Adil Jussawala: Making Sense Of Chaos [Featured Poet]

This is a column by Vinita Agrawal.

Jussawalla was born in Mumbai in 1940 and spent most of the years between 1957 and 1970 in England where he studied to be an architect, wrote plays, read English at Oxford and taught English at a language school.  An Honorary Fellow at the International Writing Program in Iowa in 1977, Jussawalla has participated in several international conferences and festivals.

He has edited the seminal anthology New Writing in India in 1974 and has also co-edited An Anthology of Indian Prose in 1977.

Jussawalla’s highly acclaimed first book, Land’s End, was published when he was twenty-two. It was hailed by a critic as a book that captured “the artificiality and vulgarity of this age, the paradoxical nature of our emotions and desires, the unbridgeable gulf between ‘you’ and ‘I’, between dream and reality and the beauty and ugliness of love.”

The poetry of Jussawalla, began with the double faceted impulse of trying to justify the present by the history of the place. Over a period of time, however, his verses evolved in a way that stared at the present squarely in the eye in all its broken and morbid truths. He no longer wanted to shy away “the various ways of dying that are home”, and resort to a rose coloured view of life. For him, it seemed pointless to recreate a sentimental  reconstruction of the past that his country – India possessed.

In his second book, Missing Person, a ‘morally compromised, hollow and absurd world is acknowledged’, the ‘self is also implicated in the failed quest for meaning. ‘

“If one tried literally to represent the different elements of world culture of which one’s mind is made, one would write a language no one would understand. I have tried to suggest this chaos in Missing Person,” says Jussawalla.

Implicit in this call for egalitarianism , is a deep rooted disappointment with the fundamentals of capitalism, which belongs to a class that “can only torment itself with its own contradictions or turn on itself in a fury of self-destruction”. As critic Sudesh Mishra puts it: “For Jussawalla, the ironic emphasis on the marginal and the ‘non-human’ is perhaps a way of saying that the processes involved in the dehumanisation of art may well, in the future, contribute to the rehumanisation of man.”

Apart from being a poet, Adil Jussawalla has made his mark as an influential critic. His published works include Land’s End (1962) written when he was just twenty-two and Missing Person (1976). His poetry is marked by a deep sense of irony and explores the reality of the modern life which is always chaotic and unruly. His poetry is complex, layered with dry humor, bordering on the abstract. He gives no particular attention to form… or perhaps the non linear, form-free appearance of his poetry is a deliberate logos. Missing Person is a landmark work in that it seizes the emptiness within every man at the micro level and within mankind at the macro. He captures to perfection the listless apathy afflicting urban society and the ferment of wanting to do better in life but unable to translate resolve into action.
Jussawalla exceptionally grapples with the ‘ideological significance and difficulty of forging an identity.’ This anthology has been made more popular by Homi Bhabha who takes it up as a vantage point in his path breaking theoretical book Location of Culture to analyse and theorize the cultural conflict in quest for an identity. The idea of the self in the quest for an identity and the failure of the self to ascribe any significance while making meaning out of itself are captured in his work.
Jussawalla presents the vulnerability of the Indian borderlines in his work when he states that the country is vulnerable to foreign refugees and the fluctuating nature of formation of communities along sectarian lines that has become the hallmark of the Indian diaspora. But what strikes the speaker most is the indifference of the island city to all these political happenings. Bombay still, in spite of all the political upheaval and social unrest, investigates nothing. And it is this attitude of the city that makes her more endearing as Bombay neither uncovers the roots or origins of her inhabitants nor distances them from their original homeland. Bombay reserves the right of offering a semblance of an “abode” to all her people irrespective of their caste, class, sex, colour or nationality. Bombay’s turns out essentially to be a migrant’s city.
In his poem Sea Breeze, the city of Bombay is referred to as the surrogate city in his poems – a glaring testimony to the fractured post-independent Indian sense of nationalism. Bombay is projected as the new hub to all sections of people striving to eke out a living by building from the remains of a glorified nationhood. The expressions “surrogate city of banks”, “refugee’s harbour and port”, “spotting the coast” are instances that portrays the aftermath of the colonial rampage.
Two Poems:
Sea Breeze, Bombay
Partition’s people stitched
Shrouds from a flag, gentlemen scissored Sind.
An opened people, fraying across the cut country reknotted themselves on this island. Surrogate city of banks,
Brokering and bays, refugees’ harbour and port, Gatherer of ends whose brick beginnings work Loose like a skin, spotting the coast.
 
Restore us to fire. New refugees,
Wearing blood-red wool in the worst heat,
come from Tibet, scanning the sea from the north, Dazed, holes in their cracked feet.
Restore us to fire. Still,
Communities tear and re-form; and still, a breeze, Cooling our garrulous evenings, investigates nothing, Ruffles no tempers, uncovers no root,
And settles no one adrift of the mainland’s histories. 
**
Approaching Santa Cruz Airport, Bombay
Loud benedictions of the silver popes,
A cross to themselves, above
A union of homes as live as a disease.
Still, though the earth be stunk and populous, We’re told it’s not: our Papa’ll put his nose Down on cleaner ground. Soon to receive
Its due, the circling heart, encircled, sees The various ways of dying that are home. ‘Dying is all the country’s living for,’
A doctor says. ‘We’ve lost all hope, all pride.’ I peer below. The poor, invisible,
Show me my place; that, in the air, With the scavenger birds, I ride. Economists enclosed in History’s Chinese boxes, citing Chairman Mao, Know how a people nourished on decay Disintegrate or crash in civil war. Contrarily, the Indian diplomat,
Flying with me, is confident the poor
Will stay just as they are.
Birth
Pyramids the future with more birth.
Our only desert, space; to leave the green Burgeoning to black, the human pall.
The free
Couples in their chains around the earth.
I take a second look. We turn,
Grazing the hills and catch a glimpse of sea.
We are now approaching Santa Cruz: all
Arguments are endless now and I
Feel the guts tighten and all my senses shake.
The heart, stirring to trouble in its clenched
Claw, shrivelled inside the casing of a cage
Forever steel and foreign, swoops to take
Freedom for what it is. The slums sweep
Up to our wheels and wings and nothing’s free
But singing while the benedictions pour
Out of a closing sky. And this is home,
Watched by a boy as still as a shut door,
Holding a mass of breadcrumbs like a stone.
***

vinitaagrawalprofilephotoAuthor of three books of poetry, Vinita is a Mumbai based, award winning poet and writer. Recipient of the Gayatri GaMarsh Memorial Award for Literary Excellence her poems have appeared in Asiancha, Constellations, The Fox Chase Review, Pea River Journal, Open Road Review, Stockholm Literary Review, Poetry Pacific, Mithila Review and over a 100 other national and international journals. She was awarded first prize in the Wordweavers Contest 2014 and won the 2014 Hour of Writes Contest thrice. Her poems have found a place in significant national anthologies like Suvarnarekha and Dance with the Peacocks in several international anthologies compiled in Australia and Israel. She was co-judge for the Asian Cha Poetry Contest, 2015. 

 

Due to time restrictions, going forward this guest post will every three months, instead of monthly. 

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