Kolatkar, Arun (Balkrishna)

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KOLATKAR, Arun (Balkrishna)

Nationality: Indian. Born: Kolhapur, Bombay, 1 November 1932. Career: Works as a graphic artist in an advertising agency, Bombay. Awards: Commonwealth Poetry prize, 1977. Address: c/o Clearing House, Palm Springs, Cusse Parade, Bombay 400 005, India.



Jejuri. Bombay, Clearing House, 1976.


Critical Studies: "Arun Kolatkar: A Bilingual Poet" by Vrinda Nabar, in World Literature Written in English (Canada), 16, 1977; "Four New Voices" by Brijraj Singh, in Chandrabhaga (Orissa, India), 1, 1979; "A Study of Arun Kolatkar's 'Jejuri'" by Karen Smith, in Commonwealth Quarterly (Karnataka State, India), 3(12), 1979; "'Jejuri': Arun Kolatkar's Waste Land" by M.R. Satyanarayana, in Indian Poetry in English: A Critical Assessment, edited by Vasant A. Shahane and M. Sivaramkrishna, Atlantic Highlands, Humanities, 1981; "A Critical Approach to Indo-English Poetry" by Syd C. Harrex, in Only Connect: Literary Perspectives East and West, edited by Harrex and Guy Amirthanayagam, Adelaide and Honolulu, Centre for Research in the New Literature, 1981; "Correspondence through Gestures: The Poetry of Arun Kolatkar" by Madhusudan Prasad, in Literary Half-Yearly (Mysore, India), 24(1), January 1983; "Arun Kolatkar and Bilingual Poetry" by Bhalchandra Nemade, in Indian Readings in Commonwealth Literature, edited by G.S. Amur and others, New York and New Delhi, Sterling, 1985; "Arun Kolatkar's Poetry: An Exile's Pilgrimage" by V.R. Kanadey, in Modern Studies and Other Essays in Honour of Dr. R.K. Sinha, edited by R.C. Prasad and A.K. Sharma, New Delhi, Vikas, 1987; "Arun Kolatkar's 'Jejuri': An Atheist's Pilgrimage," in New Quest (Pune, India), 79, January/ February 1990; "Arun Kolatkar's 'Jejuri': Quest As Stasis" by Sudesh Mishra, in Commonwealth Review (New Delhi), 2(1–2), 1990–91.

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A bilingual (Marathi and English) poet, Arun Kolatkar burst upon the Indo-English poetic scene when his Jejuri won the Commonwealth Poetry prize for 1977. Although his poems had appeared since 1955 in poetry magazines and anthologies, Jejuri was his first book. Kolatkar does not show any solipsistic uneasiness in using a foreign linguistic medium, as do A.K. Ramanujan and R. Parthasarathy. Even though his poetic idiom is objectivist, it does not surrender to the pulls of the past—cultural or linguistic—and is, indeed, characterized by an engaging "alfresco individualism."

Jejuri, comprising thirty-one titled sections, stands out as a personal epic like William Carlos Williams's Paterson. It dramatizes a Jungian passage to contemporary Hinduism, symbolized by the shrine at Jejuri, where one has only "to scratch a rock / and a legend springs." Ironically, the rational-minded and irreverent protagonist Manohar ("God is the word / and I know it backwards"), who regards mythmaking as characteristic of decadent Hinduism, himself succumbs to it as his "pilgrimage" nears its end. The train indicator appears to Manohar as "a wooden saint in need of paint," and in sheer desperation he is prepared to "slaughter a goat before the clock / smash a coconut on the railway track … / bathe the station master in milk … / If only some one would tell … / when the next train is due." Indeed, Kolatkar's easy, informal, though laconic, tone, which is suggestive of a postromantic expressionism, belies his capacity to transfigure the world with his iconoclastic cast of thought. His awareness of the shrine of Khandoba at Jejuri and its railway station, being mythical correlatives of the postulates of a purgatory, could perhaps alone redeem his pilgrimage.

Kolatkar's subtle use of the montage technique in Jejuri to achieve the effect of a symbolist aesthetic (indeed, his first impulse was to make a movie) is characteristic of modern poetry. So also is his avoidance of the mixing of "an abstraction with the concrete" (Ezra Pound's dictum). He uses images instinct with the criticism of the unfolding scene—of a wasteland—that do not lessen the vibrancy of the perceiving self: "he doesn't reply / … and happens to notice / a quick wink of a movement / in a scanty patch of scruffy dry grass / burnt brown in the sun / and says / look / there's a butterfly / there." Jejuri is a virtuoso performance that exemplifies a movement toward a freer form of verse, which is what is most promising in Kolatkar's poetry.

—K. Venkatachari