Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Timelessness of the Intangible: An Interview with Dileep Jhaveri


"Any interest in Indian poets is gladdening but all that I talk does

not represent India or Indian thought. The fact of being born in India

confers some attributes and assigns an identity but one chooses to

evolve. And my generation of writers chose to belong to the universal.

It caused no contradiction or crisis of identity. K.Satchidanandan who

is my very close friend is also a part of the stammering community."

- Dileep Jhaveri  (taken from a letter 12.9.2012)



The interview was done by

Bill Wolak

(Courtesy of Hektoen International Journal and of Dileep Jhaveri and Bill Wolak)

Dileep Jhaveri is a practicing general physician based in Mumbai and a well-know Gujarati poet and playwright. He has published one collection of poetry in Gujarati entitled Pandukavyo ane Itar (1989) and a play Vyaasochchvas (2003), which has subsequently been translated into English as A Breath of Vyas. In addition, many of his poems have been anthologised, and his poetry has been translated into English, Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Bengali, Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Irish (Gaelic). He has received many literary awards including 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. During that meeting, the subsequent interview was started, and it was completed over the following months.


BW: What first attracted you to poetry?

DJ: I started to write at a very young age, and I was sure it was poetry. For me, to be a poet meant being different from others, and this distinction from others first attracted me to writing. A first-ranker (honors student) in the class from a poor family, I shunned sports to concentrate on studying. I used to paint also, but I could not afford the materials. So my cheap pencils and pens provided security and assured me that poetry was always close by. Poetry became a compulsion and an identity.

BW: What is the role of poetry in your own life?

DJ: Poetry gives meaning to existence; this was an accepted idea and truth in my time. But what is poetry was not clear till I read Rilke. Poetry expands your consciousness always and variously. That decided once and for all what I wanted to be. Several previous encounters with non-poetry forced me to abandon my own understanding of words. This lightness and liberation led me to poetry. Since then, the attraction continues and explorations also. The surprises are unending, and nothing like the first attraction holds any meaning because of the timelessness of the intangible that is poetry.

BW: Did you ever have teachers who encouraged you to write poetry?

DJ: Every poet has memories of being encouraged when young, but knowing poetry comes only after reading, and still that is not a guarantee that one will become a poet. Often after coming face to face with poetry, one gives up the ambition. Poetry is not a kind teacher and is indifferent to the fate of the aspirant.

Rajendra Shah was a major poet from our previous generation. He had a printing press where every week on an evening some of us from the younger age writing in chaste classical or lyrical meters used to meet to read and be chastised or approved. He introduced us to Ezra Pound, Eliot, Valery, Laforgue, and Herbert Read along with Dante and other classical poets. Of course, Sanskrit poetics and metaphysics also formed part of the discussions, and his favorite was Tagore, who symbolized Indian aesthetics. Rajendra Shah made us aware of what poetry is. Later it was Suresh Joshi who made us know what is not poetry. What we had been writing was not poetry. He introduced us to Lorca, Rilke, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Mallarme, Saint John Perse and a host of other pre-modern and modern European poets (along with phenomenology and structuralism and deconstructionism). The post-Tagore generation of Bengali poets like Jibananand Das and others were translated by him, and we discovered a world beyond Tagore. Romanticism and juvenile confidence vanished. Silence after initial failed attempts at writing free verse poetry was a logical consequence.

Silence is a great teacher. It liberates you from self-preoccupation and expands space. In this expanded space entered Rabelais and Cervantes and James Joyce and Henry Miller and Faulkner and Nabokov to teach new dimensions of what poetry meant. From prose I came to know poetry. The space was unlimited, and I read a lot of science fiction—Asimov, Arthur Clarke, Huxley, and several others cleansed the notions of reality. Slowly a poet’s relationship with reality was taking a turn. I was already a medical graduate by then, not by choice but because of the lower middle class family compulsions and the marks in the school and college examinations. My education was just starting.

BW: When and how did you become interested in science?

DJ: During the days of medical studies, a saint visited me. He was Sigmund Freud. He baptized me in science. Science fiction was one thing, but a scientific attitude was another. One must doubt, question, collect information, assimilate, articulate, apply, reach conclusions, and remain open; these ideas were ingrained by him. Surely these also are the features of modernism. Jean Paul Sartre, Jean Paul Sartre, and Jean Paul Sartre was a ruthless task-master giving march orders. This is how I started writing, for the first time, poetry about which I was confident. This is how I became a doctor in the real sense. A doctor relies upon what he knows. He may not know everything and knows this, too. But he does not rely upon any divine assistance. Often I am amused at my colleagues who have photographs of deities and gurus on their tables with incense and flower offerings. In addition, a doctor is not always successful at curing a patient, and when that happens to me, I go back to my textbooks of medicine and pharmacology. Now there is even some help from my laptop.

BW: Was becoming a medical doctor a calling for you similar to poetry?

DJ: As I mentioned before, being a medical doctor was a familial compulsion and not a calling. But life is a great transformer. Since the last several decades the profession of medicine and vocation of poetry have provided multiple possibilities of experiencing reality in its myriad forms. I belong to that era of medical practice when technology was not advanced. To touch a human being physically and emotionally were important. Most of my poor patients cannot afford sophisticated investigations or costly medicines, but they have to be cured or relieved at least. Listening to them with care, examining them and assuring them that there is hope of happiness is not a difficult job. A simple hug, a light pat, a smile or an occasional rebuke changes their misery. The love you receive in return is more than any fees you charge or waive away. Small children picking stray flowers to present you, a young girl confiding of her first love, an old mother crying on your shoulder for her errant son, a father worried about his child’s examination, a young man uncertain of his prospects, or a drunkard’s wife seeking a gesture of affection release you from your own existential angst or anguish. I try to demystify their notions on omnipotence of medicine and demythologize their deification of my role. Being an atheist, I encourage my patients in whatever faith they follow and absolve myself from any mysticism. I feel happy when they save some money from the treatment of their ailments and buy toys or clothes for their children or treat their spouse to a film. I am still left with enough to indulge my favorite luxuries, such as books, travel, food, and drink.

It goes the same way with poetry. I do not have to write poetry to cure humanity. Poetry does not change the outer reality or alter the history. The role of poetry is demystified in my mind. It makes me feel liberated and happy and enlarged. To write or read poetry is a similar process. Poetry is only for those who have made an effort to understand it. For those who endure poetry's difficulties, the rewards are limitless. The awards are given in advance, so fame also has no relevance. With their munificence, the words create layers after layers of multiple realities and relations which your senses cannot grasp in totality, your mind cannot comprehend fully, your existence cannot collect in a single lifetime. When you listen to a symphony, the sounds connect you with the waves and winds and stars, and the silences in between merge the interstellar spaces within you. That is what poetry does, like the smile of a feverish child and a tear of a widow or the inaudible last breath of a dying man. A sense of the never-ending continuity pervades beyond suffering and futility of this worldly existence. There is no afterlife because the life never ends. The Mahabharata and the Iliad have elucidated this with their tragic view of life, and Aristophanes, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and others have expounded it with their tragicomic perspectives of life.

BW: Who were the first poets that you enjoyed reading?

DJ: Those poets from Gujarati will be unfamiliar names whom I read initially. Kalidasa and later Valmiki and Vyasa in Sanskrit have remained favorites till today. In English it was a convention to start with Shelley, Byron, Keats and Wordsworth. Without understanding much in the teens, one could quote a few lines to impress others as well as one's self. Later, they were forgotten, and there remained no need to return to that romantic nostalgia. I still remember some of the long rhythmic lines of Longfellow I once knew by heart. Edgar Allen Poe was another poet avidly read early on, and then again later, after the French connection, the acquaintance was renewed. Poe's basic aesthetics have remained a continuous source of inspiration, confidence, and strength.

Eliot, Baudelaire, Lorca, Rilke, Voznesensky, Enzensberger, Paz, Neruda, Milosz, Szymborska, Zbigniew Herbert, Holub, Popa, Ritsos, and Amichai are the poets I read again and again, not to forget dear Homer. Except from Whitman, Williams, Cummings, and Stevens, I have not read many American poets in depth. Carolyn Forche and Bill Wolak are the recent favorites. Tagore and Robert Frost are the same for me, both of whom I wish rest in peace.

From the contemporary Indian poets K. Satchidanandan, Jayanta Mahapatra, and Keki Daruwala are the poets I enjoy.

BW: Which poets have had the most profound influence on your writing?

DJ: Eliot, Rilke and Paz along with our own Valmiki and Vyasa.

BW: Which other artists have influenced your aesthetics?

DJ: My favorite painters include Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Titian, Botticelli, Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Degas, Manet, Monet, Picasso, Dali, Klee, Miro, Rousseau, Chirico, Chagall, Pollock, Duchamp. In music, I listen to Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Strauss (both), Chopin, Stravinsky, Khachaturian, Armstrong, and Coltrane. In sculpture, I enjoy Rodin, Henry Moore, and Barbara Hepworth.

BW: Do you ever experience writer's block?

DJ: When I am stuck midway in a poem that is vanishing, I go to the dictionary or a thesaurus. When I am unable to proceed further, I shut my notebook and open Rilke or Paz, read the Bible, the Odyssey, the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, Arnold Toynbee’s history, a detective novel, a book on nuclear physics or astrophysics, James Lovelock, Capra, Lyn Margulis, or Sagan. Sometimes a book of jokes or simple words of Native Americans helps. Even if a poem is not completed, I still feel expanded.

BW: Tell me a little about how you go about writing a poem. I know you use notebooks. Do you write out your poems on paper first, or do you compose directly on the computer?

DJ: Composing poems on the computer is still in the never-land, so I keep writing in notebooks and diaries presented by pharmaceuticals or banks. All that is written does not become a poem and from several completed poems only a few would be worthwhile. So countless words are scattered in these aging and outdated diaries. But a poem does not exist only on paper. It takes various forms. Sometimes it begins with a visible sound of words waiting to be a musical order. At times a sentence emerges that needs to be taken apart and examined word by word, linked earlier by grammar or reason. What appeared first as an exclamation may then turn into a question. From these separate points emerge different possibilities. Beginning with wonder or excitement, it may turn emotional, seeking correspondences from the surrounding world or events. As a question, it may proceed to explore stored associations in the mind. A fluid start may turn rocky. On the paper it is easy to jot down fragments, variations or doodle in empty spaces. Just like body gestures along with speech, these also are part of poetry, tara rumpa la la la making up for a half forgotten song.

A poem may be a sequence of images seen in mirror, and that mirror may be a framed glass or flowing water or shining metal or ocean surface or the dark sky. But the poet knows in advance that a pattern will emerge. Sometimes while listening to music, watching a painting or a film, listening to someone talk, while drinking or in erotic ecstasy, a poem appears as in a trance and is experienced in totality that evanesces the next moment. Where is that poem written and how?

At times a poem, short or long, may get written at a single sitting. At times after the first five lines the sixth obstinately refuses to emerge, even when the last ones are clearly in the mind. Every poet has his or her own ways to deal with this, and some times there is no solution. The courageous, confident and the pious ones fulfill their commission with their ideas, intentions, emotions, fictional autobiographies, recollections of authentic poetical experiences, aesthetic theories and complete the homework. Being non-possessive, I give up.

So writing a poem is a multidimensional act of which only a little survives on the two-dimensional paper as letters marked by ink. A happy poet is one with few written poems but with memories of many. He or she is liberated from ideologies, commitments, service to humanity, culture, nationality and such unending demands. He or she is selfish, leaving little to posterity while exploiting his or her inheritance fully.

BW: Is English your first language? What other languages do you speak?

DJ: No, Gujarati is my first language.

BW: Do you always write your poems in English?

DJ: A poet writes in many languages simultaneously and variously. I have largely written in Gujarati and now a bit in English but a lot in the languages of senses and associations and memories, consigning much to chaos or Nirvana.

BW: Are there any places where readers could find more of your poems?

DJ: Yes, they could try these links:




Bill Wolak is a poet who has just published his third book of poetry entitled Archeology of Light with Cross-Cultural Communications in 2011. His most recent translation, Your Lover’s Beloved: Fifty-one Ghazals of Hafez with Mahmood Karimi-Hakak was published by Cross-Cultural Communications in 2009. Mr. Wolak’s critical work, which specializes in writing about international as well as American writers, has appeared in Notre Dame Review, Southern Humanities Review, Paterson Literary Review, Persian Heritage Magazine, Florida English, and Prime Number Magazine.


The Interview was orginally published in

Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Volume 4, Issue 2 – Summer 2012









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