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Journey of a Complete Poet

Veteran Malayalam poet K Satchidanandan is here at the ongoing Goa Art and Literature Festival (GALF) 2016. In a candid chat with
NT BUZZ he speaks about poetry, challenges of translations, socio-political scenario and what it takes to be a complete poet

Veteran Malayalam poet K Satchidanandan is a pioneer of modern poetry in Malayalam, a bilingual literary critic, playwright, editor, columnist and translator, former editor of Indian Literature journal and the former Secretary of Sahitya Akademi, believes that due to internet and social media there has emerged a new audience for poetry in the country. But, at the same time it has made the world of the poets limited to their comforts of mutual admirations in the virtual world. He says: “Now with internet and especially blogs many poets are getting a platform to publish their work. But, it has made their reach limited. Their work is generally liked and shared by friends and thus there is no meaningful critique of their work, which we were exposed to. This can mislead a poet.” K Satchidanandan is here in Goa for the VII edition of GALF and also to deliver a lecture today at MOG.
Looking at the positives of social media he points out that in Kerala especially among Malayalam poets, they have invented new forms of poetry. Here the poems are presented in a multi-media format with audio-visuals, clipping of a film, painting and even audio recitation of the poetry. All these new formats and democratisation to publish the work is a move to engage the audience and also gives a new lease of life to poetry and also garners a new breed of audience. “It is making popular, accessible and democratic, but may not be raising quality of poetry,” he says.
Poetry as a healing tool
There is also a perception that now there is re-emergence of poetry as today’s world is exposed to so much of atrocity, that poetry has become an important means to heal your wounds. “Healing is one functions of poetry among many. Poetry addresses some secret and personal pain or general anxiety. The Valmiki’s story of him crying out and rendering poetry when he sees the birds dying in front of his eyes sums the function of poetry. Poetry also sometimes inspires you to say no. It is also witnessing the situation and identifying with the victim and healing by just uttering and sharing the pain through poetry.”
Poetry is more complex to understand
The one argument related to poetry is that it is not easy to understand and is not everyone’s cup of tea. But, Satchidanandan points out that if we look at our culture it is predominantly made of poetry up to 19th century. “Mostly our texts were poetry as we have Vedas, and Bhakti poetry has a great tradition. It contained great philosophy, and it was extremely popular. Yes, poetry is difficult to understand as language is in concentrated form. Poetry has brevity, suggestiveness and density. But, in reality I find contradiction, as many people come for poetry reading session but they are not buying poetry books. I believe somehow we still have faith in oral poetry as we have long tradition of folk and tribal tradition. So, they love to listen. Here multi-media can help through radio, TV and also social media. Also when you hear it again and again, you gradually understand. Also it can help in creating audience. So we can use oral memory to make poetry popular,” suggests Satchidanandan.
Socio-political implications on art
K Satchidanandan is the former secretary of the Sahitya Akademi and a winner of several Sahitya Akademi awards. However in 2015, he renounced his membership of all its committees due to rising intolerance in society and central government’s attitude towards it. When asked whether giving away of awards or positions, has helped in anyway, he says: “Before we (writers) spoke out, the first voice came from FTII Pune, then after writers it was joined by scientists, historians. It was interesting to see scientists coming out as they seldom do so. It was because myth was presented as science through some statements of union ministers. In Bihar during the elections these writers’ protest was referred either for or against, which surprised me as literature came on centre stage. These are little changes which took place,” he says.
He states that the after-effect of globalisation gives rise to extreme nationalism. “It is a mad, jingoistic sort of nationalism like of Hindutva brigade, which has narrow cultural definition. It is restricted to one religion, one language, etc. And this has an instinctive appeal to those people who don’t think much. It reminds me very much of Hitler, Mussolini regime as the formula is the same. I will not say that India has become fascist, as we have free and fair elections, independent army and courts, but there are symptoms of it,” says Satchidanandan who opines that a medium like television would have been a wonderful media to spread the truth. “But it’s not the case as media is not independent. They are hiding the truth and the opposing voice,” says Satchidanandan.
While speaking on the economics of the country he suggests that the life of the poor or the marginalised has not changed. “There is an anti-welfare agenda now. There is very little money invested in health, education. The government is escaping from its primary duties. In these 20 or 25 years profit has taken a centre stage,” he says.
Hurdles in promoting literature abroad
Satchidanandan was part of the government’s ILA (Indian Literature Abroad) that aimed at translating regional languages in European and other languages. But, as there was no funding for this programme it did not materialise. He further says: “This current government is not keen on spreading culture but selling the ‘Hindu culture’ which is also according to me is not the (real) Hindu culture. They are selling the single idea of India, which is not correct. Also the various cultural and literary organisations are headed by mediocre and ignorant people.”
Challenges of translations
In a country like India where there are more than 20 regional languages, translation plays an important role. But, in reality there is not much scope for translation and also the translators fail to get a status at par with the writer, sometimes their names are omitted from the book.
Satchidanandan agrees with these points, but mentions that the situation has improved in these last ten years. Now we have private publishing houses coming forth. “But these translations are mostly in fiction and novels and not much of poetry. It is for the fact that they are saleable. Poetry translations are mostly carried out by National Book Trust and Sahitya Academy. But, as they are cheaply priced there’s a problem of distribution. Also we have dearth of good translators, people who are multi-lingual and who understand different cultures. We need to understand that translating is also a creative job. It is building of bridges between two cultures. If we look at our history, we actually worshipped our translators. We have over a hundred versions of Ramayana and the translators of these texts made their own deviations, added new characters, put in regional landscape. But, somewhere during the Colonial times {as there was colonial agenda behind the translation} we lost the admiration for translators.” According to him the one way of translation is secondary translation in Hindi and English.
50 years of writing
Satchidanandan recently completed fifty years of writing. It is quite a rare feat. Speaking about his poetry he says: “I always believe poetry has social function, as it is a witness, it remembers and reminds people. Poetry flies on two wings—individual or personal and other is social experience. For a complete poet you need to address both these elements. They are not contradictory in nature as it is looking inward and outward. I have tried to do that all through my career. Also I like encourage the younger poets, by editing, writing about them and translating their work into English and publishing on social media.”

(MOG Sundays will organise a talk by K Satchidanandan on December 11 at 11 a.m. at MOG, Pilerne. He will deliver a talk, including poetry readings that address the humanising role of poetry in times of authoritarianism and violence as well as poetry’s tradition of dissent and counter culture. It is open to all.)

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