Tukaram was born in 1608 and vanished without a trace in 1650. what little we know of his life is a reconstruction from his own autobiographical poems, the contemporary poetess Bahinabai’s memoirs in verse, and the later biographer of Marathi poet-saints, Mahipati’s account. The rest is all folklore, though it cannot be dismissed on those grounds alone. Modern scholars such as the late V. S. Bendre have made arduous efforts to collate evidence from disparate contemporary sources to establish a well-researched biography of Tukaram. But even this is largely conjectural.
Tukaram is therefore not only the last great Bhakti poet in Marathi but he is also the first truly modern Marathi poet in terms of temper and thematic choice, technique and vision. He is certainly the most vital link between medieval and modern Marathi poetry. Tukaram’s stature in Marathi literature is comparable to that of Shakespeare in English or Goethe in German. He could be called the quintessential Marathi poet reflecting the genius of the language as well as its characteristic literary culture. There is no other Marathi writer who has so deeply and widely influenced Marathi literary culture since. Tukaram’s poetry has shaped the Marathi language, as it is spoken by 70 million people today and not just the literary language. Perhaps one should compare his influence with that of the King James version of the Bible upon speakers of the English language. For Tukaram’s poetry is also used by illiterate millions to voice their prayers or to express their love of God.
Das’ poetry more than delivers on the promise made in the penultimate lines of her titular Cyborg Proverbs, offering its reader the gift of penetrating (in)sight through thoughts “as precise as suspicion”. Her syllables breathe aloud, like hushes that unassumingly gasp in the gaps between echoes, in the interstitial moments of alighting bird wings, or roots that braid the air, or the slipperiness of netted fish, and the gush of rain as it nestles its way into the crevices of walls and swells its way through its parasitical, residential act.
Das exquisitely reimagines syntax and her frequently anthropomorphic poems shape-shift upon each ensuing page, making Cyborg Proverbs an enviable feat, aided in no small measure by her studied, patient, bird-watcher gaze and her unspeakable lust for articulating the tacitly sensual.
Ashwani Kumar’s poems in ‘Banaras and The Other” are a mischievous irreverence turned at times to the present and at times to the past. The personal and the political, memories and nostalgia, mythical characters and contemporary parodies mix and mingle in these poems in diverse proportions to produce a rare poetic energy that belongs entirely to our times of pain and paradox. –K. Satchidanandan
Ashwani Kumar’s Banaras and the Other captivates us as a delightful romp through myth, folklore and history. Read past the revelry, however, and you will see that it engages passionately and provocatively with the fissured, schismatic scenarios of 21st century India.–Ranjit Hoskote
Hardback awakening The air is thick, and has revived my books, anticipating the first spell of a Bombay monsoon. Ambient moisture has slaked pages that shuffle and twist, arise to a wakefulness, unleaving. Feeling the discomfort of nearness,