Poetry at Sangam



February 2017

Arunava Sinha is regarded by many as the preeminent translator from the Bengali to the English today; his translations extend from the classical and the modern to the contemporary. He’s a phenomenon – I mean this in the best sense of the word. Besides having over thirty-five translations of poetry and fiction to his credit, that includes many prize winners, he also curates the splendid Seagull Books’ India list and is Books Editor at Scroll.in that is a treat to read and… Sinha radiates a robust energy; he’s brisk, not brusque and doing what he loves with a rare honesty. I met him at the Jaipur Literary Festival some years ago; we were together on a panel. He delivered what I can only describe as a mini Master Class on Translation, swiftly and lucidly laying out issues involved in the process.

We are delighted Arunava Sinha is curating this Special Issue on Translation from various Indian languages. It’s a strong and sumptuous folio that brings a breadth of voices, many from the Indias we aren’t as familiar with as should be. Here are excerpts from Arunava Sinha’s translations of poetry that hint at the voices and tones he ranges through with a truly beautiful felicity.

This, by Amiya Chakravarty: In return you have got/ The silent pool in entirety/ A clear mirror framed in blue/ Water filled with light/ A shadow branch that’s bent with flowers/ Fluttering sails of purple clouds/ Filling up the heart/ An empty breast finds all it seeks…

And this, by Bhaskar Chakrabarti: I shall not give up on my desire if it remains unfulfilled/ My heart will either reach my lover, or leave my body/ When I am dead, dig up my grave, you’ll find my shroud/ Covered in smoke, for the fire is still burning inside.

And this by Premendra Mitra: And then in every crack of existence/ The fog settles, and words/ Like the fog, roll towards the horizon.

And you can read his translations of Shankha Ghosh’s poems here.

Makes my heart skip a beat. How fortunate we are. It’s time to thank poets and translators for all they have given us.

— Priya Sarukkai Chabria

The seven poets whose verses you will read on these pages might never have found a single unified audience for themselves had it not been for those very special people: translators. In any literary culture, the importance of translation cannot be overstated. It makes diversity intelligible, it makes multiple registers audible, it makes plurality a natural means of emotional and intellectual existence for most of us.

One of the beautiful things that art, literature and poetry does is to inform us of the multiple possibilities of the human existence. That life is not bound by fate, that choices exist, that different things happen simultaneously, coming from and leading into multiple spaces, that there are a hundred, a thousand, a million possible lives, each one distinct, each one adding a stream to the ocean that life is, that the world is, that the realm of our bodies, hearts, minds and everything else is.

Today, this is a political manifesto.

In the India of 2017, the flag of diversity needs to be flown even higher in the face of the brutal and boorish onslaught being unleashed by champions of majoritarianism, whose single-minded crusade for a single, monolithic ‘Indian’ identity is being raucously supported in vile word and violent deed by people who have seized on the opportunity to make an enemy of the ‘other’. This dispensation of power has declared war on everything that can amplify heterogeneity – education, art, dissent, sexual freedom, life choices.

But it is not a war that can be won. And this issue of Sangam House poetry is a small act of stocking the ammunition to fight back. By letting diverse voices speak, through the medium of translation.


The seven translators on these pages have enriched my life and reading in remarkable ways. A brief shout-out in gratitude to them, in no particular order.

Maaz Bin Bilal is a teacher, student, poet, and passionate reader. He is among the very, very few people today who are taking Urdu literature to a readership which does not have the language, but loves its riches. Here, he translates the ghazals of Rahat Indori.

Roopa Pai is a writer after my heart, constantly venturing into new territory, putting together a fantasy series for children, a book on economics, a contemporary telling of the Gita, and, now, translations of Kannada poetry. All I have for her is my gratitude, and for bringing us the poetry of K.S. Nissar Ahmed.

Sachin Ketkar, who has translated the searing poems of Malika Amar Shaikh, is that rare scholar who can combine art and transparency in channelling works from one language to another – in his case, from both Gujarati and Marathi into English. His scholarship informs his work, and yet no reader will ever be poked in the eye with his erudition.

Angana Chakraborti is a liberal arts student about to graduate with a BA degree. It is a testimony to her love of and commitment to egalitarianism that she translates the poetry not of privileged writers but of Bengali Dalit poets, such as Kalyani Thakur Charal.

Nabina Das is a poet, a feminist, a fiery proponent of justice for all who have not had their share of it, a weaver of words, a maker of rhythms, and, always, a generous provider of the literatures of India – in this case from her beloved Assam and its poet Nilim Kumar.

American Daisy Rockwell fell in love with Hindi literature a long time ago. No one can tell why, and no one should ask, either. Fortunately, she has not fallen out of love with the language and its fiction and poetry. Here, she translates the poems of Mangalesh Dabral.

K. Satchidanandan. What can I say about him, other than I wish I could be him? Only he can translate his magnificent Malayalam poetry, those limpid lines that pack a punch which you don’t see coming till you are left breathless by them.


The poetry on these pages is meant to remind ourselves that all possibilities exist. Translators have taken this out of theory and brought it into the world of our senses. They have chosen the poetry, the poets, the lines, the words, the cadences, that appear here. This issue is theirs.

— Arunava Sinha