Poetry at Sangam




Hemant Divate writes of his world, of his everyday embedded-ment in it. A prisoner of his own reality, he is aware of his incarceration. Words are his only sharpened spoons or knotted bed-sheets of possible escape, but they record his failures to do so, every time. Each recourse in his product laden, consumerist mall-fantasies are additional scratches on his prison walls, where he marks his days, measured out in poetry. His situation in Mumbai – his Arthur Road, his Alcatraz in the twenty-first century allows him the use of every object at his disposal, every cultural signifier, every linguistic tic, just so long as he remains an inmate. ‘You can check out any time you like,’ as the Eagles sing, ‘but you can never leave.’

Divate’s appreciation of his situation is acute, for he has seen life outside the cage. In the freedom of his youth, in breathing the unfettered air of his village, he grew up in places where the innocence of childhood was not cancelled out by the meta-reference, where he was ‘the free bird/ who lustily blew his whistle during the jatra’; three parts vagabond and one part flaneur, and no one minded. In his adult life, he has hung on to this waywardness that has worked its way into his language, which is one part Marathi as she is written, two parts Marathi as she is spoke and one part everything else. That, Hemant, damn you, is the challenge of your translator. The challenge of subjectivity, for this translator speaks in the same way that you do, so what is the point of translation if we both speak the same language?

Most Indian writers are multilingual. That is a given, but most keep a check on their Babel-abilities when they write. Divate sees no reason to be politic. He writes as he speaks, as is the wont of the Marathi manoos of Mumbai. The translations then, to stay authentic have to remain within the realm of the English speaking citizen of Mumbai, equally multilingual – one part Marathi, one part Bambaiyya and two parts everything else. How does one translate, ‘Hey, jungli kabootar, hey, hey, hey!’ into comprehensible English? Or gilli-dandu, surparambhya, lagori – names of childhood games? Or, of course, the colourfully scatological and specifically patois-intoned, ‘Aaizhavaare randicho! Aatonkvaadi!’ How do you deal with the problem of the many English words and phrases (from advertising, pop-references and everyday speak) in the original Marathi? Strange choices have to be made to make Divate’s Marathi poems into English poems.

Divate has always been conscious of his Marathi precedents. In his poetry and his writings, indeed in his choices as a publisher of new poetry (having published more than fifty books in Marathi and several other languages in translation) he critiques the penchant for Marathi poets to rely on clichés, and sentimentality, crutches he would say, that several poets writing in Marathi have based their popularity on. In choosing to go beyond these tropes, he wanders into waters that are murky. Language has changed over the years, in this PoGo (post-globalised world). Divate offers no leeway to those hanging on to the past:

‘Respected geriatrics,
you have taken an entire language
and chewed it down to a cud.
We will consume an entire language all by ourselves.
Wanna bet?’

In both his themes and his voices, Hemant Divate roots himself in the contemporary authentic, not allowing his translator any distance or objectivity, dragging him down, with him, into the dirty city that he inhabits. Moriarty and Holmes, inevitably have both to go over the Reichenbach Falls. It remains to be seen who emerges to tell the tale.