classic poetry

Why the new Neruda poems should not be turned into FB status messages

Instead of being dismembered and discoloured by repetition, the 20 rediscovered poems should go back to being what they are: poetry.

Listen, he was called “The Greatest Poet of the Twentieth Century” because he was a real, salt of the earth, no-bullshit poet. They don’t make them the way they used to anymore. Bring out the tissues and let’s take a moment of silence for the slow death of poetry.

This art has been reduced to half-wit fusions of old poetry and social media infused drama. Great poems aren’t studied anymore – their rhythms and their silences. Their potency is hacked, then spliced into charming two-line FB statuses and email sign-offs. So why a fierce defence for Neruda at a seemingly random time?

It’s poetry, not social media updates

To acknowledge the process of being a poet – living poetry, breathing conviction, meditating on the slick cuts of lovers past. Celebrating the bubbling fury for injustices around us. The act of believing in something and marching textually towards a cause.

But now? All we have to do is share a post and our outcry and rage for our national issues are temporarily placated. You can’t be a poet without it, but FB and Twitter would tell you otherwise.

Pablo Neruda, born in Chile, started writing poetry at 10, and by 1927 he was diplomat who traipsed around the world and documented the human heart. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1937, he wrote about the atrocious injustices in poetry which included his famous Espana en el corazon (Spain in Our Hearts) which described the execution of his friend Federico Garcia Lorca.

Like a good writer of the times, he was a Communist and had to flee his own country in 1945 when the Party was under siege. Neruda also stirred up a controversy (which good writer doesn’t?) with, for instance, his poem to Fidel Castro, whose opening lines are:

“Fidel, Fidel, the people are grateful
For words in action and deeds that sing, That is why I bring from far
A cup of my country’s wine:”

For decades he wrote about love, loss and politics, and instilled a sense of purpose in people. His death too was very writerly – he died a couple of years after he received the Nobel Prize in 1971. Although officially it is said to be due to cancer, there is suspicion that he was poisoned, especially since his death was timed with the rise of Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet, who has a fair share of human rights abuse on his records.

This Pinochet fellow denied a public funeral for Neruda. But unfortunately for Pinochet, Neruda had thousands of fans. The grieving public crowded the streets and gave vent to their grief.

Let it be known that a great writer will hold the courage of a nation. A great writer can pass history through the hands of generations. A poet like Neruda can, even if for a brief moment, erode the fear of authority. I am not implying poets today should plan their deaths to be as dramatic as his, but we do need to take a pause and start to celebrate poetry more holistically.

A chance for us to return to poetry

Which brings me to my most important point: this shiny chance we all have to redeem ourselves.  A chance to take poetry seriously and let those overused lines of Neruda’s take a much-needed siesta. Even if you aren’t familiar with his work there’s  a hefty chance you would have read these lines around the Internet.

“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved”


“Tonight i can write the saddest lines”

These lines are often used out of context by stalkers, and mostly in order to hold our poetic heads up in a world where there is a dearth of good original one-liners.

Now we have a chance to really celebrate him, understand the worth of a poet, feel the power of struggle and hope. For, in a couple of months, Copper Canyon Press is going to publish a book with 20 rediscovered poems by Naruda.

Archivists stumbled upon these poems last year in June in his estate in Santiago, Chile. They had been previously published in Spanish but have never been seen in English. The press actually sought the support of poetry fans to crowd-source (yay Internet) the $100,000 dollars they needed to produce the book. There are poems in this book dating from 1956, and many of them are (despite my political cheering) about what he was best known for: love.

Therefore, kind poetry-loving souls, wear your groovy boots. It’s time to prepare; it’s time to recreate a culture of poetry. It’s time to find conviction in the mundane, to open our mouths about things we stay quiet about. It’s time to read, time to integrate words with the soul and ultimately be unabashedly inspired and free.

But it’s not an excuse to reduce Neruda to two-liners, likes, comments, and shares.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.