There was a time not very long ago, when a poet's heart leapt at the sight of a rainbow. A daffodil had him in the throes of cerebral ecstasy. Now, of course, the times have changed. The modern poet's left auricle does a fox-trot with his right ventricle only when he sees dirt and squalor. Writing about love and beauty, roses and tulips is a form of escapism, in which the modern poet rarely indulges. "How can you turn a Nelson's eye to the miasma of filth, the misery and poverty surrounding us?" he questions. If the poets of yore listened to the voice of the heart, the modern poet listens to the voice of his angst. He wants to liberate poetry from the shackles of rhyme and possibly the fetters of reason. And the result of this liberation: 20-30 lines of badly written prose which could very well serve as an advertisement for an insecticide or an undertaker's resume.
Yesterday, desperately in need of something to read, I went to my friend Ganpat's house to borrow a book. I found him lying on the bed staring at the ceiling.
"What's up, yaar?" I asked.
"Oh Ramen! You have done it again. Just when I was beginning to crystallize my thoughts you had to come and disturb me. 'An idea is a feat of association,' wrote Robert Frost and you have just aborted one prematurely. Posterity will never forgive you," he paused and seeing the bewildered look on my face, continued, "You haven't yet heard, I think. I have started writing poetry. Not the daisies and dewdrops kind but verse that is filled with pathos born out of an empathy with collective suffering."
I always knew Ganpat was an oddball - one who preferred Kafka to Wodehouse. But till now he had never transgressed the limits of decency. As I stared at him goggle eyed, he produced a diary, seemingly from nowhere, and requested me to lend him my cauliflower ears.
"Ramen, let me read out to you a few of my poems," he began. An hour later he paused and looking intently at me declared. "Now I'll recite for your exclusive benefit the piece de resistance of my repertoire. It is called Moksha -
The tear filled eyes of
The river Moosi
Stifling the Oedipal flames
Its corpse laden sands,
The miasma of rotting hopes,
The stench of burning dreams,
The yellow cockroach under
The pink moon,
The stygian depths
He concluded his recitation and I was about to get up and flee when I saw him gazing at me expectantly.
"It's n..ni...nice," I stammered. I hadn't the vaguest idea what the poem was all about. To me it sounded like a description of a vampire's cuisine.
"Don't you think I brought out beautifully the pathos of today's youth?"
"Absolutely," I agreed.
"Doesn't it illustrate the utter futility of human existence?"
"It certainly does," I added.
"Is it not a startling canvas of societal angst?"
"It is, it definitely is," I nodded my head in agreement.
He continued shooting questions and I continued answering them quickly, in a bid to end the torture and unlock to the gates to my freedom.
Finally Ganpat put his arms around me and declared, "Really, yaar, I'm impressed. I wasn't aware that you had such a deep and profound understanding of modern poetry. 'There is something hat is much more scarce, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability', said Robert Hall. And you have this rare quality in you. As a tribute to your genius let me read out the reaming 43 poems I had kept in reserve for an occasion like this, when at last I would have with me a connoisseur of verse libre!"
After this experience I steered clear of Ganpat. Before I conclude I would like to offer my advice to the mothers of the 'verse-libbers' (with apologies to Ogden Nash).
"....If you are the mother of a modern poet, don't gamble on the chance that future generations will crown him. Follow your original impulse and drown him."