Gulzar’s mammoth project, A Poem A Day, an anthology that contains the best names in Indian poetry across languages, is rich and diverse. (Prabha S Roy/HT)
Gulzar’s mammoth project, A Poem A Day, an anthology that contains the best names in Indian poetry across languages, is rich and diverse. (Prabha S Roy/HT)

Essay: Poetry for every day of the year, for all seasons

Recent anthologies that stand out include one that’s a feat of sustained translation and another that features poetry on the Covid crisis from across the world
By Sudeep Sen
PUBLISHED ON JAN 22, 2021 02:16 PM IST

As we celebrated 200 years of Indian poetry in English last year, and a much longer tradition of poetry in translation — it isn’t surprising that it has been raining anthologies.

A decade-old, gargantuan poetry project by Gulzar comes to fruition with the mammoth anthology, A Poem A Day, containing, across languages, the best known names in Indian poetry. This marvellously produced, handsome, leather-bound, boxed edition, is rich and diverse — featuring 365 “memorable” poems, one for each day of the year. The book, spanning the last 70 years of writing in India — since India’s Independence in 1947 — contains the works of 279 poets in 34 Indian languages, across nearly 1000 pages. The text appears bilingually — in English original (or in English translation from other tongues), and in Hindustani — the latter translated entirely by Gulzar. This vast selection covers diverse regions from “north, south, west and east of India, as well as the north-east, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.”

968pp, ₹3,999; HarperCollins
968pp, ₹3,999; HarperCollins

Unsurprisingly, the bigger languages (English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Punjabi, Gujarati, Urdu, etc.) dominate the volume — but the inclusion of some of the smaller, often neglected languages (Aadi, A.Chik, Bhutanese, Dogri, Ladakhi, Tibetan, Khasi, Kokborok, Konkani, Kunkana, Sambhalpuri, Sinhala, etc.) make this book unique. It opens with a powerful and visceral poem Nectar by Haldar Nag in the Kosli/Sambhalpuri language -- a clarion call for positivity in these grim times, imploring with folkloric wisdom :

“Let the seven seas / across the world / yield only nectar. // … // Let the nectar flow down / from within the noble act / of human goodness.”

Another poem translated from a little known language, Kokborok, is Shefali Debrarma’s Lamination that covers her STSC identity card, alluding to the larger notions of what identity and surveillance means, implies or impedes.

Poets, varied and mutlifarious: Jibanananda Das, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Subodh Sarkar, Joy Goswami, Nirmalendu Goon, Syed Shamsul Haq, Padma Sachdev, Nissim Ezekiel, Jayanta Mahapatra, A K Ramanujan, Dom Moraes, Vikram Seth, Dilip Chitre and many others, are happily housed within the spine of a single book. Gulzar’s own lines: “A few of my belongings / are still in your possession” provide a hint, that these 365 poems will remain in the readers’ possession as his legacy.

The entire enterprise is an incredible feat of sustained translation — a polyphonic volume threaded and seamlessly stitched together by Gulzar’s signature voice, one that does not overshadow the original poem, instead it highlights their depth and beauty, employing the parallel music and cadence of the Hindustani tongue. A Poem a Day is any littérateur’s dream, a true collector’s item.

376pp, ₹499; Penguin Random House
376pp, ₹499; Penguin Random House

Singing in the Dark brings together the response of the finest poets from India and around the world to the current Covid crisis and the lockdown. Echoing Bertolt Brecht’s Motto and Thomas Nashe’s A Litany in Time of Plague, the 100+ poets here “reflect upon a crisis that has dramatically altered our lives, and laid bare our vulnerabilities. The poems capture all its dimensions: the trauma of solitude, the unexpected transformation in the expression of interpersonal relationships, the even sharper visibility of the class divide, the marvellous revival of nature and the profound realization of the transience of human existence. The moods vary from quiet contemplation and choking anguish to suppressed rage and cautious celebration in an anthology that serves as an aesthetic archive of a strange era in human history.”

In the book, H Perez Grandes’s ironic poem Zoom — “My zoom, my animal, my geography” — plays upon the current human-non human dichotomy. The American poet laureate, Joy Harjo’s I Give You Back is an anthem, a plea to the ancestors to bring back the better world, a song of forgiveness, a cry to invoke peace, harmony and love — “I release you // … // But come here, fear / I am alive and you are so afraid / of dying.” George Szirtes’ excellent sequence of five tightly-wrought sonnets, invoke powerfully the subjects of ‘Smallpox’, ‘Black Death’, ‘Cholera’, ‘Spanish Flu’ and ‘Covid 19’ where “we are in quarantine, our ears / sharpened to the footsteps stalking us.” The older and younger generation of Indian poets are well represented here. There are fine poems by Keki Daruwalla, Manohar Shetty, Ashok Vajpeyi, Mangalesh Dabral, Anamika, Savita Singh, Srijato, Ravi Shankar, Arundhati Subramaniam, Ranjit Hoskote, Jerry Pinto, Sarabjeet Garcha, Maaz Bin Bilal, Amlanjyoti Goswami, to name only a few. In Plague Thoughts Enter The Next Phase, Vijay Seshadri, in a powerful matter-of-fact way, remarks, “‘I just don’t want to talk about it’ // OK OK let’s not // … // Run run, says the plague // … // [as] Graphs charts little and big dots across the world”. The poems in this urgent anthology act as a moving and important testament for our current times.

202pp, ₹500; Hawakal
202pp, ₹500; Hawakal

Open your Eyes: An Anthology on Climate Change, edited by Vinita Agrawal, interrogates our “relationships with the natural world.” Some of the standout poems for me are by Ruth Padel, Alvin Pang, Alex Josephy, Michael Rothenberg, Ranjit Hoskote (who also writes the foreword, In Lieu of a Manifesto), Jayanta Mahapatra, Adil Jussawalla (“Tell me, botched larva, / how long back did we stop in our tracks, / preferring to muck air, feasting to tending?” from Climate change), Keki Daruwalla (“the ice thinned, turned emaciated / and torrents poured through the cracks” in Iceberg at Abu Dhabi), Rohan Chhetri, Usha Akella, Neeti Singh, Ayaz Rasool Nazaki to name a few; In the prose section, Indira Chandrasekhar stood out for her stylish writing. The texts present snapshots of the devastating forces that are hurting our planet, “exploring the issue in different ways — physical, spiritual or emotional through their own unique cultural lens.”

124pp, ₹2500; Hawakal
124pp, ₹2500; Hawakal

Two fine, uplifting and wonderfully curated anthologies celebrate light, hope, love and desire: Shimmer Spring and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems. Both these books are a beauty to hold and read. The first one is a handsomely produced, square, full-colour, artbook format (edited by Kiriti Sengupta, paintings by Pintu Biswas and designed by Bitan Chakraborty), exploring “the writers’ perception of light — how they intuit its source and proclaim their realizations.” It features nearly 40 writers from India, UK and USA, covering both poetry and prose. Alan Britt in An Ode to a Poem says, “just when I thought I was / doomed, language begins / falling like leaves / from the ceiling / of my despair.” Ultimately, as the editor points out, it is “radiance [that] liberates us from the [current] murkiness … it’s the shimmer that sustains lucency.”

226pp, ₹399; Bloomsbury
226pp, ₹399; Bloomsbury

Edited by Abhay K, the Bloomsbury anthology gathers Indian love poetry in multiple languages over three millennia, including poets like Kalidasa, Mirabai, Bhartrhari, Jayadeva, Surdas, Bihari, Bhavabhuti, Vidyapati, Bilhana, leading up to the current times. Classical poets rub shoulders with contemporary ones — Arundhati Subramaniam (“I’m learning, love, / still learning / that there’s more to desire / than this tribal shudder / in the loins.” from Black Oestrus); and Tabish Khair’s ironic Almost Sonnet: “At one instant it seemed to be within my grasp: / Your love was a jewel I could reach out and feel. / … // In all the mud of language that turns doors to walls / And makes the best of truths, despite us, false.”

260pp, ₹260; Sahitya Akademi
260pp, ₹260; Sahitya Akademi

Sahitya Akademi put out two anthologies of Indian Poetry in English in 2020 — The Lie of the Land which attempts an alternative mapping of the poetry terrain by including hitherto neglected voices in addition to the well-established writers, and Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians containing nearly 70 young poets. Spread over 250 pages, the latter anthology acts as Volume 2 to The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (by Indians) that I’d edited in 2012, that contained 85 poets. In the introduction, I had “provocatively assert[ed] that the best English poetry written by Indians in the contemporary national and international arena is perhaps as good or superior to Indian fiction in English as a whole” — a statement validated by the excellent new poetry anthologies that have come out this year

256pp, ₹300; Sahitya Akademi
256pp, ₹300; Sahitya Akademi

The Nobel Prize for Literature for 2020 was awarded to a poet, Louis Glück. So in spite of a bleak year, there has been a vibrant celebration of poetry — in a Brechtian way: “In the dark times, will there also be singing? / Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.”

Sudeep Sen [www.sudeepsen.org] is the editor of The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry and Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi).

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Flower power: A flower market in Bengaluru. (Shutterstock)
Flower power: A flower market in Bengaluru. (Shutterstock)

Review: Flower Shower by Alka Pande

By Subhashini Chandramani
UPDATED ON FEB 25, 2021 05:34 PM IST
Aesthetically designed and with an engaging narrative, each chapter of the book begins with a carefully chosen quote and every page is steeped in fascinating information. The rose, the lotus, the champa and the marigold are only some of the flowers that feature in this beautiful volume
Close
Usually, successful entrepreneurs share their life journeys through autobiographies, but Irfan Izhar has chosen poetry for this purpose. (Representational Image) (Unsplash)
Usually, successful entrepreneurs share their life journeys through autobiographies, but Irfan Izhar has chosen poetry for this purpose. (Representational Image) (Unsplash)

Dubai filmmaker Irfan Izhar unveils maiden book in Delhi

PTI
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 09:27 PM IST
Irfan Izhar, packaging industry baron made a resounding debut as an author with the launch of 'Samundar Samne Hai', a compilation of his reverberating Urdu poems.
Close
The story follows a novice Secretary of State who has joined the administration of her rival, a president inaugurated after four years of American leadership that shrank from the world stage.(Wikimedia Commons )
The story follows a novice Secretary of State who has joined the administration of her rival, a president inaugurated after four years of American leadership that shrank from the world stage.(Wikimedia Commons )

Hillary to co-write thriller on 'State of Terror'

PTI, New York
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 08:00 PM IST
Former US First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and her long-time friend Louise Penny will come out with a novel "State of Terror" which will be published on October 12 by Pan Macmillan India.
Close
Author Anuja Chauhan says she has attempted a whodunnit in her new book, Club You To Death, which is a mystery based in Delhi.
Author Anuja Chauhan says she has attempted a whodunnit in her new book, Club You To Death, which is a mystery based in Delhi.

Book is full of Bangalorean characters, hopefully no one comes to know: Anuja Chauhan

By Henna Rakheja, Bengaluru
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 06:31 PM IST
Author Anuja Chauhan reminisces the time when she decided to settle in Bengaluru, and feels elated to have made the Garden City her home.
Close
The book, titled "India: A Scamster Born Every Minute", will be released under Penguin's Viking imprint in 2022, the publishing house said in a statement.(penguin.co.in)
The book, titled "India: A Scamster Born Every Minute", will be released under Penguin's Viking imprint in 2022, the publishing house said in a statement.(penguin.co.in)

Upcoming book by Snigdha Poonam to expose subculture of scams in India

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 05:16 PM IST
Penguin Random House India on Wednesday announced the acquisition of a new book by award-winning journalist and author Snigdha Poonam that gives an insight into the subculture of scams, cons and frauds in the country.
Close
The first wonder written in the genre, this book brings together various YouTubers and their journeys on paper. (Representational Image) (Pixabay)
The first wonder written in the genre, this book brings together various YouTubers and their journeys on paper. (Representational Image) (Pixabay)

Ajitabha Bose pens journey of YouTubers in his book 'The Youtube Stars of India'

ANI, New Delhi [india]
PUBLISHED ON FEB 23, 2021 07:50 PM IST
The book holds soul-inspiring journeys of the most influential YouTubers penned by India's most popular pocketbook writer Ajitabha Bose which features Youtubers like CarryMinati, Ashish Chanchlani, Amit Bhadana, Harsh Beniwal, Prajakta Koli, Mortal and many more.
Close
"India's rich tapestry is woven together by her stories. These tales can be from the great epics and mythology, or from the ancient history of this rich land.(Unsplash)
"India's rich tapestry is woven together by her stories. These tales can be from the great epics and mythology, or from the ancient history of this rich land.(Unsplash)

HarperCollins, Amar Chitra Katha announce joint venture

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 23, 2021 07:01 PM IST
Amar Chitra Katha has joined hands with HarperCollins India to bring the iconic folktales of India from its comic books in a new format for younger readers.
Close
Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero Waste Life(Instagram)
Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero Waste Life(Instagram)

Bare Necessities: Book shows how to lead sustainable lifestyle in India

PTI, Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 06:46 PM IST
A "one-stop guide" on how to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle in India, "Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero Waste Life", published by Penguin, is written by environmentalist Sahar Mansoor and sustainability consultant Tim De Ridder.
Close
"When I went looking for masterminds of science in India, I found so many that I was overwhelmed... We decided upon the inventions and discoveries that twisted our toes and made us agog with wonder.(Amazon)
"When I went looking for masterminds of science in India, I found so many that I was overwhelmed... We decided upon the inventions and discoveries that twisted our toes and made us agog with wonder.(Amazon)

Book introduces children to rare discoveries of Indian scientists

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 21, 2021 04:11 PM IST
An upcoming book will educate children about the daring discoveries and ingenious inventions of India's brightest scientists.
Close
The launch of the book comes after a Webinar that featured an array of experts from skill space as well as from Textile-Apparel and other allied Industries who had explored the 'Future of Jobs & Skills'.(ANI )
The launch of the book comes after a Webinar that featured an array of experts from skill space as well as from Textile-Apparel and other allied Industries who had explored the 'Future of Jobs & Skills'.(ANI )

Noted educationist Dr Darlie Koshy's new book unveiled at the India Craft Week

ANI, New Delhi [india]
PUBLISHED ON FEB 21, 2021 09:54 AM IST
Noted educationist and leader of skilling India, Dr Darlie O Koshy's new book titled 'Runway to Skilled India' was unveiled at the India Craft Week being held at Bikaner House, New Delhi.
Close
'The Running Man,' published in 1982, was a dystopian horror novel, originally written under King's pseudonym Richard Bachman.(Amazon )
'The Running Man,' published in 1982, was a dystopian horror novel, originally written under King's pseudonym Richard Bachman.(Amazon )

Edgar Wright to helm adaptation of Stephen King's 'The Running Man'

ANI, Washington [us]
PUBLISHED ON FEB 20, 2021 07:12 PM IST
Ace film director Edgar Wright is set to helm an adaptation of American author Stephen King's popular novel titled 'The Running Man' for Paramount Pictures.
Close
"A Married Woman" revolves around Astha, an educated middle-class married woman whose carefully curated world starts to unravel when she meets another woman, a widow, and the gentle romance that follows.(Amazon)
"A Married Woman" revolves around Astha, an educated middle-class married woman whose carefully curated world starts to unravel when she meets another woman, a widow, and the gentle romance that follows.(Amazon)

My books should reflect what I see in society: Manju Kapur 

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 20, 2021 05:35 PM IST
Describing herself as a "mirror of society" kind of writer, author Manju Kapoor is hoping the series adaptation of her novel "A Married Woman" will reflect the distress of her protagonists as well as the turmoil of the world outside.
Close
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of The Palace of Illusions and The Forest of Enchantments (Photo: Facebook)
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of The Palace of Illusions and The Forest of Enchantments (Photo: Facebook)

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: Why should we have to whitewash our heroines

By Navneet Vyasan
UPDATED ON FEB 20, 2021 09:40 PM IST
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s latest work, The Last Queen, tells the tale of one of the most fearless women of the nineteenth century — Rani Jindan Kaur
Close
The minister said it is a matter of pride that all proud moments in the history of CRPF in the last 82 years have been recorded in the book.(HT )
The minister said it is a matter of pride that all proud moments in the history of CRPF in the last 82 years have been recorded in the book.(HT )

Amit Shah releases book chronicling CRPF's history

ANI, New Delhi [india]
PUBLISHED ON FEB 20, 2021 12:14 PM IST
Home Minister Amit Shah on Friday released a book chronicling the history of CRPF since its raising in 1939 and said it will become a source of inspiration for personnel joining the force.
Close
Jaipur Literature Festival used to be held at Diggi Palace, Jaipur until last year.
Jaipur Literature Festival used to be held at Diggi Palace, Jaipur until last year.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2021: Lit minds, on a virtual path

By Henna Rakheja, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 20, 2021 02:25 AM IST
Over 300 speakers and performers representing about 25 Indian and 18 international languages from more than 23 nationalities are part of the 14th edition of JLF.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP