Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Literary links

I know the internet is sometimes condemned as being voyeuristic and superficial. But, if you've a spare moment, may I say a few words in its defence?

Do you remember me telling you about the Indian poet, Pushkar? The young scholar whom I met early last year through the Poem HunterLink website. He had discovered my poetry and contacted me, via this site, to tell me of his love of English literature. Through the website, we've happily explored the subject, and I've enjoyed sharing many of his fine poems.
Then, last October, to celebrate Diwali, Pushkar - who is a Christian, but celebrates Diwali along with his Hindu friends - sent me, as a present, a short story by Chekov.

Not only was I surprised, but I was very touched.
It wasn't just the unexpectedness and originality of the gift . . . nor the beauty of Chekov's story . . . it was the symbolism of the gesture. By this simple act of friendship, the world had shrunk dramatically . . . cultures had integrated . . . time had closed in on itself. By touching a keyboard on a computer, far away in an Indian village, a young man had effected a small miracle. In consequence, here in London, I was celebrating a Hindu festival with a Russian short story!
Do you see what I mean . . . ?
A wonderful interweaving of cultures, centuries and generations - something that could never have happened before the liberating, international power of the internet. Something that, even twenty years ago, would have been inconceivable.

Why am I reminding you of all this? Because there's been an equally touching sequel to the story.
Last week, in one of his missives on the website, Pushkar was writing a little wistfully of a London he could only dream about. A London that had given birth to many of the poets he so admired. It had occurred to him, he wrote, that I might be living in the vicinity of a memorial to a poet, a plaque commemorating a poet. If this were the case, would I give that poet his tribute from India?
I wrote back telling him that G.K. Chesterton had been baptised in the church I attended. I would, I promised him, take his personal greetings to the baptismal font of G.K. Chesterton.

It was less than forty-eight hours later that I received a reply.
Pushkar could barely write for excitement. He had just been to his local village church for the Sunday service. There, glancing through the church magazine, he had been amazed to come across "The Donkey" by G.K. Chesterton!

What are the odds on a poem by Chesterton appearing in a church in rural India? What are the even greater odds of that poem appearing in the same week that one of the congregation learns of Chesterton's baptism in London?
Pushkar was beside himself with delight . . . and straightway wrote a poem by way of tribute to G.K. Chesterton.

As for me . . . I'm still a little bemused.
The coincidence . . . the synchronicity . . . only one thing is certain, Father Brown would have loved this story!