Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Missing Slate

THE MISSING SLATE's latest issue ("The Politics of Art") features an extract from The Folded Earth as well as fiction from Anjum Hasan, Anjali Joseph, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kuzhali Manickavel, and Sidin Vadukut. And poetry from Tishani Doshi, Minal Hajratwala, Aditi Machado, Shikha Malaviya, Tabish Khair, Prabhat, Sudeep Sen, Ravi Shankar, Kedarnath Singh, Arundhathi Subramaniam, and Jeet Thayil. Prabhat and Kedarnath Singh are translated from Hindi by Rahul Soni. The Missing Slate is an arts and literary journal with roots in several countries. Its website says "the story behind our name (a question we’re often asked) arose from the current literary landscape in Pakistan, a country with a rich history but a low tolerance for it".

Salt by Anastasia Inspiderwiht
I'm very pleased that the extract from The Folded Earth is set alongside a poem by Kedarnath Singh. Years ago as literature editor at the OUP in Delhi, I looked after A. K. Ramanujan and Vinay Dharwadker's anthology of modern Indian poetry. In that typescript, I came across this poem:

Kedarnath Singh (b. 1934): ON READING A LOVE POEM

When I'd read that long love poem
I closed the book and asked --
Where are the ducks?

I was surprised that they were nowhere
even far into the distance

It was in the third line of the poem
or perhaps the fifth
that I first felt
there might be ducks here somewhere

I'd heard the flap flap of their wings
but that may have been my illusion

I don't know for how long
that woman
had been standing in the twelfth line
waiting for a bus

The poem was completely silent
about where she wanted to go
only a little sunshine
sifted from the seventeenth line
was falling on her shoulders

The woman was happy
at least there was nothing in her face to suggest
that by the time she reached the twenty-first line
she'd disappear completely
like every other woman

There were sakhu trees
standing where the next line began
the trees were spreading
a strange dread through the poem

Every line that came next
was a deep disturbing fear and doubt
about every subsequent line

If only I'd remembered--
it was in the nineteenth line
that the woman was slicing potatoes

She was slicing
large round brown potatoes
inside the poem
and the poem was becoming
more and more silent
more solid

I think it was the smell
of freshly chopped vegetables
that kept the woman alive
for the next several lines

By the time I got to the twenty-second line
I felt that the poem was changing its location
like a speeding bullet
the poem had whizzed over the woman's shoulder
towards the sakhu trees

There were no lines after that
there were no more words in the poem
there was only the woman
there were only
her shoulders her back
her voice--
there was only the woman
standing whole outside the poem now
and breaking it to pieces

(translated by Vinay Dharwadker)


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Paris Diary

Colours, colours. The Sennelier on the Left Bank, an art shop where anything seems possible
At a little square near St Sulpice a white-bearded man in a printed shirt in dappled autumn colours strolled over. He had a genial twinkle in his eyes and all the time in the world on that sunny morning. He paused to chat about the colour of the light, the quality of the breeze, how wonderful Paris felt on such a day -- a day of a kind when it might even appear a pleasant city were it not for the fact that there were so many French people in it....and why was I wearing black? You must never wear black, he said as he waved au revoir, black sucks the life out.

Another day, another stranger: she paused to give me directions -- I was walking away, quite definitely away from where I needed to be, she told me, then walked with me half the way in the dark evening despite her heavy bags, to set me straight. Two days later she turned up at the launch of the French edition of The Folded Earth, Les Plis de la Terre with a bag full of gifts -- including a tiny compass...

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Every corner I turned in Paris on this visit seemed to hold a magical encounter. Most magical of all was the first evening when Myriam and I walked the wooden stairs up to her flat on the fourth floor and her building's concierge stopped her en route to hand her a package: copies of the book I had written and she had translated. We toasted it with many glasses of wine and marvelled at the timing of the package's appearance: how was it that came not a moment before or after but the very hour she and I happened to enter her building? Because celebrating her translations of my books together in Paris was something we had long planned but never managed to do before.

Myriam Bellehigue and I originally met on a staircase -- years ago when we were students. Now, by many strange sets of coincidences and chances, she is my translator. She teaches English at the Sorbonne and is also a translator for Actes Sud. Her translations, everyone says, are fluid and perfect, and a reader read out from them to wonderful dramatic effect when the book was released at the Indian Embassy in Paris by the Ambassador Arun Singh. There was a Q&A conducted by my French publisher Rajesh Sharma and afterwards there was what there always is afterwards -- copies signed, drinks drunk, notes exchanged.
The book was released in Paris on 9 October 2013.