Real Danger of myth becoming memory: Keki Daruwalla


New Delhi, April 8: A “little amnesia,” according to one of Indias foremost poets and short story writers, can help the contemporary shake off the shackles of the past and in the process poetry may turn out to be an important counterweight against the canonisation of myth as memory.

“The danger of myth becoming scripture and memory, as something to be remembered as having lived or occurred is something we must all be wary of. This sort of co-option — the darker side of memory — is linked to nostalgia. A little amnesia would benefit us all,” Keki N. Daruwalla said a lively discussion on the second day of the ongoing Vak: The Raza Biennale of Indian Poetry.

He linked the conflation of myth with historical and racial anger and distrust.

“The healing touch against simplification and rewriting of history would come with the realisation that memory is also an investigation, not something inscribed in stone. Unless we forget, we will be always slaves to the kind of historic memory and philosophy people are thrusting on us,” Daruwalla added.

The intellectual panel, titled “Poetry as Memory,” was held at Triveni Kala Sangam as part of the ongoing Vak: The Raza Biennale of Indian Poetry.

The three-day Biennale is being organised by the Raza Foundation — set up by the late master artist Sayed Haider Raza and helmed by eminent Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi, the Managing Trustee.

Setting the stage for the discussion, Vajpeyi said, “Today, all kinds of memories are being manufactured, erased, or suppressed. There is a kind of amnesia prevalent today. Poetry is a jar of memory, reminding and rehabilitating memory”.

Vajpeyi moderated the discussion, which saw impassioned rebuttal arguments from noted social scientist Shiv Visvanathan and celebrated Gujarati poet-playwright Sitanshu Yashaschandra.

Bringing his influential “cognitive justice” model to bear on the conversation, Visvanathan suggested that “myth was not false memory, but an alternate way of constructing science”.

While poets are brilliant when it comes to memory as biography and history, he argued, “they fail when standing up to theory of collective memory”.

“Before the gulag and concentration camps, poetry falters. It has not created a language, poetics, or great epic to transcend the pathos inherent to such constructs. Poetry hasn’t broken the myth of Stalin and the many smaller Stalins that have come after. It has failed to answer whether poetry is possible after the camp,” Visvanathan said.

Countering Daruwala on the problem of “forgetting,” he said: “While history that haunts us destroys memory, it was only memory that allowed one to see man as many — as sociological poets like Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz do.”

The three-day poetry biennale is the first of its kind event in the country and will conclude on Sunday.

(Panelists at the discussion on ‘Poetry as Memory’: From Left to Right: Managing Trustee, The Raza Foundation, Ashok Vajpeyi, Gujarati Poet, Sitanshu Yashaschandra, Padma Shri, Keki N. Daruwalla and Social Scientist, Shiv Visvanathan)