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Remembering Dilip Chitre

Dilip Chitre was a powerful poet in two languages, English and Marathi. Says Tuka, his English rendering of the Marathi Bhakti poet Tukaram, is a benchmark of literary translation, writes Pratik Kanjilal.

india Updated: Dec 11, 2009 22:48 IST

After a battle with cancer, Dilip Chitre (September 17, 1938-December 10, 2009) is no longer with us. This is a fact, and yet it is untrue. Consider a verse from his poetry collection Immersions: “For me these poems are closures/ They sort of conclude me/ Though some of them like suicide bombers/ May explode in your vicinity.”

Dilip is gone, but he has left a smouldering fuse behind. My mailbox is overflowing with his postings from the edge. His mails were not one-to-one communications but conversation-starters copied to many — like Facebook or Twitter posts, long before these services were born. And when they arrived, Dilip took to them like mother’s milk. I’m reading a mail from this summer, in which he reflects on the passing of Ramachandra Gandhi and Tyeb Mehta: “The 20th century is over. It has now become distanced and appears momentous… any thoughts?” He even shared his rawest, most intimate thoughts shortly after learning of the death of his son Ashay, who was accidentally asphyxiated. Ashay had learned to live with lung damage suffered in the Bhopal gas tragedy decades earlier, and Dilip laid bare the process by which he and his wife Viju were accepting this irony.

Dilip Chitre was a powerful poet in two languages, English and Marathi. Says Tuka, his English rendering of the Marathi Bhakti poet Tukaram, is a benchmark of literary translation. He was one of the few people to win the Sahitya Akademi award for literature as well as for translation. Documentarist, director and scriptwriter, he contributed to cinema in other ways too — he wrote the theme poem for Ardh Satya, for instance. He was also a gifted painter, columnist and editor. But I will particularly miss his enthusiasm for making connections, for forging communities of people working in the arts, culture, academia and politics. He did this unselfishly, appreciating that culture is a collaborative work in progress. He was so different from contemporary writers who make a virtue of isolation, knowing their agents far better than their peers. Lonely people who run in packs only for fear of being run over by the competition if they walk alone.

Chitre was naturally at the forefront of the ‘little magazine’ movement in Maharashtra — publications which promote new writing and work which is culturally or politically important, but would not find place in mainstream media for commercial reasons. With Arun Kolatkar, another pathbreaking bilingual poet, he founded Shabda in 1954. New Quest followed in 1968, vanished for a while in 1980 but was resurrected in 2001, and is still in print. I am sure Dilip’s friends will keep it that way.

Curiously, there are intimations of mortality even in Dilip’s earliest poems from 1964: “I am asked: ‘And what is the colour of orange juice?’/ It is grey. All is black and white, and falls within/ The spectrum. Everything is a shade from the black rainbow./ I wake up in the morning of my mortality.” (The Second Breakfast.) Or consider this fragment from Homage to Pataliputra: “Come pock-marked poets,/ Join Tukaram and Chitre,/ For the song of heaven/ Is one helluva chant.” Dilip is gone but the fuse he lit is still burning, a brand lighting the way for future generations of poetic suicide bombers.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

The views expressed by the author are personal