Travelling without a cage

Travelling without a cage

Dilip Chitre emerged on the horizon of Marathi literature within a decade and a half of B.S. Mardhekar’s Some Poems,which had stormed literary circles in 1947.

Dilip Chitre emerged on the horizon of Marathi literature within a decade and a half of B.S. Mardhekar’s Some Poems,which had stormed literary circles in 1947. Dilip’s first poem appeared in in the Diwali issue of ‘Satyakatha’ in 1954 when Dilip was still at school. His first collection of poems,published by a very prestigious publishing house,Mauj, appeared when he was 22. He married his cousin Vijaya the same year and left for Ethiopia to teach English. He defied middle class norms and mores in life,as he did in his poems.

The ‘60s proved to be a very productive decade in Dilip’s career. He wrote short stories collected in Orpheus,as well as essays and criticism on seven modern European poets like Baudelaire,Mallarme,Rilke,Eliot,Hopkins,and Rimbaud,illustrating his analysis with translations of their poems. In fact,translation was one of his ways of entering their vision and techniques. From ‘63 to ‘67 he selected and translated Marathi poets for An Anthology of Marathi Poetry (1945-65) published in 1967. (He often used me as the sounding board for these translations). He also wrote three novellas in this decade,while still in his twenties. He began to be known as a new “Mardhekar” although very few understood his poems. His short story Kesaal,Kaalebhor Pillu was severely criticised for its bold sexual fantasy.

In the anthology he edited,he had included a few relatively unknown poets while leaving out some big names — again stirring the hornet’s nest in the literary world. He continued this with ‘Shabda’,the little magazine he edited with Arun Kolhatkar and Ramesh Samarth. After breaking away from Mauj and ‘Satyakatha’,he stopped publishing poems in Marathi until 1978 although he continued to write them. His autobiographical travelogue of Ethiopia,Sheebaa Raanichya Shodhat (In search of Queen Sheba) was published in 1971. Because he reviewed Narayan Surve’s first collection of poems,serious attention was drawn to Surve,which began the surge of Dalit literature in Marathi. Dilip translated Namdev Dhasal and took him to international book fairs.

Dilip believed that a poet’s life and his poems are inseparable — or at least should be so. He argued that a poet has to be viewed in his totality,and not in “selections”. He allowed his friend,Bhalchandra Nemade,to publish a second collection of his poems,Kavitenantarachya Kavita in 1978 but it was only in 1992 that all of his poems,entitled Ekuna Kavita began to be published by Popular Publications of Mumbai. From 1980 onwards Dilip was immersed the 17th century Marathi saint-poet ,Tukaram and 13th century saint-poet,Dnyaneshwar. He studied Shaiva philosophy,the socio-economic history of the Maharashtra and gained insight into the intricacies of medieval Marathi. Eventually he published Says Tuka and Anubhavamrut — bringing these great Marathi poets to a wider readership. Dilip Chitre is considered an important Indo-English poet,travelling between English and Marathi with ease.


In the ‘60s he worked in the marketing-advertising department of a pharmaceutical company and in the art department of the Indian Express. He made a number of promotional films initially,and then documentaries and features. He wrote and directed Godam,and wrote dialogue and screenplay for Shashi Kapoor’s Vijeta. He wrote two plays — Mithu Mithu Popat and Sutak. He was also a columnist — and his commentary was unpredictable,looking at Maharashtra and India in the global context. He travelled widely — first Ethiopia,then an international writers fellowship in Iowa,then Germany,Russia and Southeast Asia.

Dilip also worked as director of the poetry centre in Bhopal’s Bharat Bhavan in 1983-85. The Bhopal gas leakage affected his only son Aashay,who passed away a few years ago in a tragic accident. Dilip seemed to face it stoically,but the emotional toll showed through in his painting (yes,he painted too.)

Dilip’s lifestyle and poetry were not palatable to everyone in Maharashtra — critics tried to slot him as existentialist,as anarchist,and were puzzled by his addiction to Tukaram and Dnyandev. His acquaintances wondered why he never thought of “settling” anywhere — he always moved homes and cities until 1985,when he came to Pune. They failed to see the extent to which he defied the Marathi literary tradition and absorbed the influences of contemporary world literature. So while he has been translated into German,Spanish and a number of other languages,the Marathi literary world is likely to take much longer to come to terms with Dilip Chitre.

The writer is a former professor of literature and journalism,and was a friend of Dilip Chitre’s.