India: Poets as neighbours

Adil Jussawalla’s essays and entertainments sparkle with a poet’s insight and an editor’s sweep of knowledge: The Hindu

adil.jussawalaThe journalistic obsession with international reputations and publishers’ advances has produced a top-heavy history of India’s literature in English. Such well-remunerated figures as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy are in fact exceptions. Once we get away from the bestsellers and prize-winners, Indian English literature turns out to be an embattled, minority literature. It relies for its survival on a small number of publishers and its most original writers are constantly in danger of being forgotten.

This is truest of poetry, which has made few people famous and no one rich. Adil Jussawalla’s name belongs in this “little tradition” of writers with a pan-Indian readership of a few thousand people at most, the work of jobbing journalists and overworked college lecturers. Jussawalla had an auspicious start with his precocious first collection of poetry, Land’s End (1962) published when he was 22. This was followed by the darker, more alienated, poems of Missing Person (1976), written on his return from England to India. There was a long poetic silence broken in 2012 with the publication of a fine new collection, Trying to Say Goodbye. Soon after came a collection for children, The Right Kind of Dog and Other Poems (2013).