An evening of tributes to Gieve Patel
A tribute event was held at the NCPA in Mumbai to honor Gieve Patel, a polymath who was a poet, doctor, translator, playwright, sculptor, painter, and teacher. The event featured poetry readings, theatrical performances, and tributes from notable figures in the arts.
On the evening of January 19, the Experimental Theatre at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) hosted a spirited celebration of poetry, art and theatre to pay homage to Gieve Patel, the polymath who passed away at the age of 83 in November 2023. He was a poet, doctor, translator, playwright, sculptor, painter, and teacher. The event was multilingual, conducted primarily in English with generous doses of Gujarati and Marathi.
Poet Arundhathi Subramaniam, who wrote the introduction to Patel’s book Collected Poems—published by Poetrywala in 2017—came up with the idea to organize the event. “I have had a long connection with the NCPA, and an even longer relationship with Gieve. After his passing, it felt right to approach the NCPA for a tribute of this kind. After all, Gieve has been a quintessential Mumbai artist – international and local all at once,” she said.
Her fondest memories of Patel include long and leisurely conversations about poetry, karma, culture and death at the Nariman Point restaurant Status over idlis and filter coffee. She recalled how Patel used to laugh about “cultural affectation masquerading as excellence”.
Patel’s daughter, Avaan, who is a theatre director and actor, says, “Arundhathi has known my father, my mother and me for the longest time; when she broached the idea, it felt just right. I feel happy that this joyous gathering brought together so many people who loved my father.” Avaan read out her father’s English translations of Gujarati poet Akho’s work. She was joined on stage by theatre director Naushil Mehta who read out the original poems in Gujarati.
When Arundhathi approached NCPA chairman K N Suntook with the idea of the event, he “agreed with alacrity to this proposal.” The itinerary for the evening was planned in close consultation with Avaan because she knew whom her father had been in close contact with, and who mattered to him. Poets Ranjit Hoskote, Anand Thakore, Sampurna Chattarji, Siddhartha Menon, Ruth Padel, Menka Shivdasani, R. Raj Rao, artists Atul Dodiya and Sudhir Patwardhan, and writer-translator-critic Shanta Gokhale paid rich tributes to Patel.
Favourite poems were read out, and happy memories were recalled and shared with all.
The choice of venue was apt because Patel’s plays have been performed at the Experimental Theatre, and he used to participate regularly in poetry readings at Chauraha—the interdisciplinary arts forum that Arundhathi curated at NCPA’s sunken garden from 1994 to 2010. Additionally, Patel often attended Western classical music concerts at the NCPA.
One of his funniest poems is titled “Carrying Bras and Panties to the NCPA”, which revolves around a man who is asked by his wife to bring her undergarments to a concert as she has been away from home for a few days to help her relatives and has run out of things to wear.
“I knew I wanted a blend of disciplines because that was Gieve! We had to have room for poetry, painting and theatre,” said Arundhathi. Actors Nosherwan Jehangir, Shernaz Patel, Havovi Kolsawala and Zafar Karachiwala presented a dramatized reading from the play Mr. Behram that Gieve Patel wrote. Speaking of serendipity, she added, “We managed to get almost the entire original cast of Mr Behram over 35 years after it was first staged in 1987!”
A reading of Shanta Gokhale’s translation of the play Mr Behram in Marathi was presented by Gajanan Paranjape, Ruta Pandit, Saee Limaye who came from Pune for the event. Aniruddha Khutwad, who directed the play in Marathi, also spoke glowingly about Patel.
Poet, art critic and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote, whose book To Break and To Branch: Six Essays on Gieve Patel—published by Seagull Books—will be launched at the upcoming Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai, spoke about missing Gieve Patel’s “explosive laughter”, the long walks they went on, and their deep friendship spanning almost four decades.
“Gieve’s poetry draws attention to all that is broken and vulnerable in us, to all that requires repair and redemption,” said Hoskote. While others spoke of Patel’s focus on corporeality and carnality, and his discomfort with the divine, Hoskote reminded the audience that Patel was also drawn to the Krishna Prem ashram in Mirtola and the teachings of J Krishnamurti.