Welcome to Indian Poetry – February 2009



Poetry in times of peril: that’s the theme for the nineteenth edition of the India domain. The theme suggested itself for obvious reasons. India, we are told by The Times of India, has “the highest number of terror-related incidents and injured” of all the countries in the world (barring war-ravaged countries, such as Iraq). It also has perhaps the highest number of civilian victims of terror. If we needed any confirmation of that, the year 2008 gave us ample examples – from attacks in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, New Delhi and Malegaon to Kanpur, Imphal, Assam, and, most recently, Mumbai.

The poems in the nineteenth edition aren’t about any specific brand of terror. But they are poems that invoke the scent of danger in a variety of ways. The threat of communal violence – nurtured by religious bigotry and patriarchy – is graphically conjured in Kannada poet Mamta Sagar’s poem. The menace of caste oppression rears its ever-present head in Dalit poet Raghavan Atholi’s Malayalam poetry. The violence (state-sponsored and otherwise), the annihilation of tribal culture, the tyrannical piety of organised faith and the anxiety and chronic unbelonging – these make up the plight of ‘Ernestina in peril’ in the poem by Mona Zote from Mizoram.

A special treat in this edition is a glimpse of the Marathi poetry of Dilip Chitre, senior poet, translator, editor and visual artist. While the selected poems explore a variety of preoccupations, two have been specially selected bearing in mind the focus of this edition. While one is an elegy about the erasure of deeply nourishing community ties with childhood Muslim friends, the other is an acknowledgement of our collective collusion in a world where the strategy for survival is silence:

And what about people who don’t speak
Asked Rahman
What do they say?

I said –
You know religion, Rahman,
I don’t say a thing.

(‘Determined to Tell Lies’)


Shankar Raghuraman, “India loses maximum lives to terror except Iraq”, Times of India,
27 August 2007

© Arundhathi Subramaniam  
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