So Far
Poems by
Gerson da Cunha
HarperCollins Publishers India
Rs.150


So Far, Yet So Near
by Sanjay Trehan (18 December 2000)

The other day I was talking to my colleague, Sanaya, in Bangalore over Yahoo! messenger. We were discussing life and poetry, and when I told her that I am currently reading da Cunha, she said: “Gerson da Cunha is one of my all time favourite people. He reminds me of this giant teddy bear…eminently huggable!”
There is an endearing quality about Gerson and it’s not only to do with his ample visage, as you would discover when you soak in his poetry. Dom Moraes who has known Gerson for thirty years writes of So Far: “If one goes by Wordsworth’s definition of
poetry as ‘emotion recollected in tranquility’, this is precisely what these poems were.”

An Everywhere Man

Gerson has led an eventful life and is well-travelled. In this, his first collection, there are poems written during his trips to Uganda and Kenya, lands largely unexplored by Indian poets, there are ruminations about Brazil and Latin America and inner journeys replete with experiences and observations in Mumbai and Goa.
An everywhere man, in “Bombay Wallahs”, da Cunha tries to explore his grounding:
“Nowhere is ever home
but this may be the town
of least effort for me.
Here the idiom is known.”
Because Gerson is not a professional poet, his poetry doesn’t smack of being crafted. That is both a liberation and a limitation. It hits you, unlike the feel-goodliness of classical poetry, and is realistic and not dewy-eyed, a virtue in these times when love and cholera co-exist. Though poetry is essentially about self-indulgence, there is an integrity in his offering and the connect is there for the taking. Most importantly, the sincerity comes across, fresh and virginal, before “lips and breath framed the first
lies” and it’s clear that the writer is not given to masking and de-masking emotions for effect.

Many Streams

It’s a deeply felt, richly lived collection. There are many tributaries that run through and from the river of Gerson’s work; and luckily for him, only one reaches a dead-end. And that’s the limitation that I was talking about. Some of the expressions are downright prosaic and irksome and one feels that the gossamer silk of Gerson’s poetry has been shaded by the ruggedness of military green. A bit of an anachronism, don’t you think? Take a look at some verbal extremities
I discovered.
In a poem, Sanctuary, written in Tanzania, he writes: “Someone here took the life of the land
ardently to heart…”. In Afternoon on Lake Victoria, written in Entebbe, Uganda, there is an expression like: “Twitched sheets and shrewdly shifted weight....” In Rwenzori, “minuscule ambitions” is used. I am not nit picking. These are but minor aberrations in a body of work that’s really powerful and in its own genre and Gerson sure is capable of intense imagery. It’s entirely for this reason that I have refrained from calling it a mixed bag.
Subtle Imagery
Savour Jalebis, written on Soli Godrej’s terrace with trees, “in the belief that jalebis were first made in that cauldron of invention, Agra”:
“They circle slowly on silken oil,
pale as dancers on a painter’s mind,
ears of dough squeezed into a pan
by a hand gesturing like a healer’s.”
Some poems may seem obtuse on the first reading. It’s only because Gerson has a razor sharp perception and a highly intelligent and articulate mind that’s adept at making sketches on smokescreens of conscience, knifing through its exalted, esoteric otherness.
In The day they found J, he says:
“Outside, there is an air
of nameless flowers and, somewhere, smoke.”
In The Silence of her hair, Gerson is at his reflective best:
“Before truth there was fact:
thunder, migratory birds,
the armoured floss of sunset,
worshipped before words.”

Inner Travels

These are inner explorations of a sensitive soul. What appeals to me the most is the way the outer topography is blended with the inner terrain. The effect is stunning, graphically speaking.
In Sundown, Kampala, caught between a casuarina and cranes, Gerson ruminates:
“Believing, as the sun believes,
that definition is for others
I live between two lights,
each loved for its own breath”
These poems are not for lay readers but for people who love poetry, and by beautifully blending his outer and inner landscapes, Gerson has created compositions that many of us can relate to, for journeys within, though diverse and different in each case, are essentially about asking the same questions and searching for the same answers and trying to reach the unknown, the quasi-tangible within the intangible wholesomeness. We know it’s there, but don’t know how near or far.
This is how Images begin:
“Everyone glances differently into mirrors,
composing themselves in ways that reveal
the secret face.”
Mirroring a prismatic existence, So Far manages to make us experience some of our inner worlds.

(The author is Vice President with India’s first reverse auction portal for travel, Razorfinish.com. Talk to him at sanjay@razorfinish.com to discover more about his poetic leanings.)