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Goodbye, 2019: Arundhathi Subramaniam

Arundhathi Subramaniam is one of the most eloquent, well-versed contemporary Indian poets there is. Being a sincere admirer of her words, I have written her leers and emails, met her at several literary festivals where she has left me awestruck, and am constantly inspired whenever she shares new work.

I'm overjoyed to share her thought-provoking answers for the Goodbye, 2019 interview series:

Photo by Meetesh Taneja

The nicest thing you did for someone in 2019? I have read numerous manuscripts of poetry, and written endorsements for them! They took up a lot of time, so they've got to be among the nicest things I've done. If there are others, I'm unaware of them. 

The book that helped you the most in 2019?

I'm not sure they 'helped', but some books were rewarding to read. I'd mention three books I was particularly happy to read:

1. I revisited The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche -- always a profoundly absorbing book to sink into.

2. Emerald by Ruth Padel -- a luminous, mysteriously moving multi-faceted volume of poems.

3. Out of Syllabus by Sumana Roy -- a fine, strong and self-assured debut poetry collection

The song you heard on loop this year? None really. It's been the same old favourites on an intermittent basis: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Kishore Kumar of the 70s, Bhimsen Joshi's abhangas, Kumar Gandharva's nirguna bhajans, Ajoy Chakraborty's Bhavani Dayani... The film/TV show you fell head over heels in love with?

Head over heels? None; I haven't watched much this year. I did enjoy Gully Boy, however.  Your biggest accomplishment this year? Probably a new book of poems that's been five years in the making. I'm glad Love Without a Story is finally out. I also curated two festivals this year that I enjoyed: Mystic Kalinga in Bhubaneswar around Bhakti poetry, and Wild Women in Mumbai's National Centre for the Performing Arts around music and the poetry of women mystics.

from Love Without a Story (Westland Amazon, India, 2019)

Your big 2019 takeaway?

To go dancing more often, probably. Who are you creative crushing on lately? It's been a long time since I 'creative crushed'! But I'm reading the Devi poetry of Ramprasad Sen and Qazi Nazrul Islam in English translation right now, and loving it. A recent epiphany you've had? May I quote few lines from my recent book of poems? If so, here are three epiphanies:

1. that there are 'tricks to turn rage into celebration'.

2. that it is possible to be a traveller without 'looking for a bargain or an invitation'.

3. that it is possible to be 'unhurried, forever out of step/ always on time'. 

from Where I Live: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2009)

What’s your number one bucket list item for 2020?

A trip to Egypt, maybe. That's been on my list for a very long time; I suspect it could well get deferred agin! Rate 2019 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being Totally Sucked. I'd rate it 7: there were a couple of months of intense pain (thanks to a frozen shoulder and torn deltoids), but there were also interesting conversations, pleasurable work, long walks along Juhu beach and the streets of Manhattan, and trips to Bhutan and Australia that I particularly enjoyed.

Thank you, Arundhathi. Happy 2020! :)

Visit Arundhathi Subramaniam's website to read more of her poems. You can also read an old interview I did on Scroll.


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