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Friday, October 15, 2021

‘Dear Vikram Seth’: On World Poetry Day, an open letter to my favourite poet

World Poetry Day: It helps that you, Vikram Seth are not a philosopher, and if you are, you have hidden that well.  Much like me, you never seem to foresee the impending doom, being too busy revelling in the present. And when things fall apart, I can hear you exclaim in fright and quiet resignation.

Written by Ishita Sengupta | New Delhi |
Updated: March 22, 2018 3:45:53 pm
 world poetry day, world poetry day quotes, vikram seth, vikram seth poems, vikram seth quotes, indian express, indian express news World Poetry Day: Vikram Seth and his words remain with you, often obstinately so. (Source: Nidhi Mishra/The Indian Express)

Dear Seth,

You might not remember this, but the year was 2014 and the place was Victoria Memorial. A crowd, buzzing with anticipation had gathered to hear Naseeruddin Shah read Manto. And somewhere, on the fringes, a giggly crowd of college students were standing in a group. They had left college early that day to hear Shah. While craning my neck for a seat, I found you sitting, alone in the last row. Seemingly oblivious to the noise, but sharing the same excitement that the crowd echoed. I had just bought your collection, All You Who Sleep Tonight and a professor, citing your name as an example, had said why he still has faith in Indian poets.

After each nudging the other to approach you, we finally mustered some courage to put up a collective front. Perhaps recognising the awe writ large on our faces, you stood up the moment we came near to your seat. Almost overwhelmed, I asked you to sign your name for me. “But where, Miss?” you asked. It struck me, and perhaps, all of us then, that we had walked up to you without a shred of paper in hand. By the time I rushed back, you were waiting with a pen to write your name. And when I requested you to sign for a “friend”, looking through my ruse and the deliberate attempt of not mentioning the pronoun, you gladly wrote your name again and added, “P.S- Young chap, you owe this lady a dinner.”

It has been four years since then. I do not live in the same city any more and, I must also confide, the “friend” and I are no longer in touch. Your note, however—now tattered and a bit incomprehensible—has remained with me. And so have your words. The puny book, which I have gifted to more people than I can count, was brought by me while I was shuffling cities. And while I have gushed over your words with friends within the safe confines of university, they spoke to me later. They spoke to me when I read them in isolation, crippled with nostalgia and yearning, and on nights, I could not and had resolutely decided I would not sleep.

“All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love
Know that you aren’t alone
The whole world shares your tears
Some for two nights or one
And some for all their years.”

Your words acknowledged my grief but also assured me, comforted even by telling me that I was not the only one. Perhaps will never be. Grief might be private but it was not unique.

It helps that you are not a philosopher, and if you are, you have hidden that well.  Much like me, you never seem to foresee the impending doom, being too busy revelling in the present. And when things fall apart, I can hear you exclaim in fright and quiet resignation. With me. For all those times when you are not busy getting your heart broken with mine, you have also sat close and heard me out in silence. I do not think I remember the day I started obsessing over your words. But much like most love(s) I remember everything that followed ever since.

It hasn’t always been the beauty of your words that caught my attention. Neruda has been there for that and I, many a times, have shuddered at the exquisite beauty of his words. But what makes your words stay, rather obstinately, and leave an imprint behind are the innate helplessness, melancholy and grief they hold within. You do not say, “If suddenly you forget me, do not look for me, for I shall already have forgotten you.” Much like me, you do not forget. You remember and you suffer. You hope too.

“Across these miles I wish you well.
May nothing haunt your heart but sleep.
May you not sense what I don’t tell.
May you not dream, or doubt, or weep.
May what my pen this peaceless day
Writes on this page not reach your view
Till its deferred print lets you say
It speaks to someone else than you.”

Your words accompanied me when I fell out of love.

“But do not say I’ve wrecked
Your peace and caused you pain
I’ve done that, I suspect
But won’t do so again”

And when I sensed, notwithstanding what they say, the other person would eventually leave.

“Somewhere within your loving look I sense
Without the least intention to deceive
Without suspicion, without evidence
Somewhere within your heart the heart to leave.” 

Matters of the heart hurt, and you seemed to know it from the start. Thank you for not spilling the beans.

Thank you for the words, Mr Seth.

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