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John Lundberg

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Indian Politicians Love Their Poetry

Posted: 02/26/2012 3:04 pm

Kapil Sibal, a senior leader in India's congress, will release his second book of poems, My World Within, later this week. It's the latest of many books of poetry penned by India's politicians in recent years, where the practice has come to seem almost a requirement for public office. A growing number of political party leaders, members of congress, and even prime ministers are now speaking to the people off prompter and in verse.

What will Sibal's inner world be like? Well, we know he isn't tied too tightly to any of India's poetic traditions: he wrote the book exclusively on his cell phone. The Times of India published a few excerpts, and Sibal clearly tends toward love poetry, with titles that seem ripped from the $1.99 romance spinny-bookrack at Walmart. Unfortunately for Sibal, the poems do too. Here's an excerpt from "Parched Terrain":

Your lips are parched
The summer dry
Each moment seems
Like years gone by

If the lines seem strangely short, remember the cell phone. Here's another of Sibal's -- this one entitled, "Eternal Love":

The waterfall
Was now close by
Above my head
The azure sky
Never wanted
To say goodbye

Neither did I, Kapil. Neither did I. But before we get too attached to Sibal's romantic side, know that he expects his next book to be more serious. He plans to write poems that investigate "the judicial response" to the 2002 Gujarat riots, which resulted in thousands of deaths and displaced people. So... we can all look forward to that.

But some of India's other poet politicians show more promise. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee could be West Bengal's answer to Percy Bysshe Shelley, trying to use verse to spark a revolutionary fervor. One of her published poems reads,

Your hard toil will show the light to the nation
with the new song of your heart
light the lamp of the green revolution.

Feroze Varun Gandhi, a Member of Parliament for the country's Bharatiya Janata Party, is erudite and introspective, and his last book of poetry, The Otherness of Self, was a bestseller. Here's an excerpt from his intriguing poem "Death," in which he turns death into some sort of reverse moon birth.

Die I must
But not alone
For the moon will
Steal me into her marble eyes
And through her umbilical cord
I will learn things they made me forget.

Other Indian poet politicians include former prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and V.P. Singh. Singh wrote this intimate and moving poem (which was printed on the website Asian Window) while dying of cancer on his hospital bed:

Every time I wake up
It is night.
The world is just beyond
My hospital window
My only company
A distant window light.
That goes off.
First details go
Then colour
Finally even form
All that is left is a blank
In the fog of age.
With only my echo to tell me
How far away I am.
All have fallen asleep
None to tell me
'Go to sleep.'

Politician or not, Singh's is a good poem with a beautiful ending. And while the results may be mixed, the prevalence of poetry in Indian culture, even in politics of all places, is impressive. Now if we could just get Joe Biden to pick up the cell phone and start versifying. What rhymes with Amtrak?