The poetry racquet

As the UK gets used to the rough-and-tumble of coalition government, we can finally look forward to more interesting things: for instance, Wimbledon. Only, this season will have a slightly mushy air about it. It may even be finally won not by the tennis racquet, but by the pen. Lovers of poetry be warned! This year Wimbledon will be celebrated, daily, in verse.
Seriously speaking, Wimbledon is all set to be showcased by the poet in residence, Matt Harvey, who will reconstruct the sport through poetry. And why not? This will forever dispel the myth that poetry needs to be inspired by the romance of dark alluring eyes, or deep despair or fragile sensitivity. It is now time to contemplate the wiry charms of the racquet-bearing arms, or the anxious eyes and the sweating thighs. Or perhaps the designer dresses and tangled tresses could also provide a verse or two. Even the humble tennis ball, with its rise and fall, is now set to become a source of inspiration for Harvey who has been appointed to churn it out for the masses when Wimbledon is on.
This is obviously hard work — and Harvey has been informed that he can write whatever he pleases so long as he mentions some of the grand traditions of Wimbledon: such as Cliff Richards, Barley Water and, of course, strawberries and cream. The closest I have ever come to Wimbledon is when I accidentally switched on a sports channel. But I do think that perhaps through his poesy, Harvey may be able to (at last) interest me in the game. But I still wonder if anyone can really write poetry about two people chucking a ball at each other? Can great, unforgettable, heartbreaking, earthshaking poetry ever be written about such mundane stuff?
But Harvey has been already trying to prove his critics wrong. Taste the following extracts from the Grandest of Slams by Matt Harvey:
Excuse me. I’m sorry. I speak as an Englishman
For the game of lawn tennis there’s no
better symbol than
…Where strawberries and cream have
Traditionally been sampled in
Kid’s eyes have lit up and their cheeks
have dimpled in

…Where tough tennis cookies have cracked
And then crumbled in
Top seeds have stumbled, have tumbled,
been humbled in

One hopes that once the game actually begins, Harvey will be able to rise to greater heights. But while it may not be great poetry it’s an interesting concept. And I am wondering if someone in India could take up the challenge and come up daily sher-o-shairi when the cricket season is on. Perhaps Lalit Modi could think about that as an alternate career option. He could certainly wax lyrical about his own travails.

MEANWHILE, I watched (yet another) controversial film on terrorism, Four Lions. The first indication that this film is made by a British director is that the title is spelt correctly. Had it been made by an Asian, it would have been (probably deliberately) spelt as Four Loins. Director Chris Morris has taken what is obviously a very difficult subject and tried to inject some whacky humour into it. Despite the grim nature of the film, the laughs do come along, at least 50 per cent of the time.
The film is about four would-be totally inept suicide-bombers who have startlingly bright ideas such as training crows with explosives attached to them, and bombing the Internet. Three of the film’s main characters are British boys of Pakistani origin and the fourth is a White British Muslim convert (shades of David Headley!). Because they are all shown as bumbling idiots, unable to really understand why they are so drawn towards the whole idea of jihad, the audience, insidiously, begins to empathise with them. It is this which had made some of the 7/7 victims and their families object to the film. They felt it was insensitive towards the memory of those who had died or had been injured in 7/7 by showing the four wannabe terrorists merely as confused and foolish, not menacing death machines.
But the director is extremely careful not to over-state the case, and the film is well scripted with bizarre comic element. Even the recording of the “martyrdom tapes” is done with a dark sense of humour: for example, a toy AK-47 is held extra close to the camera to make it look larger. There are also issues of reaching paradise: one of the terrorists accidentally gets blown up alongside a sheep, so does that spoil his martyrdom? But fortunately, the film makes as much fun of the British espionage agencies and the police as it does of the “jihadis”. It is even-handed and avoids the obvious stereotypes.
It treats terrorism with laughter, which is probably the best counter weapon ever invented.
However, I only felt a little uncomfortable towards the end of the film. So long as the terrorists were goofily blowing up each other, it was quite amusing. But the moment the explosions consumed other lives, the film stopped being funny. This was simply too close to the bone. Even if we didn’t see the blood, there are too many embedded memories of horrific outcomes. So should we worry about the message of the film? Or just enjoy it as a good laugh? It doesn’t really seem to matter too much because the day I saw it in London, there were barely five other people in the auditorium.

BUT ONE real highlight of the week was to attend the launch of the staunchly sari-clad Baronness Shreela Flather’s book, at the Nehru Centre, called Woman — Acceptable Exploitation for Profit. It strongly encourages business and industrial houses in Asia and Africa to employ women at every level. The indefatigable Shreela argues that not only would this enhance productivity, it will also make women more economically valuable — and thus discourage their present oppression. As I wholeheartedly agree with Shreela, I do hope corporates will listen — or that the government will push them in the right direction. How about a quota for women everywhere, even in the private sector?

The writer can be contacted at

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