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An Old Bombay Film Story (1950s) - Hoshang Merchant

Today’s poem is another piece of flotsam that was thrown up by Poetly’s readers in the context of city poems. It’s a Bombay poem, this time, by the beloved Hoshang Merchant. He is usually spoken of as a one of India’s first openly gay poets with a prolific publication career. His anthology of queer poetry, Yaarana, was acclaimed and ahead of its time. (About being ahead of his time, Hoshang says in an interview with Meena Kandasamy “No! The poet is always of his/her time. It is the others who are behind.”) Talking about the “aim” of his poetry, he says:

‘…It means that poets have no axes to grind. Their objective is the poem itself. However we poets have to ‘abstract' our experience to fit it to the reader's experience. We all share the same space/time. Some great poets make their own space and their times. It comes as a surprise to know Whitman, Melville and Dickinson were gay. We do not know them as gay poems but as Transcendentalists even after 150 years. This transcendence is a poem.

To paraphrase Dickinson “to make a prairie/It takes fancy, a clover and a bee/Fancy alone will do/If bees are few.”’

This beautiful short poem about Bombay and finding a place to live, or sometimes, just to be, has all the ‘dreamy’ overtones of the city stitched together out of seven islands (elsewhere, Merchant has written about this uncanny convolution of tempers and space that is the historical journey of Bombay). Chuckling quietly at the setting he has created, imitating Bollywood tropes of the time, he gently, and with minimum fuss creates an ‘abstraction’, a transcendent space that is both magical and real. I love his view of poetry created through “fancy” alone, that subverts the never ending arguments about legitimacy and poetic truth. A good poem is as real, and as true as the reader makes it. I don’t seek empirical or objective truth in a poem, just honesty of sentiment.

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