Nabanita Kanungo’s collection is simultaneously an elegy and a victory song. A documentation of the heartbreaks that have plagued our subcontinent for the past century or so, her poems re-define the lyric form, chronicling the unfolding of a personal self framed by larger political events. Here, history appears as a long, continuous saga of violence, in which Partition memories remain juxtaposed within the everyday lived realities and violences of neoliberal Indian cities. With this collection, Kanungo provides a ghostly account of quotidian survival?stories that remain forever out of official histories?and re-defines the meaning of Anglophone India political poetry of contemporary times.Nabanita Kanungo’s poems ache with an awareness of how poetry cannot truly evoke anything but absence, of how ‘It rains and words say nothing’; ‘Only memory is green’. In this tragedy, Kanungo finds the only solace available to the poet: a luminous quality in the every day, the ‘Mirror where things are simply written with light’. These poems work in the liminal spaces of the world and of the self, between the present moment and its turning into memory, between words and rain.
Menka Shivdasani’s poetry is both original and strikingly unusual, not just her tangential way of putting things across, but also how thought process and imagination run away with the poem, and make it exciting. An experience is translated into another experience and then gets mixed with fancy in a juice blender. Chopping lettuce, she’ll be assailed by visions—burning bride, politician, a ‘wounded Hiroshima’, and finally a finger-chopping Nazi. A poem about separation will end with her handling ‘alien porcelain’ at a tea party. For over three decades the excitement she brings to her fine poetry has never deserted her.
Through sex-dolls and addictions, for whom poetry can be just another narcotic throbbing in your vein. Khandekar’s man has stretched himself to the limits of the Machiavellian primate, modifying his behaviour and absurdum to fit in with the changing patterns of a world spinning out of control on the wheel of progress. Meet the ghost in the machine Sanjeev Khandekar’s poetry grins impishly, then socks you in the eye. It makes you feel horns on your head and inspect your skin for green stripes. Khandekar breaks conventions of belief, language and genre to offer a world with no certainties, where you are just a gob of self-awareness floating in a matrix of virtual reality, mutating every moment to balance your inner needs with social expectations. You are the Mutatis Mutandis Man the human ‘with necessary changes’ carried out the modified man tossed between inscrutable science and enigmatic religious faith, the creature who gropes for love and creativity that may lure you towards self-destruction. Meet Khandekar’s Monster and see if he seems familiar.
Khandekar’s poetry, like his art, is disturbingly unconventional; and Abhay Sardesai and Nandita Wagle’s excellent translation from Marathi now brings it to the English reader.
-Antara Dev Sen
Tukaram was born in 1608 and vanished without a trace in 1650. what little we know of his life is a reconstruction from his own autobiographical poems, the contemporary poetess Bahinabai’s memoirs in verse, and the later biographer of Marathi poet-saints, Mahipati’s account. The rest is all folklore, though it cannot be dismissed on those grounds alone. Modern scholars such as the late V. S. Bendre have made arduous efforts to collate evidence from disparate contemporary sources to establish a well-researched biography of Tukaram. But even this is largely conjectural.
Tukaram is therefore not only the last great Bhakti poet in Marathi but he is also the first truly modern Marathi poet in terms of temper and thematic choice, technique and vision. He is certainly the most vital link between medieval and modern Marathi poetry. Tukaram’s stature in Marathi literature is comparable to that of Shakespeare in English or Goethe in German. He could be called the quintessential Marathi poet reflecting the genius of the language as well as its characteristic literary culture. There is no other Marathi writer who has so deeply and widely influenced Marathi literary culture since. Tukaram’s poetry has shaped the Marathi language, as it is spoken by 70 million people today and not just the literary language. Perhaps one should compare his influence with that of the King James version of the Bible upon speakers of the English language. For Tukaram’s poetry is also used by illiterate millions to voice their prayers or to express their love of God.
Adrian Grima in collaboration with his talented and unusually resourceful translator, Albert Gatt – has produced a rich and memorable compilation of poems. Their geographical and emotional stew is international in its flavours yet always Maltese in its complex marinations. Grima succeeds in being – and these are potent combinations – both lyrical and true-to-life, both tender and unblinking, both comforting and challenging. His collection is a thought-provoking joy.- Jim Crace
How can the soul survive the world’s brutality. This is the essential, unanswerable question that Adrian Grima asks in and through his poems, beautifully translated from the Maltese by Albert Gatt. Taut with unexpected collusions, the poems walk the tightrope tensions of time and space. Turmoil, both emotional and political, is contained within the ascetic rigour of the lines; the mysteries of the distant are brought closer through eyes and lips, taste and touch. In Grima’s world, a lull can be as keen as a knife, blood can be the ultimate betrayal. An arterial anxiety courses through his work. Between “thistle and sun”, between skin and skin, between “departure and return”, the poet repeatedly alerts us to the heart-breaking fragility of the body, besieged. Coexistent with his bruising awareness of damage is his faith in contact, in simple human pleasures, a conversation, a pot of flowers, a meal. Deeply intelligent and moving, here is a book with “sky in its wings, migration in its heart”. Read it, be shattered, then soar.- Sampurna Chattarji