Saturday, September 2, 2017

Poets are not Frogs

My friend Vijay Nambisan is no more. He was a poet. Words mattered to him.

I was his classmate in IIT. We were part of the same "gang". We used to hang out together. One evening, a few of us there were sitting in his room and suddenly Vijay he picked up Maxim Gorky's 'The Mother' and started reciting reading a passage from it. That was typically Vijay. The room had swirled with exhausted smoke was filled with a haze of smoke and the biting scent smell of cheap rum rose from the carelessly scattered bottles everywhere. Suddenly, I exclaimed said, "Maxim Gorky was a pansy". "No way", was his furious reply. "Re-read that passage that you just read", I asked him. He read it all over again, slowly and precisely. "No man would use uses those words to describe another man". He looked at me for a long time and finally nodded his head. Two days later he rushed came up to me. He said excitedly, "Krishna, the translator was a woman". Words mattered to him and he realised words mattered to me.

He showed me his notebooks, stacks of them. Each of them was. crammed with poems he had written. Words carefully crossed out and new ones substituted filled in. Everything had a date next to it. The date he had written the poem, the date he had decided to change a word. I was awed by the effort he put in to find the right word. Words create a tone in my head. So I used to listen to him read his poems and tell him about the tone I heard.

Love for words made us friends. Our discussions made us realise how much we had in common. For both of us, the beaten track - IIT, USA, Money = Success; was something to avoid furiously. We both believed - You do something because you love it and it is the right thing to do. We both succeeded in our own ways.

Whenever we used to meet, our talks were always from the heart, never polite discussions. I used to hear anguish and I never understood it. Till one day, I visited Vijay and Kavery in their house in the Annamalai hills. My wife and kids were enjoying the beautiful house. Vijay and I walked around for hours talking about the world and where it is going. The obsession with money and possessions. Ruining the planet Earth. Hatred and mindless violence.

We are all frogs being boiled in water. The water is gradually getting hotter, we shrug and go on. Vijay, he could not understand us. For him this changing world was unbearable. Everyday was agony. It was beyond empathy. My wife and children laugh at the tears that run down my face during emotional moments in movies, but I feel that pain momentarily. For Vijay, what was happening in our world was a source of constant, impossible to ignore anguish.

That is when I realised, words mattered. But it is more than words. Poets are not Frogs. They feel the world sharply.