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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 22, Dated 04 June 2011

That space between needle and thread

This anthology of Hindi poetry is refreshing but the criteria for selection is left unsaid, says K Satchidanandan

Rahul Soni and Giriraj Kiradoo

Holding fort Rahul Soni and Giriraj Kiradoo

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

THERE ARE very few anthologies of contemporary Hindi poetry in English translation. Its range and variety, the consequent fear of mis/under-representation and the shortage of competent translators are the main reasons for the drought. I know only of two predecessors to this book: Survival, an anthology of 10 poets edited by Daniel Weissbort and Girdhar Rathi (1990) and the more comprehensive An Anthology of Modern Hindi Poetry edited by Kailash Vajpeyi (1995).

Home from a distance
Rahul Soni and Giriraj Kiradoo, Ed. Pratilipi 96 pp; Rs 100

Home from a Distance presents 19 poets, seven of whose works are absent in previous collections. Poets’ names are arranged in the alphabetical order, overcoming hierarchising. The speaker in Arun Kamal’s poems feels estranged in a constantly transforming world; memory is of little help in this evolving locale: “Old landscapes betray me... The world becomes old in a day/as though it was spring when I left and now it is autumn” (Into a New Locale). Asad Zaidi is more directly political when he articulates the despair of the martyrs of 1857 urging modern Indians to fight injustice and finish the martyrs’ mission. Ashok Vajpeyi’s companion poems, Near and Far work through paradoxes: “Near the stone was the tree.../Near the Word was the stone/Each was near the other/But Time was near none”. Dhoomil is easily one of the most powerful poets here, still fresh and vibrantly relevant: “Is freedom merely the name/of three exhausted colours/dragged by a wheel..?” (Twenty Years after Independence)


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Kamlesh’s poems have a Rilke-like visionary quality: “Vishnupriya of the midnight, the stones of these/hills resound with your breasts” (Vishnupriya); it becomes nightmarish at times: “All our ancestors lay suspended, clinging to the banyan roots tied to their feet...” In Kedarnath Singh’s poem, An Argument About Horses, there is pathos when the poet recalls his mother squeezed for 60 years between a needle and a thread. The poems from Shrikant Verma’s Magadh and of Kunwar Narain are informed by a deep and ironic sense of history: “The true bone of contention / was what didn’t happen” (The Real Reason). To Manglesh Dabral, old photographs are an armour to fight the greed of our times. In Uday Prakash’s Tibet, a child’s questions echo a nation’s tragedy. The poems of Vishnu Khare and Vinod Kumar Shukla are refreshingly different in addressing personal experiences while Teji Grover, Shirish Doble and Udayan Vajpeyi use an interesting avant-garde idiom.

This book is a welcome addition to the thin repertoire of poetry in readable English translation and Pratilipi ought to be felicitated. The lay reader only wishes the selection criteria and the implied historical-aesthetic perspective is not entirely left to conjecture.

The writer is a Malayalam poet and bilingual critic.

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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 22, Dated 04 June 2011



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