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Affirmations of Life

G.J.V. Prasad

By Ketaki Kushari Dyson , Lakshmi Kannan, Anna Sujatha Mathai, Priya Sarukkai Chabria
Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 193, pp. 193, pp. 157, pp. 157, Rs. 90.00 each

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

These two volumes of poetry need to be noticed for more than one reason. This is perhaps the first time that the Sahitya Akademi has published English writings. This is truly welcome in poetry, where even established poets struggle to find publishers. These two-in-one books, ‘double-decker’ volumes as Keki Daruwalla (who has edited and written an introduction to each volume) calls them, of poetry by women give space to three established and one new poet, all of them deserving of this hallowed space. These two volumes certainly fulfill the aims that Sahitya Akademi seems to have set itself in this venture – “to project Indian poetry in English by women writers, so that the larger reading public becomes aware of their nuanced sensitivity and the infinite variety of their concerns”. Aptly, the poets chosen for these volumes, Ketaki Kushari Dyson and Lakshmi Kannan, and Anna Sujatha Mathai and Priya Sarukkai Chabria, and their poems showcase a great deal of variety and nuanced sensitivity.   As Keki Daruwalla says in his introduction, Ketaki Dyson and Lakshmi Kannan make a good pair because both are bilingual writers, the first writing in Bengali as well and the other in Tamizh. Ketaki Dyson has lived in England for a long time now but has maintained close links with the Bengali literary life. As her son Igor puts it in ‘Reflections on the Halves of Normality’, India is “the other half of normality” for them. Quite appositely, her part of the volume, entitled “In That Sense You Touched It”, begins with poems of return to Calcutta: After swimming the channel of three years and/ five thousand miles/ the first night – the first port of call – / is always tricky, prickly with spooky vibes.   Before you say not one more NRI, there are only three poems that deal directly with India, and this NRI observes with an acuity and sympathy. In ‘A View from a Balcony in Lake Town, Calcutta: A Man, a Dog, and Some Crows’, Dyson notices a man “cleaning and slicing carp/ before a rich man’s mansion”. He is watched from a distance by a dog and some crows. As he walks away after selling the fish, the poet says that though he won’t feed them with the waste in front of the house, “he knows the hunger/ of his fellow creatures”. She sees him feed them with affection at a distance, before he “...

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