‘Poetry comes direct from pain’, reads the opening line of Harsh Desai’s poem The Kingdom of Pain, from his first anthology of poems You Say It’s Not True.
The admission is one of many that Desai makes quite matter-of-factly through his work and in person. A compounded crisis in his personal life in 2008 left Desai in an extended embrace with pain, which in turn impelled him to write. “I’m a reasonably open person. Being open is part of being adult. One has to face society and take controversy into stride,” said Desai hours before the launch of his book on Friday.
The son of Ashok Desai, a well-known Bombay High Court lawyer, Harsh’s professional path was pre-determined, but his success in the field wasn’t. Though he had trained to be a lawyer, after many years at it “I hit a dead end. My marriage was breaking up, I had problems with my family, fell violently in love but that didn’t work out and went off my medication of 15 years. It all created a very fertile ground for poetry,” explained Desai, 47, also a regular contributor to several national dailies.
Love, the loss of it and the resulting agony are the prevailing themes of Desai’s verse. The poems rely largely on rhyme for structure and are refreshingly accessible. When they were written Desai had no intent to publish. “The writing process was spontaneous. I then happened to send the manuscript to Khushwant Singh who liked the poems a lot and suggested I get it published. That was true validation because writing poetry is like singing in the shower, you can’t judge for yourself how good or bad you are.”
Desai cites Japanese literature, Emily Dickinson, American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and Indian poet Arun Kolatkar as influences.
The slender volume of poems also features poetry written in Haiku style, a form Desai finds very “evocative”. “I’ve been keen on poetry as a child but only dabbled in it when my experiences were heightened. The poetry is a byproduct of the crisis and helped deal with it in a sense,” Desai said.
This book is dedicated to his parents, who despite his choice of an alternate career path encouraged him to get his work published.
Poetry is also a form of literature that Desai intends to further, despite its flailing popularity.
“It’s the most distilled form of literature. It’s tragic that poetry sells in tens but fiction and non-fiction in thousands,” Desai said.