What makes the poetry and politics of Anvar Ali, winner of this year’s Kerala Sahitya Akademi award, so engaging?

The Indian Express | 2 weeks ago | 30-07-2022 | 07:50 pm

What makes the poetry and politics of Anvar Ali, winner of this year’s Kerala Sahitya Akademi award, so engaging?

Anvar Ali, 56, is arguably the most interesting voice in Malayalam poetry today. His third volume of poetry, Mehboob Express (2020), the first in a decade, is a collection of intensely political poems that carry the pain and burden of our times. In step with his generation of poets, Ali has a sharp eye and ear and is tuned into his immediate sounds and surroundings. Yet, like in all good writing, there is an exceptional and universal vision that gives a visceral quality to his best poems. The politics that has shaped the inner and outer worlds of the poems in Mehboob Express also makes Ali a pan-Indian voice, who happens to be writing in Malayalam. Earlier this week, Mehboob Express was chosen for this year’s Kerala Sahitya Akademi; two years ago, Ali, now a sought-after lyricist, won the state award for the best film lyrics.Buy Now | Our best subscription plan now has a special priceThe collection takes its title from the poem, Mehboob Express – Oru Jeevitharekha (translated into Hindi by the late poet Manglesh Dabral as Mehboob Express: Ek Prabandh and into English by A J Thomas as Mehboob Express: A Monologue). Ali started on it by composing a four-line ditty about children imitating the sound of the running train — kollathe pappadam, gandan pappadam (like do daskaden in the Kurasawa film) — and it stayed in hibernation on his cellphone for a couple of years. Thereafter, slowly, lines started getting added and it began to take the shape of a narrative poem. He believes that the changing political landscape influenced the laying of the track on which the poem began to move.Mehboob Express (2017) can be read as a conversation between Mehboob and his younger relative, in person and over letters mailed from different parts of India, and narratted by the latter. The conversation begins on a passenger train, when Mehboobkka (ikka means elder brother) is visiting home on a summer break, and the train grows into a metaphor that maps the Subcontinent. The train winds through a landscape of history and memory, capturing a land caught in chaotic violence and wounded by numerous Partitions. It recalls their grandfather, who was managing Mahatmaji’s Paan Shop in Lahore, fleeing the newly created land of the pure for home “on a steam-locomotive that howled its way to Delhi” to the rattle of “Pakistan Partition, Pakistan Partition”, braving guns and swords, taking the Hindu name Dakshinaamoorthi. Mehboobkka was in Siachen when the 1984 Sikh riots burned down the country. He is on the move — in Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Gangtok — as political upheavels — the Rajiv Gandhi assassination in 1989, the emergence of BSP and Dalit empowerment, the Hindutva mobilisation and destruction of Babri Masjid, the Gujarat riots, Kunan Poshpora, the rise of gau rakshaks and the Akhlaq lynching — reshape the contours of society, politics and communal relations and turn it for the worse. Mehboobkka’s letters and emails (“emails are unseen trains”, says Mehboobkka) chug along on the tracks of history, recalling a country hurtling to disaster as it embraces a majoritarian agenda and weaponises faith. By now, Mehboobkka, a pensioner, is dreaming of reopening Mahatmaji’s Paan Shop in Kochi. The conversation tails off as they step off the new Metro line — “a silent train that utters nothing” — and Mehboobkka disappears along the footpath that winds beyond the migrant workers waiting for the next contractor train into a flat that had sprouted, like wild grass in marshland. “The national anthem of silence boomed”, Ali writes. With subtle references to history, slogans marking resistance, devastation and desolation, images and memories that offer paths to redemption (Mahatmaji’s Paanshop, for instance), Ali draws the map of a pock-marked Republic and leaves us to reflect on the fate of a nation where, in Carl Sandburg’s words, “hope is a tattered flag”.Two decades earlier, Ali had written another narrative poem that offers a melancholic picture of a nation that failed to stay true to the ideals of its founders. Raghavan of Ekanthathayude Ambathu Varshangal (Fifty Years of Loneliness) is representative of a generation that became comatose as the country lost its bearings soon after Independence. The distance from Raghavan to Mehboob — from melancholy to utter despair — is the distance that the nation has travelled between 1997 and 2017. Ali’s own poetry has become increasingly punchy and polemical in the past few years as the nuances and ambiguities of his early works make way for a defiant and strident tone. Blame it on the times and the honesty of an individual sensitive to the new India built on the debris of Gandhi’s and Nehru’s Bharat. Indeed, Ali has written that “we are on the magnetic belt of another time”.Ali’s politics is also an extension of his aesthetics — or the other way. In the history of Malayalam poetry — the canon is mostly upper-caste male Hindus and its vocabulary and idiom is mostly drawn from a Hindu register – Ali is an outlier. His generation of poets, who came after two waves of modernism that dominated the poetic landscape for nearly five decades from 1950s, has privilleged a micro politics and unearthed provincial echoes, inheritances and registers. Ali has broadened the vocabulary of poetry by consciously drawing in from his own personal and communal experiences, words and sounds, to sculpt a new language that emphasis the diversity of the Malayali society.It is this sensitivity to language that marks Ali as a trailblazer. Friend and fellow poet Anitha Thampi says that Ali’s authenticity lies in his explorations, in transforming the language of poetry in Malayalam. “Poetry is a language art,” she says. Ali has carried forward the poetic language, constantly experimenting with its structures, drawing from Malayalam’s rich inheritance of story-telling and narrative poetry, the careful moulding of poetic metres, cross-fertilisation of the vocabulary by borrowing from popular culture, street talk and community lingo, using classical modes as well as parody, leaning on cinema and performance traditions to energise the art.Ali’s train travels among different time zones and social spaces, connects with past traditions, respects inheritances and legacies, but is constantly renewing the language of poetry. And that’s what makes his poetry exciting.📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss out on the latest updates!

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The Indian Express | 4 days ago | 12-08-2022 | 11:50 am
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So, the relations between the two NDA allies had remained smooth at both the state and central levels.However, their ties developed the first crack during the BJP National Executive meet held in Patna in 2010, when big advertisements were published in Bihar newspapers showing the then Gujarat CM and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar in the same frame from a picture from a 2009 Haryana rally. Upset by the ads, Nitish cancelled the dinner he was going to host for the visiting BJP leaders.Although the then ruling JD(U)-BJP alliance had survived but some hiccups remained that eventually reached a breaking point in June 2013. But even then, Nitish had kept Sushil and Jaitley posted about his reservations about Modi’s expected projection as the BJP-led NDA’s PM candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.But now, Nitish did not bother to share his concerns with the BJP central leadership and took them by surprise.Less than a month ago, on July 12, PM Modi shared stage with Nitish at a function held in Patna as part of the Bihar Assembly’s centenary celebrations, where the latter welcomed the PM. PM Modi also praised Nitish, calling him a “popular leader” and a “valuable ally”, highlighting his role in ensuring 50 per cent reservation for women in Panchayat Raj institutions.A hint of a discord that the BJP leaders might have sensed was Nitish’s move to skip four back-to-back central dispensation-held meetings, including the NITI Aayog governing council meeting called by the PM, in recent days.Yet, when Union home minister Amit Shah called up Nitish Monday, a day before he severed his alliance with the BJP, he reportedly told the former that there was “no issue”. A JD(U) leader said: “Even though Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan came to meet Nitish Kumar recently and PM, Shah and Nadda would intermittently call him up, there used to be no warmth in his communications with the BJP brass like he had during Sushil Modi’s stint as his deputy.”He also said, “Both Nitish and Sushil entered politics through the JP Movement in the 1970s and knew each other very well. In the course of their partnership as CM and DCM, if there were any reports of any communal incident from anywhere in the state, Nitish would call up Sushil and another BJP leader Nand Kishore Yadav to hep him defuse it. But with the present set of BJP leaders, Sanjay Jaiswal as their state president and two deputy CMs, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, there was a huge communication gap.”However, it was said to be his long-standing camaraderie with Nitish that cost him the DCM’s post after the alliance returned to power in the 2020 Assembly polls. Sushil defended himself from the charge coming from within the BJP that he was “too close” to Nitish to their leadership’s discomfort, saying “what he did had the backing of the central leadership and it was important to stay in power than confront the CM”.When the BJP top brass called him to Delhi after the 2020 poll results, Sushil was reportedly told that the “leadership responsibility in government would now go to the younger leaders”. However, Tarkishore Prasad, 64, and Renu Devi, 62, were picked as the DCMs, much to the surpise of everyone. They were reportedly chosen as they belong to the OBC and EBC communities, respectively.The BJP, however, did not attempt to make a leader with some significant political heft Nitish’s deputy. It wanted the party to come out of Nitish’s shadows, and its leaders started to attack the CM in a case of political adventurism. A senior JD(U) leader said: “It is a standard power theory to remain loyal and submissive when you are number two. BJP perhaps had been desperate to become number one against Nitish and ended up losing us”.The BJP seemed to have looked for stop-gap arrangements. Even though it had in its ranks leaders like Ravi Shankar Prasad, Giriraj Singh, Sanjay Jaiswal, Mangal Pandey and Shahnawaz Hussain, it perhaps suprised and disappointed its cadre by choosing Tarkishore and Renu as DCMs over these well-known faces. Ujiyarpur MP and Union minister Nityanand Rai tried to throw his hat into the ring because of his closeness to Amit Shah and Union minister Bhupendra Yadav but his being a Yadav put the BJP in a dilemma – given the fact that the Yadav community along with Muslims has remained the RJD’s core vote base – and his leadership candidature remained more a matter of self-projection.Sushil, a Rajya Sabha MP now, continues to raise state and national issues, but he prefers to keep a low profile. When BJP leaders like Bisfi MLA Haribhushan Thakur would issue anti-Muslim statements at regular intervals upsetting Nitish, the party leadership would never rein him in. It was kind of free-for-all in the BJP. Any second-rung leader would take on Nitish and get away with it. Even Sanjay Jaiswal would occasionally go after Nitish over issues like population control and law and order. The absence of a Bihar BJP in-charge like Bhupendra Yadav also contributed to a rise in tension in its relations with the JD(U).A senior BJP leader said: “Sushil Modi still commands great respect. After he was sidelined in Bihar BJP politics, no other leader seems to have filled his slot… We do not know what Centre wants. Getting a small-stature leader might work elsewhere, not in Bihar, especially when you have a leader of Nitish Kumar’s stature to match up to. Now that we are all by ourselves, let us have a leader in BJP in Bihar.”There had been a growing discomfort in Nitish’s relations with the BJP since they formed the government again after the 2020 polls, with the BJP as the senior partner this time. Finally, the “RCP Singh model of conspiracy” might have given him the handle to pull the plug on it.

Why Nitish Kumar felt the absence of Sushil Modi, ‘Jaitley channel’