Our poetry is
the last dreamy song
sung in haste by
a head on the rails
listening to the rumble
of the approaching train
before the steel
crushes its thought.
– Farewell, by K. Satchidanandan
I take up poetry with a little trepidation. Prose is easier, it is all there, marked down into tidy slots; character, plot, climax, denouement. In poetry it’s all a little mixed up. Every time I pick up a book of poetry, I feel like a sham, like someone unqualified for the task.
Poetry does that to you. It draws you in with its wiles and charms, then casts an unforgiving eye on your darkest moments. To be drunk on sheer poetry is one of the most singularly fascinating things to be. You muddle your way through, trying to make sense of the madness coursing through the veins of a crazed man (for can the sane ever write poetry?), and suddenly it hits you in the gut. You get it. And the world as you knew it, will never be the same again.
Poetry makes you empathise, it makes you question the accepted. A poem can inspire a country to rise in revolt, like when Iqbal Bano, defiantly dressed in a black sari, rendered Hum Dekhenge before a crowd of fifty thousand people in Lahore. (In 1985, General Zia-ul-Haq banned the sari in Pakistan, deeming it “un-Islamic”.) As she recited those immortal lines of Faiz, registering her protest against Haq’s authoritative regime, the cheers from the audience grew louder and louder, until her voice was drowned by applause and cries of Inquilab Zindabad.
And what of the effect a poem has on its writer? In our words, we hide our secrets; the things we want to tell the world, but only so far. I doubt my verses will ever mean anything to the world. They are too prosaic, too ‘practical’, too devoid of sense and imagery. But to my humble self, each poem is a marker; something penned in a troubled time. Something I was trying to tell someone, but couldn’t. Maybe, something I still can’t. In a poem it sits still, an open secret, like a fly on a stick of butter; scattered references no one could possibly infer anything from. Maybe a few close friends can wheedle out bits: the dates, the circumstances. But the larger rhyme of it, the why, is mine alone.
Every poem is a sign of growing up; a document of proof that someone saw, or felt, or lived through something that changed their worldview a tiny bit. It could have been anything: a dead chameleon, the passing of a close friend, a starlit sky. In our poems we leave behind our life stories, a paean to our lonely, frightened selves, hoping that someone, somewhere in the distant future, will make a connection.