I found Namdeo Dhasal to be a quintessentially Mumbai poet -- raw, raging and associative.
His poetry emerged from the underbelly of the city, its menacing, unplumbed netherworld, the world of pimps and smugglers, of crooks and petty politicians, of opium dens, brothels and beleaguered urban tenements.
This is Mumbai without her make-up, her Botox, her power yoga; the unruly Mumbai that seethes yet is vitally alive beneath the glitzy mall and multiplex; the Mumbai of the non-gentrifiable, untamable, and non-recyclable.
And one understands why.
Dhasal said once: “My life has been through such tremendous upheavals that if my personal life did not have poetry to fall back on…I would have become a top gangster, the owner of a brothel or a smuggler.”
These are colourful choices.
Most poets would have said: academic, journalist, copy writer.
But then, Dhasal was not most poets.
The late Dilip Chitre, who translated Dhasal, said he was “riveted by the unique ethno-linguistic cocktail that shaped Dhasal’s poetics: a mix of Marathi, Urdu, Telugu and Kannada absorbed from a world of bordellos and opium dens, integrated with his rural Mahar dialect”.
This combined with the polyglottal fusion of Bambaiya
Hindi allowed Dhasal to create an original multi-layered idiom.
Dhasal’s poetry is always high-voltage, sensual, vigorous and bruising.
Chitre called it the dominance of the Bhibatsa rasa.
Dhasal wanted to flout the “lilylivered bourgeois aesthetics” and, despite his rant, I find a hypnotic tug to the city-sewer perspective.
Arundhathi Subramaniam is a poet, author and critic based in Mumbai.