At the end of the long corridor with ceiling-high bookshelves on either side, my friend, the bookshop owner sat, browsing at his PC. I ask him if he is too busy. He says, 'No, pull up a chair and sit down'. I know him for more than 20 years - not really a friend, but an acquaintance; I am a regular customer at his shop. It is one of the best in the City.
I tell him- 'I have committed a blunder'. 'Ah, wrote a book?' Worse, I said. A collection of poems. He shakes his head sadly. 'Yes, that is terrible'.
I lay it straight across the table. 'Look, how about some shelf-space for me?' He cocks his head and looks at me speculatively.'Hope you are not keen on making money out of it, are you?'I say, 'Well, not much, but I would like people to read it. He says -'Listen, poetry, especially in English, is the slowest moving stuff here. Maybe a Neruda goes once in a while or a Sylvia Plath. Then the poets who are in textbooks. Indian poets? a Big NO NO. Not even Dom Moraes, Ramanujam, Ezekiel. Prose, Fiction - they have market , but poetry? No, SIR'.
I nod sympathetically at the woes of a book-seller, taking care not to show the disappointment in my face.'See, everybody writes poetry nowadays, but nobody buys poetry'.I think of my collections - the Hughes, the Larkins, the Willams, the Dickinsons, the Dharkars and the anthologies - I say nothing. He takes off his businessman mask and says mildly -'Look, Balan, you can keep 5 copies if you like. But don't call me up every month asking if they have been sold. If they do, we will see about your percentage, ok?'
What is money, I wonder quietly. It is a form of energy, isn't it? Physical energy is converted to paper when you toil from morning till evening and then gratefully accept the wages for your labour. People churn out third-rate novels or c-class movies that turn out to be big hits and they make a lot of money. People invest in shares and sell them when the rates are high and they make money without a drop of sweat off their brow, it is all speculation, the magic of making money from thin air. Con-men trick greedy people and get away with crores of rupees. A labourer comes in the morning and till evening he toils and takes home 300- 400 rupees. I slog it out in the bank, looking at other people's money and making sure that they get interest and pay interest for the loans; on 25th of every month, I too get my blood money.
I have been writing poetry for the last 5 years. Churned out nearly 140 or so. I have written several scripts for documentaries, a few articles on travel or nature or environment conservation. Some gifted a book or two, some magazines gave money, most ignored to acknowledge. Instead, I feel grateful to them for giving me an oppertunity to write the script, to include my article in an anthology, feel gratified at their compliments.
I give my boss a complimentary copy. He leafs through the pages. I wince. Can poetry be read like the jokes and quotes you see in Reader's Digest? Each poem, each line, each word - reflects my pain, my joy, my agony and my ecstasy. Trivial and trash it may be to a reader, but to the honest writer, it is the essence of his/her soul. He says condescendingly -'Thank you, Balan. But let me buy a copy of your book for the office library'. I am touched by his kind gesture.
Poets, are the last of the romantics. The last of the lot who can call themselves human.
In my young days in the 60s and 70s I remember seeing persons walking around in the Bus stands or Railways stations calling out their wares - books written by them - small booklets of patriotic songs or love poems. Guess I too will have to take to the streets -" Poems! Poems! Poems for Sale! Love, lust, sex and violence!!! Read one and you read them all! Poems! Poems for Sale!"