Poet as painter

Peacock Feather by Mayank Chhaya

I was always a poet. Therefore now I am also becoming a painter. Painting, like poetry, is about imaginatively interpreting and presenting reality. A poet is a painter somewhere and a painter is a poet somewhere.The purpose of either craft is not necessarily to look for the ultimate truth but to present many different versions of it. The only requirement is that those versions should have the minimum virtue of being compelling. They don’t have to be right. They have to be captivating.

It has been my experience that a poet does not really grow with time in so far as it concerns his or her command over the craft. Since poetry is the craft of the distillation of reality, one has to possess it fully in the first place. It is a prerequisite. You don’t get better at that that. You already ought to have been at your best before you start. That is what I mean by a poet not growing with time. What perhaps grows is the ease with which one constructs poetry which is debatable.

Poets are like perfumers. They have to be able to mix life’s experiences and distill them down to portable essence. It is from that standpoint that I am approaching the subject of my upcoming documentary ‘Narsinh: The Poet for the Eons.’ Of course, the poet sees and articulates ideas and truths that are often lost on others. Like all great philosopher-poets, Mehta fashioned his inner realizations into external articulation using words.

The documentary project is compelling me to do what I am always greatly reluctant to do—second-guess or interpret the poet. Much of what Mehta wrote is in the realm of philosophical rumination even as it lends itself eminently to being set to music. Like a painter, Mehta the poet too sees reality from a special vantage point. His perch is not ordinary.

Those who write or paint, particularly poetry and abstract painting, would know that the inner realizations of the kind Mehta talks about automatically choose the right words or colors/abstractions. There is almost no effort involved for the truly great poet and painter in the way effort is understood by those who do not do either. More often than not poetry and paintings are born fully formed, more so in the former than the latter.

On April 20 this year in a different context here is what I said about poetry:

Poetry is an unnecessary talent. Having written it since 13, I think I have earned the right to say this. That said, not all talents should be judged for their worldly utility. The real worth of poetry lies in its inspirational quotient.

I have not done a scientific study to say this but I am fairly certain that great poetry has inspired people to do great things. The poet is necessarily is an inspirer or an illuminator. Poetry is a catalyst. If a single poetic line inspires people with genuine utility-oriented talents to do great things that help humanity at large, then poetry serves its purpose as does the poet. However, it is not the poet’s business to do things. Poets lead a life of conceit where doing worldly/mundane/utilitarian things is anathema.

Mehta brilliantly fits that description of the poet being an illuminator beyond generations. It is from that standpoint that I intend telling his story.

I began the post today drawing some parallels between poetry and painting. There is no evidence that Mehta had any painterly talents but it is my view that he conceived poetry visually. Some of those visuals may seem rather abstract but they were still visuals in his mind. Instead of paint, he used words to bring his inner realizations alive.

I speak of Mehta’s inner realizations because of poetry like this:

દેહમાં દેવ તું,

તેજમાં તત્વ તું,

શૂન્યમાં શબ્દ થઇ

વેદ વાસે

You are the divine in the body

You are the spark in the light

You are the word in the void

You become the knowledge


About chutiumsulfate

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

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