Verse for the wear
Meet the poets selling love poems to a world stocking up on sanitisers and masks
For Bhaskar Khaund, 48, middle age is an unkind phase, complicated by COVID-19, where life revolves around school fees, electricity bills and grocery supplies. Insulated in a flat in downtown Dubai for over six months, miles away from the Indian cities (like Mumbai) he has lived in, Khaund not just worries about the narrowing possibilities, but debuts as a poet. In his self-published e-anthology, available on Amazon, he presents a slice of his life, loss and loneliness, much on the lines of those seeking a catharsis in the written word.
But, while Khaund's poetry is about sharing personal anxieties and insecurities, it is more about his belief in love as the sole factor that will help us, his readers, sail through personal crises as well as the pandemic. His articulation of the role played by love—romantic, familial, societal—uplifts his "middling poems" to sensitive verse. For him, love is a pay cheque, it reflects in the title "Love Poems Sell, He Said, To The Extent Any Poems Sell". To begin with, the debutante dwells on the financial stress, which ultimately prompted him to take to poetry, months before the lockdown. One can see "Rent is a heartbreak", also "Love is thinking about politics , love is liberty & free speech, and the poorest being looked after." A middle-aged rebel is standing in front of the mirror to assess his choices, lifestyle and past escapism. He looks back at his younger self—"Papa you're a good guy/ I wish I had done better"—with characteristic regret.
In his compositions, Bhaskar Khaund stresses his belief in love, and how it will help us sail through personal crises, as well as the pandemic. Pic/Anurag Ahire
The bulk of the 68 compositions stem from Khaund's upturned bunkered life post March 2020, in which the reader, located anywhere in the world, is made privy to the "nothing is happening" feeling. One knows how "a day died like a broken clock"; anyone working-from-home understands the "unseen sparkle in an office cubicle"; the "light, colour, sound and celcius of each hour of the night" sounds universal. Khaund catches the COVID-19 cadence in the black-and-white rainbow, at the end of which is the pot of plastic.
Amid the grey blurring hours of the lockdown dawn, Khaund refers, often indignantly, to the popcorn Insta poets thriving on daisies, roses and the starlit sky. He wonders why the young poets fall back on banal clichés (cresent moon or confetti balloons) and don't bank on lived experiences, which are far more intense. He is allergic to rhymes like "I don't dream of you every day/I dream of you every minute."
Mahesh Keluskar's much-circulated poem, Sau Ka Kareena Gavwali, dwells on a lovesick couple's prolonged separation; (right) Radha Bhave's poems express both, her love for family, and her city, Panaji
Khaund sees himself "wired" differently than the "young" bards. His last 18 years in Dubai stand against the backdrop of a happening India. The Assamese born in Shillong, schooled in cities as varied as Itanagar and New Delhi, post-graduated in Ahmedabad, has worked for a living in Kolkata and Mumbai after becoming a marketing/media planning professional in the nineties. "We carry within ourselves the cities we happen to live in; these places in retrospect feed our thought channels, in trying times," says Khaund, adding his poetry stems from the positive vibes of different corners of the world. At one level, he is inspired by his mother's midlife bloom—she earned a PhD in Assamese literature at the age of 48 and won a Sahitya Akademi award for translation at 65.
Khaund's love—be it for the parents back home in Delhi or the banker-wife standing firm each day—forms the edifice of poetry and life, too. He defines life as a "good WiFi", "money in the bank", and "the smell of a dog." He recalls unanswered letters, he yearns for long family weekends—a feeling that "begins around Thursday and soars to a swelling on Saturday/ Loss is Sunday evening."
Interestingly, Khaund's reliance on love poems, with a declared middle age tag, finds echoes in two other poets I have read in the pandemic times. Mumbai-based Mahesh Keluskar's Malvani idiom and Panaji-based Radha Bhave's Marathi and Konkani articulation. Culturally speaking, both couldn't have been more dissimilar than Khaund, speaking different lingos, living in distinct geographies. But, the three unite in their acceptance of love as a means and an end.
Keluskar, 61, much-feted broadcaster with All India Radio for 36 years, holds a proud connection with the "Malvani mukukh" and calls Thane his home. Appreciated for radio programmes with a literary impetus and a doctorate on performing folk arts of south Konkan, Keluskar has written extensively on love, even during
His much-circulated poem "Sau Ka Kareena Gavwali" dwells on a lovesick couple's prolonged separation. How does one kiss with the mask on and how to hug from a distance, he asks in the characteristic Malvani style: Tondar Phadkya Bandaan Kaay/Ghevak Yetlo Kiss; Distance Thevan Mithi Marayachi/ Kaytarich Baay... Isss." Not necessarily always in the lighter tone, Keluskar's verse catches the cupid in the air. "If there is one thing stable in this ever-changing, unstable and a bit scary world, it is love. However, traditional and old world it may be, romance has a legitimate place in any universe."
Bhave, 59, just restarted the professional routine at the Goa State Museum (after working from her Miraramar beach-facing home for four months). More than ever before, love is a healer, she says emphatically. "Like most places, Goa was also depressing in the lockdown. Locked up in my home, albeit with my family, I felt relationships and human bonds were the only sources of joy for me."
Bhave also experienced a distinct love for her city. An otherwise bustling tourist paradise, the quiet uninhabited Panaji streets forced her to think of the green neighbourhood she was blessed with. Lovers, sea waves, peacocks, honey, bright skies, and red soil emerge in her Tula Bhetun Yetana anthology. In her Goan Konkani collection too, a lover keeps aside one flower in the memory of his beloved: "Tuzhya navane ek phool davarille haanvey/ sobit rasrashit baavale maagir." Years later, he recalls the memory. Like the flower, he enquires, have her feelings also wilted? Bhave feels the lockdown gave her a space, not necessarily a happy one, to look back at herself and Panaji—the zone that inspires her to write poetry. Verse check it has been!
Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre is a culture columnist in search of the sub-text. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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