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Brouhahas of cocks

It was conducted by British poet Tobias Hill and one of the pieces Dalvi submitted for perusal was a sketch about a young boy working at a tea stall outside the building. That this critic still remembers the story - how Dalvi described the boy washing a teacup, for instance - makes a great case for the fact that this is a writer who chooses his words with enormous care.

Brouhahas of cocks

Going by the cover of Dalvi’s first book of poems in English, he pays the same amount of attention to images. It carries a detail from Caravaggio's The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, focusing on the apostle’s finger being guided by Christ into a wound in the latter’s body. This highlights the role of a sceptic (or Doubting Thomas, as it were), as well as the act of peering beneath the surface of something to get to the heart of the matter. Interestingly, it describes what any decent poet must do.

Luckily, Dalvi is more than just a decent poet. He is an extremely accomplished one, scratching away at all corners of the city - his professed muse - to give us the poems that adorn these pages, ranging from the wry to the raucous. In ‘Forest Fires over Khopoli’, he shows why he is a master of his craft. The line ‘Ladies Night at the Rotary Club, chiffon swish, babel breathlessness,’ for instance, employs not just assonance - repeating vowel sounds for internal rhyming - but consonance, where he repeats the same consonant for effect.

In ‘Friday mosque in New Bombay’, he reveals an exquisite eye for detail: ‘Pink, the Economic Times pages are prayer mats: global stock indices all face due West.’ There are biblical references in ‘Apple’ when the poet encounters a beggar at a traffic light. All kinds of other voices make their appearance, from writers of apps for Android to ladies in crowded Borivali locals, the prophet Elijah to kings and boatmen.

While the section that gives the collection its title is clearly located within the city’s railways, others like ‘Mar Thome’ and ‘Denizens’ allow Dalvi to speak through voices scattered through space and time. And sprinkled throughout is a dry humour. To borrow another biblical reference Dalvi’s poems make a joyful noise. His brouhaha makes for a bravura performance.

Brouhahas of Cocks, Mustansir Dalvi, Poetrywala, R250 

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