My favourite path of them all: poetry. There’s lots of God in poetry. Isn’t Shakespeare just divine? He was my favourite in college back in the early 1990s, when I studied English Literature. (I also liked him because the teacher who taught us Shakespeare was a fiery, passionate woman and a committed professor. So the connection has always been Shakespeare = Passion.) Later, I also added TS Eliot to the list:
I now sometimes read Ghalib and his gut-wrenching romance, and oh, that magical Sufi poet, Rumi:
A squirrel holds an acorn in its praying hands,
Offering thanks, it looks like.
The nut tastes sweet; I bet the prayer spiced it up somehow.
The broken shells fall on the grass, and the grass looks up and says, “Hey.”
And the squirrel looks down and says, “Hey.”
Formalities just weren’t working.
My affair with poetry started as a child, when I’d write simple four-line, abcb-rhyme stanzas by the dozen each week; then at college when I had more than my heart’s fill of the best of the poetic greats; and reached its peak in my late 20s, when I was entrenched in a toxic marriage. Somehow sorrow feeds poetry more than happiness does. The more I bled inside, the more I wrote.
Bride (May 18, 2004)
Shorn of her jewelry
She sits in a huddle
Her glittering crimson veil askew
The vermilion in her hair
Splattered over her forehead
Like clotted blood
Wedded to agni
Consummated by its flames
Burnt into still-glowing cinders
She tries one last time
To squeeze the tears out
But they too have dried up.
Those were the worst years of my life but also the most prolific, poetically speaking. It was my therapy, my dose of medicine in those diseased days. And it helped me a great deal, I must say – to the point of changing my life. I made friends through our common love for poetry. I got my first job (after eight years of being a housewife) on a poetry website as an editor and began editing books by various contemporary poets; I even conducted workshops on the subject at my daughter’s school for a few months.
After that, I found joy, faith and myself, and didn’t need poetry to vent myself out any more. I got happily busy and spiritually fulfilled. I was writing articles for publication in my magazine by then and bringing up two kids single-handedly. Writing poems just felt too self-indulgent a pastime. If you’d asked me, I’d have agreed with Stephen Fry who once said: “Asking other people to read your poetry is like telling them to smell your farts.”
But I still appreciate reading other people’s farts, I mean poems. Only a poet (even if only at heart) can appreciate another’s poetry. It’s like learning a secret language. A language of the gods.
What is divine about poetry is that you have to immerse yourself in it. There’s a sher about romantic love in Urdu which says it’s an aag ka dariya, doob ke jaana. To me, that’s what poetry has in common with pain and pleasure – they are all rivers of fire and you can only cross over to the next level by submerging yourself in them completely. If you try to keep your head up or your senses about you, you’ll drown.
“Real poetry,” said the Japanese poet Basho, “is to lead a beautiful life. To live poetry is better than to write it.” And whenever he saw one of his young students being rude, in a fit of anger, or otherwise acting unworthily, he would gently lay his hand on the arm of the youth and say, “But this is not poetry! This is not poetry.”