Ranjit Hoskote Posts

My Best Reads of 2018

Lists are subjective. Reading lists are even more difficult to cobble. Today my list consists of the following books. A few days later it may change ever so slightly. But these are the books that have stayed with me over the months.

Tabish Khair’s Night of Happiness 

Anuradha Roy All The Lives We Never Lived 

Supriya Kelkar Ahimsa

Mark O’Connell’s To Be A Machine 

Alejandro Zambra’s My Documents 

Gabriela Wiener Sexographies 

Ranjit Hoskote Jonahwhale 

Ravish Kumar’s The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation

C G Salamander and Samidha Gunjal’s Puu

Khaled Hosseini Sea Prayer

Nazia Erum’s Mothering a Muslim 

Jarrett J Krosoczka’s Hey, Kiddo

Henry Eliot’s The Penguin Classics Book

Cordis Paldano The Dwarf, the Girl and the Goat

Mohammed Hanif Red Birds 

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell Art Matters

T M Krishna Reshaping Art 

Alan Lightman In Praise of Wasting Time

Poetry in India

For some peculiar reason poetry is quoted and used extensively everywhere but rarely does it get a regular space in a publishing house. It is often said poetry is too complicated to publish and to sell. It is subjective. Also many customers prefer to read poetry at the store and put the book back on the shelf. For many poets in India, self-publishing their poems has been popular. For generations of poets the go-to place was Writers Workshop begun by the late P. Lal. Some of the poets published by Writers Workshop included Vikram Seth, Agha Shahid Ali, Adil Jussawalla, Arun Kolatkar, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Jayanta Mahapatra, Keki Daruwalla, Kamala Das, Meena Alexander, Nissim Ezekiel, and Ruskin Bond. Some of the other publishing houses published occasional volumes of poetry too.

Of late the practice has continued. Only the rare volume or two is published. Aleph Book Company has published some fine volumes of poetry which has included translations ( Mirabai and Tirukkal) and contemporary poets such as Jeet Thayil, Sridala Swami and Vikram Seth. Some years ago Harper Collins India published The HarperCollins Book Of English Poetry (ed. Sudeep Sen) and recently the excellent collection of poems by Tishani Doshi Girls are Coming Out of the Woods. Also that of  Sharanya Manivannan ‘s The Altar of the Only World which is considered as well to be a very good volume. Penguin Random House India has a reputation for publishing good volumes of poetry particularly of established poets such as 60 Indian Poets edited by Jeet Thayil. A volume to look forward to in 2018 will be Ranjit Hoskote’s Jonahwhale . The feminist publishing house Zubaan books published a fascinating experimental volume Andal: The Autobiography of a Goddess edited and translated by Priya Sarukkai Chhabra and Ravi Shankar.

Speaking Tiger Books has begun to actively publish poetry — at least far more frequently than the other firms. In the past few months alone some of their titles include Rohinton Daruwala’s The Sand Libraries of Timbuktu: Poems  ; Manohar Shetty’s Full Disclosure: New and Collected Poems (1981-2017) ;  C.P. Surendran’s Available Light: New and Collected Poems ; Guru T. Ladakhi’s Monk on a Hill: Poems ; Ralph Russell’s translations and edited by Marion Molteno A Thousand Yearnings: A Book of Urdu Poetry & Prose  ; Ruskin Bond’s I Was the Wind Last Night: New and Collected Poems ; Michael Creighton’s New Delhi Love Songs: PoemsLater this year the Sahitya Akademi is publishing what looks to be a promising collection of poetry by “younger Indians”, edited and selected by noted poet Sudeep Sen.

Having said that the self-publishing initiatives still continue. For instance a young poet and writer ( and journalist) Debyajyoti Sarma launched the i, write, imprint, press to publish poetry. Some of the poets published ( apart from him) include noted playwright Ramu Ramanathan, Uttaran Das Gupta, Sananta Tanty  and Paresh Tiwari. 

Now there are more opportunities for poets to publish in literary magazines as well. For instance well-known poet Sampurna Chattarji has been appointed the poetry editor of IQ magazine and is looking for submissions and hoping to be read as well! She writes about it on her blog. Another active space for poets is Poetry at Sangam which is edited by Priya Sarukkai Chhabra. It showcases poetry in English and translations as well as essays on poetics and news of new releases. Another vibrant space for poetry especially Urdu is the Jashn-e-Rekhta festival. 

There are plenty more initiatives in other local languages, meet ups, open mike sessions etc where poets can recite/perform their work. In the past decade there has been a noticeable increase in these events whether informal groups that meet at local parks or coffee shops to more formal settings as a curated evening.

Undoubtedly poets and their poetry is thriving, just more publishers are needed to publish the poets.

6 January 2018 

 

 

 

 

Eunice de Souza: A Tribute by Salil Tripathi

This morning poet Adil Jussawala posted on his Facebook page: 

Image from the Internet

Eunice de Souza
(1 August 1940 – 29 July 2017)
Gone suddenly.

Social media exploded with shock. Very soon some extraordinary tributes began being pouring in for an extraordinary woman. One of the earliest tributes posted on his Facebook page was by noted journalist Salil Tripathi. It is published below with his permission. 

Those who did not know her thought she was temperamental, but those who knew her knew she was generous. She was encouraging and warm if she thought what you wrote deserved to be read more widely, sharp and incisive if she thought you needed to work harder, and candid without being cruel if she thought you should not try writing.

Ammu Joseph edited Post Script, the wonderful weekend magazine of the Indian Post, which we were all part of when it was launched in 1987, and Eunice De Souza edited the books page, and as Ammu reminds us below, she brought her own ideas and was receptive to other ideas to make it what was easily the best weekend magazine of its time. Eunice discovered new voices and gave recognition to some old ones among critics. Jeet Thayil was our poetry editor.

Those were heady days for English poetry in Bombay – Dom Moraes had returned to writing, Nissim Ezekiel ran PEN and organised readings at Theosophy Hall, Arun Kolatkar could be found at Kala Ghoda at Wayside Inn, Dilip Chitre was a regular feature at readings, Adil Jussawalla was at Debonair and with Udayan Patel published poetry under the imprint Praxis, Saleem Peeradina taught at the Open Classrooms in Sophia (where I was a student, as was Arshia Sattar), Gieve Patel wrote poems, plays, and found time to run a medical practice, and there was Newground and Clearing House and OUP still published poetry.

And among all those male voices, there were strong women voices present – Eunice De Souza and Melanie Salgado.

Along with Jeet, Ranjit Hoskote, and Menka Shivdasani had begun writing their early poems then, and it was a small circle, and I’m probably missing out some names, but it was one of those moments where it felt like saying – bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!

Eunice was terrific at spotting young talent. I was one of two editors who edited the op-ed page of the Indian Post, and she introduced me to some of her bright students, many of whom went on to write for the Indian Post. I remember in particular Dinyar Godrej, who is now at the New Internationalist and the late Alan Twigg who we lost so tragically and too early, who reviewed films (and wrote a fine piece on Brodsky when he won the Nobel). She also wrote for my page, on literature, feminism, and occasionally, the city itself.

Her poetry was funny, sharp, bold, and strong. I remember Fix, her first collection, with which she announced her presence. I particularly liked the next collection, Women in Dutch Painting. She had at least two more collections to follow.

She read my poems, and urged me to continue, asking me to avoid sentimentality that she though crept into my poems because when I started writing poems, I wrote in Gujarati. She stressed I should write in a more ‘clean’ way.

Many years later, in her columns, she wrote two fine pieces about my recent books – reviewing them with care and attention, and reading the pieces this morning I feel that impulse of hers again. Urging me to go on. I will, as will many others who were lucky enough to have known her. She won’t be with us in one sense, but in many ways, she will always be. Miss you, Eunice.

Salil Tripathi 

29 July 2017 

Walking with the Lions: Tales from a Diplomatic Past, K. Natwar Singh

Walking with the Lions: Tales from a Diplomatic Past, K. Natwar Singh

Yesterday the Hindu carried an extract from diplomat and retired politician K Natwar Singh’s latest publication on his meeting former UK prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. ( www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/thatcher-chandraswami-and-i/article4595546.ece ). It is a delight to read. Natwar Singh is a good storyteller. The book Walking with the Lions: Tales from a Diplomatic Past, has been published by HarperCollins India. I am looking forward to reading more from this book. (I hope it will live up to its expectation of being a good book.)

Natwar Singh has been writing for many years about his meetings with literary giants, in India and abroad. For instance this book ( Profiles and Letters by K. Natwar Singh; published by Sterling Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi, 1997) excerpt published in the Frontline in 1997 ( http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl1425/14250850.htm ) is about his having met E. M. Forster and R. K. Narayan. Natwar Singh has written often about his meetings with writers, publishers etc, many of whom he was fortunate to meet on his travels and postings. So I am pleased that publishers have begun to anthologise Mr Natwar Singh’s writings.

K. Natwar Singh Walking with the Lions: Tales from a diplomatic past HarperCollins India Original. Pb. pp. 224. Rs. 299

On poetry — my thoughts ( 29 Jan 2013)

On poetry — my thoughts ( 29 Jan 2013)

The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry
Edited by Sudeep Sen
HarperCollins Publishers, India, 2012. Pb. Pp.540. Rs. 599.

Panchali’s Pledge Subramania Bharti
Translated by Usha Rajagopalan
Everyman Classics, Hachette India, 2012. Pb. Pp. 274 Rs. 350

Dom Moraes: Selected Poems
Edited with an introduction by Ranjit Hoskote. Penguin Books India, 2012, Pb. Pp.282. Rs 499.

The River Speaks: The Vaiyai Poems from the Paripatal
Translated by V. N. Muthukumar and Elizabeth Rani Segran
Penguin Classics, Penguin Books India, 2012. Pb. Pp. 176. Rs. 250

These my Words: The Penguin Book of Indian Poetry
Edited by Eunice de Souza and Melanie Silgardo
Penguin Books, India, 2012. Pb. Pp. 450 Rs. 499

In the company of a poet: Gulzar in conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir
Rainlight, Rupa Publications, Delhi, 2012. Hb. Pp. 206. Rs 499

2012 was a delicious year for poetry from and being published in India. There were plenty of books to choose from — anthologies, collections, translations and some even for children. The anthology edited by Eunice de Souza and Melanie Silgardo (p.xxi) “comprises almost thirty languages and dialects, all translated into the English except of course those poems written in English. It includes poems, folk songs, and oral narratives that have now been transcribed. We have sought for a collection which tries to represent the breadth and diversity of Indian poetry – we wanted poems that surprised and delighted, poems that illuminated, and inspired further reading—a book for readers, not scholars and academics. We chose poems that worked in translation, those which crossed the boundary of language, which faithfulness to the original combined with adaptation to produced work that existed on its own merit.” It gives a good bird’s-eye view of what was written over the centuries, the various traditions that spawned poems and the transformation to the form over time. While reading it, you get a sense of the variety of poetry, the forms, the reasons why poetry is written and what can actually travel in translation. It is extremely difficult for me to even give a snippet of what is in the anthology since every poem is perfect. It forces you to engage with the content, takes you to a different world and time, and yet encourages you to move on to read the next poem. In no way is it dull to read such a volume.

In fact the editors achieve very well what Gulzar says in the absolutely delicious book In the company of a poet: Gulzar in conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir that poetry is about “direct communication” and “What a poem says on the surface is not all that it means. You have to unpick the lines and see the shadows of words. That what makes it poetry, otherwise it would be prose. You usually have to be less ambiguous in prose, which is often an elaboration of thoughts: whereas in poetry, thoughts are usually compressed. A poem has an element of mystery. You have to unravel that mystery. Of course it depends on every poet—how much they reveal, and how much they choose not to.” He adds, “when you understand a poem’s meaning, you can never forget it. You find yourself reciting it at some occasion and it is appreciated. The idea of writing poetry appealed to me because reciting poetry is so pleasurable and the appreciation I got made me happy.”

I wish though that Eunice de Souza and Melanie Silgardo had a longer note about the translation process. Or at least got a few of the translators to speak and then carry a transcript of it as an afterword on their experience at translating poetry. Obviously it takes a while for a satisfactory conclusion to be achieved. An insight into this is given by Sudeep Sen in his Aria introduction on translating poetry “Sculpting language, altering tongues, intoning arias” (p.4), “In almost all instances — whether it be Hebrew, Danish, Korean, Macedonian, Polish, Persian, Spanish or Portuguese — I have worked closely with poets of the source languages themselves. They would do literal translations of the original poems in very raw prose. Once I got down the contents in an accurate version, I would then enter the process more proactively and often singularly to sculpt and revise the jagged prose texts to give them a poetic shape in English. After every revision and draft, I would ask the poet to read aloud the poems in their original tongue, so that I got down the rhythm, rhyme, and the cadence correctly — getting them as close to the original as is possible. Once both the poet in the original language and I as a translator were happy with the versions we came up with — which happened through several working sessions over extended periods of time — we would let go of the poems in their new avatar, in a new language.” Maybe knowing this he chose to consciously create a useful anthology of English poetry by Indians (based in the country and from the diaspora). It was fifteen years in the making, but it is time well spent. Unfortunately that is not the case with Usha Rajagoplan’s translations of Subramania Bharti’s Panchali’s Pledge. I cannot read the poems in the source language but I realize that the translations are missing something from the original.

Of the recent set of publications on poetry my favourites are the translations of Lal Ded’s poetry by Ranjit Hoskote (I, Lalla) and his selection of Dom Moraes poems. Even if you have never read poetry or been hesitant about taking a dip in it, start with Ranjit Hoskote’s introductions. His selection, translations and arrangement of the poems introduces you to the poets, their techiniques, form and evolution very well.

And if you have children. Then some of the anthologies that I absolutely enjoy reading out aloud to my daughter are The Rattle Bag edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes; The Puffin Book of Nonsense Verse selected and illustrated by Quentin Blake; The Puffin Book of Modern Children’s Verse edited by Brian Patten, illustrated by Michael Foreman (revised and updated); The Macmillan Treasury of Poetry for Children with a foreword by Charles Causley and A first poetry book selected by Pie Corbett and Gaby Morgan (published by Macmillan). As Charles Causley who used to be a school teacher till one day he discovered the joys of reading poetry to his students says, “A poet, of course, is not obliged to make a poem, whatever its form, entirely accessible at a first reading. A poem, by its nature, may hold certain qualities in reserve. It may not burn itself out, so to speak, in one brilliant flash of light. A poem is a living organism, capable of continuous development and the most subtle of changes. It may contain both a revelation and a mystery. We need to be aware not only of what is said, but of what the poet most carefully has left unsaid.” Pie Corbett says it aptly “Let the poems become shafts of sunlight to brighten up the day.”