One among the many odd things I have done is walking at 2 AM through the corridors of a hotel undergoing renovations, in search of water. A friend and I had booked this place online for the duration of a conference and when we reached, we found they had just completed rebuilding…the protective covering from some sections had not even come off. But they honoured their part of the bargain and let us stay there. All was good till at about eleven at night, when I thoughtlessly finished off all the drinking water. Later, finding my friend extremely thirsty, I rang up Housekeeping and Reception by turns…to no avail. So, feeling evangelical, I stepped out of the room in search of water and walked into utter and total darkness. I walked to the other end of the passage, peered down and found the reception a gaping black void. That’s when it struck me that we were the only people in this hotel- all the staff had gone home. There was no guard either. As I walked back to the room, the doorway looked like a block of light in a chunk of darkness. It was a most beautifully desolate sight. Back in the room, I remembered a bag of oranges we had bought earlier. Nothing like freshly squeezed orange juice to assuage guilt and take care of a cranky, thirsty friend.

The real reason we made the trip in the first place was not the quest for academic excellence, but rather, to visit the final resting place of a young man very dear to my friend. His untimely demise had shaken her and this trip was a search for the much-needed closure. We travelled a long, long way, on roads hewn out of mountains, the chocolate brown of the earth covering every conceivable surface. Summer was at its height and I was careful not to drink more than a mouthful of water at a time.

We reached the cemetery. There were rows of graves, marked and unmarked. There was no way to find him except ask for help at the office of the nearby church. The office was a relief, with its cool tiled floors and a ceiling fan. The priest called the father of the young man and asked him, “There are two women here to pay their respects. What is the number of your son’s grave?” The poor man couldn’t remember. And I wondered how one forgets the number of the grave of one’s only son. The priest hung up and looked sheepishly at us. “Maybe we just look at all these graves and say a general hello?” I tentatively asked my friend. She remained silent. The priest sensing her grief, sent for his assistant and they combed through a huge register and located the number. Upon reaching that simple, unmarked grave, we stood in a pool silence. Us and a raven that we imagined was the soul of the departed.

The priest and assistant came to see us off. It was quite the occasion in those parts- two mysterious women visiting the grave of a young man. I think the last event to cause this sort of flutter in the village was the coming of electricity. I mentioned this to my friend on ourlong way back to the hotel and she burst into laughter. Maybe that is what is called closure. I did not mind the dust anymore.

Personal commitments and the vagaries of lockdown keeping us geographically apart, the next time I saw her was in yet another cemetery. We were the only two people there. The burial had not happened. The prayers were still going on at church. The cemetery had no graves. Only vaults sealed with concrete, with iron rods drawn across them. In some cases, two rods crisscrossed the vault. I caught sight of my friend walking towards me.  The first thing I asked her on seeing her in person after a year was, “Why the rods? Do they imagine the dead might push open the vaults and leave?” Such is the nature of sorrow that no reply was needed or given. It was almost afternoon and we stood in pouring rain, staring into the depths of a newly opened vault, the edges jagged and raw. The darkness within made me think of the hotel corridor and that single column of light. Two very different types of darkness and two very different experiences of light. Perhaps, two very different vaults.

The search for the somewhere else is what takes us across continents, oceans and chasms. I wonder if that search ends. Or in most cases, if it even begins. We are too rooted, too afraid, too busy preparing for some inevitability that these journeys remain unembarked upon. Our stories for never setting out are almost often the same, only the characters change. The philosophy of the quest demands the sacrifice of excuses. The charm of the excuse is so great that we lose the courage to leap. I once spent ten minutes staring into the depths of a swimming pool, unable to dive in, despite there being no danger of drowning. It was the inability to take the plunge. A stranger at the pool finally put me out of my misery and pushed me in as she casually walked by.

Kiran Bhat’s poetry, like the poet himself, is not afraid of diving in at the deep end. It is fearless and speaks loud and clear. Written from various parts of the world that Kiran has made his home in, the verses reveal the poetics of a bright and beautiful mind. Having begun travelling at the age of twenty, he has been to 132 countries, learnt twelve languages, and has called nineteen corners of the world home (Atlanta, New York, Mysore, Bangalore, Madrid, Lisbon, Cuzco, Florianopolis, Delhi, Malindi, Istanbul, Tokyo, Yogyakarta, Shanghai, Moscow, Paris, Mumbai, Cairo, and Melbourne). But his heart resides in Mumbai. He speaks English, Kannada, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Turkish, Indonesian, Hindi, Japanese, French, Russian, and Arabic to various levels of proficiency.He generates very energetic conversations with creative people across the globe and his crucial participation in online events such as Golchakkar keeps the discourse flowing.

The strength of his poetry comes from the interrogations that he subjects himself and the world around him to. What interested me was that the questions he asks are the ones we may ask ourselves in the course of a day. But the answers are very different from the ones we are wont to give. Kiran answers with no subterfuge. The responses hold nothing back- just like the poet himself. this can only come from a person who is at peace with himself and in control of his identity. The incidental nature that one ascribes to identity is shattered with the conscious, lucid way that Bhat addresses his own.

The whole process of standing up and walking away from the world you have set up in a space of a few years or months and entering a new culture, handling a new currency, a new history and political custom is not an easy task. The self becomes a disciple of the mind in the process. The body- a mere vehicle- not the core of our existence as we often consider it to be. Little wonder that one of Bhat’s signature works is Kiran Speaks, a series of conversations that he has with his consciousness. Modeled on the styleof Confucius’ teachings, these poetic interrogations take on different voices. To quote the poet, “I believe mostly in the strange serendipity that comes with the chaos of our world.”

The effervescence of Kiran Bhat’s personality shines through in his narration. This why I have preferred to let him speak through the videos. This is also the first time that Mandarin is being featured on Samyukta Poetry. To convey the sense of peace that these poems bring about and because in these chaotic times, a little bit of art that navigates and replicates the pathways of the mind seems appropriate, we feature doodle art by Kukku Xavier. I think they go well together- the questions asked and answered with the openness of skies, smells of cities once called home, thirst quenched with orange juice, lost loves, slivers of light at the end of corridors and the shadows cast by death. All meet in art. All is art.