The poet Arun Kolatkar passed away last night. Only last week I read his books Jejuri, Kala Ghoda Poems, and Sarpa Satra. No other contemporary poet has impressed me this much. Kala Ghoda Poems and Sarpa Satra were released in book form very recently (on July 14, 2004). This 'reclusive' poet's name was pretty visible in the mainstream media thereafter (as I Googled and found out later). Here is a review of Kolatkar's books by Gowri Ramnarayan, which appeared in this month's Hindu Literary Review. Same issue also contains an interview of Kolatkar by her. Apparently this one is conducted six years ago. A more extensive, and more revealing, interview is the one by Eunice de Souza in her book Talking Poems.
I came to know about this extremely talented poet very late. I heard about him for the first time just a fortnight ago, on September 12. That sunday morning I was skimming through the Hindu Literary Review which was published the previous week. I casually read Gowri Ramnarayan's interview, and this did not attract me very much. I would have forgotten that interview, and perhaps his name too, if another curious coincidence did not occur that afternoon. While lazily browsing the shelves at the Oxford bookstall at Churchgate, I noticed Eunice de Souza's interview of Kolatkar. And then I really really wanted to read Kolatkar. Oxford did not have him, and does not have him. Ditto with Crossword. Among hundreds of good looking, beautifully displayed copies of Sheldons, Archers, and Dan Browns, Amitav Ghoshs and Naipauls, Samit Basus and Siddharth Shanghvis, Kolatkar was not to be seen. The pavements of Kala Ghoda too did not have space for the poet whose poems silently and eloquently spoke about Kala Ghoda. I should have enquired at the right place at the starting. The guy at the 'ancient' Strand book stall took just a couple of seconds, to locate Kolatkar, in its thickly packed almirahs, full of books-- dusty and not-so-dusty. Oxford is good to spend time glancing through the fashionable books, good and bad. Also to waste money on tea or coffee at the Cha Bar there, where I end up paying thirty ruppees for a cup of tea which otherwise costs me three ruppees!
I finished reading all the three books in one sitting, fully understanding that an understanding of the works will take many more readings, also may require readings at a slower pace. But you feel the strength of Kolatkar's voice, the shock of 'Sarpa Satra' or 'Breakfast Time at Kala Ghoda', the very first time you go through it. I was hoping that Kolatkar would publish more, as he published two books together after a gap of twenty five years. (Jejuri was first published in 1977). And now he is no more. I do not read many books. I do not read literary supplements very carefully. (I might not have noticed Kolatkar's name on the 12th September in the Hindu.) Nor do I frequent book stalls. Having a chance to look at Eunice de Souza's interview looks like a miracle now. Perhaps I was destined to get to know Kolatkar's poetry just before his death.
What saddens me is this. I wanted to write in detail about Kolatkar's poetry in this blog, especially about Sarpa Satra. I postponed it thinking that I would attempt it after understanding it a bit more. I thought I wouldn't write about Kolatkar before that. And now...