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Posted at: Apr 15, 2018, 1:54 AM; last updated: Apr 15, 2018, 1:54 AM (IST)BOOK REVIEW: NEW DELHI LOVE SONGS BY MICHAEL CREIGHTON.

Finding beauty in Delhi’s heat and dust

Deep Samlok

Delhi is not an easy city to negotiate. The startling contrasts and the multiple layers of those contrasts that it offers to the senses is both bewildering and overwhelming. The different cultures and languages that give Delhi its unique character can be confusing at the best of times: one never knows where to begin in this city. There is no single starting point to this city. The moment you step off the train at New Delhi railway station, it is the start a chaotic and confusing journey, especially for a new arrival — from the confusion of Paharganj, through the bottlenecks of Connaught Place traffic, to the laidback lanes of Hauz Khas, every journey in the city is a new journey. No two people will ever see this city in quite the same way.

“People come from everywhere to this city/ All are welcomed with a stare in New Delhi,” says Creighton in the title poem. One can see many nodding in agreement, because who hasn’t felt the constant scrutiny while travelling in the metro or who hasn’t had moments of claustrophobia at Rajiv Chowk?

It is pleasant surprise to find a strong influence of the ghazal in Creighton’s work. The ghazal in English was first introduced by Agha Shahid Ali in the late 1990s. A Kashmiri poet settled in America, Shahid blended the traditional rhythms and forms in his writings in English which have been dubbed ghazalesque. The ghazal is a particularly challenging form of poetry to master, because of the strict adherence it demands in terms of meter, rhyme and refrain. By definition, a ghazal is a poem of autonomous or unrelated couplets woven into a larger non-narrative unity centered only on the fact that each couplet ends with the same word(s).

The ghazalesque does not deal with an abstract expression of love or longing, but a very definite account of events of personal importance. Creighton’s appreciation of this nuance is visible throughout his poetry: the absent wife to whom he addresses his poetry, and the way he locates a distant, well-remembered past into the monotony of an empty present, adds a certain charm to his poetry. There is a musicality to his writing, a hint of song somewhere, that comes and goes with each poem. On the Badarpur Border and South Delhi Jungle Park, carry this odd musicality as well.

Hinge has breath-taking imagery delivered at break-neck speed that culminates in a single statement that says so much in so little. Creighton’s appeal lies in the fact that he leaves many things unsaid. The reader is forced to search for equivalents of his/her own — the dull, clean smell of hospitals, the old, yellowed white of rough cotton, many things are merely suggested by Creighton. But then again, as Indians, we are so used to these things, that the mere suggestion is enough to conjure up a full-fledged image. Hinge ends at a point between suspense and loss, pinning down just that last moment before lives change. This sort of suspense is what keeps the reader going.

What may fascinate many readers is the idea of a foreigner writing about an Indian city, in an Indian form. That makes his verses immensely significant. His poetry creates that necessary space where we can talk about what this city (and country) is becoming and where it is going. At a time when spaces in this city, and the city itself are becoming so contested; when walls, metaphorical and literal, are being erected across the city to shut people in or shut them out, Creighton’s poetry creates cracks in those walls by showing a Delhi that perhaps we live in, but don’t really see.

Yes, there is a lot of the “stranger from a strange land” in his poems. And yes, Creighton’s poetry has a lot of scope for improvement. It drags, sometimes stops entirely at crucial moments, while it rushes through many moments that need to be held, tasted and experienced longer. But that also makes it beautiful, as it is creating cracks in the wall, allowing people to look in and look out, to see what we are becoming, and how the world looks at us, the multitudes that form Delhi.

Creighton’s love songs may not be the best of poetry, but they are relevant because they are poetry in a time and about a city where every voice that doesn’t chant the same mantra is silenced. In times of great change (and in Delhi, it is always a time of great change), it is easy to lose sense of one’s self: it is easy to dismiss cruelty and violence because it happens everywhere, everyday; easy to not take responsibility and move on with one’s life and easier still to conveniently blind oneself to anything remotely uncomfortable. Creighton’s may not be the loudest voice that speaks to India’s capital, but it is still a significant voice, saying what we, perhaps, aren’t ready to hear:

“Good men forget to care in New Delhi”.

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