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Unforgettable Times: Indo English Poetry in the Seventies - 2


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The years 1976 and 1977 gave us two beautiful books from Pritish Nandy. Published by Arnold Heinemann; they were ‘A Stranger Called I’ and ‘The Nowhere Man’. Both these books had short poems and photographs by Nandy and Dhunji Rana. Pritish Nandy found solace in the Poetry and Lyrics of John Lennon and Paul Simon. He was inspired and wrote love poetry with a difference. 
He is a real nowhere man,
sitting in his nowhere land,
making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
Doesn’t have a point of view,
knows not where he is going to,
isn’t he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man, please listen,
you don’t know what you’re missing;
nowhere man, the world is at your command.
– John Lennon

is tapping on my forehead,
hanging from my mirror,
rattling the teacups,
and I wonder,
how long can I delay?
we’re just a habit
like saccharin.
And Iam habitually feelin’ kinda blue.
But each time I try on
the thought of leaving you,
I stop…
I stop and think it over.
– Paul Simon

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
that never fell, in the sunlight that never
shone, I whispered words I had never known
and now shall never forget. These words
have grown into secret songs. We have
known and loved, and shared what only
lovers can share in lyric guilt. There can be
nothing simpler than this love of ours,
nothing truer when this darkness flowers.

If only you could reach me, I would take
me along with you. We would listen to
the frenzied wings battering at the wind;
We would watch the trees go down on their
knees before the evening sunlight on the
hills. And before my hands can memorize
the Braille of your beautiful movements,
I shall assume whatever promise there is
in silence and allow your slender body to
Wrap itself around me. Your eyes return my words
more beautifully than the silence of rain.

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
There are still simpler ways of saying ‘You are wrong’
The sign on your window says you are lonely
The void in my heart says you are gone
There is still someplace unknown where we can drift
And watch the spring time grow
In silent praise of our love
We as strangers would recognize and know.

It hurts to say, I am sorry
So let’s use unfamiliar words
The summer has gone
The ground has gone cold
The old road calls me back again.
Another time we meet as strangers, friends
Or who knows as lovers again.
Turn, turn, turn to the rain again.

It has been raining since morning
And Carol King has been blowing
my mind since then……..

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  

It’s a great day, Sunday,
when we pile into the car
and set off with a purpose –
a pilgrimage across the city,
to Wembley, the Lahore Karhai.
Lunch service has begun –
‘No beer, we’re Muslim’ –
but the morning sun
squeezed into juice,
and ‘Yaad na jaye’
on the two-in-one.

On the Grand Trunk Road
thundering across Punjab to Amritsar,
this would be a dhaba
where the truck-drivers pull in,
swearing and sweating,
full of lust for real food,
just like home.

Hauling our overloaded lives
the extra mile,
we’re truckers of another kind,
looking hopefully (years away
from Sialkot and Chandigarh)
for the taste of our mothers’
hand in the cooking.

So we’ve arrived at this table:
the Lahore runaway;
the Sindhi refugee
with his beautiful wife
who prays each day to Krishna,
keeper of her kitchen and her life;
the Englishman too young
to be flavoured by the Raj;
the girls with silky hair,
wearing the confident air
of Bombay.

This winter we have learn
to wear our past
like summer clothes.

Yes, a great day.
A feast! We swoop
on a whole family of dishes.
The tarka dal is Auntie Hameeda
the karhai ghosht is Khala Ameena
the gajjar halva is Appa Rasheeda.

The warm naan is you.

My hand stops half-way to my mouth.
The Sunday light has locked
on all of us:
the owner’s smiling son,
the cook at the hot kebabs,
Kartar, Rohini, Robert,
Ayesha, Sangam, I,
bound together by the bread we break,
sharing out our continent.

are ways of remembering.

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
I saw and heard you call my name
Oh! All my friends are older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same
Those were the days my friend………   

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More by : Dr. Amitabh Mitra
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