With the passing away of Dilip Chitre (1938-2009), an era of Marathi poetry and literature comes to an end. He was one of the greatest poets in Marathi and one of the best Indian poets. He was a fantastic translator, critic and fiction writer. He was always a brave rebel, an immensely creative personality and uncompromising critical intelligence. He kickstarted the `Little Magazine Movement' in Maharashtra with his little magazine`Shabda' in the mid fifties. He remained a great influence and inspiration for hundreds of younger poets like me. He did so many blurbs for young unknown poets like me in Marathi. He was always `dada' an elder brother, and never a father figure. He never imposed himself or his ideas on people. His greatness lay in his attitude in treating everyone as equal. It was this spirit that permeates and pervades his work as an artist.
My encounters with Dilip Chitre have always been exciting and provocative. It was always an illuminating experience to listen to his long speeches full of very original insights. I met him for the first time during Abhidhanantar's decennial celebration where he read his poetry. I consulted him for his advice on publication of my first Marathi collection. He recommended the name of Hemant Divate. I met Chitre again in May 2003 and had a long session on Marathi historiography with him. His critical inputs while making of the Live Update Anthology were precious. He liked my selection of poems and was critical about many things.
One day in 2004, he called me up and had a long telephonic conversation with me.I remember his remarks about his possible death during that conversation. I said we need people like you to be with us. He said, and very typically, that we need Shakespeare and Tukaram too but then it is not in our hands. He liked my translations and poetry, he said and I should not harbour self doubts. He said, with his tongue very much in his cheek, that we, Maharashtrians in general and particularly me should remember Shivaji and shed feelings of inferiority. He remarked that my strength was that I worked with four languages: Marathi, English, Hindi and Gujarati. He also said that Ashwini's poems are better than mine. In one of my later visits, he gave me a profound insight regarding poetry and modernity: modernity and creativity lies in the spaces between words of your phrase. It is in this turn of phrase, he said, that contemporary creativity lies.
I also had the honour of working with him on New Quest and it was again a very interesting phase. We had our differences and he probably saw me as an obstinate animal with inferiority complex, but he was always sympathetic and warm and treated me at par with himself.
When the fatal cancer was detected some time back, Chitre fought back bravely and we thought for the moment that he would survive it as he has survived some of the most difficult times. We knew he was a fierce fighter. He was forever young in spirit. The way he took to the latest technology is simply amazing. When people of his age, felt that cellphone was a gadget from a different planet, used only by aliens, he networked energetically on the social networking sites like Orkut and Facebook. He had 1118 friends on Facebook at the age of 71, which would give a 17 year old net newbie all sorts of complexes.
The most difficult period for me, was when he lost his son and I did not know what to say and how to speak to him. It was one of the most shocking things for us and I felt me and Ashwini were too young to `console' someone like Chitre's who were not only very elder to us but also were people we looked up to.His wife, Viju tai is, for me an equally admirable woman; very warm and loving and very supportive.She stood by Dilip in most difficult of times and he always treated her as his equal. I pray to god to give her strength to bear this great loss.
He once compared death with sharpshooter who claimed his close friend Arun Kolatkar, his son and people close to him in quick succession. The Sharpshooter has claimed Chitre too. His poetry in English and Marathi since its very beginning, reflect an obsessive preoccupation with images death and self-mutilation, making it dark and disturbing. The Sharp Shooter has put an end to this agony at last.
I think Dilip dada's one of the most important contribution to Marathi poetry and even the Indian poetry is his remarkable invention of `indigenous modernity' , which is simultaneously cosmopolitan and rooted, profoundly democratic and uncompromisingly artistic, deeply influenced by greatest international poetry and singularly situated in the democratic and pluralistic indigenous tradition of bhasha poetry. He saw that what unites powerful poetry of the post-Eliotian American poetry like the Beat Generation and Confessional poets with the extremely different , but equally powerful tradition of the Bhakti poetry as exemplified in Tukaram, was a certain existential -spiritual self-awareness, which is neither completely western nor completely peculiar to Marathi. What he says about ` Sahitya ani Atmabhaan', or ` Literature and Self Awareness' in the book by the same name in Marathi is perhaps best guide to his practice. His critical outlook, likewise, embodied these values.He could perceive the seamless interconnection between the deeply progressive and pluralist dimension of his tradition with the universal human dimension of the international and western modernity. Hence his poetry will be something of an outsider to people brought up only on the westernized aesthetics or only on the native ones.
Like Tukaram and probably Ginsberg , he made no distinction between living and writing. When we enter his poetry, we have to pick up the challenge of facing the man, his life and his agonies. We who cant even face our own darkness will find it difficult to face the looming personality of the man himself staring at you from his words. His poetry, hence, will never be populist or popular as it offers no false respite and reassurances. His poetry is not peppered with humour to people who want to have a bit of fun. His poetry is dark, serious and unbearable and in order to read Chitre, you have to read him on his own terms and not according to your demands. He is not a `demand-supply' man. It is this challenging non-conformity which makes his poetry not becoming people's favourite.
Chitre was never a conformist in life. He never gave into the Brahminical middle class mindset that pervaded Marathi poetry and certain right-winged attitudes to Indian culture. His earliest short story, ` Kesaal KaleBhore Pillu' ( A Dark Hairy Pup) dealing with clandestine sexual relation between a servant and his mistress, enraged the well-known Marathi writer Atre so much that he publicly declared his desire to flog Chitre. When the American scholar James Laine acknowledged him in his controversial book on Shivaji, the Government decided much to Chitre's anger to offer him `police protection'. He vocally protested against the vandalization of the Bhandarkar Institute, communal riots in Gujarat and all forms of bigotry everywhere. His vision of culture admitted no such narrow and intolerant actions.
They don't make people like him these days. Dilip Chitre is no more physically with us and to say that he will be with us in form of his ` akshar deha'- `the body of letters', would be a cliche. However, Dilip Dada will live not in the books but in the words and in the language of later poets. His presence will be felt even more acutely now. He was a challenge when he was alive, he now becomes an unsurmountable challenge. I will always miss his deep voice, typical Puneri cap,his cigar, his pungent sarcasm, and razor sharp critical vision. I will miss his warmth and love. As Harold Bloom points out that the poet becomes all the more alive once he dies. Once he dies it is impossible to kill him. Now they wont be able to kill him. Now nothing can kill him.
Four Generations of Chitres: Dilip's father PA Chitre, a noted Marathi editor, Aashay Chitre, Dilip's son with his son Yogul and Dilip Chitre.
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