The other day I was telling you about a Highly Accelerated Stress Test I use for choosing my mentors. One evening, in late 2004, I met Vivek Narayanan in Bangalore at Rawar’s Inn. We went for dinner at Brindavan Hotel on MG Road - I mentioned Brindavan Hotel to Siddhartha Deb when he asked me where I liked to have coffee if not at Café Coffee Day or Barrista on Brigade Road; I told him Brindavan Hotel was for my types- he didn’t mention it in the interview – to discuss poetry and poetics. In the course of our conversation, I confided in him the jealousy I felt for a young poet who was then 21, who was receiving great attention in Chandrabhaga run by Jayanta Mahapatra, and asked him for a suggestion to overcome it. Vivek reassured me, it was not uncommon to feel that way; the difference would feel large at 24, but eventually become insignificant at 60. I felt that was a wonderful philosophy.
To check how he dealt with peer pressure, I casually mentioned the name Srikanth Reddy to him. Those were the days when internet was just booming, and poets started having access to others’ works easily unlike the Treta Yuga of Indian poetry in which wicket keepers Daruwallas chose to decide for others who was in and who was out of Indian poetry. Those like me, without any initiation into poetry, had the chance to have a broad look at what was happening around. The name threw him off his chair. He asked me how I got to know Srikanth Reddy’s works as if Srikanth Reddy was an Indian-American secret. I mentioned the name of an online magazine and showed him a copy of an Indian magazine, The Journal of Literature and Aesthetics. He recognized some of the guys from it as his colleagues from abroad. He then declared with a terrific self-esteem, he knew he was somewhere among Indian poets, but on the world map, he would like to get somewhere. I found a remarkable courage and a great competitive spirit in Vivek. Vivek went back and wrote to me that Srikanth Reddy, he found out, was one year younger than him.
I wanted to cross-check how Anjum Hasan handled peer pressure. I put together a set of poems by Srikanth Reddy and sent them to her to read. Her response was one of awe and full of respect for this writer. She wrote back, “Where on earth is he?”
The two poets complemented each other in their character. Vivek Narayanan knew who his competition was in his writing and knew well to be on par with or outdo them. Anjum Hasan had the spirit to respond with great admiration for a fellow-poet and his poems in particular without even having the necessity to know who he was. Both these poets didn’t have the necessity to try hard to be on par with their competition; on the contrary, they were the benchmark for their generation. I let myself completely in their hands, and knew I would benefit by being their apprentice.
When I prepared the ‘Acknowledgements’ section for my book, I sent out a draft to Sampurna Chattarji (among many others) and asked her to advise on it. She wrote back:
“Glad to know about this, as I am glad to help, though I would have imagined you could have equally asked Anjum or Vivek to help you with this! Anyway here goes:”
There are many uses of the ‘Acknowledgements’ section in one’s bio-data. In my interview with Siddhartha Deb, he spent a considerable amount of time on the ‘Acknowledgements’ section to understand whom I knew in the literary world. Beta, my ‘Acknowledgements’ section is the tip of an iceberg.
That I give a reading with Sampurna Chattarji, and Chattarji gives a bit of advice on my poetry now and then are not reasons enough to place her on par with those who I think mould/moulded me. The chances that Sampurna Chattarjee expected her name to be a part of my Acknowledgements section and felt disappointed, and annoyed to see the names of those whom she thought of as her peers are Eileen Tabiosian. Leave out a Highly Accelerated Stress Test, poets like Chattarji don’t pass the basic Power On Self Test. Mention the name of Vivek and Anjum in the Acknowledgements section, and her face glows red like a bright LED.
Sampurna Chattarji momentarily deleted her blog, ‘A Hundred and One Days’ immediately after my posting notes on her ‘Land of the Well’. This is an act of cowardice. The evidence is not in her blog, ‘A Hundred and One Days’ but outside it in her act of jittering.
Anindita Sengupta deleted her reference to the Nobel laureate Satchidanandan on her website after my post regarding the same.
Perumal Murugan’s novels were burnt recently in India by the Hindutva group. Sampurna Chattarji and Anindita Sengupta, by deleting their own words, are actually burning their own books out of fear of what they said. They can’t stand by what they write and blame it on the process of ‘growth’ in creative writing.
Poets like Chatterjee should learn to pair up with Sengupta and feel at home. They should never dare to belong to a peer group as that of Subramaniams.
As for Srikanth Reddy, I never read him. But I read him whenever I brush my teeth using Vicco tooth powder: I put my fingers in a socket in my mouth so I gain direct access to a secret chamber in his brain! After all, am I not a chickupoet like him? What an asshole I should be to think that way!
But I have developed a habit to simply flash his name like a dagger amidst his peers and see their reaction. Haven’t you read Srikanth Reddy yet?