Friday, 4 April 2014

Some poems from Delhi: Mangalesh Dabral

As I wrote earlier the Indian poets fell into two major groups that one might call the cosmic and the humane. I wouldn't want to push those terms too far as the two are not necessarily antithetical, nor is each particular poet an embodiment of one to the exclusion of the other.

But Mangalesh Dabral is certainly on the side of the humane. What does this mean? In part it means that he talks as himself, or rather as a self we believe in. In other words he addresses us without overt ceremony, without references to forces beyond the immediate concerns of the poem. The poems present us with a singular voice, not facing particularly singular problems, often more generic ones, but there is a tenderness and suppleness in the voice, communicated particulary through pace.

I was touched by all the poems Mangalesh Dabral read. His poems are in Hindi, this one, taken from his collection  translated into English by another very fine and well known poet, Sudeep Sen

This Number Does Not Exist

This number does not exist.
Wherever I go whichever number I dial
At the other end a strange voice says
This number does not exist yeh number maujood nahin hai
Not too long ago at the number I used to reach people
Who said: of course we recognise you
There is space for you in this universe

But now this number does not exist it is some old number.
At these old addresses very few people are left
Where at the sound of footsteps doors would be opened
Now one has to ring the bell and wait in apprehension
And finally when one appears
It is possible he might have changed
Or he might say I am not the one you used to talk to
This is not the number where we would hear out your grief

Wherever I go numbers maps faces seem to be changed
Old diaries are strewn in gutters
Their names slow-fading in the water
Now other numbers are available more than ever with and without wires
But a different kind of conversation on them
Only business only transactions buy-and-sell voices like strangers
Whenever I go I desperately dial a number
And ask for the voice that used to say
The door is open you can stay here
Come along for a while just for the sake of it any time in this universe.

Eliot called The Waste Land a grumble against the universe. This poem too is a grumble but it builds to much more than that. It is a poem of humility in that, though the voice in it is complaining against universals such as ageing, change and loss, it does not assume a special status for itself. Its universality is quiet, graceful, consonant with the persona. The technique is derived from a mature low-profile modernism that needs little punctuation and eschews conspicuous formality of presentation on the one hand and a display for the more burdensome aspects of tradition on the other.

These at least are my impressions and guesses. I know next to nothing about Hindi poetry. Whatever is traditional here has moved directly in the bones. I can imagine this voice anywhere in the world. That is its internationalism: one hardly even thinks about it. That is its grace and its lightness of touch. And much credit for that goes to Sudeep Sen too.

There is more information and more work by Mangalesh Dabral at the Rotterdam International Poetry Festival site here where he reads a number of poems aloud.

No comments: