Mithu Sen
(India, 1971)   
Mithu Sen

[Mithu Sen was selected by Sudeep Sen for this special edition devoted to “poets as translators”.]

Mithu Sen is a Bengali poet and artist. She has published two volumes of Bengali poetry: a chapbook, Ma Jai Boluk (Whatever Mother Says, 2000), and a full-length collection, Bashmati Sharir Bagan Ba Gaan (Basmati Body Garden or Song, 1995–2005). Her Bengali poems have been published in various journals, including Desh, Baromash, Aromash, Nandimukh, Kobita Pakhikhik, Jignasha, Prothom Alo, Bijolpo, Kaurob, and in English translations in Atlas. She lives and works in New Delhi.

Sen holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in painting from Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, and has done a post-graduate programme at the Glasgow School of Art in the UK. As a visual artist, she has exhibited her work widely in solo and group shows, and has won several awards.

In a short preface to her work, Sudeep Sen writes:

Apart from being a Bengali poet, Mithu Sen is an accomplished artist. Consequently her work has an interesting bidirectional interplay that is organic and unusual – important aspects that are in consonance with her overall artistic practice of poetry, performance and art.

Her poetry tends to be largely domestic (like ‘Doel, Sparrow’), and her obliquely erotic love poems are imagistic and have a haiku-like minimalism about them: “You lie down – in your lone, bleak room”;
What you touched – I did not; Moment I stepped on two boats, and On your hand – I place my hand – barely are some good examples.

The ‘Bahia’ poem-sequence, in particular, is conceptualised and constructed in the form of an ‘artist’s book’ – much like a diary (unlike her pure Bengali poems). In this poem, the inter-cutting of Bengali and English text in the form of jottings and notes run parallel along side her drawings, doodles and sketches on the pages of her book. She composes many like these as well as exhibits them as installation art pieces.

Her paintings employ both a sense of the abstract and the specific – one in particular has little pairs of scissors and spirals following hemlines as a sewing machine sits silently – all washed and partially covered in broad brushstrokes.

Ultimately, Mithu Sen’s poems are largely lyrical in content and tone, highly self-confessional in style, and feminine in diction.

This edition features some of Mithu Sen’s short poems, as well as the longer ‘Bahia’ sequence. (This section was written originally in English and has been transcreated and edited for this edition by Sudeep Sen.) The painterly eye is evident in these poems. But what makes the impressionistic ‘Bahia’ sequence particularly effective is its wave-like rhythm of lurch and ebb. The poem is imbued with an awareness of the transience of the tides, of patterns on the sand, of love – and equally, one might conclude, of the poetic project. It is tempting to see the last lines as a tribute to the activity of translation, the endless process of dying and rebirthing in new tongues and cadences:

I am restless –

shifted and shifted –
and edited –

© Arundhathi Subramaniam


Bashmati Sarir Bagan Ba Gaan, (1995-2005), Nandimukh, Kolkata, 2007
Visual Rhapsody
(along with other artists/poets, edited by Debashis Chanda),New Delhi, Niyogi Offset, 2005
Ma Jai Boluk,
Prothom Alo Publications, Dhaka, 2000


The Arts Trust: Mithu Sen talks about her art.
Mithu Sen: Mithu Sen’s blog with some of her work and the “Free Mithu” Project
Nature Morte: Link to Mithu Sen’s art


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