A Poetic Journey

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.

Taken from napekshaashokshahane.blogspot.com

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.

Glimpsing Mumbai

Short stories are usually good,easy read proffering an anecdote,a glimpse into someone’s life, drawing you in that story and leaving you satisfied of having dabbled in their life. ‘Window Seat‘ by Janhavi Acharekar is a collection of short stories that have the same effect on the reader. There are 30 short stories-each revealing a different side of human nature, emotions, of India, of Mumbai and each is well crafted, well written and always ending with a concrete resolution-absent in many other short stories that often mar the story’s charm. But not Acharekar-she is one brilliant writer, way better than the popular Chetan Bhagat or any other IIT/IIM students turned writers we see today in India.

Taken from amazon.com

Each of her short story explores a new idea, divulges the good, the bad and the ugly of Mumbai city. And none are cliched. They are simple, realistic, displaying the daily lives of many common folks of the city-their struggles, their fights, their dreams, their feelings, their worries, their happiness-almost everything under the sun. It is this portrayal of the daily, everyday, mundane aspect of people’s lives polished with Acharekar’s fine, creative imagination, that makes each story is distinctive and unique. The readers will connect to atleast one short story because Janhavi Acharekar covers everything-from the slum life, to the middle class worries to the high class celebrity to the party life-everything that together comprises the reader’s perception of Mumbai.

The stories have varied themes, ranging from a couple searching for the perfect flat/home in Mumbai, a freedom fighter’s popularity in his Girgaum neighbourhood, a unique event at Mumbai Central Station, the cause of a riot, a teacher’s wistful memories of her old school days, a cyberspace love relationship, an art preview, four women’s lives in Mumbai’s lifeline-the local train and so many more.  Giving a full detailed description of each story would kill the joy of reading it on one’s own.

Now you might ask, why would one want to read about the daily life of Mumbaikars? Simply because, one can connect with them and also because, the writer plainly, economically, straightforwardly puts her story across, accessing our hearts and moving us too!

The book, ‘Window Seat‘  is divided into 2 parts. While the first part has unconnected stories, the second part is further subdivided into 3 parts and the stories in each of the 3 parts are connected to each other in terms of their setting and characters and not necessarily continuity.

There are a few disheartening aspects of the book as well. Firstly, some stories go back in time, see Mumbai nostalgically and not con temporarily which is good in a few stories but not always. Also, some stories are not even set in the 21st century. They have an old world charm to it which again is not necessarily a bad thing but a more contemporary setting would do better with many newcomers to the city and other too. Besides there are far too many Mumbai novels that nostalgically always stay in a bygone Mumbai that will definitely never come back again. So why bother writing pages and pages if so much has already been written about it? Secondly, some stories tilt only towards South Mumbai not bothering to explore North and Navi Mumbai. Thirdly,the title, ‘Window Seat‘ is also misleading suggesting that the book has stories set in the Mumbai locals, when in fact there are myriad settings to each story.

Besides those few points, ‘Window Seat‘ is a marvellous novel the keeps you wanting for more. Acharekar’s lucid writing, her non-romanticized notions of Mumbai and her brilliant story telling ability make the book worth reading it. Wish she writes more such books and hopes she becomes more popular and widely read because a good writer like her definitely deserves it!

Here’s a toast to good contemporary Indian English writing!