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The architect who writes poetry

The annual Goa Arts and Literature Festival, which begins on December 6 has attracted several literary figures over the past nine years. Mustansir Dalvi has been one poet who has felt a deep connection that keeps him coming back. NT BUZZ catches up with him

Janice Savina Rodrigues | NT BUZZ

One might wonder what a professor at Sir JJ College of Architecture has in common with an arts and literature festival. Mustansir Dalvi may have an architecture degree, but he is also a prolific poet. From writing his first book of poems in English, the ‘Brouhahas of Cocks’, published by Poetrywala, and having been published in several anthologies, including ‘These My Words: The Penguin Book of Indian Poetry’ and the Sahitya Akademi’s ‘To Catch a Poem: An Anthology of Poetry for Young People’, he has graduated to translating works of other great poets, while continuing to write his own. In fact his English poems have been translated into French, Croatian and Marathi.

In 2012, he translated Muhammad Iqbal’s Shikwaand Jawaab-e-Shikwa from Urdu as ‘Taking Issue and Allah’s Answer’ and won the runners-up for Best Translation at the Muse India National Literary Award. He has further translated works of Sufi mystic Rahim and published them in the anthology ‘Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry’; while his translations of Hemant Divate’s poetry from Marathi has been published as ‘Struggles with Imagined Gods’. As the editor of ‘Man without a Navel’, he has also put together a collection of new and selected translations of Hemant Divate’s poems from Marathi. His new book of poems ‘Cosmopolitician’ will be soon published by Poetrywala.

Dalvi’s interest in poetry began as he wrote his ‘schoolboy poems. Though, he says, he cannot recollect what influenced him to write, he does point out to one advertisement copy that he added his own verses to. “I was particularly proud of writing extended verses to a limerick that was copy for an advertisement for a toilet deodorant, about a ‘man from Thana’ and a smelly loo. Alas, both limerick and my poem are lost to posterity now. I was infected young,” he smiles.

Though he harboured an attraction to literature and poetry, he chose to study architecture. He says this is because of his love for reading and that architecture encompassed all the aspects of the eclectic. “More than literature and poetry, I have a deep interest in reading; eclectically. Architecture in that sense is the broadest field of study, where all interests converge. Unlike other disciplines, architecture is always generalist, never specialist. Like I tell my students, an architect needs to know everything about everything. Architecture is also an occasional muse for my poetry. You can see that in my new book ‘Cosmopolitician’,” he adds.

Many poets are instinctive writers, but Dalvi points out that it is quite the opposite in his case, “Poems swirl in my head a long time before they are written. I don’t need a quiet environment and such, but poetry has to be dragged out of me. I rarely retain memories of writing the first drafts of poems, but I do enjoy editing and shaping them,” he says.

Much like architecture, he prefers to set a project for himself and then works around it – initial reading and researching, he assimilates an entire ecosystem in his mind from where his poems emerge. “In my two books of poetry, these cycles of poems are when I am happiest, like the one on St Thomas and his years in India in ‘Brouhahas of Cocks’ or the life and times of the 11th century polymath Ibn al-Haytham in Egypt in my new book ‘Cosmopolitician’.”

Ask him if he holds admiration for any other poet and he replies in the affirmative, “I admire the poetry of Arun Kolatkar, for both his English and Marathi poems. Reading ‘Jejuri’ set me free as a poet to write about the world at large, as he does, tackling the cosmic and the spiritual as well as the intimate and the bawdy seamlessly, with great economy of words, and in the language of the everyday. I fall back on his way of writing sometimes when I write my own. Two single line poems that I have written evoke the spirit of his writings.”

Apart from harbouring deep admiration, Dalvi has also translates some of Kolatkar’s work from Marathi into English. “I hope more of his Marathi poems are read by an audience outside of this language because his books ‘Chirimiri’, ‘Bhizki Vahi’ and ‘Arun Kolatkarchya Kavita’ are all fabulous,” he adds.

A regular at GALF, he says he is thankful to the organisers who have shown faith in his works. He adds that his December itinerary now has become the pivot of his annual calendar, where he cannot stay away from the festival. “I come for myself, to be refreshed, in the company of friends, fellow writers whom I know and new and amazing authors that I am privileged to be with over the three days of the festival. The authors’ lounge is the beating heart of the festival, and of course I am here for the readings and discussions which are open, honest and intense,” he says.

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