Meera brings gifts

MP was shocked a couple of years ago to find that Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's The Absent Traveller was out of print. MP being MP, she did not wring her hands and moan over coffee about what the world is coming to. She did not blog about it either. She harangued and cajoled the Orient Longman folks to look in their warehouse and sell her all the remaining copies. The dozen she thus rescued she has given away like so much manna.

The book MP rescued from a dusty ignominous fate is a brilliant collection of verse from the second century AD. And the poems are incredibly potent in the distilled gatha form which is never more than a few lines long. Certainly shorter than the title. Prakrit love poetry from the Gathasaptasati of Satavahana Hala. Gathaspathasputtersputter...I feel a bit like the geography hating child in the Dilip Raote story who wondered whether Eratosthenes' friends called him Sunny or Chunky.

From the 700 love poems written by the Satavahana king, Mehrotra selected the ones which had to do with seperation from one's love. A great deal of the charm is of course from the time-capsuleness of it...what THEY felt like that too? Really! In the second century AD! You mean we are not the first people in human civilization to love and screw and screw other people's loves and to get jobs far away? But after this embarrassing ego-centrism passes the book still has a lot of charm. The verse is in sometimes wry and cynical as we are all wont to be about love and seperation.

Distance destroys love
So does the lack of it:

Gossip destroys love,
and sometimes

It takes nothing
To destroy love

At other times the mood is passionate, wide-eyed, fierce in its belief in love. But the greatest fun is to be had in the sly gathas about illicit rendesvouz.

Ask the nights of rain
And the Godavari in spate.
How fortunate he is
And unwomanly her courage.


Tonight, she says
In utter darkness
I must reach the tryst:
And practices
Going around the house
With eyes closed.

The cock crows and you
wake up with a start:
But you spent the night
In your own bed, husband.

MP's rescue mission rescued this one for all of us who were barely literate in 1991 when the book was published and definitely not solvent to buy poetry. But who will rescue the sexy Mr Mehrotra's other books? (Sex appeal can be confirmed by checking out any of his dark brooding almost stereotype thinking woman's pinup back cover photos) The man whose translations the other Mr. AK, the great Mr Ramanujan raved about....even his own collections are missing. They are to be found once every decade among a pile of math text books and Gulmohar readers in Daryaganj and Flora Fountain. Why does Mr Mehrotra need fearless evangelists like MP use their canny abilities when he writes like this?

Where Will the Next One Come From

The next one will come from the air
It will be an overripe pumpkin
It will be the missing shoe

The next one will climb down
From the tree
When I’m asleep

The next one I will have to sow
For the next one I will have
To walk in the rain

The next one I shall not write
It will rise like bread
It will be the curse coming home

Mehrotra seems to be from the kind of school of writers who wrote complusively and read compulsively and learnt new languages and old languages compulsively. And were too busy lying back and looking cool when not learning dead lanbguages to worry about daft things like marketing. I hesitate to say old school because pretension and poor scholarship has always been there. And a market-savvy poet is almost but not quite an oxymoron. (With notable exceptions like Baz Kent, Adrian Mole's childhood friend who becomes the Skin-head poet and makes millions.)

Irritate book-shop owners by asking them for Mehrotra. Forego that coffee-table gulzar and gibran. I implore.


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