Paris-based researcher Laetitia Zecchini, who translated Arun Kolatkar’s Kala Ghoda Poems into French in 2013, said his works took the French by surprise. “They didn’t know an Indian poet could write like that,” she said, speaking at a literary event held, as part of the HT Kala Ghoda Arts Festival on Thursday.
As Zecchini and poet Ranjit Hoskote discussed her book, Moving Lines — a look at literary modernism in India through Kolatkar’s works — Zecchini cited influences as varied as American Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, blues music, the Bhakti movement and the city itself in making Kolatkar what she termed “a remarkable figure of world poetry and Indian literature”.
“There are many resonances of Kolatkar’s poetry and Kolatkar’s modernism with world poetry and world modernism,” Zecchini said.
And yet, the poems were loaded with the politics of the time and were, in essence, a way south Mumbai’s elite consumed Bhakti poetry, she said.
This mix of the local and global, and of expressing both seamlessly in Marathi and English — what Hoskote termed “a vernacular cosmopolitanism” — defined much of how Zecchini viewed Kolatkar’s work.
“It’s always interesting to see how foreigners look at Indian poetry, particularly a foreigner who has looked at it in such depth,” said local historian Rafique Baghdadi.
For George S, a 19-year-old student of English literature, Lecchini’s reading aloud of a deleted stanza in Kolatkar’s poem, To A Crow, was particularly interesting. “The crow is building a nest but is wondering, will it get past the censors, be acclaimed by critics, does it violate any copyright laws. So much of Kolatkar is relevant today,” he said.