Language is our first line of defence—and also our last resort. Bob Dylan won’t tell you that you’ll be incinerated in a nuclear explosion. He will warn you about getting drenched in a hard rain. A Bengali matriarch, when she looks at the bottom of an empty rice jar will not say dhana shesh (the rice is finished) but dhana prachur (there’s too much rice), trusting that her son will get the message and buy a fresh bag. Language is driven, again and again, by defence mechanisms, obscuring all that we are afraid to acknowledge about ourselves and the world around us.
Urdu poetry, indeed, has traversed a long way from the obliquities of Mirza Ghalib, didacticism of Iqbal and the lyrical buoyancy of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Regardless of countless premature obituaries, Urdu poetry thrives after three centuries, not alone in printed pages but in popular memory.
Rohan Chhetri’s Slow Startle is a true indulgence for lovers of poetry and the written word. His poetry spans various subjects: love, loss, relationships, memories that flood the past, shape the present, and the future. His poems about the pangs of growing up, of coming to terms with his grandfather’s death, a difficult relationship with a father given to uncontrolled spurts of violence, a resigned mother humbled by fate, a departed lover whose thoughts propel him to consider living in another city just to move on, a shared dream of a homeland, all resonate with a deep and intimate engagement with and insight into what is being written about. His poems express a deep connect with everything that conspires around him.
The poetic imagination works in mysterious ways but never more so than when it is being unpoetic. Other than what people believe, a poet is not a dreamer, with his head perpetually in the clouds, as the caricature has it. On the contrary, he is someone who walks the firm earth, especially those parts of it that are less than beautiful. Which is why when a well-meaning friend says ‘Come and stay in my cottage in the hills (or my house by the sea), you’ll feel inspired and write lots of poems,’ you know why you’ll never accept the invitation
The Sand Libraries of Timbuktu by Rohinton Daruwala is a collection of the poet’s interaction with life, people and situations. Experiences, objects and moments come alive in these poems and take the ordinary into focus. The collection is divided into nine sections.
Each time some poem is ripe and I believe ‘ready’ in my head—and my heart heavy with it—a compulsion to deliver urges me to confront the blank sheet … but then, the slow pain of deliverance has to be gone through! Soon enough I realize, it’s a poem in the making and not really ready and complete in the head
‘The poems that I will make true were born in this interregnum’… Of all the poetic utterances—words that make one sit up and read again, words that hang between despair and a strange resignation, and words that make one begin to believe that, after all, ‘poetry is the only thing that matters’—these words are, as if, whispered into the reader’s ears explaining the birth of these poems into the arena of what we call public. It has been a long wait of twenty-two years; after, as the poet points out, maybe after coming of age at twenty-one.