Friday, September 21, 2018

in the sanctuary of a poem - Salil Chaturvedi

Chitra gifted this book to me and when I confessed I understand nothing of poetry to her, she told me that I would enjoy it anyway. I kept it at the top of the pile of books I wanted to read - and finally did. I can only read poetry quietly by myself and either understand or not. In my quiet, I can let the beauty of a finely woven thought flit over me. I can feel that thought, like a servant might feel an expensive silk belonging to the emperor and appreciate the feeling without really being able to say what that feeling was about.

Poetry brings back to me that same feeling I had in the back benches of engineering classes, having missed something important and not knowing what. It's terrifying.

But over the years I have learned to make peace with my ignorance and I simply appreciate it for what it does to me. Sometimes I even feel I understand it, that I understand faintly what the poet was saying. That we are made of the same mud. (Most poets don't evoke that in me.)

Salil's poetry did that to me.

Like I do many times, when I find myself incapable of commenting on a work, I reproduce some lines that impacted me. For starters I liked this line by Charles Simic at the beginning of the book - "Poetry attracts me because it makes trouble for thinkers.' I really liked that.

'...toiling as they do without an audible cry, kissing each other as we pass by.' - The ants on my floor

I loved the poem - I can not take a poem and collect it in my palm. Has to be read. Also 'Choices' - made by corn.

'Incredible that this tiny thing...knows the things I'll never know, goes place that I'll never go....with a heart and legs that are so fine, has a soul as big as mine....a single point of existence pearled, completes the jigsaw of the world.' - Incredible that this tiny thing

One more monsoon - where insects are trying to get at memories, which the poet protects for another year

'...It's ok if you take a shortcut
like a raindrop straight into this poem.' - The drop

'Stars spread evenly on still dark waters,
The thirsty lake takes a long sip of deer.' - Making the mistake of stopping before a rendezvous

'...whatever you study you will destroy.'

'..Even the trees out there are grabbing at birds.' - Summer Surprise

'It's an awfully large tombstone
For a tree so small, and the little bird call
So big, this mall.' - the grave of two friends

'...If you build a roof
the stars don't stop walking across the skies...'

'..So I sit under a tree
looking at the easy perfection of the sunlight.' - Sometimes I feel like an orangutan

'Words are falling off the page...the page is clear...someday...I'll step out and gather them and weave them into a basket.' - Words are falling

'..We lie down on the roof of the car and watch the rest of our bodies in the sky..' - Journeying south

'...I have proof that the stars taste like sugar..' - All the other things

'..I take a train...into my brain..' - I take a train

I love the way he writes about nature. About cats and dogs and little insects. Rarely about humans. Always coming from an angle you don't expect, opening up a new thought in the seemingly ordinary. He has an insight that's as different as the one that the tiny thing in his poem has. The writing is powerful, easy and at times angry. You don't know when it explodes on you.

Salil is a much-accomplished man - an award-winning writer and poet, a disability campaigner, he represented India in wheelchair tennis at the Australian Open and in Japan, acted as the popular character Jugadoo in 'Galli Galli Sim Sim', a Hindi adaptation of Sesame Street. In 2009, he sailed from Mumbai to Goa to draw attention to accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Born in 1968 in Coimbatore, Salil's family has an army background. He had an accident in Allahabad in 1984 and has been using a wheelchair ever since. He lives in Goa, and is married to Monika, a journalist. I hope to meet him next time I am in Goa.

Thanks Chitra. Thanks Salil.

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