New trails : Anchit
So, last semester, I was teaching a course based on “creative writing” to a bunch of fashion students. The syllabus required me to give them a brief idea of the novel, the short story and poetry in general. Now, short stories, novels or ‘prose’, so to speak, is something one is exposed to, more often than not and there is a fair chance that such exposure is to a work of considerable merit. Poetry, in my experience, has been a thing of the past in a way that it is not widely read anymore. So, how do you tell a bunch of eager, creative and enthusiastic girls that what they did in their school curriculums was not appreciation of poetry but a methodical depreciation of it , one which is responsible for the country-wide decadence of the highest form of art! One often wonders if there is a ‘Platonic’ revenge plot against poets which is finally showing merit after centuries.
As a poet, I was desperate. As a teacher, I was looking for a method.I had not taught a class before where the students wanted to read more than what was required of them. From Beauvoir to Plath, we were having our fun days. But to arouse interest in poetry in a way that it did not remain just a reading of the text and analysis of meaning, more was required. When I remember myself at an age of nineteen or twenty, I wonder about how different it all could have been. If I had not come across Neruda while doing earth sciences and if my professor of elective English at Hansraj in Delhi university (who was just a research scholar back then) would not have handed me a ‘muktibodh’ poem- I would be embarrassing myself somewhere else and quite unhappily.Also, delivering lectures and offering notes have never worked for me – something which happens in colleges across the country! There is no fun in listening to the flat, monotonous voice of the lecturer, lest among people with creative orientation trained in searching for application of their learning. Neither have I ever believed like Matthew Arnold that poetry will save the world or will remain when all else perishes. So, I searched for a poem which can be a fun read and at the same time, shows the nature of contemporary poetry in the country. I told one of the students to read it in the classroom. She did. We laughed and smiled at the correct junctures and I left the class that day. Till here, all was planned.
‘A memory in the Tram’ ( ‘tram me ek yaad’ ) is a poem of large magnitude -one, which has grown bigger than the poet and one that has inspired hundreds of other poems. It is also one of those poems which is immensely famous. It has the magic of a perennial river. Incidentally, it is also one of those poems which at the age of twenty can be a companion in a way that it instigates a reaction of happiness mixed with melancholy – to put it clearly- it stays and so it did.And, at the same time it travelled too – across the campus – in young artists – in passionate nooks and corners which were already abundant with colours and aspirations – borrowing and giving – like all great literature does.
Came a day when I was supposed to talk about translation studies and the poem, by now, I had understood, would be mentioned and so it was. It must be a difficult task to translate Pushkin. All the translations I have read in Hindi and English render his work to feel mediocre. Rabindranath Tagore, our own Whitman, can never be read as sonorously in English . Such are the intricacies and amidst them, lies the beauty of what a language retains and what is lost in translation. We tried, nevertheless, and failing, we realised the love we felt for the unwritten which resides among the written word.I met Gyanendrapati, the poet, in Varanasi, soon after . I told him how the poem had become the talk of the town and how sketches and photo-stories had been planned . He must be well aware of the fascination, Chetna Pareek, invokes. He must have read the infamous lines, another contemporary Krishna Kalpit has written – the envy Chetna Pareek has caused, the muse she has become for so many people!For a bunch of girls studying fashion technology, Chetna Pareek, for a couple of months, was the embodiment of womanhood – a poetic mystery, an independent soul, one with the heart of glass, a being no different than them, with all their flaws and their eccentricities, a celebration of their identity.Here is a novice attempt to translate a part of the poem –
Chetna Pareek, are you alright?
Do your eyes still reflect the fire of books?
Do you still participate in plays?
Do you still loiter around the library?
Do you still accidentally meet vagabond poets like me?
Do you still sing and paint?
Do you still have so many friends?
Do you still teach children?
Do you still make your lovers keep long beards?
Chetna Pareek, are you still filled with joy like a little ball?
Are you still that green? [
[Anchit is a poet, writer and a translator. He currently works as a freelance translator with Oxford University Press and teaches critical thinking and journalism at NIFT, Patna. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The featured image was doodled by the writer himself on Howrah Junction.]