It is seldom that the poet or artist feels happy at having accomplished something of worth after signing off a work of art—the feeling of having dashed off in haste something that needed to be cherished and savoured and pruned and reworked is a feeling that most would share, afterwards. After all, why do we write or paint at all? Who, if I cry, would hear me among the angelic orders? wrote Rilke in his Duino Elegies so many years ago. All efforts at the finer arts are doomed to end in despondency and sorrow. The art of poeisie is no different. All it serves is to leave behind that immense hollow, that infinite dread, that magnificent sense of the tragic. Words, images, or lines are indeed absences, traces of vague desires and hopes, of laughter and tears, of someone living in the streets of perennial faith under the unfriendliest of skies. And yet we poets hold on to this deceptive art of meaning-making. Delighting and relishing the touch of word with sense, quarrelling with the noun and verb for whatever it is worth, mixing adjectives with the sorrows and indifference of our own times. There are mango trees that flower when the biologist desires them to, tigers, lions and elephants would soon be museum pieces roaring and shrieking at the simple touch of a button, tiny, miniature cows would provide the same quantity of milk that normal cows would give after they are remade—everything, we men have always wanted to play with can be ordered, including a maid-to-order. The poet gasps at the wonder world of biotechnology and cybernetics and nanotechnology. Astronomy can soon penetrate to the other end of the multiverse; geologists and paleontologists have dug through and through the earth that a child from Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu could soon emerge on the other side of the deep hole in Buenos Aires. We have stashed explosives to blow the earth nine-times over, even if poor dharitri is like the fabled cat with nine lives! Each day brings us only news of disaster for someone somewhere—news papers and television apparently have so little to show of joy and cheer. We even warn our children not to befriend strangers or to pick up any toy in the streets or public places. No temple or church or mosque or synagogue or gurudwara or even a vihara is safe for the silent pilgrim anymore. We have so successfully managed to sow the seeds of disaster and calamity amidst our earthly spaces. Where is the silence we sense when we split the sesame seed? Where is the tang and taste of unripe mangoes that leave no trace? Where is the earthy brown of the tamarind fruit? Where is the makolam that decorates the portals of our finite destinies? And yet the poet and artist fiddles around with words and images. With emptiness for company in the darkness at noon. Which side of happiness are we? Each page written, each line drawn is an anguished scream languishing and wearying through memory and hope. All poems are doomed to remain incomplete. Each word is a silent searching for the other. Only the longing remains amidst the slashes, gaps and semicolons. That longing for more.
(From The East-facing Shop and Other Poems)