Gujarat has become a byword used casually for the way the historical state has slowly been turning into History. The Kandala tornado, the droughts, the earthquake, the Godhra carnage and the subsequent riots, have made ‘Gujarat’ into a political headline that drowns other voices. However, the artist cannot be silenced. The long conspiracy of silence shatters with Saroop Dhruv’s shocking, introspective and sensitive poetry that verbalizes, tales of not-so-long-ago in a voice that identifies with every lesion that the people of Gujarat have been subjected to. Hastakshepa is a volume of poetry that makes you cry, squirm with shame, quiver with righteous anger and shake with passionate indignation, at the condition of the state that was once Gujarat. So changed are the state of Gujarat and the city of Ahmedabad Saroop Dhruv lives in, that they look like it feels stranger, perhaps identifiable only by dead ancestors and the lineage of a holocaust that gripped the nation in the aftermath of a Partition. With a rapier-like pen, she is out for a kill-—to hunt all responsible for what has been.
The collection opens with a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion; angry and shaken up at the sight of mere anarchy being set loose upon the world. On an idle road, somebody chances upon me to ask, or from under well raised eyebrows, the question peeks out: Still on with the fight? Do you still write? You haven’t bowed down? Still struggling hard?… And I want to say: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!… …Desire: Storm – tornado – Desire: rumblemumble stirrer Desire: The annoyance inside – Desire: a strong pen explodes.2 — Peed Parai (p. 2)
It is the desire to know the Peed Parai— Other People’s pain—that has shaped Saroop Dhruv’s poetry and is a key to understanding her vision. One realizes that the locus of the pain that she experiences is not within her; not a solipsistic point, but that it lies within a society, and her job is to intervene between her own life and this communal pain that binds us all collectively into the matrix of our lives. In Dhruv, the woman who suffers and the woman who writes are one and the same, even if their physical and social locations are different: I am no different from all the Suraiyas, Salmas, Fatimas, Shehnazes or Aminas in this nation; not separate, not dissimilar. Every time the Dushasans of this nation employ their hands To disrobe them in the naked public gaze, I feel myself stripped. Shun che karan : Mare jivavanu– (Pathos, Compassion, Sensitivity, p.83)
The intervention is not from a power position towards the less fortunate people. It is the voice of a woman, a poet, an artist, who, faced with the suffering of her fellows, stigmatically feels the very pains that they do. Community, nation, gender, religion, class and caste, all make their presence felt in poetry which is exquisitely correct—politically as well as metrically. The volume comprises four sections: The position of a woman artist within the society; the horrors of the earthquake and the Kandala cyclone in overwhelming pictures; the third takes us to the times when Gujarat played Holi with the blood of the Godhra-riot victims, and the fourth explores the subcultures of the Adivasi communities in the Southern regions of a wild Gujarat—she locates herself physically and emotionally within the psyche of the people she is writing for/about/with.
As a woman and as an artist, Dhruv is able to combine the best of several different worlds to form poetry that speaks for itself producing images that are domestic and yet so political: But in the midst of that hocus pocus and in guilding my beak golden, I can smell… While breaking bread3 ; …Wheat! And the sweat that trickled down to the saltfields; tears and Blood…a salty morsel turns poison In my throat and stays there, choking me.– Rotli, Ghaun, Kavita ne Hun, p. 5
Hastakshepa is revolutionary poetry; People’s poetry. In the midst of wars, deaths, corruption, decay and decadence, the poet intervenes to make a point, to lament: “A tidal wave of death, and the ocean turned a desert!” Vavajhodu (p. 37). In the second section: Asmani- Sultani, Dhruv speaks out and speaks up. Her mind without fear, and her head held high. Pointing a loaded gun at academicians, politicians, leaders, religious gurus, scholarly pundits, media and the war-mongers, she scores bulls-eye: I don’t want to talk of hunger. Hunger can no longer kill us. Used as we are to it, with fifty three years passing us by… Dhartini Vaat (p. 41)
The severe droughts of Kathiyavad Gujarat get her verses: “If God happened to knock, what would one offer / Empty utensils squeak and the pots plead for water” (Kathiyavad – 2001, p. 40). The earthquake and its surrounding aftershocks of corruption and chaos get a shape when Dhruv whispers to us: What we counted as ours, our homes; those lie crumbled in sand– Bhukamp, 2001, p. 44
The media and the world leaders, who were apparently shaken out of their stupor after the 9-11 attacks, come under a new spate of attacks, this time, from Dhruv’s pen. Tell me, What do you want? -Burger or Burkha? -Burkha or Burger? Such thisthatthatthis was going on When…11th September! Now There is hardly a person who doesn’t know That the burkha that fanned over us Is a bomb And the burger squashed between the buns Is a bomb as well!”– 11 September – 2001, p. 56.
Dark humour comes to the fore as Osama and the Big Macs come face to face – the weapons of a global imperialism. And as she comes closer to the present; uncomfortably close to what we all shared and did nothing to stop; as she marches protesting against a Modi infested Hindutva that scourged the state starting with the carnage at Godhra, she gets more powerful, more poignant, more on the verge of tears, like a mother, helpless in the face of her children’s death. Her poems explore an Ahmedabad strewn with petrol bombs, gas cylinders, rapes, explosions, murders of children… On a battlefield seared with communal hatred and violence, Dhruv stands all alone singing songs of desolation: Go and ask the setting sun Tonight, whose eyes he will sink in ? If like a blood thirsty dagger, he returns Tomorrow, whose chest shall he choose to rest in?… …Last question: Will he return tomorrow at all? Or will he fall a corpse? Or sell in the markets becoming headlines? Or fly around becoming rumours ? Will he search for a Kafan4 to hide his face, or burn in the pyre of his self? Go and ask the setting sun…– Pucho, p. 75
In the last section, ‘Adivasini Aaj’, she gives us a glimpse of the tribal cultures and their life styles, clearly aimed at rights for the subcultures of Gujarat. The exploitation and the endurance of these people are all captured in a verse that reflects their efforts at building a community: Tearing villages of stone Searing the skies, Leaving the womb; A village comes to life.– Dahod, p. 108
Hastakshepa falls in the tradition of city poetry, largely exploring the city spaces at different critical turns. She drives a point home by including in the last section, poetry of the margins. Adivasini Aaj draws our attention to the fact that the Nagar Kavita5 is not restricted to urban spaces, but can also explore the effect that the centres have on the spaces at the fringe of a mainstream civilization, establishes strong links between the centre and the peripheries. Politically revolutionary, employing several forms and complex rhyming schemes, with clear and strong blank verse and a tone that endears itself immediately to the reader, Dhruv’s intervention—Hastakshepa, is a mature, responsible one. If she gets too personal, too questioning, she has a right to it. No reader can ever blame her for shaking him/her up from the complacence that life in Gujarat has sunk to, so that the intellectual and bourgeois Gujarati, spends more time talking about multiplexes and fm channels, than the sorry state of affairs we are in the midst of. Hers is an intervention that is welcome, because like a true friend, it tells us, where we have gone wrong!
Reference: 1 ‘Hastakshepa’ means intervention or interference. 2 All the poems quoted in this review are the reviewer’s translations. 3 ‘Rotali’ in the original, ‘bread’ is used to preserve the idiom. 4 ‘Kafan’ is the shroud used in Muslim funerals to cover the dead. Retained here to get the religious angle right. 5 Nagar Kavita in Gujarati poetry is a whole movement wherein poetry concentrates on the city spaces from which the poet springs.
Nishant Shah is a PhD student registered at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore. He completed his MA in English Literature from Pune University, Department of English, and also has a great interest in Gujarati literature.