It was with a great sense of grief and loss that we received the news of the passing
of Gieve Patel, one of India’s best regarded poets in English, and Poet Laureate of
last year’s Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai Litfest, 2022.
Gieve Patel’s verse is familiar to all poetry-loving Indians. However, in addition to
being a most perceptive poet, he was also a trusted physician, popular painter,
sculptor, and playwright.
Gieve Patel’s poetry likewise spanned the myriad aspects of life. He was acutely
concerned about the environment, intensely pre-occupied with the human condition,
had a keen sense of atmosphere, and his wide-ranging observations of life were
often laced with a wry touch of humour.
Some of his best known poems reflecting these attributes include the visceral On
Killing A Tree, with the first line that virtually every school child knows: “It takes
much time to kill a tree”, the wry Post Mortem “It is startling to see how swiftly/A
man may be sliced…..Before announcing death/As due to an obscure reason”; the
consummately evocative From Bombay Central, totally familiar to every Indian:
“Station odour, amalgam/Of diesel oil, hot steel, cool rails,/Light and shadow, human
sweat,/Metallic distillations, dung, urine,/Newspaper ink, Parle’s Gluco Biscuits”..
and the mischievous Bombay’s Own, in which he depicts the local stray dogs “who
know they live in India’s most prosperous city”, as therefore trying to keep at least
one patch of fur clear of fleas!
In the depth and range of his multi-layered life, talent, interests and achievements,
Gieve Patel, a long-time friend and supporter, was an embodiment of our Festival.
Accepting the Poet Laureateship for Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest 2022,
he had encapsulated the essence of poetry. “Many of us,” he said, “turn to poetry at
important moments in our lives: when we fall in love, when we suffer a great loss,
when we discover spiritual dimensions in ourselves that we were unaware of before.
We also turn to poetry for the sheer joy of it.”
Today we will all read a favourite verse, recall a soothing rhyme, or recite a loved
poem, in fondest memory of our very own Tata Literature Live! Mumbaikar, and universal
poet, Gieve Patel.