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Home >Mint-lounge >Business-of-life >Kailash Vajpeyi | Poetry brings people together like no other concern

Eminent Hindi poet Kailash Vajpeyi’s poetic journey started four decades ago with ruminations on death, detachment and all things dark. A definitive anger and protest reflected in his first three collections: Sankrant, Dehant Se Hatkar and Teesra Andhera. During his college days at Lucknow University in Uttar Pradesh, he became interested in Vedic literature, the Bhakti movement of saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the writings of Sanskrit poet Jayadeva, but the drift towards a philosophical engagement came when he was making a documentary on the spiritual guru Sri Aurobindo in Puducherry. Vajpeyi, who will be participating in the three-day Union ministry of external affairs and Sahitya Akademi event, Waves—The Indian Ocean Rim Association (Iora) Festival of Poetry, starting Saturday in Delhi, won the Sahitya Akademi Puruskar in 2009 for his collection of poems Hawa Mein Hastakshar. Today he says he is happy that at least in Kolkata he has seen youngsters who are interested in, and are reading, contemporary poetry. Edited excerpts from an email interview:

How would you define your poetry? What themes preoccupy you?

My first three collections had protest as the main theme and when I made a documentary on Sri Aurobindo, my research opened up new avenues of interest and my next collection, Maha Swapn ka Madhyantar, was a kind of dialogue between the conscious mind and supra-mind. The myths that are an integral part of Indian tradition and culture have found a place in my poetry, including the Sufi thought, in a collection named Sufinama.

Was it a conscious decision to write in Hindi?

Hindi is my mother tongue and my first attempts at poetry writing were indeed in Hindi, and it has been the language I write in mostly. My early poetry was mostly lyrical.

Do you also write/publish in English?

Yes I write in English as well, but mostly prose, though much of my poetry has been translated into English.

Poets are custodians of a race memory. Is your poetry a documentation of the times or the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling" as William Wordsworth put it?

I, like most poets, am indeed a custodian of my race and its memory which, of necessity, has to have as its component also “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling" for it to be able to communicate meaningfully across time with many generations.

What did you want to voice through your poems ‘History’ and ‘Karl Marx’?

Both these poems are from my third collection of poems, called Teesra Andhera. I was very agitated at that time about the all-round deterioration in social and political life of India. I then believed in dialectical materialism, which has since been ousted by crony capitalism.

What do you think of the ‘Waves’ festival? Will you be sharing the stage with these poets for the first time?

Before I say something about the current festival, which is the first of its kind in India, I must tell you about two international poetry festivals I was fortunate enough to attend. One was in Colombia, Latin America, and the other in Seoul, South Korea. In these festivals I was introduced to the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, and Robert Pinsky, the poet laureate of America.

I discovered during my interaction with the poets attending those festivals that though Hindi poetry had left the Geet format behind, lyrical or rhymed poetry continued to be the norm among many poets from Africa and some countries of Europe.

I am looking forward to my interactions with poets from 16 other countries as not much is known, or available, about poets or poetry of those countries in India.

It would be exciting to discover if consumerism, ecological and environmental problems confronting mankind, etc., preoccupy poets from these countries as well. Though much information is available about the West, nothing much is known about this part of the world.

Do you feel poetry can unite these countries in the Indian Ocean Rim?

Poetry brings people together as no other concern can. Since poetry speaks not about ephemeral or local concerns but addresses issues which are perennial about the human condition anywhere in the world. It concerns itself about the eternal truths and not the passing frauds and compromises that preoccupy most of our lives.

Hear the poet at 4pm on 1 March at Waves: The Indian Ocean Rim Association Festival of Poetry, at the Triveni Kala Sangam, 205, Tansen Marg, Delhi. Click here for the full schedule.

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