Answering a recurring question


Drink by Mayank Chhaya

Among the handful of friends and acquaintances who read and, I suspect, occasionally like some of my Urdu/Hindi poetry there is a recurring question.

Do I believe in or feel what I write?

The simplest and the most honest answer is no. But perhaps as you can imagine, ‘no’ is so short and terse that those asking the question harbor a nagging feeling that there ought to be a lot that I have deliberately, and even fiendishly, left out unsaid. They feel that way because ‘no’ is unambiguous and so bereft of nuance and possibility. ‘No’ in such contexts is like an impenetrable wall and, as with all walls, people think that there must be something on the other side. There isn’t.

Speaking of walls, as a teenager in 1979, 18 to be precise, I wrote the following:

Every time I jumped over the wall of my conscience, I landed on the same side.

Either there is no wall or there are no sides.

Or may be, there is no conscience.

Inevitably, many of those in my age group thought I was spinning some esoteric non-sense. From their vantage point, they would be accurate in thinking that. How many 18-year-olds, with flaming testosterones lighting up their groins, would be interested in walls and conscience? Not too many, I think.

However, the few who got the substance of what I was saying asked me if I really “believed” that there is no wall or sides or conscience. This was not the kind of question that could be answered with a simple yes or no. To me, it was the visual representation of what the world calls conscience in the form of a wall and sides and how vaulting over did not really lead to a different side that was more interesting than whether I believed in it.

It is the imagery and not a deeper meaning, if any at all, that prompted me. The funny thing is that when I was writing the lines the wall was not a metaphor for conscience but an actual bricks and mortar structure climbing over which was made treacherous by slippery moss.

I don’t know about other poets but for me poetry is a mechanical process of arranging words in a manner that they would read compelling or intriguing or entertaining or profound or all of the above together. Having written for over 35 years one knows what quirkiness or twist or turn of phrase or unusualness of thought would hit home for those who have the grace and generosity to read. None of what I write is felt or inspired. It is almost like a poetic juke box. You drop a few coins and and spews out something that it has confected. However, unlike a juke box more often than not the content here is fresh.

For as long as I remember—and this is irrespective of its literary merit—there is no lag between the conception and delivery of whatever lines I write in my poetry. The other day I wrote this ghazal. The lines were born fully matured and required no swabbing like a newly born soaked in placenta would. It started walking and talking and arguing as soon as it came out of my mind.


Here is freely rendered translation. It rhymes in the original but I do not feel like putting in so much work as to make it properly rhyme in English:

Here, this evening of conspiracy

Is to you

I see only what you see

That’s what I do

Now that you have noticed me

I think I am thru

Here, this evening of conspiracy

Is to you

It is fair for those who read it to think that these lines are my way of capturing a real life experience and render it dressed up in poetic enigma. Not true at all. These are just, hopefully, cleverly crafted lines with no basis in any real feeling or experience. All the lines here came fully formed and required no fine-tuning. There is really no explanation for what one writes. Certainly, there is no deeper meaning to be read in it. Also, there is no churning that precedes it. They just pop out immaculately and perish soon after.

P.S.: This is such a self-indulgent post. Excuse me.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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