Why “Ghachar Ghochar” by Vivek Shanbhag shouldn’t win the 2018 Best Translated Book Award


My second post in my series “Why xxx can not win the Best Translated Book Award”. Today I look at “Ghachar Ghochar” by Vivek Shanbhag (Translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur).

Let’s state the obvious (might have to be a standard opening line for this series!), the Best Translated Book Award is for the small independent publishers to highlight their wares. The publishers that have taken home the fiction award to date have been Soft Skull, Archipelago, Melville House, New York Review of Books, New Directions, Yale University Press, And Other Stories and Open Letter, “Ghachar Ghochar” is published by Penguin, yes there’s been a big one before but c’mon Penguin stop raining on somebody else’s party!!!

When I pick up a book from India, I expect a caste struggle or a historical fiction, moving from colonial rule to independence. Rohinton Mistry gave us the untouchable leather workers Ishvar and Omprakash, in “A Fine Balance”, Salman Rushdie a protagonist, Saleem, who was born at midnight on 15 August 1947, the exact moment India became and independent country.  And I could cite example after example of what I expect when reading fiction from India. Here there’s not an untouchable in sight, and there is a small veiled reference to progress;

The walls are panelled in wood to shoulder height. Old photographs hang on the sturdy square pillars in the center of the room, showing you just how beautiful this city was a century ago. The photographs evoke a gentler, more leisurely time, and somehow Coffee House still manages to belong to that world. For instance, you can visit at seven in the evening when it’s busiest, order only a coffee and occupy a table for two hours, and no one will object. They seem to know that someone who simply sits there for so long must have a thousand wheels spinning in his head. And they know those spinning wheels will not let a person be. Eventually, he’ll be overwhelmed, just like the serene spaces in those photographs that buyers devoured and turned into the cluttered mess we have around us today. (pp1-2)

Here we have a novel where the unnamed narrator, protagonist has moved from a poor upbringing, a crowded home infested with ants, to living a life of relative luxury, a director who doesn’t have to work, a member of the middle class. This change in fortunes comes about through an uncle who has successfully set up a spice distribution business, the family who all live together have moved from struggling to bourgeois;

Our only fear now is he might lose his mind with age and become ruinously entangled in some philanthropic enterprise. So we try to keep him in a good mood, making sure he doesn’t lose his taste for food or develop other ascetic tendencies. We steer him clear of thoughts about the futility of life and so on. An unfortunate consequence of this is that we must endure his garrulity whenever he emerges from his shell – the same old stories, again and again. Who knows what pleasure he gains from reminding us of the days when we struggled to get by in this city on a tiny income. (pp23-24)

However the story is not simply about the rise from poverty to relative wellbeing, it begins in a coffee house with the narrator reflecting upon his life of luxury and reminiscing about the journey that led to him whiling away the hours sipping coffee, the main theme being family bonds, were times better when money had to be watched, when budgeting was required when a new pair of trousers were required;

Soon the house was crammed with expensive mismatched furniture and out-of-place decorations. A TV arrived. Beds and dressing tables took up space in the rooms. In retrospect, many of the new objects had no place in our daily lives. Our relationship with things we accumulated became casual; we began treating them carelessly. (p52)

I want a story like “Slumdog Millionaire”, you know the type, rise from depths, become successful, have your success cruelly taken away, these are the successful story lines that should be promoted, none of this “the biggest drama in my life is some unknown woman vying for the man of the house’s affections” rubbish. And what an incomprehensible title, you can’t give an award to a book you can’t pronounce!!!

The next morning, we woke up in a hopelessly rumpled bed. I entwined my legs in hers and said, “Look, we are ghachar ghochar now.” She did not laugh. She must have thought I was making fun of her. Of course, those words could never mean to me all that they meant to her; nor would I ever utter them as naturally as she did. But she had shared with me this secret phrase that didn’t exist in any language, and now I was one of only five people in the world who knew it. (p78)

A novella that is constructed with simple concise and familiar prose, believable well shaped characters, a tight knit family who is presided over by the male character who dragged them from the mire;

It’s true what they say – it’s not we who control money, it’s the money that controls us. When there’s only a little, it behaves meekly; when it grows, it becomes brash and has its way with us. Money had swept us up and flung us in the midst of a whirlwind. (p53)

Finally the other downfall is the length, this runs to a mere 118 pages, it is a book you can read in a single sitting. Where’s the knitted brow as you decipher philosophical existentialist angst, where grand literary themes are presented in a labyrinth of complexity? This is what I expect from translated fiction, an independent publisher exposing me to the cultural nuances of a region I know nothing about, not a comfy family drama of the middle class, well to do in India, what on earth are these judges thinking???


The Book of Chocolate Saints – Jeet Thayil


You’re a critic. There’s no worse thing that can be said about a man.

As I was working my way through Jeet Thayil’s second novel, “The Book of Chocolate Saints”, I was wondering why the publicity and reviews have been a little thin on the ground. In fact, I have seen one short review in “The Guardian”. The quote above appears as the novel comes to a close, a slap in the face for critics.

When Jeet Thayil exploded onto the mainstream literary stage with his debut novel “Narcopolis” his reputation as a hard living former drug addict seemed to overshadow his achievements as a poet and novelist. “Narcopolis” was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012 and subsequently won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2013 and most reflections, critiques of the book seemed to focus on the persona of the writer, the drug elements and less on the tale of Bombay. For example, does anybody mention the novel’s opening and closing word is “Bombay”?

“The Book of Chocolate Saints” is not going to change Jeet Thayil’s hard playing reputation, it is probably only going to enhance it, merely through the seedier elements. However this is a multi multi layered work, running at close to 500 large pages, it is a complex story of the fictional poet and painter Newton Francis Xavier, an alcoholic, womaniser, a character who is highly intelligent, famous but with no self-control. It is also the story of Dismas, the young admiring writer who is compiling a biography of Newton (or Xavier, or simply X), in fact two books “two hundred and fifty pages of heft”, are we reading those two books? Or maybe  it is the story of Goody Lol, Newton’s latest partner, or possibly the “The Hung Realists” a group of Bombay poets, Newton being the co-editor of an anthology called “The Hung Realists: A Subaltern Manifesto”. Or possibly this is a tale of the “Chocolate Saints”, dark skinned Saints who throughout the ages have been redefined as fair skinned with blue eyes, this includes Jesus. Surely it is also an homage to Roberto Bolaño, the similarities to “The Savage Detectives” are too obvious to ignore, fragmentary, an alter-ego (Dismas is Thayill?), the multiple character narrations and simply the celebration of a literary movement, here we have the “Hung Realists”, Bolaño with the “visceral realists”.

Structurally the book is presented in alternating parts, the first, after a short Prologue, consisting of interviews with numerous characters conducted by Dismas and the next a narrative of Newton Francis Xavier’s life, alternating back to interviews and so forth. A novel presented in a series of fragments, it is not linear, although you can follow the exposes quite simply. But it is not simply the narrative plotline that is the attraction here.

Poets Man! They’re the same all over. Mendicants, martyrs, lapsed monks convinced the world owes them an explanation or an apology or a meal, wine included. But fuck the dumb shit. I tell you this, if you’re planning a revolution or founding a new religion go to the poets. Don’t waste your time with fucking scriveners. Go to the source, the bards. At least you can count on them to be true to their essential nature. And what is this nature? Ruthlessness, I say! Enlist the poets and expect blood. There will be a lot of it. Enlist the poets and stay away from the novelists because novelists are feckless. They have no feck at all. They are yes-men hungry for approval and patronage, always looking out for their own interests. As for playwrights, all they do is talk, talk, talk about the revolution and social justice, women’s empowerment, humanism, anarchism, but it never goes anywhere because that that’s all it is, big talk, back talk, chitchat, gossip. They’re good at it because that’s how they gather material. When it comes to putting words into action? They’ll be the first to disappear. You will also come across scriptwriters and screenplay doctors. Be warned. They live in their own reality and it rarely coincides with anyone else’s. I advise you to tread carefully with those bastards. Walk among them as if you’re in a den of goddamn vipers. Count on nothing and you’ll be okay. The only ones you can trust are the short-story writers because they’re like the poets in at least one respect. They shoot their shot in one go and this leads to an understanding of luck and discipline. They learn early that discipline lies in waiting and allowing the circumstances for luck to arise. The point I am trying to make is that poets are born with certain unenviable traits. For example, paranoia. For example, they admire self-sabotage and the perverse. And for a last example, they are born with a capacity for cruelty, followed by and infinite capacity for remorse. (pp23-24)

A work that every few pages throws a new revelation, or a quotable quote, right at you, for example Dismas, low class, low caste is in the USA, of course he is displaced, what does he do for acceptance? Consumerism?

Two weeks later, with his first paycheque in hand, Dismas went to the Macy’s flagship at Herald Square and bought a pair of premium wheat nubuck Tims for $189.99 and a Kangol Two-Tone 504 for $39.99. He wore the cap back to front so the logo would face the world. He packed his Converses in a Macy’s bad and wore the Tims out of the store. He picked up the new Alicia Keys and a portable CD player shaped like a frisbee. All the way home he noticed others like himself, recognisably set apart by the bags they caried from various retail giants. The young father in baggy jeans and white T-shirt who proudly carried purchases from The Gap, Urban Outfitters, and Calvin Klein; the elegant older lady with the distinctive Barney’s bag; the couple with matching sets of Bed, Bath & Beyond. He was one among them, an extended family on a weekend outing, people from all kinds of ethnic and economic backgrounds bound together by the same great yearning. With his first substantial act of shopping since arriving in New York he felt American at last. Nothing else mattered, not his past, not his caste, not the weight of his degraded history. In this great country the only caste marks were the brand names you accessorised. (pp82-83)

It is these moments of clarity that keep drawing you back into the work. The controversy of 9/11 also presents itself in a rumbling distorted presentation, the impact on Indians, Sikh’s mistaken for Muslims, is one of racist payback and revenge killings, the fear of those marginalised groups in the USA at that time being masterfully captured, and although this is fiction, you feel the opinions of Newton will rile quite a few readers.

You are an American with a job on Wall Street and an apartment in Park Slope. People give you their money and you knead it like dough: you supersize it. You run in the park in a warm-up jacket with headphones strapped to your arm. You don’t take sugar in your coffee. You don’t eat white bread or potatoes. You don’t drink beer. You have a body mass index calculator on your computer and it tells you your weight, real and ideal, in relation to your height. You take your coffee black. In your office there is a leather couch and two leather armchairs and a framed lithograph of the Brooklyn Dodgers signed and numbered by the artist. You are an American: a New Yorker: a Brooklynite. Then the towers come down and you find yourself on a plane headed west. It is 2003, wartime in American. You have to be wearing a turban and sitting on a place to Arizona via Texas to understand the meaning of this. (p127)

This is a confronting work, poverty, sodomy, rape, drug abuse, flow in and out of the storyline. In one beautifully constructed section Goody Lol tries heroin for the first time and the text becomes more garbled and slowly disintegrates in front of your eyes.

However it is not all horror, there are some wonderfully humorous lines, for example;

The year I’m talking about is 1996. I remember because of the music, angst-in-my-pants from North America. Bands named after food items, pumpkins and honey and jam, suicidal white boys trying on grime like a flannel shirt. (p224)

This book is an inadvertent lesson in how not to write.

Full of digressions, this homage is full of tortured souls, poets, painters, writers, the fictional blending with the factual, there is a large powerful section where Jeet Thayil lists writers who have committed suicide. Where was Eduardo Leve? However you could spend a lifetime just reading the works of the writers Jeet Thayil has referenced here, let alone all the other authors and poets chronicled throughout.

In certain ways the lives of the poets and the lives of the saints are similar: the solitary travails, the epiphanic awakening and early actualisation, the thwarting and the mercy, the small rewards, the false starts, the workaday miracles, the joyous visions and fearful hallucinations, the flagellation of the flesh and the lonely difficult deaths. (p355)

It is the “Chocolate Saints” always hovering in the background, the wrongly treated, originally dark skinned these “Saints” are now known as fair skinned, and it is Newton Francis Xavier who is going to bring their true heritage and tales to our attention, through his artwork and his poetry. Is his name Francis Xavier a co-incidence? Francis Xavier was “the patron saint of wanderers without destination”… “a small exhausted dark-skinned man”.

This novel charts the “unmapped world of Indian poetry, a world known only unto itself.” The listing of numerous real Indian poets is phenomenal, for example there is a passing reference to Lawrence Bantleman, a young poet who gave up his art and died young. If you Google him you will find no information about his life, but you will find his poems.

Covering displacement, artistic creation, political motivation, caste politics, race, skin colour, the fringes of society, perversion and so much more, Jeet Thayil has created a vibrant homage to Indian poetry and forgotten Eastern Saints. The similarities to Bolaño are obvious, however I don’t see that as a bad thing. I’d wager the author couldn’t care less either, that persona preceding him!!

If the Man Booker Prize judges show some fortitude and reward writing that challenges you, that tries new things, then we will be hearing a lot more about this book when the long and shortlists are announced later this year. If they go with their standard safe, non-disruptive fare then maybe this book will become one of those obscure works rarely referenced, rarely read, and that would be upsetting.

A revelation, with disruptive and thought provoking exposés throughout, you can’t go many pages without something gripping you and tossing you out of your daily slumber. Great to see poets, by trade, shaking up the literary world.

…he would make his subject a window from which to view a broken society and a vanquished literature.

Panty – Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (translated by Arunava Sinha)

Australian writer Gerald Murnane was featured in the US publication “Music and Literature No 3” where, along with critical essays, he was interviewed about his work and wrote a letter in reply to a journalist about the feeling of distance in his writing, his “space”, the universe being three-dimensional and the mind;
You wrote about a feeling of distance in my writing. You are a perceptive fellow. Notions of space or distance are nearly always in my thoughts…I hardly need to remind you that I think of mind as space. I long ago rejected the popular theories of the mind advanced in the twentieth century. For me, the mind is extent and, quite possibly, endless, that is to say, infinite. This would entail, I suppose, the belief that all minds are one or even that everything is mind, but that sort of speculation is not for me. I have enough to do during my lifetime with uncovering the patterns of imagery in my corner of mind without seeking further.
Interestingly the concept of space, the continuum between the heart and the mind, came to the fore with the very next book I picked up after reading Murnane’s letter.
Tilted Axis Press is a new south London based publisher, a not-for-profit press “on a mission to shake up contemporary international literature.” According to their website they publish “the books that might not otherwise make it into English, for the very reasons that make them exciting to us – artistic originality, radical vision, the sense that here is something new.” Founded by Deborah Smith, yes THE Deborah Smith who recently won the Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”, their name comes from “tilting the axis of world literature from the centre to the margins…these margins are spaces of completing innovation, where multiple traditions spark new forms and translation plays a crucial role.
And their first release, from India, Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s “Panty” (translated by Arunava Sinha) is a work that very much plays in the margins, a story about space itself.
She “who had no name, no identity, no family, no city or village, no property or assets” arrives in the city in the middle of the night and is put up in a large dark apartment by a mysterious man. The only thing left in the apartment (there is no light, our narrator is in darkness metaphorically and physically), is a pair of stained leopard skin panties. Due to the onset of our protagonist’s period and with no other clothes our mystery woman puts in the panties;
I slipped into the panty.
What I did not know was that I had actually stepped into a woman.
I slipped into her womanhood.
Her sexuality, her love.
I slipped into her desire, her sinful adultery, her humiliation and sorrow, her shame and loathing. I had entered her life, though I didn’t know it. I even slipped into her defeat and her withdrawal. I slipped into her nation too, in that moment. Trite thoughts about her world passed through my mind. How fine the material was, I reflected. Soft. A perfect fit. As though tailored especially for me. After putting it one, I was no longer repulsed. I lay down, spreading my hair out on the pillow. Although I do not admit that I fell asleep, it is undeniable that I was woken up by a series of sounds in the room.
Chapter numbers are random (or are they) starting at Chapter 29, moving to 15, then 11, back to 18 etc. with not all numbers covered this is very much a fractured tale of a fractured nation, India. Whilst fractured this book is also, very much like the Tilted Axis agenda, a work that plays with “spaces”. Opening with a definition from the translator of the Bangla word “mōn”;
In the ontology that English-reading people have acquired through their books, the heart and the mind are binary – neither word can be used to refer to the other. In Indian languages, however, this word (mōn in Bangla, man in Hindi) represents neither the heart nor the mind exclusively. It takes a position, contextually to the rest of the text, on a continuum between the heart and the mind, between emotion and reason, between feeling and knowing.”
          Arunava Sinha
These spaces, not only of the heart and mind, are a constant theme, urban spaces, the space between happiness and disgrace, “legitimate” and Illicit”, man and woman (“the eternal unquestioning game between man and woman instantly began anew, creating two opposing but complementary forces.”), foreigners and locals, street people and urban dwellers, light and dark, the darkness between sanity and insanity, the spaces between religions.
Once, in an urge to ascertain the meanings of ‘legitimate’ and ‘illicit’, she had wished for a space that was at once one of emptiness and of equilibrium, the kind of space that defied the laws of nature. She had searched for such a space, but never found it.
A multi layered visceral novel that not only pushes the boundaries of what you would expect of Bengali literature, this is a dreamlike sequence where the anonymous becomes less known, where your expectations are not met, a work where you fall into the spaces, where deconstruction is part of the construction.
Let yourself go, explore the gaps in India’s culture, the spaces in our own lives, can you leap from a white wall to a brown one?

The book also includes a short story about submission entitled “Sahana, or Shamim”. I dare you… submit.

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Wild Words – Four Tamil Poets – Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi & Sukirtharani (translated by Lakshmi Holmström)

In 2003, a group who had set themselves up as guardians of Tamil culture, objected publicly to the language of a new generation of women poets, namely Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi and Sukirtharani, they were charged with obscenity and immodesty. The controversy, outside of abusive letters, came to a head when the film-song writer Snehithan, appeared on television declaring that the women should be lined up on Mount Road in Chennai, doused with kerosene oil and burnt alive. Two filmmakers, Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayaasankar brought further publicity to the women writer’s cause by making a documentary SheWrite – bringing to the public’s notice the courageous stand the four women had taken.

The documentary apparently focuses on the controversy, however missing one important element, the poetry itself. As the “Translator’s Note” at the conclusion of this collection points out;
When we look back at the history of Tamil poetry, the marginal status of women in the literary canon and their relative meagre output are evident since classical times, Tamil women have been writing and publishing in various genre, but as far as poetry is concerned, we have seen a gradual change only since 1970….suddenly, in the 1990’s, the contribution of women to Tamil poetry became notable. That was a poetry that had to be noticed, not because it was written by women, but because it was different from what appeared in the mainstream.
This book was first published as a bi-lingual English Tamil work by Kalachuvadu Publications and Sangum House “Wild Girls, Wicked Words” in 2012, with the English only edition “Wild Words” being published by Harper Perennial in 2015. It came to my attention purely because of the controversy surrounding the work and always being one to champion, or at least attempt to understand, marginal writers, this book was marked as a “must read”.
The collection opens with seventeen poems by Malathi Maithri, who grew up in a fishing village community with a strong tradition of independent working women. This upbringing coming immediately to the fore with the poem “Waves”. A poem in five sections all opening with “This is a house whose windows/open out to the sea” detailing the everyday activities. The metre and repetition forming word waves, replicating living by the sea and ordinary events like reading an email, cars screeching, all mingled with food and desire.
A tradition of Tamil poetry is the “Sangam”, the five landscapes, Kuṟunji thinai, Pālai thinai, Mullai thinai, Marudam thinai and Neydhal thinai, translating as the mountainous, desert, forest, cropland and seashore regions. Each of these regions have symbolic flowers, animals, crops, soils, roles, Gods and more. The words themselves actually translate as flowers of the regions, however for English translation it is customary to use the name of the landscape instead of the flower. For more details on the Sangam this wiki article is quite detailed; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sangam_landscape
In Malathi Maithri’s following poem, the tradition of the five landscapes comes to the fore:
My home
My little house is not
many leagues away, beyond the desert,
at the base of a beauteous mountain
set within a dense forest.
There certainly isn’t
a flowing stream beside it.
Nor is it at an estuary
within sight of the sea.
There is no room prepared,
ready to welcome me at any time.
My house is not
within any of the five landscapes.
I erect myself a palace,
all the same,
in the koel’s cage
where there is room for me
to rest, always.
Please do not seek
my address
The tradition not being the domain of only male writers, our poet also has a home here, our poet also knows the traditions. A common theme throughout the four different poets is the awareness and openness about their bodies, Malathi Maithri’s poem “Cast away blood” describing the washing of underwear and menstrual blood.
As mentioned above, the natural world themes are common in Tamil poetry and the moon, stars, daylight and other natural world elements are all blended with family stories, her mother selling fish, walking village to village, her baby daughter, the joy of playing on a swing. All of these are grounded in the natural world but the reality of womanhood is always lurking and subjects such as menstrual blood, leaking breast, childbirth and stretch marks are not off limits.
Our next poet is Salma, a pseudonym, a self-educated writer, who kept her identity secret for years without her family of her (arranged) husband’s knowledge, the theme of solitude very much comes to the fore in the fifteen poems presented.
The rust of silence
While I wait for your words
a heavy silence falls
fills the space
Easier indeed
to trust to silence
than to trust in words
though silence itself has rusted.
Now a politician and activist and her writing no longer a secret we have strong feminist themes, such as in “A midnight tale” where the post childbirth decline of her body is described. “The contract” (a marriage contract) in simple language brings home the woman being a man’s chattel;
my sister will repeat in anger
what Amma says more subtly:
That I am to blame
for all that goes wrong
in the bedroom.
Everyday, in the bedroom
these are the first words to greet me:
‘So what is it, today?’
they are
the last words, too.
Here we have an activist poet, as our translator explains in the “Note”; “It is perhaps useful to remember that the traditional values prescribed for the ’Good’ Tamil woman were accham, madam and naanam (fearfulness, propriety, modesty or shame). Our poets have chosen instead, the opposite virtues of fearlessness, outspokenness and a ceaseless questioning of prescribed rules.”
The third poet in the collection is Kutti Revathi, trained in Siddha medicine (a traditional medicine), she was not only a victim of gender bias but also the caste system;
Kutti Revathi distinguishes between the early feminist writers in Tamil and the poets of her own generation. Those early feminists, who certainly struggled hard to gain a voice, were nevertheless often from a privileged background. What is more, they tended to think of women as a single category, without cross-referencing gender with caste and class. The women poets of her generation, however, are often from subaltern groups. According to her, because the caste system insists on the rules that a woman must obey in terms of morality, these two dominations – male domination and caste domination – are not two separate entities but are intertwined, one within the other. For herself, she feels that disavowal of caste is central if we are to end the caste system and look to equality. (from the Translator’s Note)
Here the political comes to the fore, through poems such as “Suicide-soldier”;
Carp-eyed Selvi,
you are about to cast aside your own clothes
and lock them away, as if they are your body.
The mirror sets to right your nakedness
which you wear as your dress. You proceed
to assemble your uniform; your weapons
and suicide belt become your body now.
Siddha is ‘deeply influenced by the strain of Siddha thought which claims our bodies are ourselves: it is through the body that we understand the Natural world, gain knowledge of ourselves and achieve a connectedness with the universe.’ Here the opposite is true, the material is the body, which is about to be used to destroy the natural world. Other poems in her fifteen works presented are very much a homage to nature with day, night, rain, earth, flowers, vegetation, salt and seed all themes and subjects.
The final poet in the collection is Sukirtharani, with fourteen poems presented, when first starting as a poet her reading led her to other poets such as Kamala Das and the novels of Taslima Nasreen, it was then she realized that “a woman’s body had become the property of man. I realized that it was my first duty to redeem it. So my poetry began to put forward a politics of the body.” (taken from ‘My writing and I’ by Sukirtharani). Her upbringing was in the caste whose occupation was to take away the dead animals belonging to the upper caste people, bury and burn them for payment in rice, this is explored in a few poems, including;
I speak up bluntly
I shooed away crows
while flaying dead cows of their skin.
Stood for hours, waiting
to eat the town’s leavings –
then boasted that I ate hot, freshly cooked rice.
When I saw my father in the street
the leather drum slung from his neck,
I turned my face away
and passed him by.
Because I wouldn’t reveal
my father’s job, his income,
the teacher hit me.
Friendless, I sat alone
on the back bench, weeping,
though no one knew.
But now
if anyone asks me
I speak up bluntly:
I am a Paraichi.
Very much a poet who celebrates her independence, her lone voice and determination to overcome all impediments, this is clearly demonstrated in the following poem:
A faint smell of meat
In their minds
I, who smell faintly of meat,
my house where bones hang
stripped entirely of flesh,
and my street
where you men wander without restraint
making loud music
from coconut shells strung with skin
are all at the furthest point of our town.
But I, I keep assuring them
we stand at the forefront.
As our translator, Lakshmi Holmström, points out in the detailed “Translator’s Note”, the lines from Sukirtharani’s poem “Nature’s fountainhead” are pertinent:
I myself will become
The more you confine me, the more I will spill over.”
May the words of these bold poets spill over to broader audiences, may their fight for feminist poetry and free speech continue without threat and as readers may you support these brave and unique voices in their struggle to be heard.
A bold collection, a collection worth buying simply to support these writers let alone to read their poetic blend of Tamil tradition and modern feminist thought.
Source – personal copy

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