Friday, Aug 19, 2022
Outlook.com
Review

Gently Down The Stream

Kolatkar's last offerings relish carrying mortality's burden

Gently Down The Stream
Madhu Kapparath
Gently Down The Stream
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

Uncollected work often constitutes material that wasn’t, in the poet’s opinion, good enough to make it to a selection within a book; and which, with the poet’s canonisation, becomes important to readers. Kolatkar’s situation is different. He had a congenital resistance to publication or, at least, dissemination. Mehrotra points out he was a collector of books in the way Elias Canetti was; he stored books "in his head". He was also, like Kafka, a hoarder and collecter of his own output. What made it to print and what didn’t, which stimulus crystallised into an English poem and which into a Marathi one, are part of a design we aren’t entirely clear about. Unlike Kafka, Kolatkar had an ingenuous, almost fatalistic, view that his work would interest posterity, and therefore needed to be presented, eventually, correctly; which is why he was whispering directions to his editor on his deathbed in Pune, when he could hardly speak. This "passionate conviction" came from a view of poetic influence at once relativist and geological, rendering illusory our notions of reputations fast and slow, large and small; as he says in one of the fragments in the appendices: It may take.../ 1300 years for Tu Fu to find a good translator a publisher/ before he registers on my mind.

The appendices comprise aphorisms that Mehrotra found scribbled on pieces of paper and stored in envelopes. Among other things, they contain a private, provisional rhetoric on the conundrum of Indian writing quite different from the reassuring "Empire writes back" sort: the bilingual poet uses a "pencil sharpened at both ends"; Kolatkar, disguised as the member of an audience, cries: "Will the real Ramanujan please stand up?" These should be both relished and studied. But everything in The Boatride (even the familiar pieces) is a surprise: the early poems in English that have been floating about in remaindered anthologies; the itinerant poem-sequence ‘the boatride’ itself, finding a home after forty-five years; the songs, written when Kolatkar was inhabited by Dylan and Frank Zappa; the translations from his own Marathi oeuvre, which are also bona fide English poems—there ought to be a law against translating your own poems/ (unless the law against incest already covers it). Then there are the pared-down versions of the Marathi Bhakti poets which oddly presage Ted Hughes’s maleficent Crow, a sequence, it was once remarked, that was composed in a diction adequate to the post-Auschwitz world. Being the Creator, the God of Kolatkar’s Bhakti poets may not be maleficent, but He’s every bit as wily and tenacious as Crow is.

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