Poetry Reading by Prominent Indian-English Poets

Dr. R. Raj Rao and Tenzin Tsundue

Summary from the Program (by Dr. Rao)

In his revised edition of MODERN INDIAN POETRY IN ENGLISH (OUP, 2001), the absolutely canonical Bruce King identifies Ranjit Hoskote, Jeet Thayil, C. P. Surendran, Vijay Nambisan, Hoshang Merchant, Bibhu Padhi, Tabish Khair, G.J.V. Prasad, E. V. Ramakrishnan and R. Raj Rao as the significant new male poets of the 1990s. He describes Raj Rao's work as "Swiftian satires," and says: "Rao's poems share in the culture of shock that can be found elsewhere in the international success of Jim Rose's Circus and in the fame of the Sensation Art exhibition in London and New York, or in many recent films."

Shocking though his poems may be, they're not shocking for their own sake. He also disagrees with King when he avers that his poems lack humour and wit. If anything, they're full of these attributes, that can only be detected if carefully scrutinized. He doesn't regard his poems as art. Rather, they are anti-art. Nor does he regard himself as a pure poet, having dabbled in short stories, plays, criticism and a biogrpahy as well; and he is now completing a novel. His poems deconstruct high culture, which, anyway, is the postmodernist project worldwide. But he also deals with "taboo" subjects such as homosexuality, and finds excrement an apt metaphor to describe the gay experience in India. His comedy, thus, is black comedy that mocks situations over which it has no control, and which it cannot change in a pre-utopian universe. He is also the only Indian poet to have his poems filmed. BOMGAY, a 12-minute video directed by Riyad Vinci Wadia in 1996, took up six poems from his forthcoming collection of the same title, and got well-known actors like Rahul Bose to enact them and Rajit Kapur to read them. Kapur, incidentally, was the perfect choice. He had already performed his monologue "The Wisest Fool on Earth" to rave reviews. In the play, a man speaks to his audience from the window of a loo in which he has been held prisoner. BOMGAY was an experiment that won accolades at the various European, American and Canadian lesbian and gay film festivals where it was shown.

Poetry by Tenzin Tsundue

My Tibetanness

Thirty-nine years in exile.
Yet no nation supports us.
Not a single bloody nation!

We are refugees here.
People of a lost country.
Citizen to no nation.

Tibetans: the world's sympathy stock.
Serene monks and bubbly traditionalists;
one lakh and several thousand odd,
nicely mixed, steeped
in various assimilating cultural hegemonies.

At every check-post and office,
I am an "Indian-Tibetan."
My Registration Certificate,
I renew every year, with a salaam.
A foreigner born in India.

I am more of an Indian.
Except for my chinky Tibetan face.
"Nepali?"  "Thai?"  "Manipuri?"
?Japanese? ?Chinese? ?Naga?
but never the question - "Tibetan?"

I am Tibetan.
But I am not from Tibet.
Never been there.
Yet I dream
of dying there.

A Personal Reconnaissance

From Ladakh
Tibet is just a gaze away.
They said:
from that black knoll
at Dumtse, it's Tibet.
For the first time, I saw
my country Tibet.

In a hurried trip,
I was there, at the mound.

I sniffed the soil,
scratched the ground,
listened to the dry wind
and the wild old cranes.

I didn't see the border,
I swear there wasn't anything
different, there.

I didn't know,
if I was there or here.
I didn't know,
if I was here or there.

They say the kyangs
come here every winter;
They say the kyangs
go there every summer.

*Kyang- wild ass found in the north region of Tibet and ladhakh

Losar Greeting

Tashi Delek!

Though in a borrowed garden
you grow, grow well my sister.

This Losar
when you attend your Morning Mass,
say an extra prayer
that the next losar
we will celebrate back in Lhasa.

When you attend your convent classes
learn an extra lesson
that you can teach children back in Tibet.

Last year
on our happy losar,
I had an IDLI-SAMBAR breakfast
and wrote my BA final exams.
My IDLIS wouldn't stand
on my toothed steely forks.
But I wrote my exams well.

Though in a borrowed garden
you grow, grow well my sister.

Send your roots
through the bricks,
stones, tiles and sand.
Spread your branches wide
and rise
above the hedges high.

Tashi Delek!

I am Tired,
I am tired doing that 10th March ritual,
screaming from the hills of Dharamsala.

I am tired,
I am tired selling sweaters on the roadside,
40 years of sitting, waiting in dust and spit.

I am tired,
eating rice 'n' dal
and grazing cows in the jungles of Karnataka.

I am tired,
I am tired dragging my dhoti
in the dirts of Manju Tila.

I am tired,
I am tired fighting for the country
I have never seen.

The Tibetan in Mumbai

The Tibetan in Mumbai
is not a foreigner.

He is a cook
at a Chinese 'take-away'.
They think he is Chinese
run away from Beijing.

He sells sweaters in summer
in the shade of the Parel bridge.
They think he is some retired Bhahadur.

The Tibetan in Mumbai
abuses in Bambaya Hindi,
with a slight Tibetan accent
and during vocabulary emergencies
he naturally runs into Tibetan.
That's when the Parsis laugh.

The Tibetan in Mumbai
likes to flip through the MID-DAY
loves FM, but doesn't expect
a Tibetan song.

He catches bus at a signal,
jumps into a running train,
walks into a long dark gully
and nestles in his kholi.

He gets angry
when they laugh at him

The Tibetan in Mumbai
is now tired
wants some sleep and a dream,
on the 11 p.m. Virar fast.
He goes to the Himalayas,
the 8.05 a.m. fast local
brings him back to Churchgate
into the Metro: a New Empire.

by giles