“Call it providence if the day should turn
upon its hinges, letting light colonise
this empire of jars and shutters, this room.
A telegram in the rack spells hands that burn
because you did not reply, did not realise
that some words are too proud to remind you they came.
Blue is the colour of air letters, of conquerors’ eyes.
Blue, leaking from your pen, triggers this enterprise.
Never journey far from me; and, if you must,
find towpaths, trails; follow the portents fugitives trust
to guide them out and back. And at some fork,
pause; and climbing in twilight through you may be,
somewhere, address this heart’s unease,
this heart’s unanswered wilderness”- writes young contemporary poet Ranjit Hoskote
in “Effects of Distance (for Nancy)”.
It is one of the poems that the poet recalls having cherished writing because “it was a love poem”. It is tender, poignant and delicately drawn echoing his other calling— the arts which he had been responsive to early on. Hoskote’s expertise as a curator, flair
for imagery and the knowledge of visual arts flow into his poetry in waves; painting landscapes with words that are powerful and cinematic at the same time.
“I was responsive to the visual arts and the literary arts early on…I don’t have a kind of territorial approach to arts. It is equally important that I can respond to a painting, sculpture and poem —to how time is structured in literary texts, or how you receive a brushstroke of a certain kind as a bodily experience,” Hoskote told this writer on the sidelines of the “World Poetry Festival- Sabad” (March 21-24) in the national capital.
As a child, Hoskote painted and wrote. “My parents thought that visual arts was my calling and I would go to the arts school. I wanted to do architecture, but I moved to social sciences,” Hoskote said. However, his parental dream that he would procure an arts school degree became a lifelong vocation, drawing him back to arts from “social sciences”. “Art became a part of my life,” the poet said. Art and poetry that the poet describes as two parallel streams of consciousness in
life – often spilling into each other – makes poetry, for him, a “much more visceral practice.” “To relate sensations, energies and essentially bearing witness to an encounter dealing with the visual arts — you are pushing this space of sensation— releasing into language things that can’t be put into words,” Hoskote said.
The Mumbai-based poet looks at ancient mythology through the lens of modernism— that is coloured by his journeys to numerous rare and interesting places. At the festival Hoskote presented poems from a wide vista of geography and experience — from post war artist Francis Bacon, to Bombay (Mumbai) – the city of his personal theatre —Kashmir and Sri Lanka, where he is piqued into poetic surprise by the “Giant Malabar Squirrel” at Anuradhapura. The city of Bombay is referred to as “an album of proverbs that hides the parrot with red eyes”.
Mythology for Hoskote is a corridor. “It is a detour through which I go there…Mythology and historical poems are not about mythology or historical situations. They are tools for exploring the mystery of the language, the enigmas we inherit, the consciousness that we work with even while not fully grasping its capacities. A lot of these poems that work with mythology have to do with a sense of shaping, in different cadences, the perennial experiences of quest, love, war, exile and journeying — mythology is a detour,” the poet explained — when questioned about his “affinity to mythology in poetry”. Hoskote’s anthology of the translation of Kashmiri poet Lal Ded’s poetry — an effort of 20years — is rooted in Hindu Saivite mythology emanating from the icy climes of Kashmir where the 14th Kashmir where 14th century Saivite mendicant lived and wrote her poetry in praise of the Lord Shiva and about the socio-religious cultural rituals that evolved around the Saivite cult— including the occult underground. The poems explore the “nuances” of the language that reflect the syncretism of Yogachara Buddhism, Hinduism and Sufism which crafted the then spiritual environs of the multi-religious Valley.
A poet, a cultural theorist and a curator, Hoskote’s poetry anthology, “Vanishing Acts: New Selected Poems” carries his eclectic poetic sensibilities to readers. The range of poetic muses is wide, the inspirations global and the language strangely esoteric— but with a fecund creativity that sparkles with intelligent word play.Hoskote had reasons to cheer at the World Poetry Festival presented by the Sahitya Akademi last week — his collection of poems, “I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded” won the Sahitya Akademi’s translation award for 2013. Hoskote finds nothing wrong with the breed of Anglophone poets— who inhabit the literary landscape of post-colonial India. Language does not matter so long as the exposition meets the bar.
“There is only good poetry and bad poetry, no matter what language you write in. What language you write in is your business. You can find very inspiring, illuminating poetry in a whole range of languages, including Hindi and Marathi, Gujarati and Maithili. On the other hand, the ideological opposition to Anglophone writing in India grows less and less meaningful,” Hoskote said.
The poet rejects archetypes. When asked about the influence of Tagore on his own work, he said, “Tagore is one of my heroes as an educator, thinker, anarchist and painter. As a poet, while I appreciate his work, I do not respond to it instinctively. His poetry was the product of a specific lifeworld, historical moment, and cultural preoccupations, as well as a language of images and associations that I perhaps do not share..” Hoskote said. The 45-year-old poet resonates with the “cadences of poets like Charles Simic and Dom Moraes, Keki Daruwalla and Jorie Graham”. About his mentor, Nissim Ezekiel, Hoskote says, “We never agreed on our poetics, and had lively, always cordial debates on so many issues. Nissim’s aim was ‘saral bhasa’ (simple language), so to speak. His poetic utterance partakes more of texture and everyday speech.” Hoskote’s association with Ezekiel dates back to 1986. Ezekiel was his “father’s senior in college (Wilson College in Mumbai)”. “At some point my father realized I was serious about poetry and said ‘let’s take you to Nissim and see what he has to say,” Hoskote recounted.
However, the mentoring was more of an “assimilation process” for the young Hoskote. “My concern is also to play with different kind of textures. We don’t speak one language. You make your own poems of fragments of different kinds – like a collage,” the poet explained.
Hoskote listed four among the most “creative” of Anglophone poets as his favourites — Dom Moraes, Keki Daruwalla, Arvind Mehrotra and Adil Jussawalla. The radical western voices influenced his early years – “especially Ted Hughes for a long time”, he said.
Hoskote has a new project on his board. He is translating three Sanskrit poets including Bhatrihari, Bilhana and Amaru.
“Translation is a continuous process. Entire cultures have been nourished by translations. P. Lal, the poet, editor and translator, called it transcreation, an additive and engaged process of producing an equivalent of the original in another language, with a related but distinct richness,” Hoskote said.
As a translator, the poet straddles two worlds – that of the vernacular as a hunting ground for material “much of which still is underground” and English as the medium of expression, which undergoes transformation in the act of translation. Of his 1992 translation of Vasant Dahake’s poetry, he said “Translating from the Marathi, exploring the nuances of the language, was a good way to engage with the language and linguistic culture of the region where I lived. The Sanskrit texts I am now working on mean something else to me. They embody a vigorous secular Sanskrit culture, a different kind of cultural past to the sacred-oriented, religion-overlaid visions of the past that we are taught about or enjoined to imagine. There is a vibrant body of secular tradition that is hardly known,” he said. At a recent solo exhibition of artist Atul Dodiya that Hoskote curated, “poetry in translation from Gujarati compositions” was close to the core of the curatorial exercise. The poems were co-translated by Hoskote and the Gujarati theatreperson Naushil Mehta.
Poetry for Hoskote is both a “pilgrimage and a metropolitan flaneur’s journey”- a conversation with forces that inspire him- “whichever place, time or domain they may come from, archaeology or science fiction or myth or the intensities of the city”.