Thursday, 22 November 2007

CONSCIENCE AND POETRY

Like many other citizens of conscience, Dilip Chitre too protested against the Gujarat riots of 2002. He referred to that phase and said, “Art can be a powerful whisper. The rape of Gujarat forced us to respond through our creations.” And his creations have always been linked to his “experiences and the country.”

Chitre has been a multi-faceted creator. He has been a poet, playwright, fiction writer, filmmaker and painter. It could confuse one about Chitre’s primary identity. “It comes from poetry. I may practice different art forms but poetry remains my first and the last identity. I write in two different languages. That doesn’t make me two different poets, he said promptly.

Indeed, the renowned poet has been one of the important literary figures of recent times. Whether as a frontrunner in the little magazine format to being a bilingual poet (writing in English and Marathi with equal élan) – Chitre has achieved an iconic status. Revered by many, he has been an inspiration to younger poets and literary enthusiasts like Hemant Divate. Chitre fondly mentioned Divate and referred to the little magazine Abhidanantar that he edits.

We looked into the political flavour in the little magazines of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. Hasn’t it got faded with the passage of time, he was asked. Chitre referred to the Bengali little magazines – specially the Krittibas and then compared the situation in Marathi little magazines – specially those featuring poetry. He sounds optimistic. “Marathi language poetry hasn’t gone backwards. The little magazine Shabda published from Mumbai in the 1950s and 1960s was meant to generate awareness among the youth. It was distributed free among the college students. Then there were about 10 little magazines in the 1970s. There was a lull in the 1980s and 1990s but again some five to six little magazines have come up,” he said.

How important is poetry as an art form and how important are the poets for the society – that being the question, Chitre described poets as social elements who make immense contributions. “But we often fail to appreciate our own works when we look back,” the poet said with mild sadness in his voice.

However, Chitre is also hopeful about the readers. “Indians are getting mobilised in terms of literacy. There is about 20 per cent increase in literates every year in India. Being a vast country there is enough audience for poetry,” he said and mentioned The Little Magazine (on print and on web) of Antara Dev Sen as an example that is attracting people.

Chitre has been writing for over five decades now. Isn’t it difficult to keep going with consistent vigour, we wondered. The poet disagreed. “My life drives my poetic self,” he said. We refer to his poem Frescoes where he describes his “awesome childhood” in Vadodara and asks: Could I tell those stories now? After sixty years of fermenting in my own vat? According to Chitre, “A poet must try to form his own identity. It’s a long journey and is complex in nature. The poet should move from place to place - occupation to occupation and distil it into practice.” He himself moved from Vadodara to Mumbai during his teens and that city has influenced his poems and works. It was a momentous decision for him to lead his life as a poet and an artist, he informed.

But what about the rural milieu and surroundings, he was asked. Chitre explained that his poems have been “more like an urban voice rather than a rural one.” And in the same context he defended English language as a medium of poems in India. “The future is bright. But in the UK and the USA it’s bleak. We will be the greatest contributor to English language poetry. Even our fiction writers dominate internationally,” he affirmed.

One of his acclaimed works is the book on the life of Sant Tukaram. The work titled Says Tuka has been translated into several languages. But there is no plan to translate the work in other Indian languages like Bengali, for example. In this context he went back to the rural-urban issue and referred to Rabindranath Tagore and Jibanananda Das. “They have been exceptions by drawing inspiration from the rural settings. Jibanananda has beautifully described the eastern Bengal and life there. Rabindranath was so much influenced by the folk, specially the Baul traditions of Bengal. But that has become rare now. Even writers in Bengali language seems to have got stuck in their place and a time warp,” Chitre said before we wrapped up.