Shetty’s personal effects

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Eunice de Souza has introduced many to the delights of the English language, writes on books, reading and writing

Shetty’s personal effects

The glow of the Goan’s poems comes from an unflinching acceptance of the changes time wrought

Eunice de Souza

Originally posted On Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 11:29:00 PM

In an early, autobiographical essay, Manohar Shetty who has just published his fourth book of poems, Personal Effects says, “I write poems because I need to. It is not an act of will, but must come, as Anne Stevenson says of love, as naturally “as a Ferris wheel to its fair.””

Born in 1953, and educated in Panchgani and Mumbai (he can’t believe he was once studying Mercantile Law and Statistics), he has edited a book of short stories from Goa, Ferry Crossing, works as a journalist and literary consultant. He lives in Goa, in Dona Paula, and his flat has a stunning view of sea, rock, and trees. Yet the first poem, Stills from Baga Beach, is a precise, venomously observed set of sketches of the kind of tourist who has made North Goa so tacky. “The German studies the Vedanta/In translation through chromax/Dark glasses, her oozing/Tattoo mobbed by/Bluebottles.”

So what happened to the Goa of “golden sunsets, opalescent seas, sinuous, silvery rivers and riotous green” that feature in the essay (along with the tackiness)? He rejects the popular idea that there is “intrinsic poetry in external beauty. The provenance of poetry lies elsewhere.” Beautiful things don’t automatically translate into poetry. Poetry lies in the poet’s ability to catch a “drifting wisp of thought and image, link such images, anchor them to a comprehensible reality tautened by language and the tug of emotion, so that they create a living identity of their own.”

Reading whatever he could get his hands on as a young man, he came across the poems of Ted Hughes and was stunned by them. “Their power and immediacy have left a lasting impression on me,” Manohar says in a recent note to me, about his extensive use of animal imagery from his very first book onwards. “His poems spoke unerringly about evil and the power and legacy of evil. In poems such as View of a Pig, Ghost Crabs, he depicts the innate savagery of modern civilisation. For me, animals and birds are extended metaphors for human behaviour, more social than primal.”

Find is about the disappearance and displacement of the last porcupine from the housing colony in which Manohar lives. “But this porcupine was a find,/Neither tame nor wild; trapped between/Root, rock and lit verandahs/And the fibreglass of steelgrey cars,/Bristling with a tough/Disregard for the human touch,/Never to be patted or leashed.” In Termite, he warns that the flattering image in the mirror is not really the person looking at it. True, the “the rakish cleft,/The ironical eyebrows—/They’re all yours./But open the door just / a fraction more (and don’t/Fly off the handle). Look/At the
arterial/Tunnels of mud./That’s you now: must/Dryrot and sawdust.”

In The Hyenas, Manohar brings together two themes about which he writes so well — his children, and animals. His little girl has a bad asthmatic attack. “Her tiny/hands are wet petals in my hand.” In contrast to this exquisite tenderness is the savagery of the attack, “the drooling/ packs converge: amidst red/Laughter, claws tear/at gizzard, sweating pigling,/Roe, soft brain, and lamb.”

One of the most moving poems in the book is called, With the children gone, an experience many will recognise. With the children gone, “rows of shoes grow/too big for our boots,/too scuffed to save./We leaf through frayed/textbooks (the stress, the distress!)/We are the small print,/the forgotten subtext/longing to be read,/longing to hear all/that’s left unsaid.”

Commenting on the poetry, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra says, “A spare richness marked his poems from the start and, over the decades, this hasn’t changed… Occasionally, the glow of Shetty’s poems comes from an unflinching acceptance of the changes wrought by the passage of time… This is poetry so naturally memorable that you don’t need to consciously memorise it.” Some of the poems have been translated into Italian, German, Finnish and Slovenian.

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