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Reviewed by Shikhandin
Title: A Clock in the Far Past – Poems
Author: Sarabjeet Garcha
Publisher: Dhauli Books
Price: INR Rs 250/ $14/£ 11
Human bodies are heavy, slaves of Earth’s gravity. Human hearts, on the other hand, weighing little more than sparrows, are still strong enough to pull the weight of memory. Perhaps this is where poetry is born.
Sarabjeet Garcha’s book of poems, A Clock in the Far Past, leaves one immersed in a certain feeling. Something more like residue, or a whiff of a sensation, almost like distant memory, or the memory of a memory, ticking away for the sake of what is here and now.
As the titular poem of the volume says:
It wasn’t 10:10, as images of clocks
are fond of showing, but some hour
that’s been swallowed by some windy
darkness of a tunnel, now extinct.
But what you can’t figure out now
Is the sudden urge to make
That stopped clock tick again-
As if a few tweaks to it
in the far past would set at least
something in your present right.
The clock’s hands move. Sarabjeet Garcha’s poems ferry the reader across like a time machine, albeit an astral one. This can be, and is already, disconcerting. These memories do not belong to the reader; and at times they seem not to belong to the poet. Then why this recurring sense of turning back the hands of one’s own clock? Is it because Garcha has made
a handful of lines
out of a lifetime’s work
These lines speak to me of Garcha’s humility before his muse. And this too – when he recognises with thanks that
figure of some rare unknown
reader of his paltry work, he wants
to snoop on the underscores
and thank her for doing
what was almost
undoable for him…
(From “Radium”, the last poem in the volume)
‘Like Earth to Stars’: Forthcoming from Poetrywala, Mumbai
Heracleion and the City of Shiva Prakash
Thank you, archaeologists, for excavating
the great ancient city
hidden in the depths of the Mediterranean
for one thousand and two hundred years.
Our stone children,
gods and goddesses,
still lie there
dreamy-eyed and smiling
though heads and limbs are broken
and eroded by sea salt.
Why did this city drown?
It stood on the foundation of sand
that could not bear and support
its ever increasing weight of buildings
and statues of gods and people,
poor sand gave way…
But a lot of the city’s glory still survives poignantly
hidden in water and surrounded by unmindful fish
waiting to be discovered and admired…
My heart too is a city
bursting with palaces, temples and gardens
I built for you.
So many pilgrims and merchants come here day and night
and most settle down
as they cannot say goodbye to a city so exquisite,
because of you and my art
but, alas, I have built all this
on the foundation of wet sands
of your ever dwindling faith in me.
So the City of Shiva Prakash too will collapse
due to a great error of the builder:
He never thought of the strength
of the foundation.
once it goes under the sands of the ever-changing world
will someone discover its wonders
when neither of us will be around?
By Dr Kamalakar Bhat
O my Kannada words
You became my companions
In far-off Peru
Thanks for keeping me company
From day dreams amidst clouds
To the heights of Machu Picchu
Where eagles circle
And from there
To the cities of the ocean-goddess
And of a god with thunder’s name
With bricks and stones stained with blood
And from there
To the depths of Caral the mother city
And you, voices from the Machu Picchu poem
By my elder brother Pablo
Beloved hearts of my dear readers
That befriended me on my lonely journey;
The fruit of our journey
Was not sand, stone or ancient Peru’s mother city
But these few proverbs I stole from primordial dreams:
Peace is inevitable; not war
Dying is inevitable; not killing
Worship is inevitable; not sacrifice
Mating is inevitable; not longing
Trade is inevitable; not cheating
Enchanting flowers, the dreams of rocks;
Beauteous forms, the dreams of deserts;
Exquisite cities, the dreams of void;
The joy of all, the longing of the soul
Write these down in the slips of paper
Of our dying worlds,
Tie them to the claws of dream doves,
Let them go flying
Into all times
Into all spaces
Into all worlds
— From “Heights of Machu Picchu, Depths of Caral” by H. S. Shiva Prakash
Poet, playwright and translator, H S Shiva Prakash (born 1954) is among the foremost living writers of India. He began as a poet and playwright writing in Kannada and eventually became a bilingual poet and a translator across multiple languages. He teaches English at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and has served as the Director of the Cultural Centre at Berlin, known as the Tagore Centre.
He has nine collections of poems, fifteen plays, and several other books to his credit in Kannada. He has also published a collection of poems in English and many of his plays are available in English translation. His works have been widely translated into French, Italian, Turkish, Spanish, German, Polish, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu. His plays have been performed in Kannada, Hindi, Meitei, Rabha, Assamese, Bodo, Tamil and Malayalam. Shiva Prakash has also translated the Kannada vachana literature into English. His interests include Bhakti movements of India, and Sufi and other mystic traditions. He has to his credit many ‘best book’ prizes for his books of poems, plays and translations accorded to him by Sahitya Academy, Delhi, Sangeet Natak Academi, Delhi and Karnataka Sahitya Academy. He is also the recipient of many awards including the Rajyotsava Award given by the Karnataka government and the Kusumagraja Award given by YCMOU, Nashik. While he has been invited to read his poems or present talks in various countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and America, he was also invited to the International Writing Program in School of Letters, University of Iowa.
Shiva Prakash began his writing career when ‘navya’, the modernist literary movement was dominant in Kannada. No doubt influenced by some of the major modernist Kannada writers, when he began writing, Shiva Prakash, wrote out of the many memories housed in him through the years of his growing up. In so doing, in his initial output, he marked a distinct poetic manner – both in form and content – from the one that was then popular. By the time his second collection was published, this difference began to be celebrated by his readers.
Kamalakar Bhat: Your poems forsake the path of obscurity that much of the navya Kannada poetry had chosen though you began writing during the period. Was reaching out to the reader important to you?
Shiva Prakash: When I first started writing, I thought that my business is to write without bothering about reach and accessibility. Because I was influenced by modernist poetics and thought that one writes for a discerning individual. That was my belief at that time. Later, I discovered that when I read my poems in person, well-read people expressed admiration but the common people were not feeling good. Then I said no, I must write for these people, not for the scholars and critics. I decided I should make the simple style my model.
Looking at the whole tradition of Kannada poetry and what kind of relationship exists between the poet and the audience, I discovered that in the best of Kannada poetry, even in classical Kannada poetry, the most memorable lines are very simple and they are immediately communicable. Whether it is Pampa, Ranna, Raghavanka, Kumaravyasa, all are very simple.
See, once a poet establishes a kind of rapport with the audience, people remember him.
Because poetry is not a communication of meaning. It may be the discovery of meaning for the critic and the scholar, but for people poetry creates an impact. And nobody reads poetry for accessing meaning. I think I endorse the classical notion that poetry is about impact, not communication.