This 26th I decided to avoid clichés. I got up to patriotic music wafting through the windows of my aunt’s flat in Marol, Mumbai. Uncle declared he was going down to the park in the locality for the flag hoisting at 1030 hrs.
When R-Day or I-Day come around I think of A Peace of India: Poems in Transit – my second book of poems. Writing those poems in situ at all those places in India took time, money and energy -- but most of all, passion. Peace of India is my tribute to India – like Last Bus to Vasco is my tribute to Goa.
Buoyed by the idea, I put 10 copies of my book in my GALF bag and took the lift from the 4th floor down. Puddles of people greeted me on the lawn wet with yesterday’s dew. I distributed my books for people to leaf through. Surely today some would buy a copy? But before the flag could be hoisted, one of the organizers, sensing disorder in the ranks, commanded brusquely, ‘Give the books back to him’-- and they meekly did. I stood alone in the gathering singing the national anthem. Children performed ‘Hum Honge Kamyaab,’ and ‘Saare Jahan se Achha.’ Only one person agreed to buy a copy of my poems.
Yes I had visited most of those places they were singing about –Dravida, Utkala, Banga – and had written about them. So shouldn’t the patriotic fervor be translated into supporting a wandering minstrel of India? Perhaps, the response was confused because it was not a cliché. You don’t expect to go for a flag-hoisting and have a book thrown at you.
The next day, Sunday for a get-together, an elderly couple were in raptures about my mention of unniyappam and how my poem ‘Chingam I’ described Kerala so aptly. Another lady recalled ‘An Evening in Paris’ written at Worli seaface and said the words were ‘very nice.’ A week earlier in Kolhapur I had read ‘Avantika,’ my poem on Ujjain, for a girl accompanied by her father. They had come in from Bhopal. The images of the place moved them. None of this praise translated into a sale. I should have asked them directly, I was thinking wistfully later. But I did not feel like peddling my poems.
Is the printed word so cheap? Does not poetry have a place in society? Worse still, people leaf through the poems, read a few ---enjoy the poems, and return the book! Where will self-published poets go? Sometimes I wonder what unites India. How will the Samuels, the Chettiars, the Koitas and the Khans -- who live in the building -- speak about or articulate India apart from their respective ghettoes? I have seen the fire of poetry igniting people. At my numerous poetry readings across India I have seen my poetry singe people as my poem ‘Praxis’ did recently. I only wish some of them would pay for it.
The author is a chronicler of our times.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender (Panjm, Goa) on Sunday, February 2, 2013. Pix source: Electricity India