Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

An Interview with Dileep Jhaveri by Bill Wolak

Anthropocentric Misconceptions and Other Unpredictable Encounters with Eternity


Born in 1943, Dileep Jhaveri is one of the most dynamic and articulate poets writing in India today. Like the Czech poet Miroslav Holub, his poetry mixes the objectivity of a scientist with an indefatigable lyricism. For Jhaveri, poetry is a theatre of ideas and emotions, and theoretical propositions. Dileep Jhaveri is a practicing general physician based in Mumbai and a wellknown Gujarati poet and playwright. He has published one collection of poetry in Gujarati entitled Pandukavyo ane Itar (1989) and a play Vyaasochchhvas (2003), which has subsequently been translated into English as A Breath of Vyas by Ms. Kamal Sanyal. Recently, he has published two books of poetry in the United States, Once This Mist Clears (2014) and Fire Writes in Several Scripts (2015), both by The Feral Press. His latest translation is titled Breath Becoming a Word: Contemporary Gujarati Poetry in English Translation published by Sahitya Akademi Delhi. In addition, many of his poems have been anthologized, and his poetry has been translated into English, Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Bengali, Korean, Chinese, Irish, and Japanese. He has received the Critic Award (1989), Jayant Pathak Award for Poetry (1989), and the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad Award (1990). Inside India, he has been invited to read his works by the Central and State Sahitya Akademis, Universities, and literary groups. He also has been invited to read widely abroad, including at the Asian Poets' Conference in Korea in 1986, Taiwan in 1995, and such other countries as Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Dileep Jhaveri serves on the editorial boards of Museindia.com and the Kobita Review. Bill Wolak and Dileep Jhaveri met in Nagpur, India, where they were both featured poets at the 2011 Kritya International Poetry Festival. Afterwards, they both were featured poets at the Hyderabad Literary Festivals of 2013 and 2014. During their last meeting, in 2015 when Bill Wolak was giving a series of poetry readings in India, the subsequent interview was started, and it was completed over the following months. Bill Wolak: You are a physician with a medical practice. Why do you write poetry? Dileep Jhaveri: Poetry gives sense to my everyday existence. It bonds me to a totality that is still incomprehensible to me and steers my impatient awareness to explore within it. This whole is manifest in words that emerge from and also lead to the dynamic language transpiring from ever-changing and perpetual consciousness, not only mine but of all that is living or just is. Words give me not only meanings, associations, music, and freedom; they open up possibilities to extend this freedom and offer surprises to celebrate as well as expose my failure to sustain. Writing a poem is an intention and also an aimless itinerary. But both are essential to evolution. Evolution is continuity without beginning or end and so is poetry. Being a physician helps me survive and gives meaning to my human existence. It teaches me to understand others, share their sufferings, make my skill helpful to restore happiness and purpose in the life of my patients, expands my joy when successful, and turns me to introspect when I fail. I practice to achieve integrity as a doctor and feel integral with the universe as a poet.

BW: How would you define poetry? DJ: With condescending compassion, I commend the critics and pedants to this path that angels fear to tread. To define poetry, I write poems.

BW: How would you describe the role of the poet?

DJ: The poet has to find the word. He may have an idea, an emotion, a vision, an insight into history and myths or an irresistible urge to leap into unknown, a need to contemplate on his or her life, human condition, and contemporary reality or to seek an answer to flimsy or fundamental problems of existence. But the poet has to find a word for this. It may not be the word or the only word. This word will have a sound, musicality, associations, history, single or multiple meanings, cosiness, discomfort, or hostility with other words. It may be fleeting, frivolous, fresh, fragile, fabled, flippant, fictitious, familiar, failing, fanciful, faceted, flexible, fixed, fascinating, fastidious, faulted, fake, fornicating, forbidden, and fertile and so on. But it will be a part of living language. Poetry is not just a word. All these words are like air, light, water, minerals, soil, or seasons for the fruition of oral flora that turn into a phrase, a sentence, a surprise, a completeness, or a space that is incomplete and wide and inviting to be explored. One word leads to another effortlessly or by chance or design or grace. The role of the poet is to take the reader along to discover spaces where this magic is innate. The poet is enchanted and captivated by something more than his desire or intention. He or she then becomes a mirror or a river for the reader for a similar adventure. And that is how poetry survives and languages survive and the life survives in continuous multiplications and transformations. 

BW: Is there any difference between the role of the poet in the West and the role of the poet in India?

DJ: Having no idea of current reality in the West, one has to rely upon history and hearsay. The poet’s image has undergone many changes. At one time in not too distant past, the poet was a cause for adoration in a section of society like a rare flower-vase or decorated heirloom. Early youth was given to admire and retired old age sought short term shelter in poetry. A poet was best ignored, and his or her work was a boring subject in the curriculum to be forgotten after attaining the grades. Some newspapers needed a few quotes to sound respectable. Musical performances needed lyrics, and operas needed romances. Some entertainers prided themselves as poets. But readers of poetry by choice have always been few. All this never prevented poets from pursuing the word. Indifferent to the mundane, they continued and retained equanimity even when awarded money, academic positions, awards, or a Nobel prizes. Only a few were possessed with prophetic notions and took off their trousers in city-squares. But most poets were happy to be with each other, exchanging books, booze, tobacco, gossip, memories, and innate disdain for the critics in general. All were not successful or satisfied, so some turned to the mysterious East and alluring oriental metaphysics in their never ending spiritual sojourns. We have had some parallels and diversions.


In India, a poet is a curiosity, a crazy creature to be befriended briefly and forgotten. Encountering a poet socially always raises exclamations without resonance or echo. Soon the poet is settled in a cosy corner with a cup of coffee or a carafe of beer with withered widows or toothless old men wearing non-functioning hearing aids. Occasionally, someone would drop in breathlessly to ask whether the poet would write a few lines for her cousin’s wedding, the old man will be having his eightieth birthday, and a sonnet would aptly celebrate it, or a widow may be happy with a stanza eulogizing virtues of the dear departed decades ago. Of course, these may seem satirical, but such things have happened in my life. Curiously, in an expectedly scant audience, the poet is grabbed by some bespectacled, underfed, budding genius with halitosis pushing forward a notebook to enquire, “Where could a publisher be found to print my verses?” But there are some poets who have ready audiences in their students and avid readers to review their work since they too belong to the University Brotherhood. We have also Mushairas where ghazals are recited or crooned to entertain base and obese businessmen, frustrated lovers, and curious addicts to be entertained till the applause wanes and slumber waxes. Religiously, poems form part of the school curriculum and turn into textbooks in arts colleges. The newspapers have a “Poem of the Day” column on the corner of the eighth or ninth page in the vicinity of the obituaries.

The scene differs from language to language. My Malayalam friend K. Satchidanandan is known even to the bus conductors and art-students in his native Kerala as well as nationally eminent scholars. He is translated in many languages around the world and was nominated for a Nobel prize a couple of years back. Unassuming and ordinarily dressed, he is comfortable with large or minuscule gatherings. In Tamil another friend in his seventies, Sirpi Balasubramaniam has a following of unbelievable sections of society, with a Director General of Police falling at his feet and thousands collecting to celebrate his seventieth birthday. He was a pioneer of modernism in his language always soft spoken without the ardent declarations like Yevtushenko and always clad in ordinary white bush-shirt with short sleeves and loose pants. My Indonesian Friend W. S. Rendra was also known to taxi drivers of Jakarta in spite of his long years of repeated exiles. He wrote passionate poems of revolution, dressed flamboyantly, and entertained his European fellow poets lavishly in Depok, where he ran a school of drama for Indonesian youth.

What is clear in India is that all good poets are not always noticed. What helps some is academic camaraderie, political commitments, journalistic contacts, and luck, perhaps! But most of the poets share the same fate all over the world. Now the Web has provided space for anyone to publish and have the narcissistic pleasure to gaze at one’s name. This freedom bypasses the roadblocks created by editors and critics, but the raving responses on Facebook and other platforms remain questionable. Myriads of poetry festivals are held where naive or market-savvy poets rush, and some lose their savings in air tickets for momentary pleasure of reciting for a few minutes, and that is their monumental achievement! 

BW: Do you write poetry every day, or do you experience bursts of creativity?

DJ: Poetry is certainly written everyday but neither on paper nor in clear and certain words. A poem emerges as a surprise or from an objective or repeated hard effort. The bursts of creativity observed in Rilke or Pessoa are rare. But the protracted inactivity, which they experienced, is common to every poet. The process of poetry is like several follicles growing indolently at different pace in the ovary and also bursts of sperm in orgasm. Fertilization is never guaranteed. Even after successful conception, abortions and still

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