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The Almost Invisible Man (Arun Kolatkar 1932-2004)

Jane Bhandari

Pras Prakashan, 2014, pp. 84 & 162, Rs. 150.00 & 360.00


In July 2004, more than 25 years after Jejuri was published, Sarpa Satra and Kala Ghoda Poems were released at NCPA’s Little Theatre. Droan, a collection of poems in Marathi, was launched in Pune a few days later.        Sarpa Satra had had its first public reading in its unpublished form at NCPA in November 2003. It is an epic poem about the genocide of the Nagas, or Snake People, by Janamejaya.  The poem opens with Janamejaya speaking of the reason for the annihilation—the death of his great-grandfather by snake-bite—and continues with the Snake woman Jaratkuru telling her son Aastika that only he can put a stop to the killing. The snakes have been charmed by means of a yajnya, inexorably drawn to the fire that will destroy them, but because Aastika is half-human he cannot be charmed.       The nature of an epic poem is such that detail is piled upon detail, and the reader is sucked into the story, just as the snakes are drawn helplessly into the fire. The ‘ actors in this theatre’ are deftly drawn in a few strokes - mumbling mantras or whatever and looking oh so dapper in black -black dhotis, black shawls and black pigskin slippers to match,  in which their vedic costume designers have dressed them      There is a touch of page three here, names dropped like stones, and catty asides on the characters. This is characteristic of all Kolatkar’s writing in English: reported in contemporary terms, gossipy, detailed, events unfolding in front of television cameras. The characters are not caricatures, but real people, easily identifiable with today’s politicians.  The murder of the snake people is no different from the genocide of any ethnic group of today.       The final section of Sarpa Satra is a sarcastic comment on the final outcome: Bands of brahmins, hangers-on, and assorted free-loaders strip the place of anything that isn’t nailed down…. * * * * kings return to their capitals, reminding themselves that they also have kingdoms to govern, wondering  which neighbourly kingdoms to attack next, or what new taxes to levy.      It sounds as familiar as today’s editorial. Several poems from Kala Ghoda Poems were published in London Magazine, Little Magazine, Chandrabhaga and Poetry Wales over several years—probably the longest literary teaser campaign ever. The poems focus on the triangular island opposite Wayside Inn. Arun would sit for hours at a window table, gazing out at ...

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