Friday, August 18, 2006

South Asian Poetry "Bleg"

A friend of mine is working on an anthology of "contemporary" world poetry (where "contemporary" means from the 1950s on). He's an Indian-American scholar, and he knows the literary traditions of some parts of India well, but obviously not all of them. His particular need here is poetry written in Indian languages.

As a single Punjabi poem to include in the anthology, I gave "Waris Shah Nu" as a suggestion, though my editor friend also indicated he was curious to know what the readers of this blog would suggest:

[A]s my "sphere of influence" in this project is South Asia, I'm trying my hardest to provide as wide and disparate a representation as I can of the many voices in India and in diaspora. I recently realized that my selection, not surprisingly, was skewed toward Indian-English poets and that I was lacking many of the other major languages. Indeed my representation of Bodo, Kashmiri, Manipuri, Konkani, Gujarati, Sindhi, and Punjabi poetry is precipitously low, if even existent (that's not to mention a host of other languages, such as Santali or the Bihari languages, which I'm going to have to give up on I fear). Anyway, I wonder if you could point me to some especially good Punjabi poetry in translation, or the most important poets in said language (or any of the other languages, including ones I didn't mention such as Assamese, Malayalam & Urdu).

Does anyone have a favorite Shiv Kumar poem they could point us to, for example-- with an accompanying translation? (Panini, this means you.) For the purposes of this anthology (since only the translations will be printed), the quality of the English translation is quite important, though I believe the quality of the poem in its original language is paramount.

And needless to say, this goes beyond Punjabi. Above, my friend mentions several other languages as currently deficiently represented. But he does want to keep things "contemporary."

Finally, it would be especially helpful if you could suggest links on the internet, or to previously published translations in English in books. (The project does not have the budget to hire translators of its own. And unfortunately, few scholars working today can compete with the likes of A.K. Ramanujan, who translated many of the poems he included in the Oxford Anthology of Modern Indian Poetry himself.)

Thanks in advance.


Abir said...

I guess as far as Kashmiri is concerned you might want to look at poets such as Rehman Rahi (who figures in two recent Indian documentary films: one by Amar Kanwar and the other by M K Raina), Rafiq Raaz, Bimla Raina, Naseem Shifai and Farooq Nazki. You have here a wide variety of styles and forms. But I am assuming here that you are looking for modern Kashmiri poetry. The translations of Rahi are available in Sahitya Akademi’s journal, Indian Literature, but most of these are quite terrible. None of the other poets have been translated.

1:17 PM  
Panini Pothoharvi said...

This Abir sounds suspiciously like the Kashmiri filmmaker Abir Bazaz! The one who made "Paradise on a River of Hell". Right? If indeed you are the AB I think you are I wish to tell us that Madan sir had shown us the film in his appreciation workshop. We were all very deeply moved.

2:35 PM  
Panini Pothoharvi said...

Read 'you' instead of 'us' (you know where?) - I just got excited. Amardeep jio, I am onto the job you have hinted at. Give me a day or so.

2:39 PM  
Abir said...

Hi Panini,
I am indeed the same Abir Bazaz. Great to hear that you had liked the film. Madan Ji had inspired us in so many ways...he was the only person who came to attend a preview of a student film I had made with two other students on the Kashmiri language.

7:17 PM  
Panini Pothoharvi said...

Sorry for the delay in responding - there were far too many deadlines and the pressure of a new job that I am planning to take up in Kolkotta shortly.

The finest translations of Shiv Batalvi are done by Ms Suman Kashyap whose email id is The other virtuoso is Dr Madan Gopal Singh whose email id is Dr Singh tells me that some of Shiv Batalvi's translation by the second in command at the Indian Embassy in the US, Mr Raminder Jassal, are outstanding. So here is another source that you may pick up.

11:27 PM  
Panini Pothoharvi said...

Another thought that comes to my mind is that the editor should take a wider, if not a comprehensive, look at the poetry of the following poets before making up his mind about who to include and who to leave out. As for the Punjabi literature, the following poets are of utmost importance:

1) Puran Singh (tr MGS)
2) Mohan Singh (tr Suman Kashyap)
3) Amrita Pritam (tr MGS / B Gargi)
4) Harbhajan Singh (tr MGS)
5) Shiv Batalvi (tr SK / R Jassal)
6) Passh (tr Amarjit Chandan?)
7) Surjit Paatar (tr Gulzar Sandhu)
8) Amarjit Chandan (tr AC / MGS)

Second, if Abir sir is still around, two questions:
1) Where do you live?
2) Where could one get a DVD of POAROH?

12:43 AM  
Abir said...

Hi Panini,
Can I have your e-mail ID please? I could then respond in more detail. I hope to be able to read some of these poets you have written about. And all the best with your new job.

1:36 AM  
Panini Pothoharvi said...

Abir sir, my email id is Would feel honoured to hear from you!

8:43 PM  
Sharanya Manivannan said...

Have sent you an email. Hope it's helpful. :)

1:18 AM  
vikasmenon said...

As far as Malayalam poetry goes, K. Satchidananandan's may be a good poet to start with. The following link's translations aren't so great, but there is a bibliography:

Also, an article from the Hindu about some new young Malayali poets:

And a bibliography of Malayalam lit in translation:

3:52 PM  
Amardeep said...

Thanks, everyone. These contributions have been great. Panini, thanks for pointing us to Suman Kashyap.

Sharanya, thanks for the email on Subramania Bharaty.

And Vikasmenon, thanks for the pointer on K. Satchidanandan.

You might be hearing more on this question sometime soon.

4:32 PM  
Anonymous said...

Assamese: (late) Navakanta Barua. I think one of his more famous poems' translated version is called the "Elevator".
For assamese poetry/other north eastern pointers, isnt it easiest to just email faculty in gauhati university, cotton college, iitg, university in kohima ...

I don't really know but there are faculty there who are poets themselves...

11:28 AM  
Anonymous said...

For Kashmiri I would recommend Amin Kamil, a great voice with poems of eternal value to his credit. But translations are not avialble and a difficult job for a translator indeed.

3:03 AM  

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