Poetry’s Curse

It was a usually unusual day. Usual because a friend was at home as I would have expected him to be. Unusual because I broke a personal rule for him — but then if you wouldn’t break it for a friend – why make rules?

One thing led to another and we got listening to Marathi Theatre Music – if you will allow that as a genre. It is a genre. I am just checking if you will. Who else but the doyen of Marathi Theatre, Kumar Gandharva filled this short evening with wonder.

But I’ll subtract the story of the evening – because of what hurts me about understanding poetry. Like art, every Tariq, Devendra and Harry has an opinion about poetry. And I do too. But, to my mind, poetry is an exact art – exact in a way that I understand it – one that cannot be interpreted in two ways – the non-abstract one.  When Mangesh Keshav Padgaonkar wrote about “Bhatuklichya Khela Madhali” what was he talking about? There is an obvious element of separation in that presentation. What is that separation – is it death? Is it a physical separation? is it an emotional separation caused by an incident?`

We all have our views of what that poem/lyric is all about. For all of us who have already determined the meaning of a song or a poem, we are already wrong. A good set of words that are close relatives of an emotion (I choose to call it a ‘set of words’ rather than give it a name, because we will then automatically assume a default meaning of the words because of the structure they are put in) are a personal expression – no one will ever deny it. The choice of words however, is the determinant factor of poetry’s curse: you have to make your own meaning.

The Music of Architecture.jpg

Allow me to explain. Kumar Gandharva has sung a song titled, “Prem Kele Kay Ha Zala Gunha” (loosely translated: “I have been in love; what crime have I committed?”) It is a heartfelt journey of the post-pangs of being in love. That is my pedestrian understanding of this masterpiece. Towards the end, in a stanza, he says, “bolke zaale muke.” Let’s jump into the beauty of it – directly translated – it means that those who could speak were silenced. The beauty of the language and the construction of this phrase also allows you to interpret it as – “those that were dumb – found a voice.” When a victim is looking for witnesses for his case, the interpretation of this phrase makes a world of a difference.

For those that looking for a Valentine-ish extract of this post – there is none – but may I suggest “Runanubandhanchya.” If you have the ability in you to love the way that this poet has expressed – you have my respect.

I have often felt a deep sense of regret that I cannot read and understand Marathi literature, due, in most part of me being brought up all over the country, in cultures, that have been divergent to my roots. Give me Hindi, any time. Whether by design or default, I was brought up as an Indian, rather than as a Maharashtrain. I happily and proudly blame it on my father.

It is like poetry – a curse and a boon at the same time.

The shortcoming of the default understanding of what art in this region has come to mean for those who have been taught in a particular fashion, is my very personal prowess of extracting meaning that was hitherto undiscovered. Friends of mine who have studied Marathi poetry in school and college offer their exact and specific understanding of a poem – the hand-downs from the doyens and the protectors of meaning.  They question my alternative interpretations. Some scoff at me – for they know my Indian ethos. A few, listen intently, for they know my ethos.

My arbitrary discoveries may easily be trampled upon; however – they live a life – even if for a brief moment.

What is the poetry’s curse?

It is not a curse that any poet can impose on you. Poets like you and me cannot do it. Only the smartest, the most emotional and the most accepting & sensitive poets can impose on you. This poet’s poem has myriad meanings. There is an obvious meaning – which you will hear in a large lecture room in your literature class, by the socially renowned critic. You can make that meaning yours; challenge and stand tall before me with its meaning. Your height, then is not yours. It is derived – out of your class and the academic and oft debated interpretation of what the poet, meant to say.

I am liberated.

I never studied poetry, or any art-form for that matter. I have capacity to make more meaning like the poet intended. I never studied poetry. I am crippled in that sense, like the non-poet-critic intended.

In my illiteracy, I choose the former.

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