Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
I have seen this poet and colleague from a frighteningly close distance, never realizing whether it was awe or the other thing that made me look up to him. He is for me, and I could be wrong, a more refined version of Chetan Bhagat, in poetry, a Bhagat who couldn’t quite catch the common reader’s eye and yet made a place for himself, among the few that mattered about a couple of decades ago. He will in all probability occupy a secure position in the history of Indian English poetry for some time.
Arvind has a sharp eye for things, very rarely missing anything in his radius. He has the ability to see with clarity and precision the difference between a mind and a machine. But essentially, again like Bhagat, Arvind is practical and knows which side of the bread to butter. He is a genius when it comes to fusing images of an unusual nature. Words seem to slip out of his pen like little needles and even knifes with which he can do the needful. When he writes of someone or something, he writes about himself ultimately, or so it seems to me. I have known him so long. I tend to see him visibly in every line that he writes.
A recent phenomenon among writers is that they are managing to rise above their introversion and passing off as extroverts. I feel that there is something about them which makes them feel more at home on stage than off it. The stage demands an active demonstration of whatever you wish to project yourself as. They are always enacting roles as part of their strategic programmes rather than saying what comes naturally, as individuals. Arvind can reverse the manner and approach of a traditional poet visible in the view that Keats once expressed when he stated: “That if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.” In this strategy-based approach too Arvind is like Bhagat. He is all over the world as well as his country where his work will be read, like Bhagat is all over his country and in parts of the world where it is necessary for him to be noticed. Writers hardly need to live in seclusion, now, to acquire their voices and visions as they have blended their voices and visions with the voices and visions of necessity. The world seems to like them for this evolved state of existence because they have broken their shells to mix and match their wits with those who need them.
Arvind’s talent reaches out to other fellow poets and even to erstwhile poets with grit. He has a critical mind along with the creative and at times one finds it difficult to decide whether his critical prose is better or his verse. With maturity he seems to move more and more towards others’ work rather than giving a great output of his own. Of course with a seminal and organized mind like his it is always possible that he is keeping back his verse from people till a more opportune time for it to flourish. I wouldn’t be surprised if some more verse books are kept hidden from the public, waiting in the wings for a climate to be created in which they will be lapped up.
A remarkable tendency which Arvind has displayed recently as professor of English, at the University of Allahabad where he spent several decades, is to rise above the Department in which he was teaching. This tendency to feel alienated in the place where they live is part of the makeup of a number of creative writers all over the world. Arvind’s writings have shown that he could never identify with the place that contained him. He was living here with a stone on his heart, as it were, yet showing a brilliant tolerance towards those he had to co-exist with. The lot of the most talented and creative writer is to suffer others somehow as he creates. Perhaps creation is largely a result of the suffering that insensitive people inflict on these sensitive souls.
Lakshmi Raj Sharma