“deep down the heart knows”

October 12, 2017

The words that give this post its title are from Sujata Bhatt‘s ‘Notes from the Hospital’, which she was good enough to send me when I asked her for an unpublished love poem for the fifth-anniversary issue of The Indian Quarterly.

The poetry section in IQ has not traditionally been linked to the theme driving the issue, but this time I thought it might be worth doing that, in subtle, tangential ways, as part of a celebration not just of the magazine, but of love itself. Sujata’s poem gave me the perfect lead for my precious ten pages, complemented by Jeram Patel’s art.

Anita Roy‘s formally composed, personally inflected ‘Chaotic Pendulum’ mourns the “wingstutter, heartflutter” of a dead pigeon in a church with the same delicacy of feeling with which it addresses the loss of a loved one in a poem powered by the rise and fall of longing. Monica Ferrell‘s “bride poems” bite, while ‘Glacier’ invites us to skate over the perilous ice of a teenage girl’s desire to “spell/ A sentence in the book of infinity”. Tishani Doshi‘s ‘Portrait of the Poet as a Reclining God’ is a small miracle of beauty and humour, such unlikely bedfellows, here in perfect accord…

In New Translations, K Satchidanandan‘s ‘The Girl of Thirteen’ is the kind of reimagining that speaks so urgently, yet tenderly, to the times, its opening and closing lines clicking together to turn poem into prophecy. And Subhro Bandopadhyay‘s ‘Joaquim Mondal’s Poetry’ which concludes the poetry section, is, as the translator Aryanil Mukherjee writes in his introductory note, distinctive for the “despondent tones of malady and dystopia ringing in the thought-space of the poem although its central idea [is] singularly romantic.”

Happy reading.





The publication of a ‘Ritual Correspondence’

October 11, 2017

I first met Nia Davies way back in 2011, when she was working with LAF, and helping to record stuff; a silent, supportive presence in the hospitable rooms of Ty Newydd in Wales. I was part of a translation workshop, deeply involved with the work, and slowly getting to know my Welsh counterparts (who went on to become great friends). Not once during the week-long residential workshop did Nia let slip that she, too, was a poet. Looking back, I marvel at this terrific restraint, something I rarely ever encounter. Most young poets are dying to tell you they are Poets. So later, when she sent me a copy of her first chapbook Then Spree, I remember the delight and thrill of encountering her voice, so sharp, so intelligent and ebullient, so full of surprise. We kept in touch, read each other, she went on to become the editor of Poetry Wales, invited me to be part of Gelynion, pairing me with the fine poet Sharon Morris, with whom I had the pleasure of collaborating on a piece we presented at the Rich Mix Centre in London. And then India happened to Nia. While Bangalore was (is) her base for her India-Wales Poetry Connection project, she visited Bombay more than once.

It was on one of these trips that Nia came home to spend a Sunday afternoon at my home in Thane. That afternoon the seeds of what would turn into our ‘ritual correspondence’ were sown. We made notes, drank chilled beer, read out fragments from our respective notebooks, and by the time she left to go back to her hotel in South Bombay, we had decided we’d give it shape, me approaching the very word ‘ritual’ with all the wariness of my staunchly non-Hindu upbringing, and Nia approaching it with the freedom of one who was considering ritual as merely one element of the performative. You can see where it led right here at Junction Box, that most wondrous thing, an irregular magazine. Many thanks to the editor Lyndon Davies for giving our exchange a home, and to Nia for the adventure.


‘Morning is the utmost tree’

September 16, 2017

I have been translating Joy Goswami’s prose poetry for some time now (this after the publication of Selected Poems by Harper Perennial in 2014, which went on to be shortlisted for the inaugural Khushwant Singh Memorial Prize for Poetry and garnered Joy Goswami the first Poet Laureateship initiated and awarded by the Tata Literature Live! Festival)… slowly working towards publication in the hopefully not-too-distant future. A delight, then, to have two poems from his latest book (Whiplash, Signet 2017) featured in the India Issue of MPT (Modern Poetry in Translation): Songs of the Shattered Throat. As I wrote in my introductory note to the poems, in these poems “I found a new music; new levels of rage and compassion, awareness and warning.”


Additional delight in the fact that MPT also chose three of my translations of the young Hindi poet Monika Kumar, whom I first met at a translation workshop organized by Literature Across Frontiers in Chandigarh in November 2016. Hearing her read her poems in the original (and seeing how beautifully they travelled into languages such as Slovenian, Galician and Maltese) made me want to work in collaboration with her on fresh new English versions, one of which you can read here.

And because good things come in threes, so happy that the Malayalam poet Anitha Thampi’s poem ‘Allapuzha Vellam‘ (fabulously translated by J Devika), which I featured in my debut issue as Poetry Editor of the Indian Quarterly (IQ), found a place in this special issue of MPT, the two journals joint-publishing it for the first time, almost-simultaneously in India and the UK.

IQ is one of the few print magazines that makes room for poetry, and it’s been a real pleasure curating my pages. Apart from Anitha, who is based in Thiruvananthapuram, I featured the Estonian poet, Doris Kareva translated by Miriam McIlfatrick-Ksenofontov; and new poems in English by Mona Zote (Aizawl), K. Srilata (Chennai), Aditi Angiras (Delhi). And at Chief Editor Madhu Jain’s invitation, I also wrote a small feature investigating what is being described as a “poetry resurgence” in India. Happy reading!



Poetry Connections: India-Wales 2017

August 16, 2017

I sometimes wonder what it is about Wales that draws me like a magnet, ever since I first encountered its language and its people way back in 2009. I can’t speak Welsh, but, as I found myself saying at a reading in Machynlleth earlier this month, I feel Welsh. What does that mean, I wonder, now that I’m back home, in Maharashtra, where the last of the monsoon greeted me like a long-lost friend, and the heat and humidity hit me like a forgotten nightmare. To feel like a people, like a language, I must speak not Welsh but Cymraeg, I must learn to get my tongue around those unpronounceable lls. Mustn’t I? I don’t, I can’t. And yet the connections are real, long-lasting, based on more than language; formed despite initial incomprehensions about why I, a Bengali, could choose to write in English;  sustained through conversations over time, across seemingly impassable distances. Perhaps “feeling Welsh” is simply my shorthand for saying I love the country, love its gentle people, its spectacular landscapes, its intimate scale and most of all – its poets. Thank you, good people of Literature Across Frontiers for imagining and enabling this project, for the inspired pairings, for the sheer gumption of seeing us through difficult times, sometimes on little more than a poem and a prayer! Thanks also to the British Council and Wales Arts International for their continued support, and to Aberystwyth University for giving me the pleasure of being one of their Creative Associates.

During my time in Wales, my long-time friend and collaborator Eurig Salisbury and I recorded four podcasts – you can hear them here on Eurig’s website, or by clicking on the links below:

Podcast #1: In which we rewind, ramble, and remind ourselves of some of the wheres, whats and whys of the project…

Podcast #2: In which we report on readings done and poems filmed…

Podcast #3: In which we discuss poetic debates, essentials for the Eisteddfod and our shared fascination for urban spaces…

Podcast #4: In which we are on the field, the Maes, catching up on a week of heroic tasks, wondering about circles of stones, celebrating reunions, and saying our goodbyes…


PS: A friend gave me a packet of Welsh Brew before I left. Reading the label back home I noticed it said that this original blend is “a fusion of the finest African & Indian teas”. As an Indian born in Africa (and brought up in Darjeeling, home of the finest Indian teas), the connection was as immediate as it was irrational – this was it then, the symbol of that inexplicable feeling: feeling Welsh. Here it was, my cup of tea.


Space Gulliver in conversation

June 17, 2017




In which Mustansir Dalvi gets me to talk about my latest book Space Gulliver (HarperCollins) on his eclectic blog:



A sort of birthday-song

May 6, 2016

I wrote this piece in the strangest mood. I wanted to celebrate the work of Junoon, of people I’ve loved as we’ve journeyed together in working for and within and across the arts;  simultaneously I wanted to lament what was then going on (students in jail for supposed sedition, a darkness around me and in my heart). So this is the shape it took, and I sent it off as a sort of gift. It makes me happy that it’s up on the Junoon blog. And happier that at least some of the darknesses cleared, even as new clouds moved in.


Space Gulliver is available online

October 26, 2015

On Amazon