Turn-of-the-Year Ruminations

Published: 03rd January 2015 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd January 2015 04:29 PM   |  A+A-


I spent the last days of 2014 reading Manohar Shetty’s new collection of poems, Living Room, which wavers between the wry aside, the anecdotal and the elegiac—all suitable ruminations for turn-of-the-year, rainy days on a Tamil Nadu beach. As with his previous collections, animal imagery in these poems abound, whether it’s the sunworshippers of Anjuna, who “fly back home with a light/ Shade of butterfly wings/ Stamped on their buttocks,” or the crocodile Shetty’s daughter saves, lying on the lawn with “its snout bound tight/ With rope, its buckteeth clenched.” Shetty’s obsession with birds and beasts are only ostensibly about animals; he says, “more a tool or a vehicle to comment on the human condition and how we often fail in comparison to the animal world.”

Shetty, who was born in Bombay, but has lived in Goa since 1985, began writing poetry as a student. Ted Hughes’s The Hawk in the Rain, Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist and Thom Gunn’s Fighting Terms were the first full-length collections he read, and these “sad captains” have stayed with him over the years. In his essay “Crosspollination”, he describes the thrill of discovering these contemporary voices at the Thacker’s Book Shop in Bombay. “I had never read anything like it before. Sharp, terse, unequivocally modern and the language polished steel. This was poetry, palpable and profound, sometimes inaccessible and opaque, but always intriguing.”

While there was never any exclusive posse of poets in Bombay, Shetty says there was a marked difference when he moved to Goa, where there didn’t seem to be any poets at all. “Bombay, in the 70s and 80s, was very different. Any young poet could approach Nissim Ezekiel at the PEN centre, or Adil Jussawalla at his flat in Cuffe Parade, or Kamala Das at her gatherings in Churchgate.” One of the sections of Living Room—“Lexis Local”—invokes the tone of the satirical poems of Nissim Ezekiel: “Too good Hindustan!/ Land of crorepati horoscopic weddings—/ Presents in blessings only.” The inclusion of these poems, Shetty says, was a calculated risk for these politically correct times. “I believe that we in India, given our own political culture, are still not quite ready for that notion of political correctness.”

But the poems that struck me most in Living Room, are the ones that chronicle the slow disappearance—of books, handwriting, philately, youth, poetry itself. Here, the poet appears skulking along the corners of pages—a hollow-cheeked drunkard in a crumpled kurta contemplating “the stink/ Of our leftover lives.” And what is the meaning of poetry after all? “It seems endless, this business/ Of planting a poem… no one is listening/ Just as no one does to starlings/ Or nightingales… Or to the sound of the planet/ Grinding slowly on/ Its creaking axis.”

For Shetty, poems are “elusive, sentient creatures”, and a poet will write simply because he or she needs to. In this remarkable collection, Shetty evokes a world where poetry may seem “rust-clipped at the edges/ And turned by the wind”, but there is also something older, deeper at work here—the quiet celebration of the poet’s work, something akin to that of a miner, “below the stark sunshine… nurturing/ Those dark hours in a pit lit only/ By the faintest streak of gold.” E-mail:


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