In this room, the po­ems come and go

Domus - - CONTENTS - Po­ems by He­mant Di­vate, trans­lated by Mus­tan­sir Dalvi Sec­tion cu­rated by Ran­jit Hoskote

Long-lost twins, po­etry and ar­chi­tec­ture are re­united in these pages. Both dis­ci­plines ex­tend space and time, ex­plore forms of ac­com­mo­da­tion, and ded­i­cate them­selves to the cre­ation of con­di­tions – and not ma­chines – for liv­ing, for the ex­pres­sion of de­sires, as­pi­ra­tions, re­la­tion­ships. This month, we present a group of po­ems by the poet, edi­tor and pub­lisher He­mant Di­vate. Founder-edi­tor of the Marathi lit­tle mag­a­zine, Ab­hid­hanan­tar, Di­vate is ac­knowl­edged for his for­ma­tive role in the emer­gence of a new lit­er­ary avant-garde in Marathi dur­ing the 1990s. He is also syn­ony­mous with the dy­namic im­print, Poetry­wala: an en­ter­prise that he di­rects in col­lab­o­ra­tion with his wife, Smruti Di­vate, it is ded­i­cated to pub­lish­ing the work of emerg­ing An­glo­phone In­dian po­ets. The po­ems pre­sented here have been trans­lated from the orig­i­nal Marathi by a fel­low poet whose own prac­tice is ele­gantly hy­brid: Mus­tan­sir Dalvi, the ar­chi­tec­ture ped­a­gogue and critic, whose lit­er­ary com­mit­ments are recorded in his col­lec­tion of po­ems, Brouha­has of Cocks, and his trans­la­tion of Iqbal’s Shikwa and Jawaab-e Shikwa, which ap­peared in the Pen­guin Clas­sics se­ries as Tak­ing Is­sue and Al­lah’s An­swer.

In these po­ems, which have just ap­peared in Man with­out a Navel: New and Se­lected Trans­la­tions, Di­vate med­i­tates on the place­ness of place, as com­pounded from a fa­mil­iar­ity with the strange and an es­trange­ment from the fa­mil­iar. The poet lays in­ti­mate claim to the mon­u­ments and writ­ers of Prague even as his alien­ation from his Bom­bay neigh­bour­hood wraps it­self up in the lan­guage of mar­ket­ing; lo­cal­ity, he seems to ar­gue, can be vis­cer­ally mo­bile just as eas­ily as it can be an­chored in space. In this spirit, and in the spirit of in­no­va­tion, we in­clude a QR Code patch here, which links up to a read­ing of one of Di­vate’s po­ems by Dalvi.

Praha: I’ll be back

1. If, on our very first meet­ing, I could touch ev­ery nook and cranny, I’d forge an eter­nal bond through easy fa­mil­iar­ity. That’s how I now feel about this city.

2. I have never been able to read a woman flu­ently, as a poem; even my wife, whom I con­sider en­tirely mine re­mains a stranger in the end. How easy it would be if a woman could be in­ter­preted like wine, sipped at a tast­ing. Like an un­fin­ished poem lan­guish­ing in my mind, I am made un­easy by my own fem­i­nin­ity, in­side and out­side me. It’s a sim­i­lar in­com­plete, un­clear and up­set­ting re­la­tion­ship I main­tain with ev­ery city But the mo­ment I landed here, I re­mem­bered al­ready hav­ing spent an en­tire life­time, so I re­turn — a sub­sti­tute for Gre­gor Samsa.

3. I pace this town, wolf it down like a glut­ton, as if my fa­ther owns this town and ev­ery­thing in it, as if I have been granted a boon: the more I walk this city, the more it will be mine. Shops are stacked up tightly here be­tween cof­fee houses, bars and pubs. I sneak out of these con­stricted sliv­ers and slip into a fa­mil­iar home. I can­not find the bed of my child­birth nor the ta­ble, the chair, nor the books, nor the shav­ing ra­zor, nor its mir­ror but I can see right through this glass, back a hun­dred years, where I am aban­doned in this blasted cold by an un­re­pen­tant, shiv­er­ing

Kafka, who could not even make good the one life he was granted, while I, steeped in my own en­nui end­lessly ex­pe­ri­ence birth, death and re­birth in many for­eign tongues.

Kafka, you left with so many of my de­sires un­ful­filled, so here I rise, again and again, putting brakes on my bes­tial­ity like you killed your own de­sires and be­came hu­man. How late was it be­fore you re­al­ized the great­ness of trans­form­ing into an in­sect? Look up now, to the old clock tower and count – how many writ­ers need to suf­fer and die to bring one in­sect to life.

4. I can­not see the num­bers. Right now, women and men be­come nu­mer­als on the Charles Bridge. With no choice, I push my way through and de­scend to a non­de­script punt wait­ing for me, a boat fated to drown fate, time after time. A man waits for me there dressed in a long coat like Kafka. He waits for me, eat­ing chick­peas; the fucker hasn’t rid him­self of his old habits.

Am I not go­ing there just to tell him that the re­mains of his snack should be thrown into the garbage bin? Have I for­got­ten why I need to meet some­one? Who am I sup­posed to meet, and for what rea­son?

Or, am I the man in the Kafka coat and while I say that I am mov­ing along, am I ac­tu­ally stand­ing in one place wait­ing for the punt under the Charles Bridge, while pos­si­bly, a man in a Kafka coat is in the boat, slowly ap­proach­ing me

as I stand here eat­ing chick­peas? And, as I wait for the man to ap­proach the breeze blows dry shells from my hand and you say, don’t you even know how to eat chick­peas? This means that you clearly think I am some kind of ar­se­hole, so let me tell you a story: not one that you should not re­peat nor one that no one knows, but me­ta­mor­pho­sis means the trans­for­ma­tion of a city into an in­stal­la­tion in an ex­hi­bi­tion hall, a hu­man art­work to be re­garded by in­sects, an in­sect art­work to be re­garded by hu­mans, where a dim light meta­mor­phosed over the in­stal­la­tion is the one that bathes the poet’s com­po­si­tion in a soft, lin­guis­tic, bi­o­graph­i­cal sheen while the city, as it is now is the de­tri­tus of scream­ing, blood-soaked ge­og­ra­phy or of raw im­pe­ri­al­ism that, like a half-done omelette is left to siz­zle in the fry­ing pan of his­tory.

. . . and one more thing: Kafka prefers to drink English tea over cof­fee. There be­low the Grand Clock he waits to see which will turn into piss first, my cof­fee or his tea? We have a wager, Kafka and I— while the one who pisses first wins, the other will have to run, mic­turat­ing all over Prague. It was ten past ten when I met him and all around his coat rose the an­gel-dust of Prague’s magic re­al­ism.

5. From where I stand I can see the im­pend­ing demise of Kafka’s lan­guage. What can you see from where you stand? Can you see the tale of Gre­gor Samsa or only the on­go­ing, un­end­ing story of Franz Kafka?

6. Wan­der­ing through the Jose­fov quar­ter, I get this feel­ing of peo­ple scream­ing loudly in my ear; those who but mo­ments ago walked arm in arm now lunge for each other’s throats; soft voices are now shrieks, rus­set-tiled homes now col­lapse into de­bris. I run, and the whole city gives chase as if I am the al­pha and the omega of their de­struc­tion.

In­side Café Franz Kafka, I see peo­ple drink Coca-Cola in­stead of cof­fee. I turn to leave and cups, saucers, chairs, ta­bles, cof­fee ma­chines rat­tle and bump and grum­ble loudly: fuck­ing Coke . . .

Slowly, with­out fuss, I trans­form into a two-inch cock­roach. Di­vin­ing with my an­tenna, I reach the Praha rail­way sta­tion even there, these bloody Coke bot­tles block my path.

As I turn back, Kafka ac­costs me, whis­pers in my ear that scut­tling along these cob­bled streets with me, for the first time, he re­alised Prague was sexy.

Fuck! I never once paid heed to the city’s sex­i­ness. Praha, I’ll be back!

This page: Kar­lův Most or the Charles Bridge: a pedes­trian bridge across the Vl­tava River in Prague (1357-1402), con­nects Prague Cas­tle and the city’s old town Op­po­site page: Prague façades on the Mostecká Street, Prague

This page: Kar­lův Most or the Charles Bridge Op­po­site page: Piss by David Černý (2004), out­side the Kafka Mu­seum, Malá Straná, Prague. Bronze sculp­ture of two men fac­ing each other, and uri­nat­ing in a bronze pool in the shape of the Czech Repub­lic

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