Jit Narain
(Surinam, 1948)   
Jit Narain

Jit Narain has described his own poetry as follows: ‘With both feet in the mud of the paddy field, eyes searching for the home country forever receding into the distance.’ Born in Livorno, a village just south of Surinam’s capital Paramaribo, he grew up in a close-knit Hindustani family. On entering elementary school, he came into contact with the ‘outside world’, with other languages, other ethnic groups.

He moved to Paramaribo, and after finishing secondary school went to the Netherlands to study medicine. In 1979 he established himself as a general practitioner in The Hague. In 1991 he returned to Surinam, where he now runs a polyclinic in the Saramacca district, devoting his spare time to building a cultural centre at the back of his house.

During his years in the Netherlands, Jit Narain came to be the godfather of literature in Sarnami, the language of the Hindustani Surinamese, in which until the late 1970s no book had been published. Narain set up a writers’ collective, published a journal in Sarnami, and with Theo Damsteeg, an Indologist, wrote a textbook of Sarnami.

In 1978 Jit Narain published his first volume of poetry, Dal bhat chatni (‘Rice, Yellow peas, Chutney’) – the staple diet of peasant Hindustanis. Jit Narain was one of them, and he sang their history in their own ‘peasant lingo’, making it a vehicle for literary art. In eight volumes, containing translations of his Sarnami poetry and original poems in Dutch, he laid bare to a Dutch audience the essence of the Hindustani soul: ‘I’m writing for my ajá (paternal grandfather) and his generation. I owe it to them not to allow their history and their language to be swept away.’ In his most recent poems he reflects upon life as a limited lease on time, a sordid affair, but full of colour and hope, even in the face of hardship and death.

© Michiel van Kempen (Translated by Ko Kooman)

[Jit Narain took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2001. This text was written on that occasion.]


Subscribe to the newsletter

follow us on facebook follow us on twitter Follow us (international)  

follow us on facebook follow us on twitter Follow us (Dutch)