Lit for Life

Words from the wild

Manohar Shetty

Manohar Shetty  


Manohar Shetty on why the animal world drives his poetry and his fascination for everything Goa

The animal world throbs with meaning for Manohar Shetty. He writes of fireflies as “flashing streamers” and “wavering lights”, “burning crystals” and “emerald embers”. He pens entire profile poems on rats and peacocks, and finds rhythm and metaphor in the wayward ways of lizards, spiders, cockroaches and pigeons. From his first collection of poetry  A Guarded Space (1981), to  his just-released, seventh collection  Living Room, animals have walked the pages of Manohar’s poems, as beings breathing from the margins of human living, quietly observing, reflecting and commenting on our strange conditions.

Manohar first came to poetry as an undergraduate student of Commerce in the mid-70s in Mumbai. He read the Romantic and Victorian male poets and was “quite bewildered” by the verbosity of their writing. “It was all so remote to me, and seemed feminine almost.” Until he stumbled on Ted Hughes, D.H. Lawrence and Seamus Heaney, that is. “They were early revelations for me,” he says. Here was poetry that was sparse in structure, and minimal in expression, and yet mined vast worlds of meaning.

From here, Manohar went on to absorb the whole plethora of English and Irish modern poets of the 70s and 80s, and began writing his own pieces in the classic modern style of condensed expression. “Sometimes I’m blessed with whole poems,” he says. “They descend within a minute or half an hour in my head; but that’s rare, and happens to you when you’re much younger. These days, my poems take a great deal of re-writing, a long gestation period and a difficult distilling process.” It is also from Hughes that Manohar borrows his penchant for animals — an obsession of “using animal imagery to reflect on a wider world”, which has lasted the four decades of his career.

Sometime in 2013, Manohar woke up one morning and realised just how entrenched animals had been in his writing, though scattered across his body of work. He then collected all the ‘animal poems’ together and thus was born  Creatures Great and Small, (Copper Coin, Delhi), released this year, alongside  Living Room. Besides the recurring animal theme,  Living Room  takes Manohar into newer poetic lands in two sections of poems — Indian English and Play. As a young student in Bombay, Manohar had been nurtured by, and grew long-standing friendships with, the ‘Bombay Poets’ — Adil Jussawalla, Eunice de Souza and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, among many others, all of whom were instrumental in his “shaping spirit”. In this generation was Nissim Ezekiel, who wrote often in ‘Indian English’ — a language infused with colloquialisms and ‘Indianisms’— and mostly considered too politically incorrect for poetry. It is this tradition that Manohar picks up in  Living Room, exploring the ‘heartfelt, evocativeness” of Indian English, in a way he feels hasn’t been done since Ezekiel. And in Play, Manohar writes a series of poems for children. “Neither of these were conscious decisions,” he says, “just unexplored territory I felt ready to venture into.”

Besides poetry, Manohar has also spent his time editing anthologies of fiction and non-fiction about Goa, a State he has lived in for 30 years now, where is wife is from and his children born in. “Although I’m originally Mangalorean, I’m quasi-Goan now,” he laughs.

In the early years of living in his adopted State, Manohar realised that aside from the fun and fenny of tourist brochures, there was a thriving, much-ignored literary culture.  Ferry Crossing — Short Stories from Goa, an anthology he edited, brought to light 27 such tales. And now, Manohar has turned his eye toward travel writing about Goa. Once eulogised as the Rome of the East, and Eldorado, with fascinating travel accounts by famous explorers, Manohar observes that, today, there is a poverty of educated perspectives on Goa, writing that that goes beyond “extolling its tourist virtues”.  Goa Travels, an anthology he edited of such travel writing, was released just last week. 

At Poetry with Prakriti, Manohar reads today at DAV School, Velachery at 11.30 a.m. and tomorrow at WCC at 10 a.m., and at L’Amandier at 7 p.m.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 1:10:33 PM |

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