The last gent in public affairs showing a flair for poetry (not counting the Bhojpuri aphorismsspouting Lalu Prasad Yadav) was Atal Bihari Vajpayee. So what a pleasant irony that in his debut collection of poems, I Witness: Partial Observations (IndiaInk, Rs 295), Congressman and Minister Kapil Sibal has chosen Vajpayee as a subject for a poem. “Build that Mandir/in your heart;/let not the nation/fall apart/ Please come clean,/demonstrate that/ you are still/a democrat.”
Not quite Philip Larkin or Nissim Ezekiel. But you get the rhyming point. So I ask Sibal, sitting cheerfully in his Teen Murti Marg chamber, whether his poetry is a 'voice’ of Kapil Sibal the individual or Kapil Sibal the politician? “Oh, it’s me, what I am and what I see and would like to have a take on. No more, no less,” he replies. When and how did poetry come to him? He tells me that he has a “natural affinity for rhymes,” adding that poetry for him is “nothing personal”. Isn’t he contradicting himself ? “One must communicate and as long as my poems communicate certain things in rhyme, I am glad to write them." <b1>
The primacy of communication? Is that the lawyer or politician in him speaking? “Well, I have little time for poetic constraints.” His collection, indeed, provides ample proof of Sibal the poet tackling ‘non-poetic’ issues. The variety of subjects range from natural disasters, political chicanery and scientific futures to ecology, the media’s profligacy and the shifting middle class. There are poems on Twenty20 cricket, the 123 agreement. Why, there’s one even on the trust vote. “Yeah, the volume was compiled just after [July 22]. I have written what I saw, what everyone saw.”
The poem goes: “The government has won/democracy the loser/and politics in/utter disarray.” Hmm. So where does it leave the legal eagle in Sibal? “See, at the heart of every legislature is societal good. It has an emotional intent inside it’s facade of cold logic. Hence poetry is not too far from law.”
That’s a new way of looking at poetry. Although the poem, ‘Pota’, is an attempt to make the twain meet if not twang. So does the Congress share his ‘poetic’ views on these ‘unpoetic’ issues? “Not at all,” Sibal says. “Had I been a party voice I would not write the poem ‘Sycophant’.
I check the poem later and come to the last lines: “My leader is thoughtful and kind/makes me feel most wanted;/endangered species that he is/ I cannot take him for granted.”
Who else would have thought of rhyming ‘wanted’ with ‘granted’?