Do You See?

Remembering Sanjay; “Inviting a Friend to Supper”; Impermanence

My former newsroom senior from years ago (when I was a kid intern with THE SENTINEL newspaper) in Guwahati, my hometown , passed away recently. Six-foot tall, strapping handsome, well-built and a little headstrong — that’s how I remember him. It was difficult to retort back to his snickering at my pig-tails and the “Go back to school, kid” line. But soon we became friendlier. One Sunday, on newsroom duty, he had rushed on his bike to buy pork from Beltola market and himself prepared fresh pork momos (dumplings) for us weekend staffers in the canteen kitchen downstairs. There were a few more stranger escapades tied to him, but we didn’t mind all that. Used to adulation from mainly the female staff, he impressed men as well with his cooking, high-speed dirt-track biking and investigative journalism prowess. Only a scrawny teenager took some time to look upon him as the savior of the times. But today I’ll say, Sanjay Sharma was a brilliant man. And death had no business poaching on his life at 40-something. How unfair.

Sanjay went on to become the bureau chief of The Sentinel. I wasn’t there any more. After my university days we got back momentarily when I went for a work trip to TOI Ahmedabad, where Sanjay was in charge of the newsroom. With a couple of other distunguished journalists with us, a lovely dinner at a posh restaurant got us choicest wine/alcohol (Gujarat is a dry state; I know, how stupid) at a mere signal from Sanjay. He looked good still. A ladies’ man, a trusted comrade, a journalist with integrity.

Again we drifted away. I was in the US. Then we got back in touch, again. The wretched Facebook deserves my thanks at times like this. He and I became “friends”. He was running his consultancy service in Shillong, managing a newspaper in Tura, writing and publishing, and undertaking a motorbike ride across the country for his beloved boxer, Bonxie, who was inexplicably sick. Sanjay was a busy man, immersed in a few more social projects, but never failing to say an occasional hello through this strange medium FB is. In fact, I did suppress a smile when he commented somewhere: “Nabina is my protégé, you see,” after my book came out in 2010. Now I think, why not. He did teach all of us, young or old, in the newsroom, a thing or two about dedication, perseverance and commitment to our respective passions.

This is not a tribute to Sanjay, merely reminiscing about a friend. And I want to end this part highlighting his funny side too. An alumnus of St. Edmunds, he had written this doggerel, that is much celebrated among the faculty and students there:

Facta non Verba

“Deeds matter, friends, not words!”
Thus spake some learned guy.
He said the words in Latin,
‘though, I really don’t know why!
For those very words emblazoned in
Deep red on golden yellow,
say plainly that that “learned guy”
was a mighty silly fellow!
Or else among his flock of sheep,
there couldn’t have been one, who said,
“If that’s the case, good sir,
…how come they’re said, not done!”

FYI, my dad had taught for some time at St. Edmunds, when he was a young man. Way before most of us were born! It seems death takes away lives but feeds other lives in their pursuits. Talking about feeding, did we not discuss earlier that food signifies death, life and love?


On that note, a poem arrived at my doorstep as “food-gift” this morning. You got it, it is a food-poem. Dr. AV a.k.a. Prof. T (readers, I implore you NOT to decode the nomenclature, for you’ll never get it even if you unravel some of it) was kind enough to draw my attention to a Ben Jonson poem whose merit lies in its vast repertoire, sparkling wit, and “about hospitality and the virtues of moderation”, to quote Prof. T. Read it below:

Inviting a Friend to Supper
by Ben Jonson
TO-NIGHT, grave sir, both my poore house, and I
Doe equally desire your companie :
Not that we thinke us worthy such a guest,
But that your worth will dignifie our feast,
With those that come ; whose grace may make that seeme
Something, which, else, could hope for no esteeme.
It is the faire acceptance, Sir, creates
The entertaynment perfect : not the cates.
Yet shall you have, to rectifie your palate,
An olive, capers, or some better sallad
Ushring the mutton ; with a short-leg’d hen,
If we can get her, full of eggs, and then,
Limons, and wine for sauce : to these, a coney
Is not to be despair’d of, for our money ;
And, though fowle, now, be scarce, yet there are clerkes,
The skie not falling, thinke we may have larkes.
I’ll tell you of more, and lye, so you will come :
Of partrich, pheasant, wood-cock, of which some
May yet be there ; and godwit, if we can :
Knat, raile, and ruffe too. How so e’er, my man
Shall reade a piece of VIRGIL, TACITUS,
LIVIE, or of some better booke to us,
Of which wee’ll speake our minds, amidst our meate ;
And I’ll professe no verses to repeate :
To this, if ought appeare, which I know not of,
That will the pastrie, not my paper, show of.
Digestive cheese, and fruit there sure will bee;
But that, which most doth take my Muse, and mee,
Is a pure cup of rich Canary-wine,
Which is the Mermaids, now, but shall be mine :
Of which had HORACE, or ANACREON tasted,
Their lives, as doe their lines, till now had lasted.
TabaccoNectar, or the Thespian spring,
Are all but LUTHERS beere, to this I sing.
Of this we will sup free, but moderately,
And we will have no Pooly, or Parrot by ;
Nor shall our cups make any guiltie men :
But, at our parting, we will be, as when
We innocently met. No simple word
That shall be utter’d at our mirthfull board
Shall make us sad next morning : or affright
The libertie, that wee’ll enjoy to-night.
The Oxford Book of Seventeenth Century Verse.
H. J. C. Grierson and G. Bullough, eds.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934. 155-156.

Lovely, innit!

Benjamin Jonson, after Abraham van Blyenberch: Wikipedia


In other news, the weather office says tomorrow will be warm and sunny. I should train somewhere and capture memories. Well, saying that just made me sad. How much impermanence do we deal with in our lives?



17 comments on “Remembering Sanjay; “Inviting a Friend to Supper”; Impermanence

  1. Mihir Vatsa
    May 19, 2012

    Sad to know about your friend. Sounds like a real charmer. 🙂

    Ben Johnson is always a delight to read. Plus, anything written in medieval English induce a smile. It read so innocent that you can’t help smiling.

    ‘How so e’er, my man
    Shall reade a piece of VIRGIL, TACITUS,
    LIVIE, or of some better booke to us,
    Of which wee’ll speake our minds, amidst our meate’- ❤

  2. Mihir Vatsa
    May 19, 2012

    *induces. Daym! 😐

  3. Do You See
    May 19, 2012

    You got the right lines, MV! Jonson is the man. But not medieval, child, he is Renaissance 🙂

    Yeah, Sanjay had a way with the world. But something in him was impatient. I wasn’t exactly close to him, but observed him very well. Shocked that he had to go so soon.

    Well, make that dayum! Kidding.

  4. Do You See
    May 19, 2012

    I invited Albert Geiser to read this post/poem. He’s probably still reading it. In the meantime, Vatsa, you think as a poetry exercise one could write up a modern version of this “invitation”?

  5. albert geiser
    May 19, 2012

    Recently I searched for the meaning of coney; looking for the origin of the name Coney Island. English for rabbit. And this poem brings to mind copia in poetry which I was just looking into two days ago, and one of the short story variations in Queneau’s Exercises In Style, which is in the style of copia. This Ben Johnson poem is definitely copia! There’s been such an aversion since the beginning of modernism to copia in poetry. Now I think of complaints on Robert Hass that are made, for his drift away from that aversion. Now this poem and your story about your friend bring to my mind copia again. I had simply not because of the aversion thought of writing a food poem of copia, when here I am in post modern America and on FB with a cultural copia all around. Thinking too of cornucopia, which Johnson must have had in mind here.. Now I will think more of all this and post more of my thoughts on this later… Johnson makes a comment on Luther too here, LUTHER’s beer.. Johnson doesn’t have to use the word cornucopia, his readers must have understood his referencing on the Protestant Reformation and its parsimony…

  6. Do You See
    May 19, 2012

    appreciate that detailed comment. As a “carpe diem” personality (you might notice a flimsy post on this site I wrote some time ago), I do see how Jonson’s cautious exuberance is expressed in such lavish yet philosophical terms. Interesting that you looked up “coney”. The cornucopia metaphor is quite understood in a restrained manner… But I’m keen to know what exactly you mean when you refer to Robert Hass. Do write!

  7. albert geiser
    May 19, 2012

    Recent criticisms of Robert Hass’ latest book that he is only interested, according to the charge, in counting things such as in his kitchen. The criticisms were caustic and toward his copia. And I have felt that way from living in the San Francisco Bay Area myself about Robert Hass’ poetry; the conflicting styles of poetry between California’s copia and California’s activism. I’m going to have to find it now. The essay on Hass was in Poetry Magazine, and then there were letters that followed. I will find it. I have the Poetry Magazine issues scattered on the living room floor here… In the Ben Johnson poem, isn’t what looks cautious to our eyes having to do with a custom that is gone now? What the Japanese do in their culture, for example? To not show up the guest.

  8. albert geiser
    May 19, 2012

    I would think the Canary Wine, sweet wine from the Canary Islands, would have been expensive, after all of the fowls. I wonder too.. Lime might have been hard to get…And though fowl now be scarce… I wonder why fowl would have been scarce… It looks like what’s going on here is educated men who should have expensive foods, who are living in a time of scarcity.. Lime is an image of survival in scarcity.

  9. albert geiser
    May 19, 2012
  10. Do You See
    May 19, 2012

    I’ll read this carefully again and get back. At a very quick read I don’t really see any association of this article with the “food-poetry” allusions we’ve been exchanging here. I have read Hass’ “Field Guide”, but not “The Apple Trees at Olema”… The former is lamely described as a veritable mapping of the so-called *natural world*, but it alludes mostly to a very region-specific and narrow flora-fauna cosmogony as far as I understand. This article writer’s analyses of the latter book also seems to take up mostly Hass’ questions about the *physical* (read, body and objects of desire) world but no so much the food items, or ideas related to them. The phrase “list of stuff in Hass’s kitchen” pertains to one of the poems from FG. So perhaps there is a slight connection after all. Having also read “Time and Materials”, I think the Jonsonian sentiment can only be loosely attributed to Hass. But of course, we can read more and find out more. Hass, by the way, was heavily influenced by Japanese poetry, and if I remember correctly, he has translated Basho and Isa profusely too… But you know that 🙂
    Later then. – N

  11. albert geiser
    May 22, 2012

    I haven’t looked into Hass’ Basho translations. I was thinking of Hass more generally as using copia. And it’s interesting that he has tried Basho because I have never thought of his work being influenced by the Japanese. The West Coast really is the Pacific Rim so the East Asian influence on poetry is very strong there… But Hass doesn’t usually seem to me to be one of those widely open to that influence.. I really believe what Hass does in his main body of work is the California copia. There’s been a sense of abundance there for a long time and Hass is in a generation of California poets that were immersed in that abundance from when they were young.. Abundant food, lush agriculture, and a culture of fine food has been essential to life in California, a culture that is creating new foods and varieties of foods .. There is no part of the U.S. like it in that way in our time… And Hass is a poet of that extravagance…

  12. albert geiser
    May 22, 2012
  13. albert geiser
    May 22, 2012
  14. albert geiser
    May 22, 2012

    We started with the idea of a food gift being brought from one person or group to another. I left philosophy of food aside in the poem with the filling its role between the giver and giftee I’d like to get much more philosophical in a poem here. Johnson was going into philosophy of food. Hass usually takes a long time getting there and he might use a few lines specifically about the philosophy of food but it’s much more of a dominant role in his poetry than jumps out.

  15. albert geiser
    May 22, 2012

    This place was representative of California food culture at its height and is representative of its fall. Thinking about maple syrup from the North Country, that is food that is exported all over the world and finally sold as an extravagant luxury. Looking at the maple syrup in its native place it is simple and traditional, so it’s at the opposite end of the copia. Maple syrup might have turned up somewhere in a Hass poem, or in another California poet’s poem as just one extravagant import among many extravagant foods…

  16. Do You See
    May 22, 2012

    many thanks for the links and the comments. Indeed, there is so much to explore on this topic. And I think you are right in veering off to Hass’ poetry because, Jonson or not, among contemporary poets in America, Hass does present us a smorgasbord of food, natural produce, landscape and seasons. You can read the Basho translation whenever you have the time. I need to re-read all this again. We’ll keep coming back to it.

    And it’s better if you keep posting comments under new posts, because that’s how most readers will see them. I can always provide a link back to our original article while replying. This exchange remains not readily visible to other bloggers..Will be back.

  17. Swati Kulkarni
    January 16, 2013

    If it is the same Sanjay Sharma, very sad to hear it. would you be knowing about his coffee table book on Meghalaya. I had contributed some photographs and for some strange reason there was no reply since the last 6-8 months.

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