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The art of imagining

More than just a poet Dilip Chitre  

COIMBATORE: It’s always interesting to read the work of poets who show ease and expertise in more than one language.

Not just poets, writers in general. I am fascinated by how Junot Diaz, weaves his Dominican heritage into his fabulous writing.

There are expressions and experiences that populate the pages that are alien to the non-native eye. But you don’t need to know the customs to appreciate the emotion. I marvel at writers like that. Who can create an elegant turn of phrase in more ways than one. Cue the poet of the week.

Dilip Chitre is known not only for his English poetry but also for his work in Marathi. Or is it the other way around? It doesn’t matter; the fact remains that he was a bi-lingual writer, painter, critic, and filmmaker whose reputation overshadows his demise in 2009.

His work is read, admired and discussed. His scripts and documentaries are appreciated. His awards speak of a career well-known and valued.

It is not a stretch of the imagination to accept that his dual sensibilities inform his creative work. The dialect is an integral part of who the poet was.

His career took shape with his work in a Marathi magazine, he was one of the major influences in the ‘little magazine movement’ in Marathi, and along with Arun Kolatkar and Ramesh Samarth, he created a magazine devoted entirely to poetry. Imagine that!

Dilip Chitre’s poetry has a distinct style and beguilingly simplistic words. His writing is sparse, his imagery, immense. Even the titles of his collections, fill the mind with pictures: ‘No-Moon Monday On The River Karha’, ‘Travelling in a Cage’, ‘Ambulance Ride.’

A poem that’s often mentioned from his vast repertoire of work is, ‘Father Returning Home.’ Time seems to slow down, grow sluggish, muggy as the poem progresses. The father stands among silent commuters, is unseeing of the world going by, his clothes are not in the best of shape.

“…his bag stuffed with books is falling apart./His eyes dimmed by age/fade homeward through the humid monsoon night./Now I can see him getting off the train/Like a word dropped from a long sentence.” A word dropped from a long sentence. The old man is no longer part of the train journey and his space is filled up by others, other things.

Even at home, the father is not galvanised into comfortable rest. He drinks weak tea, eats a stale chapatti, reads a book. In the bathroom, he contemplates, “ Man’s estrangement from a man-made world.” Dilip Chitre says, “ He will now go to sleep/Listening to the static on the radio, dreaming/Of his ancestors and grandchildren, thinking/Of nomads entering a subcontinent through a narrow pass.

The utter loneliness of the father’s life perhaps stems from this line: “ His sullen children have often refused to share/Jokes and secrets with him.” Left bereft, the father contemplates the distance and dreams of better days.

Could the ‘pass’ be geographical? It would appear so, but it may also be the return of the children, seizing a window of opportunity to be a family again.

The poet’s father is representative too, of the many Mumbaites who have settled in the massive city, having left behind their people and their lands. Their pangs of homesickness are well depicted in the poem.

The poem is a dull yellow. It colours everything in the work and represents the twilight of the father’s life. Things are faded, discoloured, shabby.

Eyes see and unsee the slow eroding of reality. The creation of a deep and deeply felt atmosphere is where the true remarkableness of this poem lies.

The city of Bombay suffuses so much of Dilip Chitre’s work. In ‘Ode to Bombay,’ the poet dismantles the city’s “crowded tenements and meditating machines.”

I walk out of murders and riots/I fall out of smouldering biographies/I sleep on a bed of burning languages/Sending you up in your essential fire and smoke,” he says.

Another favourite poem is ‘At Midnight in the Bakery at the Corner.’ The fragrance of bread and butter-biscuits being baked evokes a host of memories in the poet’s mind. Childhood friends and a game of carrom. Alcohol and friends who’ve migrated to the Gulf. A willing woman and the poet’s own reluctance.

When the bread develops its sponge, the smell/Of the entire building fills my nostrils.

The past has come to stay, brought home by simple, irresistible nostalgia.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 11:46:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/dilip-chitres-poetry/article7641765.ece

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