flute/Born, the natives tell us, to save the world./There was frenzied clanging of cymbals/A beating of drums, dancing/And feverish recital of demonic incantations .” Thakore is now working on “Seven Deaths and a Scroll” starting with a long poem on a Buddhist monk “ caught in the blizzard of images that spin like prayer wheels ” where he immolates himself.

Menka Shivdasani started with her first book, Nirvana at Ten Rupees , in 1990. Then she went into a long silence that lasted till 2001 when Stet was published. The book starts with the “Atheist’s Confessions”, who believed in rose petals when thirteen, “ and ate Prasad only after bath ” but “ At fourteen my purse was slashed/in the temple crowds/the gods no longer smiled/when I prayed./They couldn’t. They were idols of stone .”

Fifteen, and the Beatles became my gods. I grew heady on chanel 25, ate fish fingers between sips of gin .”

In another poem she says, “I am looking for god.” But she doesn’t like the stone one (too hard), wooden ones (they catch fire), metal ones (they get rusted). She ends the poem by saying “ God died of indigestion ” because of the raw rice devotees gave him.

Safe House , her last book, has come out this year, a slim volume brought out by Poetrywala Publishers. Instead of straight attacks against violence on women and such matters, whimsy and imagination take over. A poem starts with “ let’s build a waterfall ”. In “Bird Poem” she finds the key doesn’t fit the padlock, turns into air and squeezes through the keyhole., leaving her other selves outside, “ the nomad with her fraying suitcase ”, and the “ Devil woman/with her lacerated/tail .” She finds some rusty wings, makes friends with the birds, and is happy leaving the jostling women behind.

Poetry and the culinary arts come to her naturally. “ It’s time to break the kitchen/take your fires elsewhere,/watch time and space curl up/and waft out through the windows .”

Indu Mallah, poet and literary critic from Ootacamand, has just published her first volume, B(r)oken Moon . Her book is a “mosaic of emotional seasons.” As she says in a poem, “ Intellectuals, help yourself to intelligence/Give me intuition instead .” She finds Zen a “ Raga of echoes and silences ” — how beautifully put. Nuanced emotion is her forte, not the political poems like “Ruthless in Gaza” or 26/11, which are just straight (angry) statements that may not interest the real poetry lover.

I have said elsewhere, the world to her is a living organism: “ If a butterfly flutters its wings in Brazil/ An earthquake occurs in Ethiopia .” Like some women writers she has a poem on her mother tongue: “ I do not write in my mother tongue/I only feel in it/I only dream in it ...”

Keki N. Daruwalla is a poet and short story writer.

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