Geet Chaturvedi (b 1977) is a noted Hindi poet and novelist, who has authored five books till now. Often regarded as an avant-garde, he is considered one of the major poets of India. He has published his three works, the much praised two collection of six novellas - Savant Aunty Ki Ladkiyan and Pink Slip Daddy, and a collection of poetry, Aalaap Mein Girah (2010). His second collection of poems, Nyoontam Main, will be published this year. He has translated into Hindi the poems of Pablo Neruda, Lorca, Adonis, Czeslaw Milosz, Adam Zagajewski, Bei Dao, Dunya Mikhail, Iman Mersal and Eduardo Chirinos. His poems have been translated into eight languages. He has been conferred the Krishna Pratap Award for fiction for 2014 for his book, Pink Slip Daddy, and the Bharat Bhushan Agrawal Award for poetry in 2007. He was named one of 'Ten Best Writers' of India by the English Daily Indian Express in 2011. He is currently working on his first full-length novel Ranikhet Xpress. He lives in Bhopal, India.
Amrita Bera, a well-known translator herself, engages Geet in a discursive Conversation for Muse India. Two poems of Geet Chaturvedi in Anita Gopalan's translation follow the interview.
Amrita Bera: Geet Chaturvedi, the most sought after and the most read Hindi poet/writer of present time. You are considered to be an elusive and recluse contemporary poet/writer, who most of the time remains in seclusion and pops up suddenly after long intervals, with one of your excellent pieces of literature, be it a poetry anthology or a collection of long stories or translation. I have read most of your poetry and both the collections of your long stories and reached the conclusion that, as your reader, I wish to know many things related to your process of writing, about your kind and style of writing, your influences in life, your literary journey and other things that make you Geet Chaturvedi. So to begin with, I would like to know on behalf of your readers, as well, about your journey of story writing. Geet, most of your stories have strong the flavour and diction of Mumbai. Is it because you have spent much of your time there?
Geet Chaturvedi: I was born in Mumbai and spent the first 23 years of my life there. The city is very much in my veins. Wherever I go, I carry my share of Mumbai along with me. During my growing up years, I encountered the plurality of languages. In my house for many years, we spoke Sindhi. The outside world spoke Marathi, so I also started speaking Marathi. During school days, Hindi was the language I spoke. And after a few years, it was English that I dealt with. What the language of my childhood was, I still wonder. It was a kind of khichadi in which everything is mixed and not a single one in it can be called primary sans the color yellow. A number of languages lay claim over my mind. It was a crisis of the sense of belonging. However, what became clear to me was that I couldn't belong to a place which was not part of this city. So after leaving Mumbai, when I began writing voluminously, the city that remained within me found an expression through the landscapes and the usage of the Mumbaiya dialect, which is again a distinct mix of Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, English and Hyderabadi.
The whole country is familiar with Mumbaiya, thanks to Bollywood. But in Hindi literature, which sometimes behaves like a puritan as far as language is concerned, using pure Mumbaiya in a novella was almost unheard of. A few critics censured my experiment, but the readers lapped it up, and my books, especially my first book Savant Aunty ki Ladkiyan, coloured abundantly with the Mumbaiya slang and almost untranslatable into any other language, became a huge success. They were so enchanted with it that they even wrote to me letters in the Mumbaiya dialect.
AB: This makes me ask, what perhaps your readers would also like to know: something personal about you. How you began your journey of life, who all had an impact on your life, and what provoked you to be a writer. Which writers had influence on your writing and your life.
GC: I was the third surviving child in the family. As a kid, I wanted to become many things. I had a yearning to become a tree. Then, to become a cat. I had cried for that, I remember. Lamp-posts were among my fascinations, the beautiful old lamp-posts with British colonial designs. I liked them because they 'worked' only at nights. Like any other Indian kid, I also had nurtured dreams of becoming a cricketer. In my adolescent years, I had wanted to become a rock star for some time and even tried to establish a rock band. From a very young age, I started composing rhymes, funny lyrics, even excuses. I always had this fancy for written words; and I can say (in typical Borgesian manner) that I had wanted to become a writer even before my birth.
By 16, it became clear to me that writing was what I wanted to pursue. It was all for the love of language, it enchanted me, it tickled me, it invited me like how the unexplored lands had invited Columbus. Language is my skin.
All the writers that I have read and liked have influenced me in some way, from Veda Vyasa to Homer, from Kalidasa to Dante, from Kafka to Coetzee, from Borges to Bolano, from Faulkner to Marquez, from Proust to Pamuk… the list is really very, very long.
AB: Your two books Savant aunty ki ladkiyan and Pink slip daddy, each has three long stories. Generally writers begin with short stories, but you did not. Tell us about your journey of fiction writin. Did poetry come first to you or stories?
GC: Savant Aunty ki Ladkiyan was the first novella that I published in 2006. Hindi has a tradition of longer short-stories which is called Lambi Kahani. In their structure and treatment, they are more expansive and courageous than a short-story, but are shy to plunge into the genre of a novel. My endeavours are even longer than the traditional longer short-stories of Hindi. Their plot, structure, narratives, arc and the treatment are more novelistic. Since there is no specific word for this genre in my language, I prefer to call them novella. However, by western standards, they are novels in themselves. Both books that I have written are collections of my novellas.
Before 2006, I was primarily labelled as a poet and translator. This was the common impression for I had started my career with poetry. But a few of my very close friends are aware of the fact that it was short-fiction that I had started with, as a 17-year-old boy way back in 1994. I had written a short-story whose title I don't remember (or don't want to remember) and submitted to a Mumbai magazine. The editor was overwhelmed reading the story and in the very next issue, which was a special on Hindi fiction carrying many big names of Hindi, I got published too. The story was received extremely well and quoted in many reviews. Excited by the response, I wrote two more stories, and within a couple of weeks, both had gone in print in the literary supplements of established newspapers of Mumbai.
AB: When did you start writing poems? What are your earliest memories of writing?
GC: Soon after my short-stories were published, I wrote a few poems and sent them to my first editor. The response this time was very discouraging. He suggested to me that I stick with fiction, as my poems severely lacked the necessary poetic elements. Ironically, he had praised my stories for the extensive usage of the same 'poetic elements'. I was devastated, wondering what these poetic elements actually were. I still ponder about them and can offer only doubts. But that reaction inspired me. I started writing more poems, reading more poems now. After a few months, I think, by the end of 1994, my poems finally started getting published in magazines and newspapers. It was never an easy thing for a boy in his adolescence to get his stuff published, but my editors were really delighted by those poems. They wrote to me letters full of praises. They asked for more poems. They suggested to me to read the masters of Hindi. They were all gentlemen. They were mostly working for commercial presses or newspapers and noted writers themselves. Today, in Hindi, I don't find enthusiastic editors like them, not even in literary presses. Now nobody spends that amount of time on a young budding writer.
It was pure enjoyment and fun for a boy of just 17. Usually on Sundays, my poems would appear in a literary supplement of a newspaper, and hey presto, I would become a star of the neighborhood. From the postman to the barber, from the newspaper vendors at the railway station to folks in local trains, all started recognising me - 'Hey! I saw your photo.' Soon, the literary circles of Mumbai started noticing me and inviting me for readings and other activities.
AB: So what happened to those short-stories?
GC: I forgot royally about them. Once I got into poetry, I became delightfully absorbed in it; I would write four to five poems a day eventually to find that I had retained just a line or two and discarded all of the rest by next morning. The literature I was reading at that time was fantastic - the great Russian masters in Hindi translation and the beautiful tradition of Hindi and Marathi poetry which convinced me immediately that I should deliberately forget those stories, although they were good considering my young age; but in literature, has age ever been discounted? I stopped mentioning those stories even in general conversations, and apparently forgot them.
And, those stories no one else remembered either, or pretended not to remember, even the ones who had read and enjoyed (in 1993-94), maybe, thinking I myself did not want them to remember those stories. That's why when Savant Aunty ki Ladkiyan appeared, people called it my first work of fiction, I call it my first novella. I have always been a man of two beginnings. My first precedes the first. My first succeeds the first.
AB: And what happened to the poems? Have you included them in your poetry collection, Aalaap Mein Girah?
GC: Yes, a few poems from those initial days of fun… Most of the poems in that book were written during 1995 to 99. And a few written during 2006 to 2008.
AB: So why did you publish your first book of poem, so late?
GC: A kind of dissatisfaction, I guess. You know, even in the late nineties, my fan mail was so enormous that I had to dedicate at least two days in a week to reply to them. Yes, I replied to every mail. I do it even now. Those were such nice old days of hand-written letters, usually a 25-paisa postcard. But personally, I was not happy with the things I was writing. Every time I read my poems, I was filled with anxiety, discomposure and incompliance. I was also being asked repeatedly about my (poetry) book - It-should-have-come-by-now! After a lot of pressure from a few veteran poets whom I hugely respect, and their many attempts to infuse some belief into me, I decided in late 2006 to prepare a manuscript, and that was really depressing. I tore away many poems; I hated myself for writing them although many were widely appreciated after the first publication. I wrote a few more and published the book in 2010.
However, it sometimes amazes me that people, my readers, still do remember a few from the earlier poems and ask me why I didn't include them in my book. 'Abu Khan ki Bakri' is one such poem. On a few friends' insistence and persistence, I have decided to include that poem now, along with a few discarded ones, in my new book.
AB: What happened between 2000 and 2006?
GC: I didn't write a single poem. Although I was translating poetry and some prose. And after 2002, I was quietly working on Savant Aunty ki Ladkiyan also; but I consider those six years as a period of turmoil, a period of creative infecundity. I can't fathom even now what exactly had happened to me in 1999 that I found myself incapable of writing anything; even writing just four lines seemed extremely difficult. I started believing that I did not possess any talent and that I would never be able to write again.
AB: How did you cope with that?
GC: In that period of non-poetry, the memory of poetry came to my refuge. First, I remembered what my father had once told me when I was 13-14 years old; I was reading a book that was at home, Kamayani by Jai Shankar Prasad. I tried writing a stanza similar to those in the book and read it to my father. He said, 'To write a single sentence, one has to study one thousand sentences.' Memory of my father's epigram drastically changed my perspective. The second one is also connected to the memory of a poem. I had read Nirala's famous long poem, 'Ram ki Shakti Pooja' when I was twenty. It had one line, 'Chhod do samar, jab tak na siddhi ho, Raghu Nandan', which means until and unless you attain your weapons through meditation or practice, don't fight, because in case you do, you are sure to lose. This line has a very intense meaning and the same is encountered in life time and again.
It was these two that inspired me to read, to know and learn more from world's best literature, art and music. This was my method of meditation that taught me that much as writing is essential to a writer, far more essential is reading. Reading is fodder for our conscience. It gives us an experienced and balanced way to judge our own words.
AB: And that's why you are considered one of the most well-read authors in Hindi.
GC: Reading is a form of Nirvana. I consider myself a reader first. Reading makes me realise that I should not write a word until it has a sense of urgency. Why bother to write if I can survive without writing?
Reading teaches us the art of humility and modesty. It makes us aware of the masters in different languages whose art we must respect. It makes us appreciate the diversities. Reading is a courtship with the plurality. I have seen it personally that poets and critics who are more violent and attitudinal, even in their works, are the ones who, at most times, are not well-read. You know, showing 'attitude' is rather fashionable these days, a young poet who has just written his tenth poem deliberately puts on an attitude of utter disregard to the whole tradition, and is resentful of others' works. Good and vast reading makes us realise that we are just a speck of dust in this universe; and for a poet, that is the best thing to be - just a tiny speck.
AB: There are a lot of interruptions in your journey. Could I phrase it that they are actually the girah in an aalaap, the knots in your preludes? Living in fragments and then, putting those fragments together?
GC: Of course, that poem 'aalaap mein girah', also the title of my book, directly symbolises these interruptions in my creative process. Aalaaps are usually unbroken, un-fragmented. And that's their beauty. The complete oeuvre of a writer is similar to music, and the aalaap or the preludes are supposed to be unbroken, an intact prolonged beginning, but mine is broken several times. I have connected them by placing a knot between two fragments, and thus, falsely making it long. That's why my preludes contain knots.
My writing proceeded in fragments, it almost stopped. The initial 12 years were an impediment to me; but I continued reading. My work took me to more than 10 cities and I saw many colours of life. I can say that just like a child stays in a mother's womb for 9 months, I was in the womb of time for 12 years. The mark on my writer's navel marks my association with these 12 years. In 2006 when I started writing again, I found that I was reborn; compared to earlier times, I wrote differently now, my aspirations as a writer had also undergone a change. A writer is essentially a dwij, a person born twice. That's why I consider myself a man of two beginnings; these two evident births have concealed god knows how many obscure births within themselves.
AB: You have experimented a lot with your stories, especially in your second collection, which begins with an abstract from Homer in English. Each chapter of your story "Simsim" begins with a brief piece of your translation of various writers from Ben Okri, Marquez, Pamuk, to Guntur Grass, Nirmal Verma, Khalil Gibran, Beckett, U R Anantmurty, Murakami and others.
In yet another story of yours, 'Pink slip daddy', which is also an unusual title for a Hindi novella, each chapter begins with recondite abstracts, which have no direct links with the story, yet take the story forward. When you thought of this kind of experimentation, did you think the Hindi readers were mature enough to take this kind of experimentation?
GC: The idea of 'Simsim' was to create a story around epigraphs. The basic plot was already in my mind. I had written a poem called 'Sindhu Library' in the late 90s. A deserted library where no one comes to rent a book, an old man as caretaker and the invisible land-mafia hand that forcefully wants to take over the land of the library to build a shopping mall there. Since I had already written all this in the poem, as a fiction writer now I wanted to look at the story in a new and post-modern way. Creating a novella around epigraphs was a thing that I found interesting and unprecedented as per my knowledge. The epigraph sets the theme and the mood of the chapter. I have always believed that while writing, a writer indulges himself in various kinds of conversations. Talking to his favorite writers/ books within his text is one among them. Many a time, it comes like a disguised or hidden influence. I did not want it that way but wanted it to be direct yet subtle, opening the possibilities of multi-layerism, using soft and delicate language yet suggesting the harshest of realities. 'Simsim', an elegy for the books, is a tribute to the writers I had used in epigraphs. It's my method of holding conversations with them and it's a cue to the notion that the text is universal, the words written in other parts of world in some other language and culture, in some other time and context can, at the same time, give tongue to the realities of my times, my language and my culture. It is the power of intertextuality. I could dream of a novella in diction foreign to me.
And I felt extremely happy with the way readers responded. It was not just the experiment but also the entire theme, treatment and the new way to look at fiction that was lauded. To be honest, while writing 'Simsim' I hadn't thought about how the readers would react; I had wanted to simply enjoy the process. I believe in the process rather than prognosticating, even in my mind, the product. I, as a writer, have my greatest commitment to the beauty of my work. As long as I enjoy writing it, the reader, if there is one, would also enjoy reading it. It was the same with 'Pink Slip Daddy' too.
AB: 'Simsim' gives a cinematic joy to its readers. It again ascertains that your fiction has an undercurrent of the cinematic styles.
GC: Cinema is also a variant of fiction. There are many techniques which are used in cinema but not in literature and vice versa. I always try to find those avenues. I watch cinema the way I read a book. They are books too, small, yet dense. I like many filmmakers. Masters like Charlie Chaplin, Fellini, Buñuel, Kurosawa, Ozu, Antonioni, Bergman, Bresson, Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, and Andrzej Wajda have created magic in almost every scene. I wonder if anyone could dislike them. I even like filmmakers who have come much later like Kieslowski, Wong Kar-Wai, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Kim Ki-duk, Aki Kaurismaki, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Jia Zhangke, Zhang Yimou, and Carlos Reygadas. In some way or the other, they all have left an impact on me. Just as Hou Hsiao-Hsien payed tribute to Yasujiro Ozu by recreating his style in Café Lumière; I feel the urge to write a novel based on the cinematic style of Ozu. Maybe ten years down the line I might be able to create such a novel. Like this, I have many different yearnings. A writer owes his inspiration to so many people that he just can't repay them ever. He is cursed to die without clearing his debts and because of this reason, a writer's soul forever haunts his creations.
AB: You seem to bring out your ideas in your poetry, as if you are tenderly plucking flowers. It seems you are romancing each and every word of your poem, as if you are talking to your own lines, sharing your inner most feelings. Do you pamper an idea or a theme which comes to your mind, like a lover pampers his girlfriend and shower her with gifts, in your case with gifts of words or you surrender yourself to an idea or thought and let it guide you to an unknown destination? Does poetry choose you or is it the other way round? What is your method of penning poems?
GC: There is no straight answer to this as well. It varies. It depends. Sometimes it chooses me, sometimes I choose it. I always believe what Umberto Eco says: 'While writing prose, stick to your subject and the words will flow automatically. But when you are writing poems, you just stick to your words, the subject and every other thing will follow you.' I always carry a few images with me, they are invitations to action. Poetry, by and large, is an accident and the poet, essentially an oblivious connoisseur of accidents. Often, an accident whose preface, pretext, epilogue and after-effects are controlled and shaped by the means (of art, craft et al). The process is defined more by what you believe in than by what you think. And, poetry is almost a matter of belief, veneration of language as well as transgression of language. Belief - in a broader sense. Believe your words as well as doubt your words. Believe and doubt - a process that runs parallel. The more you doubt, the more you end up believing. And vice versa.
Every word that exists in our language, or does not exist, is a work of a poet. We do not know our ancient forefathers who had created words for us, but we know the words. To me, they all were poets in their own way. I am in the same lineage of those unknown poets though I do not create words, because those have been created already. I have been delegated a repertoire of words. Every word has a meaning. In my part of the world, in my language, even every syllable has a distinct meaning. So if I look at it this way, I have been given a repertoire of meanings too. I create sentences by assembling those words and meanings. But can a poet be confined within the limits of what has already been conferred upon him? I don't think so. Poets are rebellious and our greatest goal is to transcend the linguistic expressions while working in the limits of that expression. To roam within the boundary is the veneration of language. To try to break the boundaries is the transgression of language. I rely on the tradition to go closer to poetry. I refuse the tradition while writing poetry. To me, this is a poet's relationship with his tradition.
I always think that an average poet plays with the language and a good poet lets the language play with himself. He waits and recognises and identifies that précised moment when the language starts to play with him, and at that particular moment, that unobtrusive poet withdraws himself and asks the language to escort the poem royally. In poems, the poet always plays second fiddle. Withdrawing is a glory.
However, you cannot always be in that submissive mode. Writing poem is like a duel. It is like living in a love affair. The girl wants to control you. You are happy to be controlled by the girl. But you are not a machine. You are human. You can't be controlled fully. There is a portion of you which will always resist. Sometimes the language behaves like that girl, and you as a poet, resist its arbitrariness. The timing, when to withdraw and when to duel, depends upon the conscience and the rationality of the poet. This contradictory relationship is the factor that leads your poems towards a destination - a heaven or hell. And it all varies from poet to poet.
While writing a poem, forget that you are a poet. While writing poems, never forget that you are the poet. These two sentences may look paradoxical, but for me, it is an important junction. Both sentences and situations cross each other at a certain point, a very miniscule point. I try to reside at that point which leads to the narrowest avenues of all, the point between 'forgetting' and 'not forgetting'.
AB: Sometimes a writer feels safe creating his own language, style of writing which had made his work being appreciated and eventually continues to write to suit his readers' or mass expectations. Breaking your own style and language repeatedly requires taking risk of failures. What is your take on it?
GC: Writers, too, tend to create a comfort zone for themselves. At the minute level, poetry itself as a genre is a comfort zone. You have spent your whole life writing poetry, you didn't try anything else, like plays, novels etc. because you are not comfortable with those genres. Poetry, although of varied kinds, provides you with a kind of a comfortable transaction with the language. Although it is not bad to have this kind of comfort, for poetry is such a huge genre. It is the highest form of art. It is too challenging to think of it as a mere comfort zone.
It is said that writers spend a large amount of time to find their own language, style, voice, and only a few of them finally succeed. If the writer decides to stick with it, it's his choice. If he doesn't get bored of it, he must continue writing in the same manner he enjoys. The question of style is different from the question of mass expectation. The writer, if influenced by the expectation of the reader, can adopt a suitable way.
AB: Constantine P Cavafy had said, the poet who knows his audience is limited is truly free to write. What is your opinion on this, if you differ then what are your views?
GC: There is no point differing with him. But how much actually connotes 'limited'? Two? Two hundred? Two thousand? I don't know. Anything which is more than one always has a possibility to become unlimited. Let me have the liberty to digress a bit, just to mull over this limitedness. The ancient Indian epic, Brihat-Katha of Gunadhya, whose original - which no longer is extant - is said to be based on the story which Shiva had privately narrated to his wife Parvati. But from behind the walls, one of Shiva's servants had overheard the story and in his next birth, he wrote that story to make it widely accessible. For Shiva, the storyteller, the audience was just one, but in reality, the audience was two, and in greater reality, the audience was in millions. It can be said that even the greatest storyteller of the Indian mythology wasn't aware of his audience. And if he had been aware, I wonder what changes he might have applied to his narrations. Possibly, he wouldn't have narrated it at all. Since Parvati is the other half of Shiva - who is half man-half woman god - in reality, Shiva was narrating the story to himself. There was no audience other than the narrator himself.
To me, audience is an imaginary or a hypothetical term, whether it is limited or unlimited. The word 'audience' has more commercial than artistic sonorousness. For a poet, not to know the audience, even hypothetically, is very useful. It gives the poet a sense of freedom, like Cavafy had aptly said.
As a poet or writer, I am not a singular unique personality. I am a compound of multitudes. That's why I create many characters, many worlds, and many voices, without finding myself in the role of 'the little God'. I write primarily for myself. Every other person reading my writings is an added bonus. To me, the audience is just one, my other half who is listening. And I am aware of the possibility that there is always someone who is overhearing me, either within me or without me. And I believe, this other half will resemble numerous people, from east to west, from north to south, who love to read literary poems or literary fiction.
AB: You have changed the tone and theme of your poems after your first book. You no longer look a mere socio realistic poet unlike the typical Hindi scene?
GC: Yes. I have changed a lot. We are living in difficult times. Globalisation, identity politics, estrangement, alienation, and liberal market economy - they all have added a certain amount of pressure to the repertoire of casteist and communalistic aspects of Indian society. I don't find social realism or a direct realism to be an adequate tool to address these. For the past 5-6 years, I have been practicing Meta-Reality. It is stylistically metaphorical reality and philosophically metaphysical reality.
AB: There is less politics and more love.
GC: But not the traditional love. Love as a tool of politics and the politics of love. Love as a form of politics and politics disguised in love. Not essentially discovering something new but remembering something that has been forgotten. I strongly believe in what Roberto Bolaño has said in Amulet, 'Love is the mother of all poets.' Love knows all poets and all poets know love. There is a politics in the apolitical too. There is a peculiar incoherence in these poems. I call it 'incoherent poetic structure' in which each line or stanza creates its own world. Each line is a new beginning and a new end that works at many levels simultaneously. It is quite evident in poems like 'Incoherence', 'Every Alexander Dies', 'Plant of Water' etc. I am happy that my translator Anita Gopalan has beautifully re-created them in English.
AB: From writing poetry and prose, you traversed into translations and you have extensively translated world literature in Hindi. Do you think it helps one in his or her writing? Share your experiences of translating these great writers and how this made difference in your own growth as a person, as a writer.
GC: I didn't translate because of someone's prodding or as part of an assignment project. I translated for my own satisfaction and selected the poets also as per my choice. I prefer translating poems. A good poem makes me almost greedy; I feel like translating it into my own language and become part of its goodness. Just like when we see good people we wish to become friends with them; something akin to it. I believe translating is like khayaal gayaki, a genre in Indian classical singing where each melody or raga has to be repeated again and again, each rhythm makes one delve deep into it.
My first major translation was the rare prose, at least for the Hindi language, of Pablo Neruda. It was in 1998-99. I had spent almost two years with that prose. I was highly excited. I had read memoirs of Neruda, even other prose written by him, but the works that I translated were not anthologised like the others. For years Neruda had written columns for Russian newspapers while residing in Chile. Those works do not even find a proper mention in the overall literature surrounding Neruda. I translated those rare works into Hindi and felt immensely happy about it. It was serialised in three successive issues of Pahal, in 2001 and later came out as a book.
And, I can't translate a poet overnight. I got Arabic poet, Iman Mersal's translations published in 2012 but I had been reading her poetry since 2005. I was the first person to translate the poems of Dunya Mikhail into Hindi in 2005, just after her book came out. I had read her poems in World Literature Today and other sources, and was so moved that I interviewed her via email. Now, there are 7-8 people in Hindi who are translating the same poems of Dunya.
Translating Chinese poet Bei Dao was an altogether different experience for me. I loved his poems on the very first read itself but to understand them fully, and capture their essence required a lot of effort on my part. Similarly translating Adam Zagajewski's poems, indeed, involved altering the basic thought and expectations from the poems. You know, the Eastern European poems are very different in their poetic notions from the Western world although they share an almost common culture. And the South Asian poems, in their structure, notion and sensibility, are totally different from the rest of the world.
AB: You have a certain kind of fancy for Neruda. You have three poems on him there in your book.
GC: Yes. I have a kind of emotional relationship with Neruda, because he was the first international poet whom I had read extensively. In 1995, I had come across his name in an article on poetics in a Hindi journal, in which mentioned in passing something like 'Neruda is the best poet of 20th century'. It was Neruda. Not Pablo Neruda. No mention of Spanish, Chile or Latin America. It was plain Neruda. And my eighteen-year-old mind visualised him as a Bengali poet, Neru Da, as Bengalis have a tradition of suffixing Da, (which means elder brother), they have names like Manik Da, Felu Da, Gautam Da etc. So I started searching for Neru Da. I asked a few Bengalis who were close at hand to find that they were unaware of this Da. A few more books enlightened me, that he was actually Pablo Neruda, a Spanish poet. One fine day I went to the People's Book House in Fort, Mumbai. Coincidentally, I encountered a veteran Hindi poet whom I knew a little and with all my shyness and hesitation told him that I wished to read all of Neruda. He laughingly replied that I needed to have at least Rs 3000 to buy the essential books by Neruda. I had a small job at that time and my monthly salary was way less than this amount. However, I started saving money to purchase his books, along with other Hindi books that I yearned for. From the beginning, I had no mentor, no guide to show me the path. I just kept on reading and exploring all by myself. I entered the wonderful world of letters like Alice and soon found myself in a predicament like Abhimanyu. So I have this personal bond with Neruda for the Da in Neruda amuses me and its utterance makes me feel as if I am addressing an elder brother.
AB: That was quite interesting. So, what are your other interests apart from writing?
GC: I listen to music. I love Western classical orchestra, from Mozart to Phillip Glass. I enjoy hard rock and heavy metal too. I am a die-hard fan of Metallica, Guns and Roses and Aerosmith. I watch a lot of films. I like cricket a lot. I can leave my work in the middle to watch an old recording of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or AB de Villiers. I think I have green fingers, love growing plants and watch them grow ever so slowly, so wonderfully. Gravity pulls everything down, but plants defy gravity and grow upwards. The growing plants teach an important lesson, that growth by itself is a rebellion.
AB: You have received the "Bharat Bhushan Agrawal" award for your poetry and recently "Krishna Pratap Katha Samman" for Pink slip daddy. What do these awards mean to you?
GC: I feel very grateful to people who have found my writing worthy.
AB: What is next now?
GC: For the past six years, I have been working on my first full-length novel Ranikhet Xpress. I am gladdened by the fact that readers at different forums, on various listening-posts have considered it among the most awaited novels in Hindi. I am myself awaiting its completion. Hope it comes out soon. Whenever I think of a new work, I remember Philip Larkin. I love what he has said, 'Poetry is not like surgery, a technique that can be copied. Every operation the poet performs is unique, and need never be done again.' And I believe, it holds true for any kind of writing.
Translated from the Hindi by Anita Gopalan
(Granny's Necklace is one part of the 27-part long poem, 'The Amphibian' (Ubhaychar) which implements varied techniques, and is seen in Hindi poetry as a remarkable poetic achievement. )
I had loved once, heartbreakingly intense : Emerging from the days of love, I discovered nothing had broken besides me : 'To be broken is indeed the ultimate truth.' : This was precisely what she had said whom I had loved : This never had been life's philosophy : Then why did we, after breaking up, sweep our love-fling it away? : In my house, inside a trunk was a necklace : Old, broken, disjoined from its thread : Granny had preserved it just so, neatly and safely : Whenever from the trunk she took something out : A few beads of the necklace fell to the floor : Stuck in a sari, dupatta, shawl or old paper : Picking them up, Granny would remember the necklace : The tale of whose breaking she had never related : But narrated instead time and again, many times, a million times : That next time she would from the mart bring a thread thick : And string the necklace in it : This way, her way, she would negate that to be broken was indeed the ultimate truth : It could very well be forced imagination, perfused with a pretense of elegance : That the necklace might have been Granny's brokenness for an old love : That necklace we had remembered again, a long time after her death : Which no longer existed in the trunk : It was nowhere, we couldn't say that : For it had always existed in our memories : And Granny's too, in her posthumous memories : Which cascading from the cooled ashes of her charred bones would have clung to the fibrils of water in the root of a tree or crop in some delta land : That day I had felt that Granny had finally regained that thread : Even otherwise, the beads she would have carried sans the thread : And God forbid, if the beads were to scatter, where would she scamper looking for them again? : I have never saved the beads of my necklaces : That is why those which I see bouncing off : From clothes : From almirah : In between books- rolling : I often tell myself- These are beads of my Granny's broken necklace.
In a state of Samadhi
Slogans of seventeen1
Cataclysm of forty seven
Silences of seventy five
Liberal assaults of ninety one
Some women with veiled faces arrive
Lighting a lamp in front of me, depart
A society submerged in deep slumber
Squirms in its sleep
Dreaming a dream of wakening
Hot summer afternoon, there has been a power cut
An ideology ensconced at its foot-side
Fans it steadily
Neither sleep breaks, nor illusions shatter
1 Seventeen (1917): The Russian Revolution that still influences the thinking of the Indian intelligentsia. Forty seven (1947): Indian Independence from British Rule. Seventy five (1975): Emergency in India, imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was a period marked by great turmoil, curtailed freedom and suppression of opposition, and was the biggest challenge to India's commitment to democracy. Ninety one (1991): Initiation of the economic liberalization in India, the Indian society underwent a sea change as a result of the various economic thrusts.