i.m. A.K. Ramanujan (1929-1993)
Of course, you would smile
if you knew that I’ve decided
to insert fate
telepathy and unconscious ‘second sight’
at the core of this poem.
Let fate be an elephant who needs water,
walking along the x-axis
and let telepathy be a young scorpion:
fast, hungry, scurrying down
the y-axis – we do not know,
perhaps we’ll never know if they meet.
Only the monkey called second sight knows
and he won’t tell us unless
we pass a certain test, unravel
a certain trick.
But how shall I explain
that day I dropped everything
that needed to be done,
turned instead to your books
started re-reading them
one after the other in a great rush
stayed up most of the night
I hunted out my favourite lines
not knowing that all the time
you lay in hospital.
Not knowing why
I had this sudden craving
for your words.
You were still in Chicago,
I in Bremen, and the Ganga still flows
dirty and oblivious.
Forgive me if I call it fate
or some form of telepathy.
But very soon the phone rang
at an odd hour with the news
of your death –
while your books were still strewn
around me so full of book-marks,
some like paper flowers
some like paper birds
trying to open petals, wings –
little fans of magic
with their own dreams
refusing to fit back
into the tight slots on the shelf.
While we’re doing poems by one poet in memory of another, we might as well run this one.
I have mixed feelings about this poem. I’m not particularly fond of the opening, and I think the ‘Ganga still flows’ bit is unnecessary, but I love the way it ends, and I love the way Bhatt connects the need to remember the poet’s work, the need to tag every stunning poem, every glorious phrase, with the need to remember the poet.
This is the first Sujata Bhatt poem we’re running on this site (it comes from her 1995 collection The Stinking Rose – possibly the only poetry collection ever to feature a whole cycle of poems on garlic) and it’s about time. I was thinking the other day about who I would say was the finest ‘Indian’ poet writing in English today  (though that term is so hard to define) and while I haven’t made up my mind yet, I have to say that at this point Bhatt would be my pick. Her poems are authentic, surprising, intelligent without being too clever, and combine a fine sense of humor with glimpses of superb lyricism. What more can one ask?
 A reverie brought on by partly by a discussion over on Space Bar’s blog about the case for a Poet Laureate of India, and partly by the new issue of Poetry (not online yet), which features a section on Indian poetry compiled by R Parthasarthy. Who would you say was the finest Indian poet writing in English today?