Poetry is hardly anyone’s cup of tea today, most prefer TV, radio, internet, music, or other novels to read. However, poetry still continues to be written and still possesses a magic and an ability to convey the poet’s inner feelings to a perceptive audience. It can simply display those inner feelings, or urge the readers to criticize, question certain systems and traditions. Poetry is still relevant today and hopefully will continue to have such functions in the future.
‘Jejuri‘ written by an eminent Indian poet named Arun Kolatkar is a collection of 31 poems about a place called Jejuri in Maharashtra, near Pune. Kolatkar hasn’t simply described the place and but rather has questioned sharply the institution of religion in India and specifically in Jejuri. All the poems in this collection more or less share this quality. Kolatkar gives a description of a particular curious object/scene/setting/area withing Jejuri and through those descriptions raises those questions. All the poems have a tinge on skepticism-an aspect that attests to the unbeliever in Kolatkar which is clearly seen in the first poem, ‘The Bus’ wherein the poet cannot connect with the mind of a religious man in the bus that takes him to Jejuri. The poem starts the poet’s journey to this religious place and immediately sets the tone of skepticism right there that can be seen in all the subsequent poems as well. This skepticism takes away spirituality of the poet for religious places. The collection ends with six poems under the title:’The Railway Station.’ Kolatkar apparently is going to take a train to depart from Jejuri and even in the six poems about the railway station, Kolatkar presents a unique portrait of the mundane aspects of most Indian railway station and colours them with a new form so that the reader will be able to discern beyond the obvious. Even in Jejuri’s railway station, Kolatkar sees signs of religion that pervades the rest of the town.
The other poems have descriptions of numerous aspects of Jejuri from the most important to the most trivial. But to each aspect, Kolatkar is able to give a vividness and novelty that is not usually associated with that particular aspect.
All the poems are written in a simple language, using colloquial and Americanized words. Hardly any poems are long with the exception of ‘Ajamil and the Tigers’ which is a modern form of ballad incorporating certain Indian styles of story narration. Since ‘Jejuri‘ is a collection of poems that presents the poet’s journey to Jejuri, it would be advisable to read all the poems in the collection to get a sense of Kolatkar’s skepticism and questioning of the commercialization of religion. It is not at all taxing to read any poems, being mostly short and straightforward and having none of the subtle messages that poems usually do. Most poems also are laced with sarcasm. The collection is a fascinating(though one sided) view of one of the important places of religious worship for any devout Indian Hindu or any other pilgrim.
What is disappointing is that Kolatkar does not give a broader view of Jejuri. He sees it through his lens of skepticism and scorn of faith and fails to look at the spirituality of the place that attracts many devotees there. He imbibes it in all aspects and so the reader looks at Jejuri only through his perspective and for those who have never been there (like me) will come to believe that is a drab, dingy place with nothing substantial to boast of except some temple ruins and some stones that people worship.
Aside that aspect, ‘Jejuri‘ is a relatively good collection of poems that is lovely to read and that transports the reader to this strangely religious place and make them experience everything in Jejuri in a novel way. A definite must read. Need another boost to pick up this poetry book? ‘Jejuri‘ won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize’ in 1977. Now, you must be thinking that if it won this prestigious prize, there definitely must be something good in this collection, right? Absolutely, which is why I recommend everyone to read ‘Jejuri‘ to one’s heart’s content.