Verse can make life better

January, February and March seem to have a close affiliation with great poets. Some brilliant poets of the present and past were born or died in these months. The list is impressive and I am afraid there might be more golden names that I have not been able to compile. Take a look (in the chronological order of the date of birth): Ravidas (15th century mystic saint and poet of the bhakti movement, Meerabai’s guru), Mirza Ghalib, Bharatendu Harishchandra, Swami Vivekananda (primarily a spiritual figure but also a poet), Ayodhya Singh Upadhyay ‘Hariaudh’, Jaishankar Prasad, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Mahadevi Varma, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Faiz Ahmad Faiz (of Pakistan), Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayana ‘Agyeya’, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Kaifi Azmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Gopaldas ‘Neeraj’, Ahmad Faraz (of Pakistan), Dushyant Kumar (included here because he died on the eve of January on 31 December), Basheer Badr and Javed Akhtar.

Most people would not note the birth and death anniversaries of these illustrious poets falling in the January-March quarter. One reason for this is that poetry has become out of fashion in India. And this may partly be because really good poetry has not emerged in India for a long time. Till the 1950s and 60s, there were many excellent poets of Hindi and other Indian languages.

But then the poetry scene became barren. Good poets are simply not getting born. It is rightly said that a poet is born a poet. You cannot make a poet out of a man the way you can make a soldier, bureaucrat or plumber out of someone. There is a mystery about the roots of poetry. It is perhaps impossible to say how poetry is born or where it springs from.

There is a maxim in Sanskrit poetics that expresses differently the saying ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’. The maxim is: kavitva beejam pratibhanam (the seed of poetry is a subjective view). An inference of this maxim is: maam pratibhati (I see something in a certain way). The import of the maxim is that a poet has a special way of looking at things. Poetry is in his vision. An implication of this is that the poetic vision cannot be acquired, it comes into being on its own as a gift of nature.

The lack of good poets can be seen in the lyrics of Bollywood songs. Some names I have mentioned in the list above are brilliant poets whose work for the Hindi film industry added to their fame but whose poetry would have been luminous even without its presence in films. There was a time when Hindi film songs were complete poetry by themselves. This was more or less the case till the 1970s. From the 80s the rot started setting in. And from the 90s, it has been free fall for film poetry.

There is a mystery about good poetry and that makes it impossible for me to really understand why it is not happening anymore. They are not making ’em like that anymore and I am clueless why it has to be so. A poem is not like a problem of mathematics or physics that can be cracked and fathomed intellectually. Poetry is about intuition, emotions, creativity and the unknown silence from where words come forth. A poem cannot be peeled and consumed. It can only be enjoyed like whiffs of fragrance. Perhaps it is about the two hemispheres of our brain. The left one is associated with logic, reasoning and analysis, the foundation of science. The right one is involved in intuition and creativity, crucial in the world of the arts. Or it is about the head and heart. What makes perfect sense to the heart can at times make no sense to the head. And the other way round too. It is rightly said that the heart has its own reasons that reason cannot fathom. All great poetry reveals its meaning in the realms of the heart, among emotions and intuition. It is perhaps because of this that poetry has gone out of common life. These are grossly practical times. These are not times to let go but to hold fast. And the meaning of life, of poetry cannot be held in a closed fist. It needs an open palm. These are times of living in the intellect, moored to concrete experiences borne out of the senses. These are times when delving into the magical world beyond the senses and intellect looks foolish and impractical. These are times of the letter of things, just the letter, not the spirit residing in and arising out of the letter.

The letter can deliver a lot. It can deliver the world and that is enough today. Living in a state where the world of the spirit is as real as or perhaps more real than the world of the letter seems of no worth today. Poetry that emanates from and celebrates the spirit behind the letter looks meaningless, pointless today.

For me this is a tragedy, a catastrophe. I am sure I am not alone.

The author is a senior journalist and columnist
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