INTRODUCTION – LINDA ASHOK
“In a time of performance poets and spoken word poets and jazz poets and poz poets and street poets and stand-up poets and sit-down poets, and the poet-next-door and the poet-as-professor, the conversational poets and confessional poets, the poets of the quotidian and the poets of crisis, and the poet as activist and poet as arriviste, and Martian poets and Movement poets and identity poets and queer poets, it helps to remember that once poetry was prophecy.” – Jeet Thayil, The Book of Chocolate Saints.
In this issue of Noble / Gas Quarterly, I represent a folio of 19 poets from India writing in English and the ways they’ve contributed and continue to fulfill the prophecies of their soil. This is personally satisfying for me for as it serves as an introduction for poets elsewhere to learn as much about the poets in India as much I know of the ones whether singing in their own silences or on the podium of the New Yorker or the Poetry Foundation.
Talking about soil: this folio presents poetry from the four corners of the subcontinent. Sudeep Sen, Aryanil Mukherjee, and Sumana Roy represent Bengal– once known as the cultural hub of India that was believed to be the place of prophecy in art and culture, movements that contributed to India’s struggle for freedom. Politics changes everything. So it did with Bengal too. Anyway, let’s not get into that. We are talking about poetry.
From the folio, we also have Vinita Agrawal of Gujrati descent who also spent her childhood in Bengal along with my peers and contemporaries Sahana Mukherjee, Kiriti Sengupta and Mosarrap Khan. While Aditi Nagrath and Maaz Bin Bilal hail from the capital of the country, Delhi, Mani Rao, Binu Karunakaran, Srividya Sivakumar, Shriram Sivaramakrishnan and Dinesh Sairam represent southern India, including Chennai and Tamil Nadu, although for their work they are placed in different cities outside the home-state. Rochelle D’Silva and Rochelle Potkar are of Goan roots and Preeti Vangani is settled in Mumbai while Urvashi Bahuguna shifted to the capital from her Goan affiliations. Huzaifa Pandit hails from Kashmir which is now in tatters as a group of pariahs continue to prey on it.
Dear connoisseurs of fine poetry, I invite you to enjoy this broad spread of delicacy which in all possibilities may seem foreign and you may not be able to connect immediately with the taste, but if you give yourself a chance, you would know India has come a long way from basking in the glory of Tagore, or the white collar Silicon jobs for which they are treated the new whites. Trust me when I say, you can smell the lanes of Kolkata and tea-leaves of Darjeeling here, you can feel your shirt smelling of incense burnt during the 6-day festivity of goddess Durga. If your imagination is as strong or wilder than mine, you can find yourself walking the streets of the country and forgive Google for the limited street view experience of India that it can ever offer you. Of everything, you will feel privy to the life and times of poets in this folio whose voices are not relayed by the NPR of BBC’s Saturday podcasts. While saying this, there is a vague resurfacing of a friend’s regret. She said, we are lesser browns. We don’t get to experience the Emmys. Sigh.
So, with this, I raise a toast to the poets in this folio and you who have come a long way to experience poetry from India.