Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Hemant Divate in Conversation with Dr. Michael O hAodha


I remember my childhood very vividly. It was spent in a very small and beautiful village. Shenva. There were not many luxuries. The village at that time seemed to be equipped with all the basic amenities and well contained. Everybody knew everyone else, all came together and shared each other’s joys, sorrows and food.  Everyone was connected. There was a human touch which I miss very much now.

The village school was a make-shift institution with classes sometimes taking place under the peepal tree or in the Gavdevi (village deity) temple. Two divisions were frequently accommodated together. There was, of course, no library. The school, as with everything else in the village, was very basic. But I had wonderful teachers who taught us so lovingly; they were totally committed and involved in every aspect of our learning.

I was introduced to poetry for the first time then; it was taught in a very fascinating and dramatic way which left me totally enthralled. Hooked. Entertainment via technology was almost nil. No TV, no library and no movie theatres. The radio was a new entrant as a means of entertainment. We had to depend on religious festivities and fairs to entertain us. Village folk would come together irrespective of their faith to celebrate all the religious festivals, marriages, and naming ceremonies and so many other occasions. The jatras ( Hindu fairs) had tamasha, lavni and theatre performances which used to be all musicals, while the Muslims celebrated Urs (Muslim Fair ) which had quawali performances.. There used to be moving talkies also, showing a 15 minute film.

A radio was owned by only a few, a prized possession. It was the only means of entertainment and news. Our window to the outside world. TV was unheard of. Once a friend after visiting a tourist place called Mahabaleshswar, excitedly told us that he had seen a radio with moving pictures and it was called a TV. This was most awe inspiring news. Music and moving pictures together!

For me, the only music I was exposed to in my childhood was that of the chirping birds, the bhajans sung by the villagers in the temple and that of Vasudev who used to visit each household every day singing bhajans in his melodious voice while playing his stringed instrument. Now, when I look back, I think that all these things (in spite of being most basic  by any standard) laid the foundation somewhere within me towards becoming a poet. The songs and the stories heard by me made me want to write; I realized that writing was the only thing I was born to do.

My family and I then moved to a bigger place, but still only a small town, called Shahapur where I could continue my further studies from grade 8. This was a turning phase in my life as I could lay my hands on books of poetry and stories to read. I even had access to a small library. I loved to read and would read voraciously at least 2 books a day. I wrote my first song during this period.

As years flew by, I had to move to the mega city of Mumbai to continue my college education. It had a huge library which was always a place of attraction and importance to me. I had access to many books of poetry. I wrote my first poem during my train commute to and fro to college on a rainy day. It was the 15th of July, 1984. This was the most joyous and liberating moment of my life. I felt a deep sense of fulfilment and achievement.  A poet, that’s what I was going to be.

I would write a poem each day – in fear of losing my writing skills. I gained confidence through this and started sending my poems to poetry competitions. I won many awards, which was very encouraging.

Looking back, all these initial episodes and influences drew me to the world of poetry and writing. I am very grateful for that. Besides writing, I like to translate, edit and publish poetry. I like to travel to new places; it helps to gather a lot of experience as well as to appreciate and respect other cultures. I like to read poetry, poetry criticism, selected fiction and non-fiction, though poetry remains the closest and gets most of my attention.

Good poetry often gets marginalized and mediocre poetry is glamorized and made available to readers. I guess it happens because profit is the sole consideration and nothing else matters. This is true for all the regional languages of India as well as English. Good poetry gets sidelined, lost. This is because undue limelight is focused on mediocrity, good poems are not included in text books for young students studying literature, the wrong people are in the right places i.e. on literary committees. The syllabus makers. But still, a few poets writing in their respective regional Indian languages, as well as in English, are trying to get heard and read. They are the ones who are actually keeping the languages alive.

Mainline publishers in India, just like all over the world, are publishing mediocre literature to sustain their publishing houses irrespective of what is being dished out to the public. I do not blame them since for them this is purely business and nothing else. As for me, as a publisher, especially of poetry. this is painful as I believe that good literature can  and is very instrumental in changing society for the better provided it is given a strong platform and support by the respective governments and institutions and, of course, by the publishing houses themselves.

To sustain your lifestyle, whatever it may be, to pay your bills and be responsible for the future of your loved ones, just being a poet doesn’t help. You have to be accountable. In India, there is no support given by the government to the immediate family after a poet’s death. It is a sad thing if the survivors have to ask for financial support. This should be extended and given without asking.

The world is a huge and lovely place; we humans inhabit different parts of it. Each part has its own identity, heritage, culture, language and way of life. This is a very beautiful aspect of life. To understand and appreciate this aspect, literature and art play a very important role.

It is impossible to know all the languages and their respective dialects. Here translation becomes a necessity and plays a very crucial role. It bridges the huge gap between two cultures. You can read the works of other writers and poets because of translations; it leads to a better understanding of the poet and his work. It gives a poet a wider and more diverse audience. Translation is very instrumental in bringing the world and its people closer together. To me, as a translator, it is most satisfying if the job is well done and it gives me happiness, a sense of sharing  something very valuable, to be able to bring a piece of poetic work to a wider audience.

Modernity? Yes, it motivates my artistic sensibilities; but I think that I am privileged because other than the influences of modernity, experiences gathered from childhood years spent in small villages and towns as well as the transition to a big mega-city like Mumbai and my life there have influenced me deeply. All these experiences have been very enriching and have influenced my writing sensibilities too. It’s like I have been to the pastures on both sides.

Mumbai has been the focal point in a lot of my poems. Life in Mumbai since I came to live here, the onset of globalisation and the various effects of it on Mumbai, all  have given me enough experiences for a lifetime and continue to do so. It is like seeing a different and a new Mumbai every day. I am trying to project the impact of globalization on me through my poetry and its different layers. I write spontaneously, responding to the urge in me which may have been instigated by experiences, thoughts or happenings which have influenced my life.

There has been a huge impact on my thought processes by such great personalities as Buddha and Gandhi, the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, mythology and so on. It is like a huge reference library within me. I am very happy that you have noticed that in my poetry I put a lot of emphasis on the importance of reflecting, waiting, meditation and patience. These qualities, if encouraged by each and every individual in themselves and others, would improve the condition of the whole world. Yet, these traits are slowly vanishing. Youth should be nurtured, good values and culture should be inculcated in them right from their childhood. This will ensure a better world for all of us and for future generations too.

I am basically a very curious person, I am always asking questions. Fortunately, I do not get embarrassed or feel awkward or ashamed to ask them. Otherwise my curiosity would have been quenched and that would have affected my writing. There is a constant bombardment of questions in my mind: Is God really there? What will happen to language? And so on. I have written a long poem in Marathi called Just Cannot Stop, which is a part of my second collection of poems in which I have asked a slew of questions, many of an apocalyptic nature.

It is very rare today that you will encounter genuine, honest, real people, friendships or works of art. Superficiality and mediocrity in all areas related to the human sphere are at an all-time high; how can creative or performing arts be left untouched by them? Art has always been given the back seat or sometimes no seat at all! To add to this just imagine when good, original and genuine work is ignored and mediocre work is encouraged and put on a pedestal with the help of glamour and other tactics. Who suffers in the end? Yes, of course, society.

All art forms, especially genuine, good work, should be encouraged and made available to a wider audience. It will ensure a more refined and an articulate society. The quality of art dished out to its audience can be gauged by seeing the state of the society of that respective country and to the educational quality offered in its school and colleges. This is a turbulent phase that we are going through; I hope the sediments of superficiality and mediocrity settle down soon and make way for a better society which is more appreciative of art.

It does give me a lot of satisfaction as a poet that my work has been translated into other languages and can now reach a wider audience. This whole experience of my work getting translated, often by persons/poets unknown to me, simply because they have loved my poems, is very humbling.

English is a very important language of communication in India, especially in schools, colleges and offices. It is spoken widely in India, correctly and also is a concocted way. It has seeped in all directions and we definitely cannot ignore it; in fact English is the favoured language of many. A language for the head, a practical one. Poetry is something which should come from the heart and in a language which belongs to the heart and what could be better than your mother tongue!

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