The cultural Left was probably stronger (and more ruthless) when it was dominated by upper-class (super-caste) marxists. However with their political fortunes evaporating marxists are losing out in the cultural stock market as well.
Dear Ranvir Shah and friends at Prakriti Foundation, Chennai
Recently (19 June 2014), when I received the latest email invitation
from Prakriti for a book launch, I almost did not register what I was
seeing. Then I asked myself “who is this poet Ravi Mantha and why does
he look like Modi?” It took me a minute to figure out he was actually
the translator of Modi’s so-called poems, published as A Journey by Rupa. I felt shocked, surprised, dazed.
Modi and poetry? And Ranvir Shah/Prakriti launching this? Does
Ranvir believe there’s any merit in Modi’s verse—described as “poems on
love and longing, devotion to god and nature”—as translated by Ravi
Since Prakriti has hosted themed documentary festivals (one of which I had curated in 2007) and since Prakriti has curated an annual poetry festival
in which scores of young and old poets, men and women, of all castes
and religions, of all languages and regions, of all sexual
orientations, artists of varying talents and factions, of different
races and nations, have read their work, I find your promotion of
Modi’s book of poems deeply disturbing.
Especially since you said in an
“My own inspiration has come from celebrated names in poetry,
including Walt Whitman, A.K. Ramanujan and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, who
have moved me immensely.” Do we need to remind you what happened to
Ramanujan’s book in Delhi University, and the forces that were behind it?
Since I have known you personally, and since you have supported
Navayana’s work earlier, I thought I should keep an open mind and talk
to you. Did you really see merit in this book? And that’s why I called
you. I just wanted to ask you why you were doing this. I am sure you
had thought this through, but I still wanted to hear you out.
defence shocked me more. You said, this was just a “marketing tactic”
and you said you were doing this so that more people come to your Amdavadi Snack House
in Chennai, and eat your dhoklas and theplas. “If Modi’s poetry will
bring them in, so be it.” I could not believe this. I felt angry and
I kept asking whether you saw any merit in Modi’s poetry.
You never answered that question. After my call, you said you
understood my concerns and anxieties and said you will write a mail to
me. That mail has not come, despite reminders; it may never be written.
So I am asking you now, in public, through this open letter to you,
especially since I feel I can speak for the many poets
whose work I love and respect (some of whom Navayana has
published)—Ranjit Hoskote, Meena Kandasamy, Sukirtharani, N.D.
Rajkumar, Shaikh Yakoob, Prabodh Parekh,Cheran, the late Dilip Chitre,
Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih, Kutti Revathi, Michael Creighton, K.
Satchidanandan, Jerry Pinto, Karthika Nair, Tenzin Tsundue, Vivek
Narayanan, Nirupama Dutt, Nabina Das, Danish Hussain, etc.—poets who
have read their works at your poetry festival, poets who have read the
works of dead and living poets that they have taken the pains to bring
alive through translations. Poets, artists, academicians, filmmakers and
many citizens who have not participated in or attended any Prakriti
event will also wonder why.
I told you, “You may get people who think Modi can write poetry to
visit your snack house. But you will lose all of us. We may never
associate ourselves with you again. Please cancel this event. We will
all stick together.” You of course made it clear you will not do that. I
am also not sure if I can speak for others who may continue to attend
your festivals, learn to move on, etc.
Much earlier, Chandrahas Choudhury, the fiction and poetry editor at Caravan
magazine, wrote about “the surprising poignancy of Narendra Modi’s
poetry”. That was an individual writing in a public blog, and this
largely went unnoticed, though I meekly expressed my amusement.
The translator, now your guest, even thanked Choudhury for “looking at
these poems largely through literary eyes”. I suppose such
ground-clearing exercises have led us to this moment of reckoning.
Believe me, I—and many like me—would have been as upset had you
organised a launch for Kapil Sibal’s poems. But perhaps, yes, we would
have been also a little amused. But with Modi, not so much. One of the
things you told me on the phone was: “Anand, I am not political.”But as I
said, the very act of hosting a launch for Modi’s book of poems is
political; and I reminded you that Navayana and the work I do are indeed
intensely political. Neutrality is the most vulgar political position,
especially when the most bigoted partisans are calling the shots and you
want to play along, and even host them.
You are helping the launch of a book whose author has a missionary friend called Dinanath Batra, who has been targeting one book after another and seems to have a huge list. (Megha Kumar’s ‘withdrawn’ book is about Ahmedabad
—will you help her launch it at your Amdavadi if someone finally
manages to publish it?) His other friends at the RSS, one of India’s biggest NGOs , have been trying to smuggle in their bigoted version of history into textbooks .
And as I write this, yet another Shubha Mudgal concert has been cancelled, in Banaglore this time. She was also bullied recently by a ‘Modi fan’. And academicians are being denied visas to India, NGOs and civil society groups are being targeted.
And now you say you just want to just sell dhokla through what passes for poetry. I hope we can induce you to rethink.