Wednesday, March 07, 2007

In Memoriam: Revathy Gopal

Revathy Gopal died this morning. Revathy was a fine poet and a very close friend, though she was nearly my mother's age. It is the hardest thing to talk about her in the past tense as I'm going to have to do from now on.

It's hard to believe that I met her only four years ago; I feel like I've I had known her forever. A common friend told her about me, and we got talking over email. A year later, in 2004, in December, one of the best things that ever happened to me happened because of Revathy and my friend, SC: we were going to work together on a collaborative piece of writing.

In the months that followed, our conversations flowed and our writing flowered. If for nothing else, I would have to thank Revathy for that.

She would have been sixty in less than three months. This was the year in which her first book of poetry would have been (perhaps already has been) published. The last time I spoke to her, in January, she had sent off her final proofs: The Last Possibilities of Light (pub. Writers Workshop, Calcutta). I hope at least, that she lived to see it, because elsewhere, she never got the recognition she deserved for her poetry. You won't find her in any of the major collections of the last decade; not because she hadn't been writing, but because - actually, who knows why? I don't. I only know that she should have been there, as a major and strong voice in Indian poetry today.

I saw Revathy for the last time in September, when I had gone to Bombay. She had breast cancer, and at the time it had just spread to her uterus. They recommended a hysterectomy, but that had to be postponed because she was severely ill with some medication, unable to keep down any food. When SC and I went to meet her at her home, we were very nervous, as only the young and very healthy can be, while visiting someone very ill. But Revathy put us at our ease in no time at all. Soon, we were giggling, sharing our poems with her and behaving very badly. In a little while, her husband came in and gently reminded us that Revathy was really not strong enough to talk for so long. We left, feeling slightly guilty but also cheered by the thought that anyone who could laugh as Revathy had, could really not be so unwell. Surely she will get better, we thought. A hysterectomy will contain the spread of the cancer; things will, they will get better.

But she didn't get better. I spoke to her in January, with no idea that the cancer was spreading. For the last week, I had been meaning to call her, but like all good intentions, this one came to nothing. This morning, SC mailed to say Revathy had been in hospital for the last week, and had died this morning.

There is no end to the regrets one can have: not enough conversations, didn't see her, didn't talk to her; didn't see her book, didn't didn't didn't. But for her, who struggled with pain without letting anyone know how much, it must be a release.

Poems by Revathy here. Rama's tribute to her here (Revathy was Rama's aunt).

And finally, a poem by Revathy.

Carved In Stone

I shall not be inconsolable. There will be other rooms, other faces, open spaces, long stretches of time when I shall not even be conscious that you are not there.

I count the cost in concrete terms. You will not know my children’s names, nor I yours. That I may look at a photograph and remember my eyes looking at you looking at me. That some green girl in love with herself will hold your life in her hands.

I shall not say your name again, not even by chance.

One day, perhaps, love may die of disuse, left to rust in wind and weather.

Rest in peace, Revathy.

Update: Nthposition has a note at the head of its main page in memoriam. Todd Swift, Nthposition's poetry editor and Poet in Residence, Oxfam Great Britain, will have a post about her tomorrow, on his blog.

Update 2: Dilip D'Souza has a tribute to Revathy on his blog. Kees Klok, who has translated Revathy's work into Dutch, has a tribute here.

Update 3: Uma's tribute here and Revathy's son, Kartik's post about her last days, here.


Ludwig said...

Her poems pack a punch. Absolutely loved the historical touches. Please keep us posted re: book.

rama said...

Thank you for this tribute to Revathy.

I have known her from my infancy. As my youngest aunt, she was more than a mother can be. Books, literature, poetry, songs, music, cinema - she was a channel to so many things for us. Most of all, she cared for others, even at personal cost.

She leaves behind a terrible void.



Space Bar said...

Ludwig: Indeed they do. Will definitely keep you posted about the book.

Rama: Yes. LAst year at Prithvi, some poets will remember, she sang at the end fo the evening. I wasn't there, but having heard her sing, I know that it was an enchantment.

Kees Klok said...

I am deeply saddened by the passing away of Revathy of whom I translated and published severeal poems in Holland and Belgium. I knew she was very ill, but in our last contact by e-mail she sounded quite optimistic and very brave. Her death therefore came as a shock. Although she will be terribly missed, there is some consolation in the fact that she has left us her wonderful poetry.

Space Bar said...

Yes, I did know you had translated her work. It would be wonderful if you could post something on your webpage. When her book is out, I hope you are able to lay your hands on a a copy.

Kees Klok said...

You will find an In Memoriam for Revathy on my weblog of today.

Sathish Mayil said...

Revathy's poems are really nice. This one Carved in Stone is especially a masterpiece. The saddest thing is i have come to now about Revathy only after she has left this earth.

Let her soul rest in peace.

Laura said...

I knew Revathy for a very brief period when she was with the Dignity Dialogue Foundation. She came across as an extremely warm, motherly person and above all as a genuinely nice human.
I read some of her poems and they are really beautiful. I wish I had known her more.
My deepest sympathies are with the family. May the Lord give them the strength to bear this great loss.

Space Bar said...

Klok: I saw the page, and your translation. Thanks for pointing it out.

Mayil, Marina: Do look out for her book. Perhaps you could ask your local bookshops to get it for you.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I knew Revathy well too, and am just despondent about this. Dilip.

blogdog said...

Thank you all for your wonderful comments about my mother who would've been deliriously happy - and tearful - to know how loved and cherished she is. Please let me know when and where future poetry readings will happen, so I can inform family and friends.

Space Bar said...

Kartik: Will mail you. But just to let youknow< there's a poetry reading tomorrow, where some women poets will be reading. I've said I'd like to read some of Revathy's poems. Since it's a Women's Day celebration reading, (a day late), I'm reading *Sisterlove*, *Lines On Meeting A Cousin, Long-Lost* and *Time Past, Time Present*. The reading is at 6pm tomorrow, at Akshara Book Store, Secunderabad. I'll put up a separate blogpost about it.

Space Bar said...

This is from Keki Daruwalla, who requested me to put this up in the comments space:

"I came to know Revathy only when she won the British Coucil Prize for a lovely poem. I still have the photograph which appeared in Asian Age (I was a judge).she sent me her excellent poems but that's a long story. she introduced me and the Sahitya Akademi to 2 fine poets, Sampurna Chattarji and Sridala Swami.
Her zest for life, her verve, her finely honed poetic sensibility and her warmth will remain an abiding memory. My sympathies for the family."

Aruni Kashyap said...

Tremendously moving, thank you for the post.

the mad momma said...

I am so glad you did this... did i mention she taught me.... May she rest in peace...

blogdog said...

A son's tribute to Revathy at:

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Thank you for putting up her poem as well. It went straight to the core.