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|Unforgettable Times: Indo English Poetry in the Seventies - 2|
|by Dr. Amitabh Mitra|
Continued from Previous Page
The Nowhere Man brought a poetic style which was more prose in content, yet bereft of a lyric or rhyme, there remained fluidity, a silk saree wrapped around a flawless skin.
When you first came, quiet as the rain
If only you could reach me, I would take
‘A Stranger Called I’ was more autobiographical. The poems were shorter and had a mystical content. The poems appealed to the young Indian who knew love from an Indian point of view, passionate yet conservative.
Good bye is not always a great exit line
It hurts to say, I am sorry
It has been raining since morning
General Ershad, former President of Bangladesh wrote love poetry. He presented me with a collection of his love poems in English published by his wife while he was in prison. General Ershad was well known for reciting his poems at SAARC meets and in the company of Head of States. But it was Pritish Nandy who found the best poets writing in Bengali and the most popular ones from Bangladesh and translated their work in English for the first time. Bangladesh Poetry came into limelight after the liberation. Pritish translated the Urdu ghazals and shayaari of Kaifi Aazmi. Kaifi himself an authority on English literature permitted Pritish to translate his works. The book was dedicated to none other than Shabana Aazmi. The feather on his cap was the translation of Kobi Guru Rabindranath’s last poems. Shesh Lekha or Last poems, its translation was granted by Kobi Guru’s institution, Vishwa Bharti University, Bolpur, Bengal.
Pritish Nandy was keen on Science Fiction and an UFO enthusiast. He topped the Science Talent Search Examination during his school days. It was natural for him to write science fiction stories which were included in many anthologies and published as a collection in India. His science fiction stories have an Indian essence. It was like sitting in the Kolkata planetarium watching the galaxies as his stories unfold.
Kushwant Singh, the editor of Illustrated Weekly of India had retired and the mantle was passed on to Pritish. Kushwant Singh, an authority on Sikhism, a poet and a writer in Punjabi, Urdu and English, remains one of the greatest living legends in Indo-English literature. His humor unsurpassed, is his column ‘With Malice Towards One And All’, published weekly in English and Hindi in the Times of India since more than twenty five years. I had the honor to be included in his serial, when he wrote about me and my poetry on his visit to Bhutan. ‘Are you a Poet’, he asked me. ‘Yes I am Sir.’ What kind of poetry do you write, he queried between sips of whisky in a foggy evening at an altitude of 10,000 feet. ‘Always Love Poetry Sir’ came the quick answer. He frowned, looking at his glass he whispered; it must be these beautiful Bhutanese girls….. Does His Majesty write poetry? I think so Sir; it is the poetry of keeping this heavenly kingdom for ever, the last Shangri La.
I attained instant fame, nirvana, the Royal Dashos took me as their own and my pages of poetry continued growing even as I left the high altitudes of Bhutan after many years of stay and shifted instead to the altitudes of Arunachal Pradesh. Shri Gegong Apang, the former Chief Minister, a homeopath and a poet, insisted that I should stay and practice in his constituency of Along. Thus continued sessions of poetry of and on in the Circuit House of Along, jottings during his tours from Delhi and back.
Along is a beautiful place and so was the hospitality of Assam Rifles. I continued my obsession with the Chinese borders, with its culture, people and folk lore. I think, it might have something to do with James Hilton’s ‘Lost Horizon’. I searched for a perfect poem in rain and snow and wondered of a monastery that hid solitude of belief.
Pritish came down to Bombay to take over the editorship of the illustrated weekly of India. He changed the format and made it into a newspaper. The magazine collapsed and went finally into extinction.
I remember an article Pritish wrote on Rekha, the reigning beauty queen and film actress. He spoke in poetry of the dark damsel with alluring eyes, words that leapt out, kindled with her sensuality. Rekha remains ever beautiful; films that could never match the words of Pritish Nandy. He started the Pritish Nandy Communication, a film production company which made films with themes off the mainstream cinema. His recent film Shabd (Words) about a poet and his marital relationship didn’t do well in the box office although it featured well in the Film Festivals. I had to leave the movie theatre in the middle of its screening. His magic of words which had garnered audiovisual support for nearly thirty five years had finally reached an end. He remains a Rajya Sabha, Member of Parliament, representing the Shiv Sena in the Indian Parliament.
Debonair, a journal with playboy like centre spreads of beautiful Indian women in various stages of undressing remained popular as pinups in the senior and postgraduate medical hostel in Gwalior during the seventies. Its articles written by intellectuals about a new emerging India remained unread. I was attracted to the beautiful Imtiaz Dharker and her poetry selection for Debonair.
Born in Lahore, Dharker grew up in Glasgow and now divides her time between London and Mumbai. She writes in English. She has written three books of poetry, conceived as sequences of poems and drawings. Home, freedom, journeys, geographical and cultural displacement, communal conflict, gender politics – these remain the recurrent themes in her poetry.
An Islamic lady, she questioned the validity of moments entwined by her faith that she is born with, freedom that she aspires, love she meets in her poem –
At The Lahore Karhai
On the Grand Trunk Road
Hauling our overloaded lives
So we’ve arrived at this table:
This winter we have learn
Yes, a great day.
The warm naan is you.
My hand stops half-way to my mouth.
Other days, we may prefer
Imtiaz also draws black and white sketches on the edge of reason. “Everything starts with the image: sometimes as the line of a poem, sometimes as something I see as a visual, a drawing. No, that’s not always true. Sometimes a poem can start with an idea and that can in turn spark off a drawing.”
Imtiaz Dharker remains one of the few Indian Poets who have blended their poetry with drawings and cinema.
Madhya Pradesh was entering an era of culture and art under the stewardship of its Chief Minister Shri Arjun Singh. Ashok Bajpai, a Madhya Pradesh cadre IAS officer and a poet took over the Chairmanship of an Art and Culture Complex called Bharat Bhopal in Bhopal built under the direction of the famous architect Charles Correa. It was showcasing the best of art, poetry music and dance in Madhya Pradesh. It hosted the first international poetry festival at Bhopal. I read my poems for the first time to an international audience. During those ensuing years I met many Indian Administrative Service Officers and Officers from the Indian police Service who were actively involved in writing poetry. Shri PK Lahiri, former Chief Secretary, Madhya Pradesh Government and his wife Ratna Lahiri were those few who were deeply engrossed in Creative Writing and supported all those who associated with it.
Poetry never ends. From the seventies, we all moved ahead, known, unknown, poets, artists, musicians, dancers in a massive movement for that common aesthetic experience.
I was dancing the other day in East London, South Africa, at my Polish friend’s house. The song was a Russian interpretation of Mary Hopkins’s – ‘Those were the days’ –
Through the doors there came familiar laughter
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