Marathi Poetry and influence
His Marathi poems of the 1950s and 1960s are written "in the Bombay argot of the migrant working classes and the underworld, part Hindi, part Marathi, which the Hindi film industry would make proper use of only decades later". For instance, consider the following, which intersperses Hindi dialect into the Marathi:
मै भाभीको बोला main bhAbhiiko bolA
क्या भाईसाबके ड्यूटीपे मै आ जाऊ ? kya bhAisAbke dyuTipe main A jAu?
भड़क गयी साली bhaRak gayi sAli
रहमान बोला गोली चलाऊँगा rahmAn bolA goli chalAungA
मै बोला एक रंडीके वास्ते? mai bolA ek raNDike wAste?
चलाव गोली गांडू chalao goli gaNDu (quoted in
To match this in his English translation, he sometimes adopts "a cowboy variety":
allow me beautiful
i said to my sister in law
to step in my brother's booties
you had it coming said rehman
a gun in his hand
shoot me punk
kill your brother i said
for a bloody cunt (Three cups of Tea)
In Marathi, his poetry is the quintessence of the modernist as manifested in the 'little magazine movement' in the 1950s and 1960s. His early Marathi poetry was radically experimental and displayed the influences of European avant-garde trends like surrealism, expressionism and Beat generation poetry. These poems are oblique, whimsical and at the same time dark, sinister, and exceedingly funny. Some of these characteristics can be seen in Jejuri and Kala Ghoda Poems in English, but his early Marathi poems are far more radical, dark and humorous than his English poems. His early Marathi poetry is far more audacious and takes greater liberties with language. However, in his later Marathi poetry, the poetic language is more accessible and less radical compared to earlier works. His later works Chirimiri, Bhijki Vahi and Droan are less introverted and less nightmarish. They show a greater social awareness and his satire becomes more direct. Bilingual poet and anthologist Vilas Sarang assigns great importance to Kolatkar's contribution to Marathi poetry, pointing to Chirimiri in particular as "a work that must give inspiration and direction to all future Marathi poets".
He won the Kusumagraj Puraskar given by the Marathwada Sahitya Parishad in 1991 and Bahinabai Puraskar given by Bahinabai Prathistan in 1995. His Marathi poetry collections include:
Arun Kolatkarcha Kavita (1977)
Bhijki Vahi (2004) (Sahitya Akademi award, 2004)
Kolatkar was among a group of post-independence bilingual poets who fused the diction of their mother tongues along with international styles to break new ground in their poetic traditions; others in this group included Gopalakrishna Adiga (Kannada), Raghuvir Sahay (Hindi), Dilip Chitre (also Marathi), Sunil Gangopadhyay, Malay Roy Choudhury (Bengali), etc.
Kolatkar was hesitant about bringing out his English verse, but his very first book, Jejuri, had a wide impact among fellow poets and littérateurs like Nissim Ezekiel and Salman Rushdie. Brought out from a small press, it was reprinted twice in quick succession, and Pritish Nandy was quick to anthologize him in the cult collection, Strangertime.For some years, some of his poems were also included in school texts.
The poem sequence deals with a visit to Jejuri, a pilgrimage site for the local Maharashtrian deity Khandoba (a local deity, also an incarnation of Shiva). In a conversation with poet Eunice de Souza, Kolatkar says he discovered Jejuri in ‘a book on temples and legends of Maharashtra… there was a chapter on Jejuri in it. It seemed an interesting place’. Along with his brother and a friend, he visited Jejuri in 1963, and appears to have composed some poems shortly thereafter. A version of the poem A low temple was published soon in a little magazine called Dionysius, but both the original manuscript and this magazine were lost. Subsequently, the poems were recreated in the 1970s, and were published in a literary quarterly in 1974, and the book came out in 1976.
The poems evoke a series of images to highlight the ambiguities in modern-day life. Although situated in a religious setting, they are not religious; in 1978, an interviewer asked him if he believed in God, and Kolatkar said: ‘I leave the question alone. I don’t think I have to take a position about God one way or the other.’
Before Jejuri, Kolatkar had also published other poem sequences, including the boatride, which appeared in the little magazine, damn you: a magazine of the arts in 1968, and was anthologized twice. A few of his early poems in English also appeared in Dilip Chitre's Anthology of Marathi poetry 1945-1965 (1967). Although some of these poems claim to be 'English version by poet', "their Marathi originals were never committed to paper." (this is also true of some other bilingual poets like Vilas Sarang.
A reclusive figure all his life, he lived without a telephone, and was hesitant about bringing out his work. It was only after he was diagnosed with cancer that two volumes were brought out by friends – the English poetry volumes Kala Ghoda Poems and Sarpasatra (2004).
Sarpa Satra is an 'English version' of a poem with a similar name in Bhijki Vahi. It is a typical Kolatkar narrative poem like Droan, mixing myth, allegory, and contemporary history. Although Kolatkar was never known as a social commentator, his narrative poems tend to offer a whimsical tilted commentary on social mores. Many poems in Bhijki Vahi refer to contemporary history. However, these are not politicians' comments but a poet's, and he avoids the typical Dalit -Leftist-Feminist rhetoric.