The Mumbai poet, Deepankar Khiwani, died on March 28. He shared some of his new poems with me a fortnight ago, in which he wrote of art as “a dark condemned space with the door unlocked”. I shall revisit those finely-wrought last poems, reminding myself that for all the darkness and incarceration around us, somewhere there is an “unlocked” door.
When the disquiet begins, there are a few books I’d recommend keeping within arm’s length: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, for one. Also that extraordinary Bloodaxe trilogy – Staying Alive, Being Alive, Being Human – which offers a poem for every minute fluctuation in inner weather.
Right now, it’s the Salvatore Quasimodo poem that’s replaying in my head:
Everyone stands alone at the heart of the world
pierced by a ray of sunlight
and suddenly it’s evening
My discovery this week is I Saw Myself on the 18th-century Sufi poet, Shah Abdul Latif, by Shabnam Virmani and Vipul Rikhi. There is a temptation when presenting sacred literature to a lay readership to offer a single interpretation, reducing all metaphor to allegory. But not here. This book is a shifting weave of lyric and reflection. No pontifical explanations, no self-conscious sociology. Instead, this is an unhurried meditation that circles a poetry of hints and textures. It allows the reader to marinate in song, infused with ancient folklore, under the stars of a Kutch desert.
“Your body is the mosque/ your heart the inner chamber/ for contemplation…/ Know yourself/ from inside out” – Latif’s lines seem to become a possible way to navigate our path through very singular times. And ironically, maybe an upside-down moment in human history is just what some of us need to explore that long-deferred inside-outness?
Arundhathi Subramaniam’s latest collection is titled Love Without a Story.
Read other articles in The Art of Solitude series here