“What happens to my drafts, my manuscripts, after my death?” asks poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. “They will be kept in boxes and sold by the kilo to the raddiwallah (scrap dealer) is what.”
Cup of tea in hand, I sat up, wondering how and why one of India’s most respected poets would say this. Gayatri Jayaraman’s article in Lounge, the weekend edition of mint, a business newspaper in India, shocked, informed and inspired me. That no dedicated archive for modern Indian poetry exists made me sad and at the same time made my heart race. There was work to do! Many fine Indian poets had gone out of print, some had toiled in obscurity, and others were scattered across the globe, not knowing about the existence of the other. On finishing this article, I felt a great sense of urgency to do something, to somehow help preserve this scattered legacy of words. How could I help? What could I do? Writing is a solitary art. Writing poetry, I feel, even more so, because of its distilled nature to present thoughts and emotions within the frame of a stanza . Between the words lie so many silences and yet this desire to connect. I had been toying with the idea of a literary press specializing in poetry and an online space of sorts on modern Indian poets for months/years. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s statement made me realize I should do this soon.
And so begins this crazy journey. The internet is a godsend, along with Jeet Thayil’s anthology, 60 Indian poets. But there are more, many more poets whose words are out there between the pages of a literary journal, a magazine, a chapbook. I feel like a kid in a candy store. Which candy do I eat first? Which poet/poem do I dive into? There are websites of poets like the late Dilip Chitre, whose compelling words and pictures make him seem as if he never left us. My hope is to bring all of these resources- profiles, poems, pictures, websites, blogs, audio files, etc. under one roof. I invite you all to join me on this journey as well. Welcome to The (Great) Indian Poetry Project!