book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (ed)

Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna (ed);

The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets

Oxford University Press 1993, 182 pages

ISBN 0195628675

topics: |  poetry | anthology | india | english

contains 130 poems by twelve indian english poets: nissim ezekiel, jayanta mahapatra, a.k. ramanujan, arun kolatkar, keki n. daruwalla, dom moraes, dilip chitre, eunice de souza, adil jussawalla,, agha shahid ali vikram seth, and manohar shetty.

both the selections, and also the individual introductions, are superlative. this volume definitely sets the standard for poetry anthologies in india.

having said that, let's begin with my quibbles on the selection.

kamala das?

kamala das is, in my view, the most prominent indian poet who should have belonged here. clearly, mehrotra has his issues with her.. personally though, dom moraes or ezekiel or jussawalla don't excite me as much as das - but then each man to his own poetry...

and as his acerbic introductions reveal, mehrotra is going for the subjective. he can castrate even the poets he anthologizes, (see ezekiel intro below). still, one wonders about what mehrotra (and a few others) don't like in kamala das - is she considered "inelegant", her voice to loud and screeching? perhaps her vividness is considered loud in some circles? certainly her poetry is a world apart from that of jayanta mahapatra, say. but we relate to her! keep her in!!

maybe this is an issue of form over substance; i err toward substance - poetry should strike a chord...

when i open any of dozens of das poems, they touch me more viscerally than many on this list. my list has her right up there, along with agha and ramanujan and kolatkar.

another thought - could it be that those who have met her don't like her
poetry as much?  to me it is only the text, which speaks, but i know it can
be otherwise.  surely those who lived through the publication of das'
contentious autobiography, 'my story', would wonder about her motives for
publishing certain things... one wonders about the politics of liking poetry...

also, mehrotra omits himself... now that is surely modesty, for he
certainly belongs in any list of top twelve.

arvind mehrotra; (image: winterline center for arts)
wiki | outlook magazine |
nominated for oxford poetry professor (lost to Ruth Padel)

a search for new voices?

finally, both these omissions may be because both Das and Mehrotra have already been anthologized. several times. every anthologist feels a tension between presenting new works, new voices, and that of presenting what will stand the ravages of time. r. parthasarathy 1976 anthology, ten 20th c. indian poets, includes both das and mehrotra. but then there are five who are repeated- only omitted are: shiv k kumar, gieve patel and parthasarathy...

Number of books with author name in title

but my thinking is that perhaps mehrotra doesn't include das because she is "common" - everyone knows of her. as of today, she is by far the most written about indian poet; here is my research on books written about our poets, where their name appears not as author but in the title

	(research based on google-books advanced search jan2012)

		kamala das : 		42
		nissim ezekiel : 	32
		vikram seth :  		32 (mostly in his novelist hat)
		a  k ramanujan : 	25
		jayanta mahapatra : 	15
		dilip chitre : 		12
		arun kolatkar : 	 7
		r parthasarathy : 	 7 (incl at least 2 books by other r parthasarathy's)
		keki n daruwalla : 	 6
		shiv k kumar : 		 6 (incl 2 edited defoe works)
		agha shahid ali : 	 5
		gieve patel: 		 5 (all abt his paintings)
		sujata bhatt: 		 2
		arvind mehrotra : 	 1
		adil jussawalla : 	 1
		eunice de souza : 	 0

i am sure there are books about other poets that i have not looked up, but
it's clear that das is the champ.  partly, of course, because she is also a
major malayalam author.  at the same time, she does not have the
glamour of translation legend ramanujan or even the pioneering ezekiel -
nor the rebel voice of chitre or the officialdom of daruwalla - but then
critics will say it is her godforsaken publicity-greedy ways, not just
the magic of her words ... well - but i think time will vindicate me on

Introduction: Arvind K Mehrotra

The intro by AKM provides an excellent overview of the conflicts facing the
Indian English poets.

"anthologies are graveyards" - 1

"Kill that nonsense term," Adil Jussawalla said of Indo-Anglian, "and
kill it quickly." p.1
[mostly, "Indo-Anglian" -> poetry between 1825 and 1945, this lit is truly
dead; AKM doesn't consider Sarojini Naidu and Aurobindo to have been poets]

AK Ramanujan: "I no longer can tell what comes from where."

The languages AKR writes in, those he translates from, and those he
translates into are 'continuous with each other'.

    English and my disciplines (linguistics, anthropology) give me my 'outer'
    forms -- linguistic, metrical, logical and other such ways of shaping
    experience; and my first thirty years in Inda, my freq visits and
    fieldtrips, my personal and professional preoccupations with Kannada,
    Tamil, the classica snd folkloregive me my substance, my 'inner' forms,
    images and symbols.  They are continuous with each other, and I no longer
    can tell what comes from where. [Quoted in parthasarathy-1976-ten-20th-century.html|, ed. R
    Parthasarathy, Delhi 1976, 95-] 3

A poem by Arun Kolatkar is a pattern cut in language, the grainy material without
which there would be no self to speak of.  What name we afterwards give the
material makes little difference:

	main bhAbhiko bolA
	kya bhAisAbke dyuTipe main A jAu?
	bhaRak gayi sAlI
	rahmAn bolA golI chalAungA
	mai bolA ek raNDIke wAste?
	chalao golI gaNDu

The poem is written in Bombay Hindi, publ in Kolatkar's book of Marathi
poems, transl by him into American English, and, rightly, has been included
in an anthology of Indian verse in English:

      		allow me beautiful
	   i said to my sister in law
		to step in my brother's booties
		    you had it coming said rehman
		a gun in his hand
			 shoot me punk
	kill your brother i said
		  for a bloody cunt  ('Three cups of Tea')
		      [in Saleem Peeradina, Contemp Indian Poetry in English, 1972]

'Three cups of Tea suggests the idea that all languages are perhaps one
language.  It also makes you ask if language is not in the end superfluous
to poetry.  Kolatkar himself appears to believe so, for in matters
linguistic he is a monk, renouncing all but the most essential words,
keeping punctuation to a minimum, and shunning the excitement of the first
person singular.

Writing in English

Making a statement on his work, Agha Shahid Ali spoke for many

    I think we in the subcontinent have been granted a rather unique
    opportunity: to contribute to the Engl language in ways that Brit,Am,Aus,Can
    cannot.  We can do things with the syntax that will bring the language
    alive in rich and strange ways, and though poetry should have led the
    way, it is a novelist, Salman Rushdie, who has shown the poets a way: he
    has, to quote an essay I read somewhere, chutnified English.  And the
    confidence to do this could only have come in the post-Independence
    generation.  The earlier gens followed the rules inflicted by the rulers
    so strictly that it is almost embarrassing.  They also followed models,
    esp the models of realism, in ways that imprisoned them.  I think we can
    do a lot more.  What I am looking forward to -- to borrow another
    metaphor from food - is the biryanization (I'm chutnifying) of English.
    Behind my work, I hope, readers can sometimes hear the music of Urdu.  Of
    course all this has to do with an emoptional identification on my part
    with north Indian muslim culture, which is steeped in Urdu.  I, as I have
    grown older, have felt the need to idenitfy myself as a north Indian
    Muslim (not in any sectarian sense but in a cultural sense).  And I do
    not feel that this culture is necessarily the province of the Muslims
    (after all, Firaq Gorakhpuri was a Hindu) and many non-Muslim Indians can
    also consider themselves culturally Muslim.  I am not familiar with
    Saleem Peeradina's work, but I think I am among the very few Indians
    writing in English identifying myself in these terms.  [Letter to AKM

The native tongue behind English lines

With important exceptions [Dom Moraes, V Seth, early poems of Adil Juss]
the native tongue operates behind the lines of the Engl poets... the
language we licked off our mother's teats is the first layer, then those we
picked up from nbrs, and lastly, English, that we learned at school -- and
the language that will happen for the rest of our lives, bright as a
butterfly's wing or a piece of tin aimed at the throat, to paraphrase from
Adil J's 'Missing Person' - is the topmost layer.

However, an Indian poet is not just someone who transports linguistic and
cultural materials from the inner layers to the surface, from Indian mother
tongue to Engl... A good poem is a good poem, and not because it matches the
colour of one's skin or passport.

What Parthasarathy wrote in Ramanujan's defence following the publication
of an article mildly critical of him in Jayanta Mahapatra's magazine

    that Ramanujan's work offers the first indisputable evidence of the
    validity of Indian Engl verse.  Both The Striders_ (1966) and
    Relations (1971) are the heir of an anterior tradition, a tradition
    very much of this subcontinent, the deposits of which are in Kannada
    and Tamil, and which have been assimilated into English. Ramanujan's
    deepest roots are in the Tamil and Kannada past, and he has repossessed
    that past, in fact made it avlaible in the English language.  'Prayers
    to Lord Murugan' is, for instance, embedded in, and arises from, a
    specific tradition.  It is, in effect, the first step towards
    establishing an indigenous tradition of Indian English verse. [Letters,
    ChandrabhAgA_, Cuttack, No.2 (Winter 1979), p.66]

Ramanujan's Chicago Zen - multilingual poets 2-fold condition - interior
spaces divided on the one hand and conjoined in the other: 7

	Watch your step. Sight may strike you
	blind in unexpected places.

	The traffic light turns orange
	on 57th and Dorchester, and you stumble,

	you fall into a vision of forest fires,
	enter a frothing Himalayan river,

	rapid, silent.

Is writing in English irrelevant to India?

Even after 200 years, the Indian poet who writes in Engl is looked upon with
suspicion by other Ind writers, as though he did not belong either to the
subcontinent of his birth or its lit.   misconceptions... that he writes for
a foreign audience, and his readers are not in Allahabad and Cuttack but in
Boston and London.

Editorial in Frontier, left-wing weekly from Calcutta, May 1990: [Ind Engl
	poets] are treated as irrelevant by the vernacular academicians due
	to absence of nativity. 7

Engl poetry from small presses: JM's The False start 1980, Kolatkar's Jejuri
1976, Chitre's Travelling in a cage 80, Eunice de Souza's Fix 79, Women in
Dutch painting (1988), Adil J's Missing P (1976), and Manohar Shetty's A
guarded space (1980), Borrowed time (1988). The editions were small and the
distribn negligible ==> why anthologies become necessary. 8

revive neglected works [omitting Kamala Das and R. Parthasarathy] - reveal
the "sharp-edged quality of Indian verse"...

(poem excerrpts appear after contents)


(with links to longer extracts)

Introduction  1

      A Poem of Dedication                           13
      My Cat                                         14
      For Love's Record                              14
      Case Study                                     15
      Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher                       16
      Paradise Flycatcher                            17
      Two Images                                     18
      After Reading a Prediction                     18

      A Rain of Rites                                23
      I Hear my Fingers Sadly Touching an Ivory Key  23
      Hunger                                         24
      Hands                                          24
      The Moon Moments                               25
      A Kind of Happiness                            26
      The Door                                       27
      The Abandoned British Cemetery at Balasore     27
      The Captive Air of Chandipur-on-Sea            29
      Of that Love                                   29
      The Vase                                       30
      Days                                           31
      Waiting                                        32

      The Striders                                   38
      Breaded Fish                                   38
      Looking for a Cousin on a Swing                39
      Self-Portrait                                  40
      Anxiety                                        40
      Case History                                   40
      Love Poem for a Wife. 2                        41
      The Hindoo: the Only Risk                      44
      Snakes and Ladders                             44
      On the Death of a Poem                         45
      Highway Stripper                               45
      Moulting                                       49
      Chicago Zen                                    49

      Woman                                          56
      Suicide of Rama                                56
      Irani Restaurant Bombay                        57
      Crabs                                          58
      Biograph                                       60
      From Jejuri
          The Bus                                    62
          Heart of Ruin                              63
          Chaitanya                                  64
          A Low Temple                               64
          The Pattern                                65
          The Horseshoe Shrine                       65
          Manohar                                    66
          Chaitanya                                  66
          The Butterfly                              66
          A Scratch                                  67
          Ajamil and the Tigers                      68
          Chaitanya                                  70
          Between Jejuri and the Railway Station     71
          The Railway Station                        72

      Hawk                                           80
      The King Speak to the Scribe                   82
      The Unrest of Desire                           84
      wolf                                           85
      Fish are Speared by Night                      86
      Chinar                                         87
      Night Fishing                                  87

      Autobiography                                  92
      Words to a Boy                                 93
      Two from Israel                                93
      Prophet                                        96
      Key                                            96
      From Interludes
          VII. Library                               97
      Sinbad                                         98

      From Steles
          I. The work works. The world doesn't       98
          IV. What is this adrift from Chile         99
          VI. On my stele, mark colours              100
          VII. She in her youth arose                100
          VIII. Time and the river, aflame           101
          X. Floes creak out of the north            101
      Future Plans                                   102

      The Light of Birds Breaks the Lunatic's Sleep  106
      From Travelling in a Cage
          2. I came in the middle of my life to a    106
          5. The door I was afraid to open           107
          7. All I hear is the fraying of the wind   108
          8. I woke up and looked at my empty white bed  108
          19. Where can I hide now in this           109
          21. O quick knives curving into the core   109
      In Limbo                                       110
      Pushing a Cart                                 110
      Of Garlic and Such                             111
      The Felling of the Banyan Tree                 111
      Father Returning Home                          112
      Panhala                                        113

      Feeding the Poor at Christmas                  116
      Sweet Sixteen                                  116
      Miss Louise                                    117
      Forgive Me, Mother                             118
      For My Father, Dead Young                      118
      de Souza Prabhu                                119
      Women in Dutch Painting                        119
      She and I                                      120
      Eunice                                         120
      Advice to Women                                121
      For Rita's Daughter, Just Born                 121
      From Five London Pieces
          III. Meeting Poets                         122

      Land's End                                     128
      Evening on a Mountain                          129
      Halt X                                         129
      Bats                                           130
      From Missing Person
          1.3 A___ ___'s a giggle now                 131
          1.6 Black vamps break out of hell          132
          1.7 In a brief clearing                    132
          1.9 He travels the way of devotion         133
          1.13 Less time for kicks                   133
          II.1 No Satan                              134
          II.2 His hands were slavish                134
          II.5 Few either/ors                        135
      Nine Poems on Arrival                          136
      Freedom Song                                   137
      Connection                                     138

      Postcard from Kashmir                          141
      Snowmen                                        141
      Cracked Portraits                              142
      The Dacca Gauzes                               144
      The Season of the Plains                       145
      The Previous Occupant                          147

      Guest                                          151
      The Humble Administrator's Garden              151
      Evening Wheat                                  152
      The Accountant's House                         152
      From an 'East is Red' Steamer                  153
      Ceasing Upon the Midnight                      153
      Unclaimed                                      155
      From The Golden Gate                         156
      Soon                                           160

      Fireflies                                      163
      Foreshadows                                    163
      Gifts                                          164
      Wounds                                         164
      Domestic Creatures                             166
      Bats                                           167
      Departure                                      168
      Moving Out                                     169

nissim ezekiel jayanta mahapatra a k ramanujan arun kolatkar


from Intro by Mehrotra

even now I cannot read Ezekiel without reservation.  Often the writing seems
   At twenty-seven or so
   I met the girl who's now
   my wife...
the language is under no pressure
   You arrived
   with sari clinging
   to your breast
   and hips...
and if one may shift the poetic reference from context to author, the man
himself hopelessly priapic
   "Is this part of you?"
   she asks,
   as she holds it, stares at it.
   Then she laughs."

Apart from being the first modern poet in the literature, Ezekiel was himself
a good poet once. 9

My Cat: Nissim Ezekiel p.14

My cat, unlike Verlaine's or Baudelaire's
Is neither diabolic nor a sphinx.
Though equally at home on laps or chairs,
She will not be caressed, nor plays the minx.

She has a single mood, she's merely bored,
Yawns and walks away, retires to sleep.
Has never sniffed at where the fish is stored
Nor known to relish milk; less cat than sheep.

She does not condescend to chase a rat
Or play with balls of wool or show her claws
To teasing guests, but in my basement flat
Defies all animal and human laws
Of love and hate.

        One night I'll drown this cat.

FOR LOVE'S RECORD: Nissim Ezekiel p.16

I watched the woman walk away with him.
And now I think of her as bold and kind,
Who gathered men as shells and put them by,
No matter how they loved she put them by

I found no evil in her searching eyes.
Such love as hers could bearn no common code.
Vibrating woman in her nights of joy,
Who gathered men as shells and put them by

With her I kept my distance (not too far)
But heard the music of her quickened breath.
Laughing sorcerress to harlequins,
Who gathered men as shells and put them by

Against my will but somehow reconciled,
I let her go who gave but would not bind.
She grew in love abandoning her ties,
No matter how they loved she put them by

Paradise Flycatcher: Nissim Ezekiel : 17

		(An entry in a bird-watcher's diary relates how, while dozing
		in his garden, he noticed the long, white streamers of a
		paradise flycatcher moving against the green of a casurina
		tree. He is delighted for a moment, then remembers sadly how
		the previous bird he had seen of the same species had been
		shot down while he was admiring it.)

	White streamers moving briskly on the green
	Casurina, rouse the sleepy watcher
	From a dream of rarest birds
	To this reality. A grating sound
	Is all the language of the bird,
	Spelling death to flies and moths
	Who go this way to Paradise.
	Its mask of black, with tints of green,
	Exactly as described in books on Indian birds,
	Is legend come alive to the dreamer
	Whose eyes are fixed on it in glad surprise.

	So many years ago, its predecessor
	Came — it was an afternoon like this—
	And clung with shaking streamers
	To the same casurina, catching flies;
	But Fate that day, not the dreamer only,
	Fixed his eyes on it and shot it down.
	It lay with red and red upon its white,
	Uncommon bird no longer, in the mud.
	The live one flashes at the watcher
	Chestnut wings; the dead is buried in his mind.

Jayanta Mahapatra

A RAIN OF RITES: Jayanta Mahapatra p.23

Sometims a rain comes
slowly across the sky, that turns
upon its grey cloud, breaking away into light
before it reaches its objective.

The rain I have known and traded all this life
is thrown like kelp on the beach.
Like some shape of conscience I cannot look at,
a malignant purpose is a nun's eye.

Who was the last man on earth,
to whom the cold cloud brought the blood to his face?	[?]
Numbly I climb to the mountain-tops of ours
where my own soul quivers on the edge of answers.

Which still, stale air sits on an angel's wings?
What holds my rain so it's hard to overcome?


Swans sink wordlessly to the carpet
miles of polished floors
reach out
for the glass of voices

There are gulls crying everywhere
and glazed green grass
in the park with the swans
folding their cold throats.

HUNGER : Jayanta Mahapatra p.24

It was hard to believe the flesh was heavy on my back.
The fisherman said: Will you have her, carelessly,
trailing his nets and his nerves, as though his words
sanctified the purpose with which he faced himself.
I saw his white bone thrash his eyes.

I followed him across the sprawling sands,
my mind thumping in the flesh's sling.
Hope lay perhaps in burning the house I lived in.
Silence gripped my sleeves; his body clawed at the froth
his old nets had only dragged up from the seas.

In the flickering dark his lean-to opened like a wound.
The wind was I, and the days and nights before.
Palm fronds scratched my skin. Inside the shack
an oil lamp splayed the hours bunched to those walls.
Over and over the sticky soot crossed the space of my mind.

I heard him say: My daughter, she's just turned fifteen...
Feel her. I'll be back soon, your bus leaves at nine.
The sky fell on me, and a father's exhausted wile.
Long and lean, her years were cold as rubber.
She opened her wormy legs wide. I felt the hunger there,
the other one, the fish slithering, turning inside.

OF THAT LOVE (p.29) : Jayanta Mahapatra

Of that love, of that mile
walked together in the rain,
only a weariness remains.

I am that stranger now
my mirror holds to me;
the moment's silence
hardly moves across the glass
I pity myself in another's guise.

And no one's back here, no one
I can recognize, and from my side
I see nothing.  Years have passed
since I sat with you, watching
the sky grow lonelier with cloudlessness
waiting for your body to make it lived in.

A. K. Ramanujan

Self-Portrait: AK Ramanujan

I resemble everyone
but myself, and sometimes see
in shop-windows,
despite the well-known laws
of optics,
the portrait of a stranger,
date unknowns,
often signed in a corner
by my father.

On the death of a poem : A. K. Ramanujan p.45

Images consult

a conscience-

and come
to a sentence.

Chicago Zen : A. K. Ramanujan

	     from Second Sight (1986)

Now tidy your house,
dust especially your living room

and do not forget to name
all your children.


Watch your step. Sight may strike you
blind in unexpected places.

The traffic light turns orange
on 57th and Dorchester, and you stumble,

you fall into a vision of forest fires,
enter a frothing Himalayan river,

rapid, silent.

     On the 14th floor,
Lake Michigan crawls and crawls

in the window. Your thumbnail
cracks a lobster louse on the windowpane

from your daughter's hair
and you drown, eyes open,

towards the Indies, the antipodes.
And you, always so perfectly sane.


Now you know what you always knew:
the country cannot be reached

by jet. Nor by boat on jungle river,
hashish behind the Monkey-temple,

nor moonshot to the cratered Sea
of Tranquillity, slim circus girls

on a tightrope between tree and tree
with white parasols, or the one

and only blue guitar.

     Nor by any
other means of transport,

migrating with a clean valid passport,
no, not even by transmigrating

without any passport at all,
but only by answering ordinary

black telephones, questions
walls and small children ask,

and answering all calls of nature.


Watch your step, watch it, I say,
especially at the first high

     and the sudden low
one near the end
of the flight
of stairs,

     and watch
for the last
step that's never there.

["Chicago Zen" exemplifies the theme of
transnationalism, and might be an attempt to imagine himself as
another hybrid image. : ]

Woman: Arun Kolatkar

a woman may collect cats read thrillers
her insomnia may seep through the great walls of history
a lizard may paralyze her
a sewing machine may bend her
moonlight may intercept the bangle
circling her wrist

a woman my name her cats
the circulating library
may lend her new thrillers
a spiked man may impale her
a woman may add
a new recipe to her scrapbook

judiciously distilling her whimper the city lights
may declare it null and void
in a prodigious weather
above a darkling woman
surgeons may shoot up and explode
in a weather fraught with forceps
woman may damn

a woman may shave her legs regularly
a woman may take up landscape painting
a woman may poison
twenty three cockroaches

Irani Restaurant Bombay : Arun Kolatkar 57

the cockeyed shah of iran watches the cake
decompose carefully in the cracked showcase;
distracted only by a fly on the make
as it finds in a loafer' s wrist an operational base.

dogmatically green and elaborate trees defeat
breeze, the crooked swan begs pardon
if it distuib the pond; the road neat
as a needle points at a lovely cottage with a garden.

the thirsty loafer sees the stylised perfection
of such a landscape in a glass of water wobble
a sticky tea print for his scholarly attention
singles out a verse from the blank testament of the table

an instant of mirrors turns the tables on space.
while promoting darkness under the chair, the cat
in its two timing sleep dreams evenly and knows
dreaming as an administrative problem, his cigarette

lit, the loafer, affecting the exactitude of a pedagogue
places the match in the tea circle and sees it rise:
as when to identify a corpse one visits a morgue
and politely the corpse rises from a block of ice

the burnt match with the tea circle makes a rude
compass, the heretic needle jabs a black star.
tables, chairs, mirrors are night that needs to be sewed
and cashier is where at seams it comes apart.

keki daruwalla dom moraes dilip chitre

Keki N. Daruwalla

Hawk: Keki N. Daruwalla


I saw the wild hawk-king this morning
riding an ascending wind
as he drilled sky.
The land beneath him was filmed with salt:
grass-seed, insect, bird
nothing could thrive here. But he was lost
in the momentum of his own gyre,
a frustrated parricide on the kill.
The fuse of his hate was burning still.
But in the evening he hovered above

the groves, a speck of barbed passion.
Crow, mynah and pigeon roosted here
while parakeets flew raucously by.
And then he ran amuck,
a rapist in the harem of the sky.
As he went up with a pigeon
skewered to his heel-talon
he scanned the other birds, marking out their fate,
the ones he would scoop up next,
those black dregs in the cup of his hate!

The tamed one is worse, for he is touched by man.
When snared in the woods
his eyelids are sewn with silk
as he is broken to the hood.
He is momentarily blinded, starved.
Then the scar over his vision is perforated.
Morsels of vision are fed to his eyes
as he is unblinded stitch by relenting stitch.
Slowly the world re-forms:
mud walls, trees burgeon.
His eye travels like the eye of the storm.
Discovering his eye
and the earth and sky
with it, he leaps from earth to ether.
Now the sky is his eyrie.
He ferocious floats on splayed wings;
then plummets like a flare,
smoking, and a gust of feathers
proclaims that he has struck.
The tamed one is worse, for he is touched by man
Hawking is turned to a ritual, the predator's
passion honed to an art;
as they feed the hawk by carving the breast
Of the quarry bird and gouging out his heart


They have flushed him out of the tall grasses,
the hare, hunted now
in pairs by mother hawk and son.
They can't kill him in one fell swoop.
But each time the talons cart away
a patch of ripped fur.
He diminishes, one talon-morsel at a time.
He is stunned by the squall of wings above.
His heart is a burning stable
packed with whinnying horses.
His blood writes stories on the scuffed grass!
His movements are a scribble on the page of death.


I wouldn't know when I was stolen from the eyrie
I can't remember when I was ensnared.
I only know the leather disc
which blots out the world
and the eyelids which burn with thwarted vision

Then the perforations, and yet
the blue iris of heaven does not come through.
I can think of a patch of blue sky
when shown a blue slide.
But I am learning how to spot the ones
crying for the right to dream, the right to flesh,
the right to sleep with their own wives
I have placed them. I am sniffing
the air currents, deciding when to pounce.

I will hover like a black prophesy
weaving its moth-soft cocoon of death.
I shall drive down
with the compulsive thrust of gravity,
trained for havoc,
my eyes focused on them
like the sights of a gun.

During the big drought which is surely going to come
the doves will look up for clouds, and it will rain hawks.

Dilip Chitre (1938- )

from mehrotra's intro:
In a 1989 speech, Chitre says:

	[An Indian English poet's Englishness] is as questioned as are his
	claims to English.  ... his enemies argue that only a living Indian
	language can give a poet access to uniquely Indian experience.

	In the same vein they argue that since English is hadly a living
	Indian language, the Indian English poet's lg is always dated or
	stilted or overstylized or is unnatural in other ways.  These two
	major limitations stifle his self-expression ... and his freedom as
	an artist.

	These arguments are based on profound misconceptions about both the
	role of a native culture in literary art and the role of language in
	poetry.  First, native cultures [if not dead, are not] closed and

	All surviving cultures in our increasingly global civilization have
	to create their own future in a global space and time... Art
	generates new information within such an open system which contains
	[a] vast memory.

	Linguistic spaces intersect one another, and where they fuse or split
	there are strange twilight areas.  Since no country speaks a poet's
	language, a poet's language itself becomes his landscape and his

	The potential strength of Indian English poetry is going to be
	derived from native Indian literatures and not without them.  The
	ability to transform non-Anglo-Saxon cultural and poetic traditions
	into the global mainstream of English literature will give Indian
	English poetry its sustenance in the coming decades, provided Indian
	English poets discover the nourishing activity of poetic translation
	as a major aspect of [their] creativity.  p. 103-4

Just as Rimbaud associated vowels with colours, Chitre associates literary
forms with modes of death:
		Murders are lyrics
		Genocide is epic
		But the greatest of all forms is suicide.
				(Travelling in a cage, section 18)

Travelling in a Cage: Dilip Chitre

2. I came in the middle of my life p.106

I came in the middle of my life to a
Furnished apartment. By now my pubic hair
Was already greying. And I could see the dirty

Old man under my own skin.  It was not the
Absolute end but the beginning of it. The air
Smelt of dead rats and I was reaching the age of forty.

In the manner one reaches an empty shelf.  Where
Are all of you, my dear departed bald ones?
Angels wearing wigs, gods cleaning dentures?

I began to sit at the typewriter hurriedly hitting
Nails in the logs of silence.  The ashtrays were full.
The tea grew cold before I remembered to drink it.

Words.  More and more words..  Clear as a city street
At midday.  I will leave behind a more garbled version
Of the same world..  The richer for my own noise.

5. The door I was afraid to open p.107

The door I was afraid to open
was autumn
The door I was afraid to open
Was autumn
One luminous month of remembering
The dark smell of rotting leaves in her voice
While the sensuous shadows of trees burned in the river
I became an insect of solitude in the grass
Sitting at the very edge of the season

And in the yellow darkness of the bar
I inhaled another country's noise and perishable warmth
Looked in astonishment at her lips
Finely injured by a smile
And tried to guess the bitter taste of gin and tonic
As the rim of her glass shone directly in my eyes

Later we traggered home and undressed
Before i turned the light off i saw her skinny shoulders
What kind of wind was making love to leafless tres
Outside the door i was always afraid to open

7. All i hear is the fraying of the wind

All i hear is the fraying of the wind among splayed tres
The ailing voice of the sea in my mind's own distance
And her breasts shivering in the grey rain of my fingers
The skin has no memory and the memory has no skin
Hoy can i claim to have known the wetness of her mouth
A dog howled while we made love
And the window-pane was White as Winter
Now that i have switched off lights it is only a sheet
The smell of roasted meat still lingers in the room
And she is a charp grain of salt to my unforgetting tongue
Tomorrow the hair of my poem will suddenly turn grey
The wind will have fallen when i enter
The sad space of the bathroom with its questioning mirrors

8. I woke up and looked

I woke up and looked at my empty white bed
Wondered if it looked slept in at all
I looked at the walls of my room and out the window
Wondered what the meaning of the word space was

I opened the faucets and watched the rushing miracle
Wondered what water really was and why it had to be wet
Then i looked into the mirror wich was deep and clear
Wondered if the reverse of me was equally true

Then I opened a book of Ghalib's poems
In which he also wondered
What the cure of this disease was
What grass comes out of and what really is the air.

Dilip Chitre : Pushing a Cart 110

Pushing a cart through the brilliant
Interior of an American supermarket
It occurs to me that my private but hired refrigerator
Cannot contain all the hunger of India
What meats can I store in my mind
What fruits and cheeses can I hope to make permanent
These fat and insomniac mothers pushing their
Infants and groceries over these wide floors
Say nothing to a man temporarily exiled
Into affluence and freedom
Silently and not without envy
I warn the sexy undergraduate next to me
Watch your cholesterol, honey,
Who are you fattening yourself for, anyway?

Dilip Chitre : Of garlic and such 111

praise the garlic for its tight
integration of cloves and its white
concealment of unbearable astringence.

praise the onion for keeping
its eye-opening secret
under so many identical skins.

praise woman for her genderless
passion hidden in a familiar body
the rippling enigma of her inner form.

then damn yourself
lord of nothing
sheathe your murderous sword.

eunice de souza adil jussawala

Eunice de Souza

Meeting Poets p.120

Meeting poets I am disconcerted sometimes
by the colour of their socks
the suspicion of a wig
the wasp in the voice
and an air, sometimes, of dankness.

Best to meet in poems:
cool speckled shells
in which one hears
a sad but distant sea.

She and I p.120

Perhaps he never died.
We mourned him separately,
in silence,
she and I.

Suddenly at seventy-eight
she tells me his jokes,
his stories, the names of
paintings he loved,
and of some forgotten place
where blue flowers fell.

I am afraid
for her, for myself,
but can say nothing.

Halt X : Adil Jussawalla 129

        I do not know what station this is, or why
        We broke our journey; checked, here in Derbyshire,
        One senses danger, disquietude only.

        Pieces of smoke litter the huddled town-
        Card collage on felt; no pattering movement
        On roads of sliding newspaper, sidling dog.
        No alighting or descending the steps of its drizzling doors.

        Rain fell like a drizzle of fine slag
        On an anonymous town in smudged Derbyshire.
        I counted sixty chimneys in a quarter
        The size of a burgher's courtyard, wondered at smoke
        Sliding edgeways through the dawn's widening slats.

        A flock of pigeons dissolved in the viscid air
        Like a piece of mud in a current; 5 o'clock.
        A streetlamp craned its neck for the spreading frogs.

Nine Poems on Arrival: Adil Jussawalla : 136

        Spiders infest the sky.
        They are palms, you say,
        hung in a web of light.

        Gingerly, thinking of concealed
        springs and traps, I step off the plane,
        expect take-off on landing.

        Garlands beheading the body
        and everyone dressed in white.
        Who are we ghosts of?

        You. You. You.
        Shaking hands. And you.

        Cold hands. Cold feet. I thought
        the sun would be lower here
        to wash my neck in.

        Contact. We talk a language of beads
        along well-established wires.
        The beads slide, they open, they
        devour each other.

        Some were important.
        Is that one,
        as deep and dead as the horizon?

        Upset like water
        I dive for my favourite tree
        which is no longer there
        though they've let its roots remain.

        Dry clods of earth
        tighten their tiny faces
        in an effort to cry. Back
        where I was born,
        I may yet observe my own birth.

agha shahid ali vikram seth manohar shetty

Agha Shahid Ali

from Intro by AKM:
    [b Delhi 1949, grew up in Srinagar.  MA from U. Delhi, where he was
    teaching befoore leaving for the US in 1976.  PhD Penn State 1984, and
    MFA U. Arizona 1985.  Now on the faculty of Hamilton College, NY.  ]
    Poems here are all from Hal-Inch Himalayas, his first mature
    collection.  Previous to it he published Bone-Sculpture (1972), and
    In memory of Begum Akhtar (1979).  Also the author of
    T.S. Eliot as Editor and A walk through the yellow pages (1987), a
    poetry chapbook.  The Rebel's Silhouette_ (1991) consists of poems
    translated from the Urdu of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Ali's poems seem to be whispered to himself, and to read them is as if to
overhear.  ...

    Though Ali has made exile his permanent condition, it is not what he
    writes about.  Exile offers him unconfined and unpeopled space into
    which, one at a time, he introduces human figures...

    The language is always urbane, with individual lines and stanzas seldom
    calling attention to themselves.  If anything, they tend to keep out of
    sight, making memorability a characteristic of the whole poem - each like
    a length of Dacca gauze -- rather than its separate parts.

Postcard from Kashmir : Agha Shahid Ali : 141

Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,
my home a near four by six inches.

I always loved neatness.  Now I hold
the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.

This is home.  And this is the closest
I'll ever be to home.  When I return,
the colors wn't be so brilliant.

the Jhelum's waters so clean,
so ultramarine.  My love
so overexposed.

And my memory will be a little
out of focus, in it
a giant negative, black
and white, still undeveloped.

The Dacca gauzes : Agha Shahid Ali

	...for a whole year he sought
	to accumulate the most exquisite
	Dacca gauzes.
	  -- Oscar Wilde /The Picture of Dorian Gray

	Those transparent Dacca gauzes
	known as woven air, running
	water, evening dew:

	a dead art now, dead over
	a hundred years. 'No one
	now knows,' my grandmother says,

	'what it was to wear
	or touch that cloth.' She wore
	it once, an heirloom sari from

	her mother's dowry, proved
	genuine when it was pulled, all
	six yards, through a ring.

	Years later when it tore,
	many handkerchiefs embroidered
	with gold-thread paisleys

	were distributed among
	the nieces and daughters-in-law.
	Those too now lost.

	In history we learned: the hands
	of weavers were amputated,
	the looms of Bengal silenced,

	and the cotton shipped raw
	by the British to England.
	History of little use to her,

	my grandmother just says
	how the muslins of today
	seem so coarse and that only

	in autumn, should one wake up
	at dawn to pray, can one
	feel that same texture again.

	One morning, she says, the air
	was dew-starched: she pulled
	it absently through her ring.

Vikram Seth

The humble administrator's garden : Vikram Seth : 151

    A plump gold carp nudges a lily pad
    And shakes the raindrops off like mercury,
    And Mr Wang walks round. 'Not bad, not bad.'
    He eyes the Fragrant Chamber dreamily.
    He eyes the Rainbow Bridge. He may have got
    The means by somewhat dubious means, but now
    This is the loveliest of all gardens. What
    Do scruples know of beauty anyhow?
    The Humble Administrator admires a bee
    Poised on a lotus, walks through the bamboo wood,
    Strips half a dozen loquats off a tree
    And looks about and sees that it is good.
    He leans against a willow with a dish
    And throws a dumpling to a passing fish.

Note: the Humble Administrator's Garden is a classical garden in Suzhou,
an ancient capital town not far from Shanghai.  The garden was built by
the scholar-poet Wang Xiancheng from 1510-1526, after he was forced to leave
the imperial service due to political wrangling.

Gardens in china are akin to painting or poetry, where the artist attempts to
lead the viewer through a seires of views constructed with water, rock,
plants and architecture.  The Humble Administrator's Garden (Zhuōzhèng Yuán,
拙政园) is is one of four great Chinese gardens.  The name is from a stanza
from Pan Yue, "I enjoy a carefree life by planting trees and building my own
house...I irrigate my garden and grow vegetables for me to eat...such a life
suits a retired official like me well."

Evening wheat : Vikram Seth : 152

Evening is the best time for wheat
Toads croak.
Children ride buffaloes home for supper.
The last loads are shoulder-borne.
Squares light up
And the wheat sags with a late gold.
There on the other side of the raised path
Is the untransplanted emerald rice.
But it is the wheat I watch, the still dark gold
With maybe a pig that has strayed from the brigade
enjoying a few soft ears.

Unclaimed : Vikram Seth : 155

    To make love with a stranger is the best.
    There is no riddle and there is no test. --

    To lie and love, not aching to make sense
    Of this night in the mesh of reference.

    To touch, unclaimed by fear of imminent day,
    And understand, as only strangers may.

    To feel the beat of foreign heart to heart
    Preferring neither to prolong nor part.

    To rest within the unknown arms and know
    That this is all there is; that this is so.

Manohar Shetty

Foreshadows : Manohar Shetty

Waiting for the shy click of heels
on the stairs, I watch a deep
forest rise from my hand :
On the green glowing wall
my looped thumb and fingers
transfer a pensive fawn
Two flat palms part
and a bored crocodile yawns
Wild cats roll and purr
when my fingers convert to ears
Giant buggerflies dip and disappear
as the door-bell rings like a shrill bird.
A faint smell of musk enters
as I lope across the wall
My mouuth exposes hungry tusks
and hands reach out like paws...

Gifts : Manohar Shetty p.164

You unfold, like starfish
On a beach, your touch
Stills the rumpled sea,
Hair plastered seaweed.

I come from the labyrinths:
Traffic lights park in my eyes
Before I cross, highways fork
And stream like veins in my hand.

You hunger for a blade of grass
In the welter of concrete,
I step on softening sand
Suspiciously. Together

We trace a bridge: you pick
A shell translucent as neon,
And I a tribal earring
Reflected in plate glass.

[about the writing of this poem, Shetty says how it was written for
V, an ineffably beautiful Goan Catholic, who was a colleague at a Mumbai
newspaper with offices above a fish market.
	The stench of rotting fish seeped into the newspapers, our clothes,
	the stationery, even the tea and the galleys.
but the relationship blossomed, and Shetty "did what any smitten young man
does: write a love poem."

eventually, he marries V, and moves to goa, where he wrote the poem "Moving
Out" (next).
   - ]

Moving Out : Manohar Shetty p.169

After the packing the leavetaking.
The rooms were hollow cartons.
The gecko listened stilly—
An old custom — for the heartbeat
Of  the family clock.

After the springcleanings
Now the drawing of curtains.
I thought of the years between
These grey walls, these walls
Which are more than tympanic.

There remained much, dead and living,
Uncleared, unchecked: dust mottled
Into shreds under loaded bookshelves;
The fine twine of a cobweb
Shone in the veranda sunlight.

All this I brushed aside along
With the silverfish in flaking tomes,
The stains on marble and tile
Scoured with acid; but the ghosts
Loomed like windstruck drapes;

Like the rectangle left by
A picture frame: below a nail
Hooked into a questionmark,
A faint corona,
A contrasting shade.

Domestic Creatures : Manohar Shetty : 166


            Tense, wizened,
            Wrinkled neck twisting,
            She clears
            The air of small
            With a snapping tongue,
            A long tongue.


            Swaddled cosily, he
            Settles by the window,
            Burping softly;
            Eyelids half-closed,
            Head sinking
            In a fluffy
            Embroidered pillow.


            The swollen-headed spider
            Spins yarns from her corner.
            Tenuous threads of her tales
            Glitter like rays
            From the fingertips of a saint.

            She weaves on, plays along,
            Hangs from a hoary strand,
            Rolls, unrolls: a yoyo,
            A jiggling asterisk: a footnote:
            Little characters transfixed
            In the clutches of her folds.


            Open the lid, he tumbles out
            Like a family secret;
            Scuttles back into darkness;
            Reappears, feelers like
            Miniature periscopes,
            Questioning the air;
            Leaves tell-tale traces:
            Wings flaky as withered
            Onion skin, fresh
            Specks scurrying
            In old crevices.

Also on Book Excerptise: Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's The absent traveller: Prakrit love poetry from the gAthAsaptashati of sAtavAhana hAla (translations). Other Indian English Anthologies: (most recent to older) 1. WritingLove by Ashmi Ahluwalia (ed) (2010) 2. We speak in changing languages: Indian women poets 1990-2007 by E. V. Ramakrishnan and Anju Makhija (2009)
3. 60 Indian poets by Jeet Thayil (ed.) (2008) Frost streamed the air. Our blood pulsed thin and shrill. ... 4. Confronting Love : Poems by Jerry Pinto and Arundhathi Subramaniam (eds) (2005) The selections here are definitely on the fresher side. Even for the known poets, the poems chosen, (Kolatkar's Lice, Ramanujan's Love 10) are among the lesser known. Many poets are being anthologized for the first time, so ... 5. Indian love poems by Meena Alexander (ed.) (2005) Her lips are like leaves. Mine are full-blown coral. Don't bite too hard. ... 6. Anthology Of Indian Poetry In English by Paranjape Makarand (2000) 7. The tree of tongues: An anthology of modern Indian poetry by E. V. Ramakrishnan (1999) [translations from Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam, and Marathi] 8. Nine Indian women poets: an anthology by Eunice DeSouza (ed.) (1997) 9. The Oxford Anthology of Modern Indian Poetry by Vinay (ed.) Dharwadker and A.K. Ramanujan (ed.) (1994) My father travels on the late evening train Standing among silent commuters in the yellow light. ... 10. Modern Indian Poetry in English by Ayyappa K Paniker (1991) 11. Indian English poetry since 1950:an anthology by Vilas Sarang (1990) 12. Contemporary Indian poetry by Kaiser Haq (ed) (1990) The white of the negro maid's eyeballs is the only clean thing here, ... 13. Twenty Indian Poems by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (ed.) (1990) 14. Anthology Of Indian English Poetry by Singh and Prasad (1989) 15. Indian poetry in English today by Pritish Nandy (1981) 16. Hundred Indian Poets: An Anthology of Modern Poetry by Pranab Bandyopadhyay (ed.) (1977) 17. Ten 20th Century Indian Poets by R. Parthasarathy (1976) 18. strangertime: an anthology of Indian Poetry in English by Pritish Nandy (ed) (1977) The anthology is therefore not defensive. It celebrates our success. It attempts to capture the drama, the intensity, and the sheer vitality of the ... 19. An anthology of Indian Love poetry, by Subhash Saha (ed.) (1976) 20. Contemporary Indian Poetry in English by Saleem Peeradina (1972) 21. The golden treasury of Indo-Anglian poetry by Vinayak Krishna Gokak (ed.) (1970) 22. Indian love poems by Tambimuttu and John Piper (ill) (1967)

bookexcerptise is maintained by a small group of editors. get in touch with us! bookexcerptise [at] gmail [dot] .com.

This review by Amit Mukerjee was last updated on : 2015 Jul 22