Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
We belong to the houses we live in. ('Hoopoe')
About Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s poetry is notable for its quiet command of the reader’s attention; the small details of everyday life in India are its currency. ‘Ironing Lady’, a series of neat descriptions of the precise process of the activity becomes a metaphor for Mehrotra’s approach to writing itself: ‘Common everyday clothes, / Kept loosely in a bundle, / From which the ironing lady / Pulls out a kerchief / … / Making the wrinkles / Disappear under her hand’. In each of his poems it is the accumulation of such apparently simple details that build towards meaning and are allowed to speak for themselves, whether through the poet’s measured, rhythmic delivery in the recordings available here, or on the page.
Readers of Mehrotra’s later work might be surprised to learn that his early poetry was much influenced by Surrealism, a fact Mehrotra has attributed to his need to find an alternative language in which to convey his experiences, which seemed at odds with his ‘Eng. Lit.’ encounters with poetry – as he put it in an interview: ‘How does one write about an uncle in a wheelchair in the language of skylarks and nightingales?’ His later work is firmly situated in – indeed anchored by – the recognisable world of home, domesticity and family. He has said: ‘Discovering the French and the Americans (Pound, William Carlos Williams, Ginsberg) was, for me, a moment of liberation. My subjects did not lie in Europe or the United States, but I had first to make a detour to those places, through their poetry, to realize that my subjects lay nearer home, if not at home.’
Born in Lahore in 1947, Mehrotra is the author of seven volumes of poetry – including Nine Enclosures (1976), Distance in Statute Miles (1982), Middle Earth (1984) and The Transfiguring Places (1998) – as well as three of translations, most recently Songs of Kabir (2011). His Collected Poems 1969–2014 is to be published by Penguin Modern Classics. He lives in Allahabad, where he was Professor of English at the university until his retirement in 2012, and Dehra Dun. In his work as an anthologist and translator Mehrotra has done much to bring the work of Indian poets past and present to a wider audience and has been an outspoken critic of the failure of the Indian literary establishment to do more in this field, remarking in an interview with the Times of India that ‘the list of what Indian academics have not done is a long one’. In the 1970s, along with poets Adil Jussawalla, Gieve Patel and Arun Kolatkar, Mehrotra founded the Bombay poetry publishing collective Clearing House, in response to a lack of such outlets for Indian poets. He has edited several works on Indian literature including The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets (1992), A History of Indian Literature in English (2003) and Collected Poems in English by Arun Kolatkar (2010). Amit Chaudhuri has said of him: ‘In the staid world of Indian poetry in English […] Mehrotra appeared to be what is today called “cool”’.
Arvind Mehrotra’s recording was made at Jingles, India on 28 August 2013. The producer was Amit Vishnoi.