Do You See?
>I shall be posting the 2009 January Muse India link when it goes live. In the meanwhile, here is an e-mail and a sneak peek of the editorial by this Diaspora issue’s guest editor Usha Akella. I’m pretty excited that my poem appears with hers in the urban poetry anthology SHEHER (Frog Books). Parts of the editorial that I have vested interest in, have been boldfaced…
While sharing with you, the contributors, the editorial to the January 2009 http://www.museindia.com/ that includes your work, I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you for submitting in time and being part of this exciting project. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to connect and savor your work. Please do not forget to check out the website in January.
The submission period and editing is closed as of today and henceforth direct any queries/needs/requirements you might have to GSP Surya Rao, the manager of museindia.com at firstname.lastname@example.org. My participation in the project ends today but I hope that this is the beginning of new friendships, projects and shared kinship between us. For me, poetry has always been about the connections and friends it brings.
I’d love your feedback to the editorial. I sincerely intended to pay tribute to all of you and to the poetry we write so I hope it does you justice.
Dense with words, a homecoming
Diaspora poets, USA
By Usha Akella
When G.S.P. Surya Rao invited me to edit this issue, I had an opportunity to connect with the unseen community I belong to- the US Diasporic poets. On reading the poems sent to me there was an instant familiarity- the gnawing, simultaneous claiming and disclaiming within our sensibilities, and the passionate ownership of words to heal/acknowledge/define/transcend that fluidity. I felt I had just entered the country I truly belonged to- a country with many post offices. To quote Rajarshi Singh, ‘For it is not simply a tale of one promised land.’
I am hugely delighted to share with you the poems of Ravi Shankar, Reetika Vazirani, Ralph Nazareth, Pramila Venkateswaran, Soham Patel, Saleem Peeradina, Pireeni Sundaralingam, Meena Alexander, Goutam Datta, Kazim Ali, Ro Gunetilleke , Nabina Das and Rajarshi Singh. (For various reasons, I was unable to include the work of Vijay Seshadri, Prageeta Sharma, Sana Mulji Dutt, Amitava Kumar and Agha Shahid Ali which to me would have rendered this issue ‘complete.’)
I delivered an impromptu speech at the Calicut International Book Fair, Kerala, October 2007 somewhat bewildered by the decades old, and to me, passé debate if Indian poets writing in English are authentic enough:
I am glad for this opportunity to finally confront my own personal history. I write in English. I dream in English. I blunder in English. I know no other way. This was circumstantial, and we must not be guilty of our circumstances or our personal and national histories. I accessed my Indian culture in English as a child. And my culture accesses me via my English poetry today… When English is unceasingly and scathingly targeted as foreign, I wonder why do we not ask the same question of Urdu? After all this language too is the language that emerged as a result of invasion and occupation. We have allowed time for a process of assimilation for this language and accept it as intrinsic to the land. Where is the spirit of generosity, absorption and inclusiveness that to me is the quintessence of India. Do we ask the question, are Punjabis Indian? Are Tamils Indian? Are Muslims. Indian? Are Christians Indian? What is pure Indian? Is this an answerable question?
English is here to stay because English more than any other Indian language has evidenced the spirit of adaptability and absorption. How many kinds of English exist within India alone! Like a river taking on the characteristic of the land it flows through, English has the incredible flexibility to morph according to the mother language of the speaker. English is the only language that is able to access an Indian sensibility not just a regional sensibility- and thankfully! In some sense, this issue being debated in English is like a brain observing itself.
I now have a golden chance to tear down a few walls. Pireeni Sundaralingam enquired if she was eligible for the issue, given that she is not Indian. “I was born in Sri Lanka and lived in both Europe and the US but, sadly, not India.” She was welcomed with Ro Gunetilleke, and on reading their work we will be glad of the hospitality extended. I’d like to think India softened its borders in this issue.
I am glad to honor the poetry of late Reetika Vazirani who seemed slated for a great poetic career Her exquisite poetry evokes jazz, chant, lamentation and celebration. I thought it appropriate to include two prose pieces in this issue- an interview with Ram Devineni, the founder of Rattapallax and a staunch promoter of poetry; and poet Goutam Datta’s foreword to the anthology A mingling of waters. Goutam and Ram collaborate to bring American poets to Kolkata. (Check out Goutam’s new online Literary journal, http://www.urhalpool.com/, a contemporary Bengali-English bilingual webzine. The next issue of Rattapallax is devoted to Bengali poetry)
I felt that this is an editorial that should be heard from the poet’s mouth- what it is to be bracketed by twin realities. I asked the poets to provide an artist statement and the fascinating array evidenced an acute awareness of identity, poetics and displacement. Poets by definition are natural immigrants ‘comfortable’ in exile- both inner and outer.
Saleem Peeradina states this suspension with a lucid image in ‘Song of the Makeover’:
Where travelers reaching their destination
Discover they are lost. An error of navigation,
A trick of perception, crunches two realities
Into a single space
Ironically, the parenthesis itself becomes the figure for Diaspora – the release from India and an unceasing unfoldment from her. A poetry, this complex, can never be wholly contained by geographical extremities or even psychological ones, and is constantly re-imaging and imagining itself beyond its own scope.
Perhaps, in the land of language, India is Kazim Ali’s vowel and America his consonant. Both are needed to speak, and to contain, to find the silence from which words must come.
Ralph Nazareth’s poems froth in a furious awareness of fragmentation. ‘Try to take India away from me, and I’m like my dog, fierce in defense of his bone.’ This could be called a poetry from a borderland fully lucid of its sleep walking. Perhaps, there is no better way to portray it than Pramila Venkateswaran. She writes poems ‘Early in the morning in the silent hour between sleep and waking.’ In contrast, for Soham Patel, India is the noise and music, the magic that keeps her rhythm. Ravi Shankar poems whirl delighted in the substance of words, spiraling within the contours of language to find their center. Like Nabina Das, if only we could perceive our world as an amble in two gardens savoring two different bouquets. For Meena Alexander poetry is an expanse in which Meera meets Ginsberg. Poetry can ask for no more!
In conclusion, I say to Pireeni and the company I am in, let’s “find each other in foreign lands.”