In honor of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize and the
The Right Kind of Dog: On Poet Adil Jussawalla’s Forthcoming Collection
This is the second in a series of blog posts by guest contributor Nabina Das on Indian books and authors.
A poet and writer in a university conference could perhaps be likened to a bull in the china shop. I’m told that often it is the writer who feels like the china shop! However, my first visit to Pondicherry couldn’t have been better. This former French colony on the eastern coast of India that still has the strangeness of a bipartite town/city defined by Ville Blanche (literally, White Town) and Tamil Town, the Indian side, is home to Pondicherry University (PU). My visit to PU in March was an academic one, so to say, but at the same time a unique literary opportunity.
It was a pleasant surprise that Dr. Nalini Thampi, director of the conference “Literature for the Youth,” invited me to present a paper in one of the panels. That’s the academic part, of course—to be sitting among a bunch of mostly English and French literature professors discussing Enid Blyton’s books or David Copperfield or Tintin in Tibet. The literary part was far more interesting for me. For this, I wrote about The Right Kind of Dog, a collection soon-to-be-published by poet Adil Jussawalla.
Adil Jussawalla is one of India’s most celebrated poets today. A part of the famed Bombay Poets of the Clearing House collective, he recently made a comeback after 35 years with his scintillating collection of poetry.
I asked Mr. Jussawalla if I could read the whole manuscript and write about it for the upcoming conference in Pondicherry. The manuscript was a collection of poetry for young readers – eight to eighteen – and so perfectly suited to my ‘academic’ reading.
While talking to Mr. Jussawalla on the phone on the wide bracket of “eight to eighteen,” he suggested that it’s not so much about putting age groups as a marker, rather about seeing the “ages” converge in an understanding of eras, histories and events. The child at the center of Jussawalla’s collection is not outright a “damaged personality”—a term that tended to come up in the conversation—but more of a “hurt eye” that is sensitive to the core and discerning in her/his perception of the larger world. The Partition of the Indian subcontinent, geographical dislocation, physical dismembering, political chaos and volatile family relationships – all this makes up the bulk of Mr. Jussawalla’s gripping young readers’ collection.
Called “mostly songs” and dedicated to his brother Firdausi and the leading Indian feminist poet Eunice de Souza, the poems in this collection for young readers make it clear that the choice of reality as well as literature lies in the hands of the young reader herself, in her power called imagination. As Anatole France has said: “Savoir n'est rien; imaginer est tout (To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything).” The following poem from Mr. Jussawalla’s collection attests to this power.
It's a glass of rum,
a fuel that burns the rags
round wounded heads.
It's a history, a planet's
Call it the great ship Liberty,
men, women and children,
women and children first.
And that’s the world Mr. Jussawalla’s forthcoming poetry collection for young readers champions: one that puts “women and children first.”
Nabina Das’s discussion will be continued in Part II of this post