Sudesh Mishra
(Fiji, 1962)   
Sudesh Mishra

Sudesh Mishra, poet, playwright, short fiction writer and academic, was born in 1962 in Suva to an Indo-Fijian family and educated in Fiji and Australia. He read for his PhD at Flinders University and has been, on different occasions, the recipient of an ARC postdoctoral fellowship, the Harri Jones Memorial Prize for Poetry (awarded for his first book), and an Asialink Residency at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. His work has been published in several anthologies, including The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poetry, Lines Review: Twelve Modern Young Indian Poets, Concert of Voices: An Anthology of World Writing in English, Nuanua: Pacific Writing in English since 1980, among others. He is Professor in Literature and Linguistics at the University of the South Pacific. He is the author of four books of poems and is currently at work on his fifth.

A descendant of coolie workers, Mishra belongs to the community of Indians that was shipped to Fiji between 1879 and 1916 to work in sugarcane plantations during British colonial rule. Not surprisingly, the theme of migration plays itself out in Mishra’s poems in various ways with a consistent undertow of rage and sadness. From the exuberant parody of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (“Aré, do not be asking ‘What is it?’ / Let us be avoiding Bombay shit” and “I grow old . . . I grow old / But at least I’ve got my loincloth on”) to the savage, fiercely irreverent wit of ‘Confessions of a Would-be Brahmin’ (“I have used my right hand to explore cracks / Other than that of sculptures”), one hears tones that range from the hysterically absurd to the comically despairing.

And yet, even while the self is relentlessly ironised, the work retains a critical edge. Whether it is the throwaway reference to “Mrs Gandhi etherized by Sikhs” or the funny but shrill terror of repatriation (“You can’t do this to me, I am pukkah Australian citizen / I am watching footy, I am having beer gut . . .”) or the unwavering refusal to allow the moral question to be blurred by the aesthetic (“I have learnt to measure human art / Through the eyes of slaves in a carrion cart”), the poetry retains a passion and fierceness of critique.

In counterpoint to the ferociously funny poems, there are quieter, sadder, more reflective ones. “The genuine I / Is forever in someone’s tourist brochure” says one. Another speaks of the condition of “a stranger estranged by his own strangeness”. There is no easy palliative here to address the perennial adriftness of exile – “the anguish of those who never forget”, who have no choice but to “drown in another’s epithet”.

And yet, in the interim, there is the voyage and the quiet determination to chart a course “between two rocks / For a third”. It is a destination “that neither wanes nor grows”. But the journey continues even as the voyagers are certain “that our reach will exceed our grasp”. For goals, destinations and answers to riddles, the poet suggests in his finely textured poem, ‘Grain’, are perhaps less important than the need to love, affirm and praise “what’s always forever to no purpose”.

© Arundhathi Subramaniam


Diaspora and the Difficult Art of Dying, University of Otago Press, Dunedin, 2002 (ISBN 1877276189)
Memoirs of a Reluctant Traevller
, CRNLE and Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 1994 (ISBN 1862543151)
Tandava, Meanjin Press, Melbourne, 1992 (ISBN 0959252819)
Rahu, Vision International Publishers, Suva, 1987

Diaspora Criticism, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006 (ISBN 0748621067)
Preparing Faces : Modernism and Indian Poetry in English, CRNLE, Adelaide, 1995 (ISBN 0725805781401)

Links to more poems by Sudesh Mishra

‘Under Neruda’ and ‘no one’
‘A Beautiful Prospect'
‘The Grand Pacific Hotel’ and ‘The Rowers’


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