Tag Archives: poetry

The Gathasaptasati: Prakrit love poems by women from 2 BCE, India (translated by AK Mehrotra)

I’m glad that the Murty Classical Library has revived some interest in classical Indian literature, and even more glad that they choose to focus on languages other than Sanskrit. Historically, Sanskrit has been the language of the elite, while Prakrit and Pali were common in daily use.

One selection of classic poetry in Prakrit that has not been neglected is the Gathasaptasati, or the Gaha Sattasai. This collection of 987 short poems were part of a great oral tradition, carried on primarily by women, in the erstwhile Satavahana kingdoms, around 2 B.C.E. The Gathasaptasati is primarily composed of love poetry, explicit and frankly erotic. The version that I read is AK Mehrotra’s English translation, titled, ‘The Absent Traveller’ (WorldCat, Amazon)  The title derives from this beautiful little verse:

Preoccupied with thoughts
Of his desolate wife
The absent traveller
Now approaches the village
Now leaves it behind

The Gathasaptasati is by turns, charming and playful, and intense and erotic. There is love and grief and despair, often conveyed only through images. I tweeted out a small selection of quotes from Mehrotra’s translation, and they are storified here, if you’d like to take a look. I recommend Mehrotra’s translation, as well.

The Week In Literature and Translation [Jan 23-29, 2015]


  • DD Kosambi’s seminal An Introduction to the Study of Indian History has been translated to Telugu.
  • Prajwal Parajuly’s ‘The Gurkha’s Daughter’ has been translated into Nepali
  • Poet Javed Akhtar has translated 8 Tagore songs to Hindi; to be sung by Sangeeta Dutt
  • After some drama, Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore has been translated to Bengali.
  • A new website on Kannada poet Kanakdasa contains vast amounts of material in English and Kannada
  • Watch Navayana’s Annual Lecture, delivered by Aboriginal writer Ali Cobby Eckermann
  • Two works by historian and author S Settar have been translated to Kannada – Inviting Death and Pursuing Death
  • The Konkani Bhasha Mandal has released a pettul (treasure trove) of children’s writing in Konkani.
  • Speaking Tiger Books has their lineup and website running!


Columns and Articles

  • Arunima Mazumdar in Livemint says festivals are giving children’s storytelling a boost.
  • Here’s an excellent reference list of contemporary Hindi poets to follow, prepared by Ranjeet Pratap Singh (of Pratilipi, where you can read most of these poets).
  • Pratilipi, an online archive of Indian writing in several languages, has posted an interesting user analysis for 2014  (“Less than 25% of our visitors are female but just like our older readers, they visit more often (35%), and read significantly more (37%)”)
  • Irfan Mehraj writes in the Kashmir Dispatch on radical Kashmiri poet Kashmiri poet Abdul Ahad Azad (What is life but the book of change?/ Change – more change – and yet more change!)
  • TCA Srinivasa-Raghavan rants here about the vulgarity of literature awards and festivals and recommends supporting libraries instead
  • Min Pun has a fascinating column on the debate surrounding the inclusion of English writers in the Nepali canon.
  • Jash Sen on the evolution of Bengali detective Byomkesh Bakshi, from Bandopadhyay’s novels to Bollywood
  • Here’s Anuradha Sengupta’s literary guide to Kolkata.
  • Vikas Datta on politically incorrect satire in Urdu poetry


  • Reviews of Anita Anand’s new biography of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh are floating in – here’s Navtej Sarna for India Today, William O’Connor for The Daily Beast,
  • Gargi Gupta reviews Mirza Waheed’s The Book of Gold Leaves for DNA.
  • Are techie writers graduating from sordid romances? Here’s a review of Jaimeet Patel’s An Exceptional Case.
  • T.D. Ramakrishnan’s new Malayalam novel is inspired by rights activist and feminist Dr. Rajani Thiranagama



  • Arundhati Subramaniam won the inaugural Khushwant Singh Memorial Prize for Poetry – here are nine poems from her book, When God is  a Traveller.
  • British writer Ahmad Lunat wins the Gujarat Darpan Award for Ajaanya – “Strangers” (short stories)
  • Disappointed that Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland won the DSC Prize. Ok, you disagree. This is my opinion.
  • Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri won the the Ezhuthachan Prize 2014 f


  • Beloved Indian artist, RK Laxman, who drew fantastic political cartoons, passed away.
  • Veteran Marathi writer MD Hatkananglekar passed away at 89
  • Former Union Minister, teacher and translator Sarojini Mahishi passes away at 88
  • Kannada writer writer S. M. Vrushabhendra Swamy passes away at 88.
  •  Dr Jose Pereira, Sanskrit scholar, historian, musicologist, writer, linguist and artist, passes away at 84.
  • Bengaluru celebrated the centenary of Kannada poet KS Narasimhaswamy, famous for his 1942 collection of poems, Mysore Mallige.
  • Ruskin Bond says, I’m a writer because I am a reader.

Publishing / Industry news

  • Navayana is offering a special discount on their beautiful graphic novel based on Ambedkar’s life, written by publisher S Anand and Srividya Natarajan and illustrated beautifully by Gond artists Durgabai and Subhash Vyam.
  • HarperCollins publisher Karthika VK talked to HT about censorship and publishing in India. Nothing new here.
  • Support is pouring in from the writing community for Perumal Murugan – from Salem in Tamil Nadu, Coimbatore , and Ongole in AP.  Author Anita Nair made a statement, too.  Arun Janardhan, who went to Namakkal (where Murugan lives) has a story from the local people. Harish Nambiar blames the author for not standing up to critics. Overall I would recommend this essay by V Geetha on the entire controversy.
  • Indraprastha College for Women (IPCW), University of Delhi, has set up a new translation centre
  • An attempt to edit Kuvempu’s poem ‘Nada Geethe’ meets with protesting schoolkids.


* edited to correct the description of Pratilipi (it’s not just for Hindi writing) and to add the TimesLitFest Bengaluru in events.

Poet Theresh Babu Pydi passes away

Telugu Dalit poet, Theresh Babu Pydi (known as “Pydishree”) passed away yesterday. He died of liver disease. A biography by Susie Tharu in the anthology, Steel Nibs are Sprouting, Dalit Writing from South India suggests that he adopted the pseudonym to avoid associations with his caste and religion, and so that more people would read his work. The son of a carpenter and an agricultural labourer, he was educated in a local school but worked in the fields until he was published by Telugu daily Andhra Jyoti. He then won a scholarship to work in a research centre, Amruthavani, did his masters, and worked with All India Radio as an announcer. Soon after, he returned to publishing under his own name.

I couldn’t find any of his works in English translation, but he has published several volumes of poetry in Telugu: Sharasandhanam (Aiming Arrows) in 1995; Alpapeedanam (Depression in the Ocean) in 1999; the epic poem, Hindu Mahasamudram (The Great Hindu Ocean) as a recording in 1999 and a book in 2010, and Nalugu Prapancham (Fourth World) in 2010. He was the AIR National Poet in 2007. If you understand Telugu, you can hear him recite Hindu Mahasamudram on Soundcloud. And you can find a translated excerpt of the same poem, by K Satyanarayana, in the same anthology I mentioned earlier. Additionally, a documentary he made, called ‘Me and My Wonderful World’, is available online (with English subtitles).