Poems Posts

Vikram Seth, “Summer Requiem”

Vikram SethVikram Seth’s poetry is exquisite. Always was and is. Years ago I recall my mother being handed a copy of The Golden Gate by a friend, a journalist, who had interviewed Seth. Mum received an autographed copy of a paperback edition. It had a boring blue cover with a photograph of the Golden Gate but the excitement about reading a novel in verse by an Indian was far greater than nitpicking about the ordinary production quality of the book.  It was the nineteen eighties when Indians were barely recognised globally for writing original fiction and poetry in English. Literary discussions were still confined to the legacies of R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao and the emerging “St Stephens School of Writing” to which male writers such as Amitav Ghosh, Shashi Tharoor, Rukun Advani and Mukul Kesavan belonged. Arundhati Roy’s Booker success with her debut novel, The God of Small Things, was still a few years away. Since then Vikram Seth, his aforementioned contemporaries and a handful of others have been elevated to the literary elite of the subcontinent and for good reason too — their creative ingenuity in making literature that is a pure delight to immerse oneself in for its craft and its gravitas.

Vikram Seth’s new collection of poetry Summer Requiem validates his status as being a well-deserved member of Vikram and Davidthis exclusive club of writers. In this slim offering of poems published by Aleph Books Vikram Seth experiments with the poetic form. Try scanning the lines and you will be constantly surprised by what you glean. From the traditional form to blank verse of the title poem to translations of poems to creating an extraordinary sonnet in No Further War. The latter poem is not only technically sound but is absorbing to read for its devastating critique of modern day politicians who create mayhem with war, destroying Nature and the beauty of earth, leaving artists a wasteland. In this collection of poems Vikram Seth touches upon a range of issues — commentary, reflecting upon his own body of work including working on a novel ( a reference perhaps to the work-in-progress A Suitable Girl? ), engaging in literary criticism such as discussing the importance of translations  and discovering new writers. Coincidentally when I was reading Summer Requiem I had T. S. Eliot reciting The Wasteland in the background. ( Here is the link:  http://www.openculture.com/2009/11/ts_eliot_reads_the_wasteland.html ) . It is a powerful experience. Two poets, writing decades apart, commenting on the deeply disturbing man-made catastrophes.  A couple of toxic madmen sting mankind. (Vikram Seth “No Further War”) .

With the permission of Aleph Book Company, I am reproducing some lines of poetry from Vikram Seth’s new collection Summer Requiem.

 

The liberated generation lives a restrained youth.

Memory is a poison; it has sickened my body.

The cleavage of attachment has frayed my mind.

( Summer Requiem)

 

Abstractions have their place, the concrete too.

(A Cryptic Reply)

Two oval portraits, prints in black and white,

Lean on a shelf; one of them, Pushkin, who

Never stepped out of Russia in his life,

Let alone roamed around this town, but who

Belongs to you who know his works by heart

And, yes, to me, who, though I cannot read

A word of his by eye, know him by soul.

I wouldn’t be here, we’re it not for him.

He gave me me….

Translation though it was, though every Russian

Yes, you included, when I met you first,

Before the concert in that cavernous room 

Shakes her head slowly when I mention this 

In wistful sympathy ( ‘What can they get 

From Pushkin who can’t understand our tongue?’),

Yet what I got, I got — and it got me

Out of myself, into myself, and made me

Set everything aside I’d set my thoughts on,

And grasp my time, live in his rooms and write

What even today puzzles me by its birth,

The Golden Gate, that sad and happy thing,

Child of my youth, my first wild fictive fling.

(In a Small Garden in Venice)

 

Vikram Seth Summer Requiem Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2015. Hb. pp.66. Rs 399

Freda Bedi, “Rhymes for Ranga”

Rhymes for Ranga_coverSarah and I discovered a fabulous book of poems for children — Rhymes for Ranga by Freda Bedi. These were written in the 1930s and 40s by an Englishwoman for her eldest son, Ranga. These are simply told, easily understood by children and stupendous to recite. They may have been written many  years ago but do not sound dated. There are rhymes echoing the pride of the birth of a new nation, Mahatma Gandhi, about cattle, seasons, the national flag, pets, a lovely one on the birth of Jesus ( “Mariam’s song”), festivals of India like Basant and Diwali. Some describe India so well — “Sherbets in thumbs_ranga-7Summer”, “The Kite Song”, “Gulairee”, “Pir Panchal”, “Kashmir Birthday”, “The Land of Nowhere” and “The End of the World”.  The charming watercolour illustrations by Anna Bhushan accompanying the poems are perfect. Each page has been well designed with the illustration matching the text.

Freda Bedi was born in Derbyshire, England and met her husband Baba Bedi at the University of Oxford in 1931.thumbs_ranga-17 Her eldest son Ranga, for whom these poems were written, was born in Berlin, Germany and six months later, in 1934, the family came home to India. ( She had two more children – a daughter, Gulhima, and a son, Kabir Bedi, the actor.) Freda took active part in India’s freedom movement and was the first British woman to serve a six-month internment in Lahore jail in 1943. She remained in India all her life, and went on to work with Tibetan refugees in the 1960s, and converted to Buddhism. In 1965, Freda became the first European woman to be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun, Sister Palmo, or Gelongma Karma Kechog Palmo. She died in 1977. When the book was published in 2010, Mid Day published an article containing some black and white photographs from the family album: http://www.mid-day.com/articles/a-bedi-good-rhyme/91679 ( Fiona Fernandez, “A Bedi good rhyme”, 15 August 2010 ).

While creating a rich imaginative space for Indian children especially through poetry that is closely linked to their reality is sadly lacking. Rhymes for Ranga is one big step in filling that vacuum.

Freda Bedi Rhymes for Ranga Random House India, New Delhi, 2010. Hb. pp. 90. Rs 399. 

 

Adil Jussawalla, “The Right Kind of Dog”

Adil Jussawalla, “The Right Kind of Dog”

DB 1

Slim hardback volume of poems by Adil Jussawalla. Written over many years, some previously published in Nabina Das’s The Four Quarters Magazine . DB 2Publishers rarely deign to publish poetry, but the editors of Duckbill were spot on in publishing this collection of poetry. Poems, if well crafted, are exquisitely designed pieces. With every reading, you discover something new. I was fascinated with The Right Kind of Dog, for its range of ideas explored, for the experimentation of form, metre and rhythm. The poems can be read in solitude, they can be shouted out aloud or simply read out to a group of friends. The poems tend to trickle into the reader’s consciousness and stay there, commenting upon the mundane ( “Visiting Relatives”) or plucking an idea from mythology ( “A Song for Eklavya”) or simply reflecting ( “Christmas card”).

DB 5It may seem like a steep price to pay at Rs 200 for a slim volume like this, but it is money well spent. In the few pages of poems, there is so much to read, assimilate, revisit and appreciate. Most importantly, if this is targeted at young adults, then it is well suited. The gentleness and kindness that seeps through the poetry, reaches out to readers who are testing their wings, asserting their identities, slightly confused/overawed by the world, these poems speak well to them, without talking down. ( “the Good-for-Nothing”, “Imagination” and “My Fold-Up Poem”) DB 6 These poems need to be accessed by many. Maybe have sessions in schools, libraries, colleges etc. Otherwise this volume will languish in warehouses.

The illustrations by Ahlawat Gunjan are beautiful. The art work complements the poems well.
DB 4

Here is a link to Adil Jussawalla reading his poems: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kN1JNFAu6e4&feature=player_embedded
Adil Jussawalla The Right Kind of Dog Duckbill Books, Chenna, 2013. Hb. pp.30. Rs. 200

“Of mothers and others” edited by Jaishree Misra

“Of mothers and others” edited by Jaishree Misra

of mothers and others: stories, essays and poems

This is a collection of essays, some fiction and some poetry published in support of Save the Children. All by women except for one, which is by Jai Arjun Singh on the mother in cinema. Even the editors of Zubaan, Urvashi and Anita have contributed essays. The other contributors include Kishwar Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Tishani Doshi, Namita Gokhale, Sarita Madanna, Smriti Lamech, Shinie Antony etc. All the women discuss their experiences of motherhood — expecting, crankiness about mothering, time taken away from professional space and intellectual sustenance, adopting children, bereavement, becoming mothers to differently-abled children and on being motherless out of choice. Or being grandmothers, loving your grandchildren, smothering them with affection without having to be responsible for their upbringing and all that comes with the every second to second engagement of rearing a kid as the delightful Bulbul Sharma is to her brood of five grandchildren. But when her descendants complain, “why must you travel so much? All nanis should stay at home.” Bulbul Sharma agrees that at one time the nanis and dadis did stay at home. But now “the new generation of grandmothers work, travel and play golf. They attend board meetings and fight cases. …but they are still grandmothers at heart.”

The other day I met an old college friend after years. She lives abroad and visits India infrequently. She has a daughter who is 13 months older to Sarah. Naturally we were watching our daughters wander through the park, chase butterflies and watch the gorgeous flowers blooming and chatting, you know the conversation which skirts or suddenly revs into top gear with both women talking rapidly at the same time, exchanging information and surprisingly assimilating it too, all the time multi-tasking too. Suddenly my friend says, you know it is incredible what a sense of freedom you get when the kid learns how to clean herself. It is a moment of sheer independence –maybe more for the mother than the kid. As Shashi Deshpande says “what really overwhelmed me was the way my entire life had been taken away from me by the baby and his needs. There was no space left for anything else.” It’s so true!!! Some things never change.

This collection of essays and poems is worth reading. The most powerful essay has to be Manju Kapur grieving for the loss of her 21-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident, twenty years ago. Some of the others are Sarita Madanna’s short story, “the gardener’s daughter” and Shalini Sinha’s essay about the relationship between her mother/nani with her son/grandson who had been born with Down’s syndrome. As always Urvashi Butalia when she writes is very readable. Her essay on being childless dwells upon not having had a biological daughter (and comments upon the relationships other mother-daughter duos have) but she does not mention how as a professional she has/is been a mentor to many, nurtured fledglings much like a mother would do with her offspring.

This book has been making its presence felt given the high profile launch at Jaipur Literature Festival 2013 when well known film actress Shabana Azmi released it. At the Delhi launch of the book, Bollywood actress Nandita Das while holding her son on her hip, released it in Delhi. In today’s day and age having celebrities being associated with a book does wonders for it. But after closing this book (which may I add I read in one sitting) I thought that the contributors raised some very valid questions on the “naturalness” of motherhood and other popular social canards, what left me very concerned was that except for Anita Roy, no one commented upon the importance of nutrition and by extension, the importance of self-preservation of the mom. I say this advisedly since late last year Zubaan co-published a book of essays with a Delhi-based NGO, Cequin. (Cequin amongst many of its activities runs nutrition camps for the urban poor women. A very good initiative since it teaches them how to create a balanced diet within their budgets.) What I found most alarming was that the women were being taught how to stretch a small portion of milk (given its spiraling price )to give maximum nutrition to their families. Maybe a short comment could have been included from the Cequin team too?

Of Mothers and Others: Stories, Essays and Poems (ed. Jaishree Misra). Foreword by Shabana Azmi. (Zubaan, New Delhi, 2013). Hb. pp.286. Rs. 495.

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