Why Poetry in Toxic Times?
Poetry can be discovered in most unlikely places.
For example, sitting in the atrium of a big mall, facing a gushing fountain on a hot humid May-end Mumbai evening, you say to your companion, surrounded by all the twinkling fairy lights and fir potted trees placed strategically on the white marble floor, “How poetic!” The crystalline water jet shooting up in a column against a darkening sky in the middle of a soulless glass-n-concrete and sanitized property can be a great diversion for a tired shopper left poorer by few thousands by that sexy and seductive commercial space: The vertical movement of pure drops of H2O can be a big visual relief in a place that registers the maximum footfalls these days in Mumbai or Madrid, Delhi or Peshawar. Malls are the new temples and churches for the post-modern Odysseus hunting for treasures and exotic fare and the urban tribes in Dubai or Kenya find time there to congregate. In such anonymous but identical architectural complexes— in homogenized and standardized settings, amid fake plants and plastic smiles of the overworked and grossly underpaid young poor staff; outside/inside the dazzling shops and their inviting wares, cruising along the well-preserved floors and regularly sanitized loos, gawking at the bald zero-figure mannequins under ark lamps and hunting for mineral water bottle that costs a fortune for your recession-hit middle-class fake-leather wallet— you get a feeling of derivative power and branded kinship with others in New York or Berlin. After gleefully splurging more than you have ever planned and secretly planning to go ascetic for a whole year in your personal expenditure, you, the tired Ulysses, decide to sit down on an empty bench and then—suddenly discover the solitary fountain singing merrily on the hot and humid evening. For the other adjacent happy chatterers on the Blueberry, it is a fixture, a prop; for you, it is sheer poetry in a pricey impersonal place, a symbol of purity and eternity. Poetry in slow motion. Water that priceless thing triggers a primeval response in a subterranean crevice of your overtaxed brain and connects you immediately with the first spontaneous priests of raw nature that wandered the earth, at the dawn of the civilization. You feel transported to a dim age when your distant ancestors conversed eagerly with early gods and twinkling stars and swaying trees and murmuring rivers, finding everything in the universe living and sacred. They talked with the gods and gods with them under starry nights and on fresh dawns, near crystalline rivers full of marine life. All this harmony was recorded in delightful and sublime verses, in epic poetry by the all-seeing ancient minds. There were few facilities then but poetry was a presiding deity of their immediate life; to-day, there are facilities galore but poetry, that musicality, that harmony, is sadly absent. Or, almost. The poetic spirit has started disappearing in prosaic times. Begun withdrawing from an age that is high on high-tech but low on basic human emotions. Bonds are brittle—you care more for your China vase or crockery or Swarovski glass than your dear siblings or pals.
Poetry is like the Golden Barrel Cacti— critically endangered, rare species in the Mexican wild, yet surviving the tough conditions. It is like Welwitschia mirabilis, another hardy plant of the Namibian Desert of the South West Africa. Poetry is a surviving link with our heroic past, with our mythological memory, with a unique moment when man and god were not yet cruelly split but were real for the other and having a continual dialogue. Like these two plants, it is endangered and becoming exotic. But it is a great survivor that adapts to most arid conditions and challenging habitats and grows in most inhospitable climes and times. It is vital to a polluting age like an oxygen mask. It can detoxify your body filled with an overdose of pills, caffeine and nicotine and other drugs, and raked with a toxic desire for More (Remember Henderson, the Rain King?).
Poetry is like the first rains over a smoggy town: It washes away all the grime and revives the dormant seedlings and revitalizes the corroded cores of your inner- life. It is a strong anti-dote to a frightening spiral of mad chasing of the deadly deadlines on daily basis, mechanically performing all the time in office and home and suffering indifferent colleagues, public venues and neighbourhoods that define social existence of competing individuals, and dreaming dollars and economic migrations inside/outside the country of your origin. Poetry is like the first rays of dawn that greet a terminal patient in a grim facility and spreads cheer in a solitary life on the threshold of cessation or a burnt-out top executive fighting for more money and promotion and his bad hangover.
Finally, poetry is coming face to face with your spiritual truths that refuse to be commodified and reified by a mass culture. It fulfills you and makes you whole, like the tiny church-bells chiming on a wintry desolate evening in the Chekhovian land.
Yes, we are the
Uphold the standards
In war zones
And never ever
Make them fall.
(From: Preface: Mundane, My Muse)