Sunday, 30 June 2013

Twenty Years On


When Kamalakar Bhat came over to college where I teach yesterday it was as if time had stood still all these years. He hadn’t changed much at all – as I told him later. He had weathered the 20 years since we last met with almost an impetuous grace.

Concerned that he would be out of his depth travelling from Goa University, Taleigao to Nuvem I gave him a call before I left Vasco for college at 7.30 a.m. The rings went askance. So I was more than vastly relieved when just as we were turning left at the college entrance, Kamalakar alighted from the Kadamba bus before us! This superb sense of timing set the tone for a very fulfilling morning where Kamalakar, my colleague at Poona University, held forth on Romantic and Modernist poetry.

I was proud to see him deliver his lecture with aplomb referring to the slides on the power-point presentation in the background. His passion for the English Romantics—Wordsworth, Keats – made the ‘sounding cataract’ resound once more for me. He had chiselled his skills and his wide reading showed. Once again I was transported to hall number 80 at St Xavier’s college where Ms Ann Menezes unravelled the pleasures of ‘Tintern Abbey’ and Mathew Arnold’s ‘Scholar Gypsy.’ The fact that the lecture hall was full made me breathe a sigh of thanks.

He was Dr. Kamalakar now, having worked on 'Construction and Contestation of Nation in Indian English Fiction' for his thesis. For 20 years he was with the Department of English, Ahmednagar College, Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. After I obtained my MPhil at Poona Univ. in 1993 I went on to do my PhD at CIEFL (now EFLU) Hyderabad and opted for a career in school publishing in Delhi. We lost touch after that. But memories of campus life, the mandatory chai at the tapri across the road from the English department, and the fun and laughter we all had, remain.

In a deep sense poetry brought us together -- with a little help from our friend Dr Rajan Barrett, now at MSU Baroda, who first dropped the bait that Kamalakar was in Goa. Both of us had a poetry collection behind us -- Kamalakar in Kannada and me in English titled Last Bus to Vasco: Poems from Goa (2006) Both of us had reached back to our roots and were redeemed by the creative outburst that ensued. As I signed a copy for Kamalakar of A Peace of India: Poems in Transit (2011), my latest collection,  I excitedly told him it included  a poem I had written in Bangalore called 'Bangalore Central.' The poetry reading I had done in Bangalore in 2005 also had Ankur Betagiri the young Kannada poet read from his collection titled Hidida Usiru.

For me to host Kamalakar in Goa as a faculty member of a department of English, rather than as a commissioning editor of English language teaching (ELT) in Delhi seemed to merit some explanation. As we walked across the basketball court towards the library Kamalakar popped the question.'What made you come back?' he  asked. I said after more than 10 years editing books for school children, I was not learning anything. I was stagnating. Besides the older the horse the less he is wanted in the cut-throat corporate set-up. With mum bidding adieu in 2004, it did not make any sense to tarry any longer.

When I think of the many friends I know across India I hope that someday I will be able to host them in Goa. To in a small way give back to life what life has given to me. So richly. To us.
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Pix. Dr Kamalakar Bhat (in kurta) and me with students at Carmel College, Nuvem Goa on 29 June 2013. Pix taken by Felicia on a Canon 4x.

1 comment:

Kamalakar said...

The arrangements for the lecture and this post here bespeak of the utmost meticulousness wth which Brian plans. While I lack these skills completely, I know how much it takes of a person. Visit to Brian, s College is a highpoint in my Goa visit. But, Brian, there has been a serious breach which needs rectification, that is, how about the anthems!