Anand Thakore is a poet and Hindustani classical vocalist – and an accomplished and committed practitioner of both disciplines. He is the author of three books of poems: Waking in December (2001), Elephant Bathing and Mughal Sequence (both in 2012). He lives in Mumbai.
Thakore's verse is characterised by a swinging rhythmic line that is incantatory, oracular, sometimes metrical. This fascination with the formal line, which has characterized his poetry from the start, produces verse that can seem, at first skim, Tennysonian in cadence and somewhat infatuated with grand aural effects, but as one reads on, one realizes it has an individuality and timbre all its own.
Two of the poems in this feature are from Mughal Sequence, a remarkable series of dramatic monologues – more Rumer Godden than Romila Thapar, and eventually more poetic reverie than historical fiction – that gives voice to an array of characters from another era: from a monarch aching to be released from history to an aunt perplexed by Emperor Akbar's syncretic approach to faith. The two poems published here are those that give voice and agency to ostensible "objects": a spirited dancing girl (who offers us her own feisty perspective of history from the margins) and a reflective rock, the illustrious Koh-i-noor itself, longing to be returned to a less glittering, less high-profile life in the mines, away from the violence and amnesia of imperial decadence.
Melodic and sensuous, these richly crafted poems unfold at an unhurried pace, taking the reader on a journey into another era, one that is painted with strokes both broad and subtle. A world of detail emerges with its own inner life; shadowy figures and mute artefacts spring into sudden aliveness; and the speakers are both larger-than-life and remarkably singular. As poet Ranjit Hoskote writes in an introduction to the book, these are less soliloquies than "apostrophes extended to those lost or not yet discovered", seeming to "seek active engagement with imagined interlocutors distant from the speakers themselves, in time, place and cultural assumption". It is interesting to see the ways in which Thakore undercuts any potential grand narrative with an eye for subversive detail: the dying eyes of emperors "vermilion with wine"; the blind vandalism of heathen shrines inflicted by "incensed believing hands"; the "restive thrumming in the veins" and "the quivering of a drumskin" that can turn a young woman in servitude into a free spirit, a dancer at one with the festive abandon of her dance.
Also included here is 'Ithaca', a poem from Thakore's first book (and a personal favourite of this editor), which sojourns lyrically through classical Greece and yet returns with an almost hypnotic tug to the physical site anchoring this excursion into elsewhereness: the city of Mumbai. This tension, never quite resolved and never easily resolvable, between the need for an elsewhereness and the part-painful, part-comforting reality of being tethered to the here-and-now, often lies at the heart of Thakore's poetry, giving it its own distinctive tenor.