Literary Shelf

Adil Jussawalla: The Missing Man

of Indian Poetry in English

Born in Mumbai in a Parsi family, Adil Jussawalla spent most of the years between 1957 and 1970 in England where he studied and got schooled to be an architect, tried to write down plays, read and cultivated English at Oxford after teaching at a language school, this is what his oft-quoted biography says it. Again on the journey back home, he taught English at St Xavier’s College between 1972 and 1975 or a short stint before turning and tuning to journalism. An Honorary Fellow at the International Writing Program in Iowa in 1977, Jussawalla participated in several international conferences and festivals. Historicity, individual personality, private reflection, urban space and its thinking, cosmopolitanism and globalism intercept one another to add to his poetic corpus and verve. His historicity takes him to race and its archetypes, identity being one of the Parsi heritage and ethnicity combined with the hollow and sham modernity of the fractured times and age. Adil Jussawalla’s is a study in the missing man and poetic fragmentation and disintegration. Alienated from the myth and mysticism, thought and tradition, idea and image of the land, he sees the things in a different contrast and condition, but instead of the sense of modernity and his cosmopolitan delving, he owes to. To see it otherwise, Adil is the Ekalvya or Karna of Indian English poetry.

Adil Jussawalla is one of those Writers Workshop, Calcutta friends whose works saw the light of the day long back in the sixties and at that time he had been 22 or something more as one of the new writers of smaller and slick poetry-volumes of just attempting or beginning to write fellows. Today whatever we call about them and that he had been in England for a brief period as for doing a course in architecture, but the love for language and literature drew him closer to and he got engaged to them and taught at a language school too. As a poet he is of the same band and the breed, the same group and team of the newest venturing practitioners willing to put down the unputdownable in English and making a tryst with it, we mean the colonial language not, but the modern urban man’s and from there a few have evolved. It is really a no-man’s journey from nowhere to somewhere. Just after writing two books, Land’s End (1962) and Missing Person (1976), his muse fell silent and it was because of journalism which but intercepted him midway and he deviated and diverted to.

Rather than saying what it is in his poetry, the people just like to make passing references and though fragmentary and tagged, he has definitely something to say and relay to, but phraseology and fragmentation are as such which baffle the reader in understanding him. The other thing is this that the modern poets, so private and personal, they themselves put to verses and they can understand it best what they have written. The other thing is this that those who write papers on his poetry just collect in the poems published in different general edited anthologies of Indian English poetry and base the criticism on the stray poems. The other matter of reckoning is this that where will they find the books of his from? It is a myth of Indian English poets that the slim and slick volumes of self-published poesy are found not in the market and even if, these often remain out of stock, not available.

For quite a long time, he remained indulged in journalistic tidbits and column writing as well as worked as the Literary Editor and the Editor-in-charge of Debonair magazine, published from Bombay. He of course served Indian literature reviewing and picking poems for the magazine. Again, after a thirty-five year break, he resurfaced, the absentee poet thought of adding more to the poetic corpus, even by picking the older and abandoned stuffs of his together with a few more new compositions.

There are several things which have gone into the making of the poet. First, he is a modern poet of the modern age, a prototype of a modern hollow man, to pick the Eliotesque terms. Secondly, he is one from the Parsi community. Thirdly, he is a poet of Bombay. Fourthly, the elements of exile and alienation lie in his self, the compositions of his poetic self and he is a part of that poetic fragmentation and age when urbanization, fragmentation, industrialization, rationalization, no time to talk, no time to give to thinking and this age of the sick hurry and divided aims seem to clutch us along with and we too seem to be striding with. The other important thing with the readership is this that the more they fail to understand one’s poetry, the more they will admire and appreciate it and this is but the appreciation and admiration of hollow modernity and the sense of modern living and its values. There is no music in Adil, but the jazz singing, the poet seeing the world in fragmentation, fragmented imagery and phraseology, everything but fragmented and broken and modern man trying to pick up, dovetail and adorn life unnaturally and artificially.

Had the critics just published a few more poems of his in their anthologies, it would have served the cause of Indian poetry in English rather the unreadable criticism of their own. Whatever be the mode and tenor of his writing, but he clings to Eliot, Auden and Spender and others.

'Sea Breeze, Bombay' is a poem of Bombay telling about the Bombayan men and populace by a Bombay man, what was it in the beginning, how does it look together with in the wake of the camps of the refugees put up. A Bombay, metropolitan, cosmopolitan and almost a commercial hub which it has turned into ultimately, giving refuge and shelter to all, is the picture; the tragic partition of the sub-continent and the bloody aftermath of it shook it all what it was good in humanity and we could not think if men could be monsters. There had been refugees from Punjab and its frontiers and adjoining areas. Now the refugees from Tibet too have found a shelter in.

A poem of Bombay and its cosmopolitanism, Sea Breeze, Bombay is a city poem, telling about the capital which has shelter and refuge to all. The torn and separated people have found time to stitch their tales and redress their wounds.

A poem of five parts or call it break-ups, it has the movement of its own, as the narrative takes the stand. A Partition poem, it is about the Partition People seen in the stories of Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh, The Refugee by K.A.Abbas and The Peshawar Express by Krishan Chunder.

It is a poem of the tragically dislocated and displaced people which is but the blunder of history which the time will never forgive it. For no fault of them, they suffer as for our political errors and misinterpretations. Against the backdrop of the sea breeze refreshing it always, the city of Bombay pulsates in its own way, giving calm and shelter to all, maybe they the Partition people, as wrecked and distraught humanity finds solace it here, stitching and patching the tales anew.

Sea Breeze, Bombay as one of the most representative poems of Adil Jussawalla, excerpted from Missing Person, published in 1974, deal with the tragic partition of India and its sub-continental people and the silent suffering of them as for no fault of their own.

Though he is the author of Missing Person, but he himself went missing and the editors could not trace him for so long taking it to be for that he abandoned poetry, but thank God, he returned back to and saved the prestige of the editors including him in earlier volumes of poesy when he had been a novice.

Sea Breeze, Bombay as a poem is a Partition poem and a study in re-settlement. How was it Bombay, how is it, the origin, history, growth and development of it? The natural space and habitat of it with the rocks and seashores take a re-look at settlement with the thud, coming and footfall of the caravans of refugees, the influx of them, into the camps and under the bivouacs. After the partition of India, there came the people Pakistan apart from the earlier settlements of the Parsis like the shipwreck brothers. Once again the Tibetan refugees came in to add to.

Let us take up the poem, Sea Breeze, Bombay into our consideration as for a close scrutiny and examination:

Partition's people stitched
Shrouds from a flag, gentlemen scissored Sind.
An opened people, fraying across the cut
country re-knotted themselves on this island.

Surrogate city of banks,
Brokering and bays, refugees' harbour and port,
Gatherer of ends whose brick beginnings work
Loose like a skin, spotting the coast,

Restore us to fire. New refugees,
Wearing blood-red wool in the worst heat,
come from Tibet, scanning the sea from the north,
Dazed, holes in their cracked feet.

Restore us to fire. Still,
Communities tear and re-form; and still, a breeze,
Cooling our garrulous evenings, investigates nothing,
Ruffles no tempers, uncovers no root,

And settles no one adrift of the mainland's histories.

The pains and agonies of a refugee none but a refugee can say about and with it there come upon the image of the Indian politician and the lust for power.

Approaching Santa Cruz Airport, Bombay is another poem to take us by strikes what it the difference in between a wished benediction and earthly reality:

Loud benedictions of the silver popes,
A cross to themselves, above
A union of homes as live as a disease.
Still, though the earth be stunk and populous,
We're told it's not: our Papa'll put his nose
Down on cleaner ground. Soon to receive
Its due, the circling heart, encircled, sees
The various ways of dying that are home.
'Dying is all the country's living for,'
A doctor says. 'We've lost all hope, all pride.'
I peer below. The poor, invisible,
Show me my place; that, in the air,
With the scavenger birds, I ride.

Economists enclosed in History's
Chinese boxes, citing Chairman Mao,
Know how a people nourished on decay
Disintegrate or crash in civil war.
Contrarily, the Indian diplomat,
Flying with me, is confident the poor
Will stay just as they are.
Pyramids the future with more birth.
Our only desert, space; to leave the green
Burgeoning to black, the human pall.
The free
Couples in their chains around the earth.

I take a second look. We turn,
Grazing the hills and catch a glimpse of sea.
We are now approaching Santa Cruz: all
Arguments are endless now and I
Feel the guts tighten and all my senses shake.
The heart, stirring to trouble in its clenched
Claw, shriveled inside the casing of a cage
Forever steel and foreign, swoops to take
Freedom for what it is. The slums sweep
Up to our wheels and wings and nothing's free
But singing while the benedictions pour
Out of a closing sky. And this is home,
Watched by a boy as still as a shut door,
Holding a mass of breadcrumbs like a stone.

Adil Jussawalla the missing man of Indian poetry in English, who got lost somewhere, went missing has been found again with his newest volumes of poesy. Trying to Say Goodbye is one of the latest collections of the poet which have come out in 2012. The Right Kind of Dog is another collection to have made a way quite recently. Poetic fragmentation is the specialty of the modern poet; the modern hollow and shallow man the protagonist of his and he cannot discern while perusing poetry. The poet stitches and patches images to complete his poems and these must be studied in fragmentation. Eliot’s The Hollow Men is the right choice of his and it suits his poetic characteristics. His poetry is a poetry of location and dislocation and relocation; a search and re-search. Once when I asked P.Lal to send the books, he told about the books out of stock. It is a joy to find the missing man resurfacing after a 35-year break. We are not sure of the first entries, but the excerpts are making a way into edited volumes. Why to talk of Jussawalla? It is a trend with the modern urban poets to take to the city space and cosmopolitan personae as the protagonists of their poetry. The tidbits and trivia form the crux of their poesy, but instead of it, there is something to be marked here. A poet of the modern age, he is a poet of the hollow man. Private and personal, subjective and impressive, he follows into the toes of James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and so on. Society, art and culture are the things of his discussion. The visions of the past and its continuity; human predicament and its frailty too come within his purview. His collection Land’s End brings to our memory the pictures of Upon The Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth and Look, Stranger by W.H. Auden. The modern space and the vacuum one feels seconded by a strange sense of insecurity and annihilation take him to for a delving.


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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Views: 3902      Comments: 2

Comment very good article
many good poets are not dealt with by our critics
a good job and well done
boloji deserves our praise
stay writing constantly

02-Aug-2014 00:01 AM

Comment Look, Stranger

Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.

Here at a small field's ending pause
Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and its tall ledges
Oppose the pluck
And knock of the tide,
And the shingle scrambles after the sucking surf,
And a gull lodges
A moment on its sheer side.

Far off like floating seeds the ships
Diverge on urgent voluntary errands,
And this full view
Indeed may enter
And move in memory as now these clouds do,
That pass the harbour mirror
And all the summer through the water saunter.

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
----by William Wordsworth


Ships fastened to water,
A long line of ships this hot
Afternoon, stand like homes
Abandoned for the day.
There are things not in the picture:
The tower with its roof askew,
A drowned garland.
The ships came with the view.

A mill rots, a freighter pulls
Away. Hills rise
Straight out of Africa; a mandolin sounds.
Palms along the coast become
A line of leaves above a door,
Withered long past welcome.
The sea a massive bolt, shot across.
----Adil Jussawalla

(From Trying to Say Goodbye, Almost Island Books, 2011.)

Adil Jussawalla has written four books of poems: Land’s End (1962), Missing Person (1976), Trying to Say Goodbye (2012) and The Right Kind of Dog (2013), apart from books edited and compiled, volumes written and reviews done for quite a long time as it was his engagement with. His New Writing in India (1974) came out to show the things in a new perspective. A Song of Ekalavya, On my Own Feet, The Way I Walked Abroad, etc. are the poems drawn from The Right Kind of Dog, as the title has been carried on from a reading of a book. A search for home and shelter, language and tradition ; a search for the self continues in poem after poem. The poetry of words, lines and meanings, he wants to write down. He no doubt started it, but had not been sure of, could not fashion and furnish with and it is because of that something went in waste, much of his writing destroyed too. As Matthew Arnold sees the things from Dover cliff so does feel about touching the air strips of Bomay. Adil Jussawalla is actually the no-man. He wrote down Land’s End while he had been in England and carried down the manuscript to India, showed to Nissim and he referred it to P.Lal and he published it at the advice of Nissim. Thereafter a lull prevailed upon as it happens with Adil Jussawalla and his craft of writing poetry. Again, he penned down Missing Person after an interval of 14 years. He is a Parsi poet of a Parsi mind and heart consciously or unconsciously. His relations with Iran or Iraq, ancient Persia can never be broken mythically as his myth and psyche are of those lands and climes.

Bijay Kant Dubey
15-Jul-2014 12:20 PM

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