Since this page was first published in February 2009, Dilip Chitre has passed away.
Dilip Chitre was a noted and influential bilingual poet and translator who worked in Marathi and English. His literary output in both languages has been sizeable. His versatile creative practice extends to painting and film-making – activities that he saw as seamless “extensions” of his “poetic sensibility”. “Poetry”, he wrote, “has been the mainstay of my creative practice for more than fifty years and it could be my way of wrapping up my life.”
Chitre believed his bilingualism has baffled critics. “A bilingual writer’s literary orientation is assumed to be like the erotic orientation of a bisexual – dangerously ambiguous and oblique,” he wrote. “Somehow, on either side of the language divide, one’s loyalty to one’s audience is held suspect.” Such suspicion notwithstanding, he has earned a place for himself as a writer of stature in both languages.
His first collection of Marathi poetry, Kavita, was published in 1960, followed by Kavitenantarchya Kavita eighteen years later. His collected Marathi poems, Ekoon Kavita, appeared in three successive volumes in the nineties, the first volume winning the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award in 1994. The year 2008 saw the publication of two important Chitre collections: Shesha, a volume of new and selected translations from Marathi, and As Is Where Is, a book of new and selected poems in English.
Chitre always viewed the writing and translation of poetry as part of a continuum. His book, Says Tuka, is a well-loved and much-acclaimed rendition in English of the haunting poetry of the 17th-century mystic of Maharashtra, Tukaram. It won the Sahitya Akademi award for translation in the year 1994 (making him the only poet to have won awards for both poetry and translation in the same year).
Chitre is aware that his ongoing translation of Marathi saint poets (which he began at the age of 16) has a certain subversive canonical significance. “I realised”, he says in an interview with The Indian Express (1998), “that literature of the West had so overwhelmed us that we seemed to think that literature was invented there and that we are practitioners of a European art. This isn't true. We had begun to define ourselves in terms of others. The West was ignorant of our languages. They thought Marathi was a dialect of Hindi – this about a language that is among the 20 most spoken languages in the world and has a literature that has existed continuously for 700 years. I took this as a passport to the literary world. I had to show them who my Shakespeare, my Racine, my Dostoevsky were.”
Additionally, translation has meant its own unique challenges and rewards – the inheritance of a complex cultural space. “More than three decades of translating Tukaram”, wrote Chitre, “have helped me to learn to live with problems that can only be understood by people who often live in a no-man's land between two linguistic cultures belonging to two distinct civilisations.”
The eight poems in this edition are from Shesha, a selection from Chitre’s oeuvre in Marathi. Garnered from a period that spans several decades (from the 1950s to the first decade of the new millennium), they reveal different facets of Chitre’s art – from the poetry of love to the poetry of metaphysical reflection, from the poetry of eroticism to the poetry of lyrical elegy, from the poetry of nostalgia to the poetry of trenchant critique.
One of my personal favourites is ‘At midnight in the bakery at the corner’ which uncovers a deeply subtle and sensual longing. There are no broad political strokes in this poem of loss and sadness, only an aching memory of the way things were in a world before the lines between faiths and communities grew inflexible and unforgiving. The passing of an old order, of a warmer, more innocent history is poignantly evoked in the last line: “When the bread develops its sponge, the smell / Of the entire building fills my nostrils.”
Ekoon Kavita – 3, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, 1999
Ekoon Kavita – 2, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, 1995
Ekoon Kavita – 1, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, 1992
Daha by Daha, Pras Prakashan, Mumbai, 1983
Kavitenantarchya Kavita, Vacha Prakashan, Aurangabad, 1978
Kavita, Mouj Prakashan, Mumbai, 1960
As Is, Where Is, Poetrywala, Mumbai, 2007
Postclimactic Love Poem (long poem), Aark Arts, London, New Delhi, 2005
No Moon Monday on the River Karha, Vijaya Chitre, Pune, 2000
The Mountain, Vijaya Chitre, Pune, 1998
Travelling In A Cage, Clearing House, Mumbai, 1980
Ambulance Ride, self-published, Mumbai, 1972
Translations into English
Shesha: Selected Marathi Poems (1954 – 2008) (Dilip Chitre’s poems translated into English), Poetrywala, Mumbai, 2008
Namdeo Dhasal, Poet of the Underworld, Navayana, 2007
An Anthology of Marathi Poetry (1945-1965) (Editor), Nirmala-Sadanand, Mumbai, 1968
Shri Jnandev’s Anubhavamrut: The Immortal Experience of Being, Sahitya Akademi,
New Delhi, 1996
Says Tuka, Penguin, New Delhi, 1991
The Reasoning Vision: Jehangir Sabavala’s Painterly Universe, Tata-McGraw-Hill, New Delhi, 1980
Indian Express and Rediff: Interviews with Dilip Chitre.
Tripod: Planet Chitre, Little Magazine, Tukaram, Muse India: More of Dilip Chitre’s poems
Mumbai Forums, Wikipedia: More comprehensive listings of Dilip Chitre's books, films, paintings, etc.
Windows Live: Dilip Chitre’s blog
Poetry International Web: Chitre’s translations of Namdeo Dhasal’s Marathi poems on this site
India Uncut: “Crisis in Culture” – Dilip Chitre responding to a politician trying to invoke the concept of blasphemy in Baroda.