Writing from Modern India: Introduction

Guest edited by Sudeep Sen

Sudeep Sen
Sudeep Sen

To celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of India’s Republic, the current issue of World Literature Today showcases some of the best cutting-edge modern Indian and Indian diasporic writers who write in English and some of India’s other major languages—Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Oriya, and Malayalam. The list of authors on display is by no means comprehensive; it is just an introductory show window to the vast array of fine Indian writers and literary practitioners. There are contemporary works here by both established and newer writers, old and young, men and women.

Two poems, in new translation, appear here by the celebrated Urdu poet and lyricist Gulzar, who won the Oscar for the song “Jai Ho” from the recent filmSlumdog Millionaire. There are poems in Hindi by Ashok Vajpeyi, Mangalesh Dabral, and Anamika; as well as others by K. Satchidanandan, Subodh Sarkar, and J. P. Das in Malayalam, Bengali, and Oriya, respectively.

The English-language section is spearheaded by the literary star Vikram Seth. There are finely engaging pieces by Amit Chaudhuri, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Meena Alexander, Amitava Kumar, Anita Nair, Daljit Nagra, Ravi Shankar, Beena Kamlani, and many others.

Samaresh Basu’s and Premendra Mitra’s evocative stories in Bengali add a rich texture to the overall anthology.

As a special tribute to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of India’s Nobel Laureate in Literature, Rabindranath Tagore, there is a bonus section online containing an unusual selection of his poetry and poem-songs. There are short poems from Tagore’s book of nonsense verse called Khapcharra, a book that is surprisingly not yet fully translated, and subtle English renderings of a clutch of Tagore’s songs from his vastly varied oeuvre.

Permissions & Acknowledgments

Grateful acknowledgments to all the authors who appear in this special issue of World Literature Today for granting permission to publish their work. While the majority of the texts that appear here are unpublished, a few have appeared earlier in the following publications:
Vikram Seth’s in Granta, The Guardian, A Suitable Boy (Orion), From Heaven Lake (Abacus), and The Poems: 1981–1994 (Penguin); Sudeep Sen’s in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century(Norton), Prayer Flag (Peepal Tree/Wings Press), and Postmarked India: New and Selected Poems(HarperCollins); Vijay Seshadri’s in the New Yorker; Amit Chaudhuri’s in The Observer and Insomniac(Aark Arts); and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s in Leaving Yuba City (Doubleday).

Some of the English poetry is slated to appear in The HarperCollins Book of Modern English Poetry by Indians, The Yellow Nib Contemporary English Poetry by Indians, Atlas, Agenda, and others, at the end of this year and early next.

The Tagore translations will appear in The Essential Tagore, edited by Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty, to be published by Harvard University Press (Cambridge, Mass.) and Visva-Bharati (Santiniketan, India) next year.

Some poetry translations from Bengali, Hindi, and Urdu appear in Aria (Yeti Books/Monsoon Editions, India / Mulfran Press, Wales).

My relationship with World Literature Today is nearly two decades old. Grateful thanks to former editors Djelal Kadir and William Riggan as well as the current editor, Daniel Simon, and his wonderful team. Further thank-yous to David Shook (Molossus), Jane Draycott and Jenny Lewis (Oxford University), O P Jain (Sanskriti Foundation), Prabhu Guptara (Wolfsberg UBS), Chandrika Grover (Pro Helvetia), Janet Pierce and Patricia Donolon (Tyrone Guthrie Centre), Ciaran Carson (Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry), Joseph Woods (Poetry Ireland), Kwame Dawes, Bernardine Evaristo, and others who wish to remain unnamed.

Most importantly, thank you to all the authors, translators, and artists for their participation and kind permission to use their work in this important international forum.

Monsoon 2010 / New Delhi