Book - Waking in December
Waking in December, Thakore’s first collection of verse, was selected as ‘The Best English Book of The Year, 2001’ by novelist and critic Amit Chaudhari ( ‘Outlook 2001):
‘Anand Thakore’s poems talk of two kinds of voyages. The first is a local grimy one, across our own Bombay Harbour, and he speaks of it with forgiveness and tenderness. The other is a projected voyage, never made, across the pristine blue seas of the Greek islands. This bold venturing forth and hesitation to start is repeated in poems where he talks of a singular room which has housed his life so far, and which must now be left behind.
Between voyages, Thakore has several poems which are addressed to and are about friends and relations; and there are remarkable meditations on a kaleidoscope and a piece of coal.This excellent first book earns for the poet a place among important writers in this country.’
-Gieve Patel, 2001
' Here is a gifted poet, of the caliber of Dom Moraes, who paints landscapes and seascapes with their flora and fauna in memorable lines while strictly observing rules of metre and rhyme which most modern poets tend to ignore. I cannot claim to have understood all his poems but mean to read them again and again till I have got a hang of them'
- Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times, 2005
‘The control of movement and the tightness of language in these poems would be Remarkable anywhere……. What is also remarkable, is that Thakore’s main profession is that of a singer, in Hindi.’
-Dom Moraes, Mid-day, 1995
Review by Bruce King, World Literature Today, Summer- Autumn 2001
With most Indian commercial publishers currently avoiding poetry, the English-language poets have turned to a formula of a group of writers circulating for criticism and eventually publishing each other’s work. Anand Thakore’s Waking in December is the first publication of Harbour Line. As Indian poetry in English has become accepted and standards applied, the general level has risen and the established poets are no longer oases in the desert.
Thakore is an interesting new poet, a rather different one from what might be expected. The first poem here, ‘ Harbour Crossing’, has many of the characteristics of the volume, including control of form and use of rhyme. The verbal texture is rich: ‘The island is a Cyclops about to sleep: behind, / The hunched mainland shrinks into a dwarf’. This Shakespearian sonnet with its basic pentameter is varied by longer lines with stronger cadences: ‘ Till slowly over the docks the moon returns to grey/ salvages from time a minute, then anchors us to Bombay’. It is a lovely poem, although in places slightly old-fashioned in idiom.. It introduces a major concern of the volume, a contrast between the poet’s Bombay and an imagined voyage to Greece: ‘Ithaca, dream-home of the idle, dark hope of the damned, goodbye…../ I will live here alone by this muddy brown sea/ Till I outlive the lure of your unseen shores’.
That Thakore is a Hindustani classical singer shows in his imagery and complex patterns of sound, and in the texture of his verse. There is a song-like quality about his verse and I am reminded at times of Caroline songs and German Lieder: ‘ Love set you leaping like a hunted stag-/ and the dead gathered quietly to watch your flight…Till you who had sung too long alone, were at last a part of their crackling choir-// And I was a witness to that fire.
Thakore records moments of feeling that are contrasted with a world of flux: ‘ You, turning your face away from me, longing to hide,/ Till between two strokes your eyes meet mine - friend -/ They say - neither love nor music will ever end,/ So long as time is busy, changing things outside.’
‘ Waking in December’, the concluding poem, consists of a dozen pentameter stanzas, rhymed a b a b b c b c. The c-rhyme words are always ‘me’ and the last line of each stanza is always some variation of ‘ I am not one who walked here before me’ or ‘ I am at war with the caul that bore me,’ such as ‘ I am not one who sang here before me’ or ‘ For I bore at heart the caul that bore me’. The meaning seems to be: ‘Yet heaven is wherever I am, perhaps; an emptiness/ wider than the gap between earth and sky -/ May the mind, believing this, be content with less/ The singer cured of his longing to fly?’
In general, the sound and form predominate over narrative or argument and the meaning only emerges obliquely. Many of the poems are about love but the situation is vague whereas the language is rich.: ‘ Grey the sea at noon, and older than desire/Yet drawn by that amoral drone of surf/ Sinner and saint seemed alike deceived.’ I cannot imagine such delicate and musical poems now being written in London or New York. They seem a bit old-fashioned, but perhaps that is our loss.