The Crested Bunting (Melophus lathami) is a bird that could easily get into the prettiest Indian birds list. Though I saw this one on a walk at the foothills of Himalayas last summer as a migrant, they are resident of central Indian hills.
Keshavasut: the pioneer of new age Marathi poetry
I am the new soldier
with new spirit
of the new age.
Insatiable my hunger,
no crumbs will do.
I am not a frog in the well,
my land shall be without a fence,
who dares bind me!
I was at Ratnagiri, a coastal district in Maharashtra, about two hours in the bus is a small village Malgund that is the birthplace of Krishnaji Keshav Damle alias Keshavsut. The house has been converted into a memorial. There is also, a spartan but quite tastefully done, museum of major Marathi poets and also guest houses for resident researchers.
Keshavsut (1866-1905, barely 39 when he died) is one of the foremost Marathi poets as also a significant presence in Indian literature. He made a complete departure from traditional Marathi poetry styles –that was stuck in time warp, and brought in new breeze of freshness, he revolutionized Marathi poetry both in its form and content. Keshavsut is now hailed a harbinger of new age of Marathi poetry. The word ‘now’ is key here because during his lifetime he didn’t receive any recognition and shockingly was treated with derision. He loudly protested against tradition bound poetry and cruel inhuman social traditions and customs. Apart from this he is the first Marathi poet to write about different aspects of nature. He largely lived a life of anonymity and only produced a slender volume of 132 poems which were published, as a collection, posthumously.
“Keshavsut achieved for Marathi poetry what Hari Narayan Apte did for Marathi novel –endowed with a truly creative power” (Kusumavathi D in History of Marathi literature). He used everyday words used by common people, which were considered unpoetic and harsh by the orthodox. He gave new energy and confidence to the common place with his ‘unusual sincerity of expression’. His poems were close to nature and Wordsworthian in its simplicity and subtlety. Being part of society and quite aware of discriminations (unlike many so called great Indian literary figures) that existed in the society he raised his voice, many of his poems reflects this concerns. He called for ‘urgent social reform’. He was a ‘vigilant humanist who wanted to fight all sham conventions and rusted customs. He was against any differentiation between people…”
I do not envy their luck,
A dry and coarse bread is enough for me,
I am ready to die, O god! In hard work,
why do you kill me with starvation?
Lord! If all are equal in your eye,
why are you callous to the poor?
To some you give delicious food,
why don’t you give me one simple bread?
(from the poem A Worker forced to starve)
Despite the fact he was in the midst of early awakening of demand for freedom from colonial power after 1857 independence struggle, the nascent nationalism was soon a wildfire among the poets and thinkers of the time, Keshavasut was able to correctly see through the revivalist self-deception in the nationalistic fervour and chauvinism that comes with it. It is rather remarkable since these were 1880s Pune, a region that would see much of obscurantism in years to come. He very assiduously avoided the temptation of being nationalist poet and gain popularity.
All these poems are translated from Marathi (by Prabhakar Machwe), so may sound jarring sometimes, the original I am told is quite nuanced. Whatever may be the case even in English his intent and compassion comes out quite distinctly; that he was sensitive to his surroundings is very clear. He didn’t live in isolation in the name of art, that is nothing short of criminal in the context we live, but was vigorously involved and responded to the realities of surroundings. A century back the social reality was much crude and brutal. You will see such arrogance in RK Narayan’s works specifically in his thoughts (as essays) –he created world devoid of any blemishes, if any, was seen as adorable excesses. Nothing wrong but then to live a life absolutely unconcerned to these realities is shocking. Keshavsut lived not much before likes of Narayans. These poems were written in 1880s…
The First Question of the Untouchable child
The children of untouchables,
poor, gay, playing on the roadside –
A Brahmin came from far
to the simple kids what he say
‘O you brats of Mahars, move away,
be gone! What are you playing, you louts?
Run away give way to the Brahmin!’
The children fled –who would dare stay!
One amongst them did;
The wicked Brahmin brandished his club and shouted,
‘Ass! your shadow may not fall on me,
get gone or else this ‘sweet present’!’
the kid too slunk homewards,
‘What if my shadow fell on him,
what’s so wrong about it?’
At home he asked the question to his mother,
The poor mother said:
‘We are low and they are high,
When you see them, you had better step aside’
She said so –simply.
How would she know
that highness in this world is built
on sin and glory
on the degradation of others!
Break the icons, hurry,
hurry, break the idols!
Of what use are offerings,
why rub your nose on the ground
We are from the hills, rough and uncivil,
we want only wealth!
The sorceress crouches with a riddle –
fail to solve it and she will devour you.
We don’t want to fall into her trap,
so let us beware.
We shall break open the idols
and then reassemble the bits.
But we shall not sell them –
those who sell the gods are bastards
they are the real thieves, not we!
I rather liked this one the “Glum Faced”, what is shocking for me is that I wasn’t aware of Keshavsut so far!! That not only is a statement on our education system but also the contemporary society that thrives on mediocrity and celebrates inane that the best of Indians don’t even get a passing reference.
(in the classroom a teacher called me ‘glum faced’ and I thought…)
O Guru, my face is glum.
Yes, all who look at it are disappointed.
All know it, it is so obvious.
But why did you have to say it?
What pleasure did you get thereby?
“His face is glum, indeed, but who knows
providence might make him sing
new poems to make the world and people happy!”
Did such a simple thought, for a moment,
cross your sophisticated mind, goodness gracious!
The people whom you think are ants,
O Guru! they might fly like birds in the sky,
those who seem ash heaps may have hidden embers,
to burn the whole world to ashes, who can guarantee?
From this very glum face of mine may flow in days to come
a stream, beautiful, ever-present –
if not you, your children might quench their thirst drinking it.
Nobody then would ever ask, ‘How was the poet’s face?’
There is one tree that has decided to show off and has even shed all its leaves for its bright yellow trumpet flowers. O it’s a yellow riot going on here!! Tabebuia aurea is in all its glory and this will last throughout the March is an ecstatic reality. And this tree is not even native of India, they are from dry forests Brazil. Take your time to have a good look at this one.
From my scribble pad…
What the silly dog doesn’t know
Again there was a flare up on the street where two alleys meet.
A fellow beat up another who returns the favour with much interest.
A crowd had gathered to watch.
Behind the garbage bin the mongrel too witness the drama in amazement.
He asked me what the fuss was we too fight but never this bother.
Ah that is where we differ from you mindless mongrel.
The human muck burst intermittently but a persistent impulse.
Ambivalence no longer the shield
to bear the spectacle of depravity
A primal thread binds the souls as nothing else can.
So this audience.
They call it sports.Sometimes it is a war.