If death is final and absolute, the loss is a pacifier, a placebo for the soul. How goes that? Death is what the heart knows, loss is what the soul denies. In the loss, there is room for the resurrection of the maybe misplaced. In embracing loss, there is a possibility of ‘what-if’. Whereas, the cruelty of death allows no such loopholes. With death, you reach a point of no return but with loss, there is the scope of returning to memories and moments frozen in time and space. The absence is acknowledged in loss but the void left behind by the dead cannot be filled. Here is where a poet comes in. Like a bridge. A matchmaker, if you will.
Release the marionette
Jeet Thayil’s These Errors Are Correct, which went out of print in 2010, is celebrating a rebirth of sorts. The new edition was released in July 2022 by Penguin Random House India under the imprint of Hamish Hamilton. In its new avatar, the winner of the 2012 Sahitya Akademi Award, These Errors Are Correct comes with haunting and piercing illustrations by the poet. The ageless poems on the all-too-familiar emotions of love, loss, and longing that control the human mind like marionettes open doors to a past long buried and yet not quite erased. Grief and melancholy are the strings that the poet gently holds and plays with to manipulate the movements of the puppets that are no strangers anyway. After a while though, the poet releases the strings and the puppets dance on their own, as if in a trance.
Revive the bygone
In the Preface, Thayil tells us how poetry was the only medicine that could make him “return to sanity” and was probably the only way that allowed him to recuperate from a series of events that eventually took the shape of what he calls “an annotation of private grief”. Interestingly, the writing of this “private grief” was a “collective experience”, informs the poet. The title of this book, for which Thayil thanks Stephen Sturgeon, is embedded with a sense of catharsis. More than being about misgivings, mistakes, and maladies, each and every poem lies on the bedrock of empathy, compassion, camaraderie, and communion. Even when the shadow of foreboding looms large, there is a silver lining of assurance. For instance, in the sonnet sequence ‘Premonition’ (earlier titled ‘What Happened to Your Wife, the Dancer’ and the reader will figure out the reason behind the change), there are verses that appear cramped with images of decay and death but even in that whirlpool of everything falling apart, the poet doesn’t hesitate to talk of dreams, a benign Sunday, the bridge between is and was light, and safekeeping. Despite imminent retribution and remorse, there is a resonance of revival and relief. Between the home to where you are headed and the home that isn’t what it used to be is the transit. And this is where the poet finds home.
In the end, nothing matters. What does matter is the act of remembrance and that in itself is a way of respecting the gone, the misplaced, the lost, the dead? As long as you remember and promise to do so, they shall live. Tall claims like, ‘I cannot live without you’ will be forgotten but what will persist is memory. This is beautifully captured by the poet in ‘After Brodsky’: “I wish I could say that I can’t live / without you, but, as these lines prove, / I can. I’ve been wandering around.” In the moving on too, remembrances do stay intact, especially because apologies and periods of mourning have shorter shelf lives.
One of the most striking secrets of this collection, for me, unravels toward the concluding pages. The last couple of leaves forms what is titled as the ‘Index of First Lines’, and if you read these lines together, a long glorious verse is carved out as if the poet had saved the best magician’s trick for the grand finale. Just when you think you have finished reading all the poems, the poet catches you off guard. Serendipitous!
To err is…
In life, we will make mistakes, regrettable at that, but we shall also commit errors that are, in fact, correct. At least, there will be one poet right next to you endorsing that idea. Scan the QR code given on the inside flap of the back cover, and you will be in for a musical, poetic, lyrical treat. The poet will whisper in your ear about a river that runs under a river. Many years ago, at a literature festival in the capital city, a question was posed to Thayil about his then Booker-nominated Narcopolis. The question asked was: “Don’t you think your novel will encourage readers to do drugs?” The author humbly replied, albeit chuckling, “I think it takes more than a book to do so, and if it does have that effect, then he/she would be an extremely literary person!” Truth be told, the substance is in the poet’s intoxicating verses. Once you are ready to plunge in, you will come to learn why some errors are…correct!