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Dilip Chitre: Portrait of an artist

March 19, 2007
At the ripe young age of 16, Dilip Purushottam Chitre made a decision that would change his life forever. He decided he wanted to live as a poet and artist.

It could not have been an easy choice. He admits to vague premonitions of it being difficult, and admits it proved hard at times. And yet, after over fifty years of living that life of poet and artist, he stands by it, refusing to have it any other way.

One can't blame him either. After all, his has been a life gifted with all sorts of revelations. It has been a colourful life, one spent whole-heartedly in the service of art and literature. His achievements, when strung together casually, boggle the mind. Chitre has -- since publishing his first collection of poems, Kavita, in Marathi in 1960 -- published a lot in English (Travelling in the Cage, 1980), has had his work translated into Hindi (Pisati ka Burz, 1987), Gujarati (Milton-na Mahaakaavyo, 1970), German (Worte des Tukaram) and Spanish.

He has exhibited his own paintings (First One Man Show of Oil Paintings, 1969); written and directed an award-winning film (Godam, 1984); made a dozen documentary films and scored music for some of them; taken on the mantle of editor for literary magazines (Shabda, 1954-1960); written for India's most respected publications; influenced a literary movement (the little magazine of the sixties in Marathi); convened poetry festivals; won all kinds of honours; travelled widely across India and abroad; and taught at universities worldwide.

So, when he describes his interests on his blog thus -- 'I am a poet and a writer. I paint. I make films. I travel. I make friends. I read. I listen to music. I reflect. I contemplate.' -- it's hard not to believe him.

Born in Baroda in 1938, Chitre soon moved with his family to Mumbai, where he published his first collection of poems. Possibly the most famous of his translations is Says Tuka, a rendition of the work of seventeenth century Marathi bhakti poet Tukaram. It is a translation of abhangs, a form of devotional poetry sung in praise of Vitthal. Chitre's translation continues to find new readers, surprising and moving them with its simplicity: 'There is a whole tree within a seed/ And a seed at the end of each tree/ That is how it is between you and me/ One contains the Other.'

I envy Dilip Chitre for the life he has lead, for his unwavering faith in all he holds dear. He now lives in Pune with his wife, Viju, to whom he has been married for over 45 years. 'Even in the most civilized societies of the world, poets receive ambivalent treatment,' he writes. 'The economic value of what poets do is considered extremely dubious...The most they can hope for during a lifetime is niche audiences scattered far and wide and small publishers crazy enough to publish poetry without any regard to sales.'

As Chitre prepares himself for new worlds to dive into, I asked him a few questions to help connect the dots so far...

Text: Lindsay Pereira
Photograph: Henning Stegmueller, distinguished still-photographer, cinematographer and filmmaker, Munich, Germany.

Also see: "Poetry has lost its place in society"

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