Starting with Robert Louis Stevenson, poets have been inspired by railway carriages, but there have been few, if any, inspired by speeding metros or ugly suburban lines.
But when poets Sampurna Chatterji and Karthika Nair met in February 2016 during the Kala Ghoda Festival, they decided to test the possibilities of a dialogue in verse across latitudes. One was based in Mumbai, and the other in Paris; so, they first sought a common denominator. The link they chose was an integral part of their respective cities—the Paris Metro and the Mumbai Suburban Railway.
On Wednesday, French Ambassador to India, Alexandre Ziegler, launched their 'Over and Under Ground in Mumbai & Paris', a collaborative Indo-French illustrated book of poetry published by Westland.
The poets drew inspiration from the train networks to blueprint their modus operandi: just as each train stops at a station, and be joined by another, their poems too are linked to each other. In the first section of the book, the last line of Nair’s poem is reprised in the first line of Chatterji’s response, and vice-versa. In the second section, it is the first line of Chatterji’s poem that becomes the last line of Nair’s subsequent poem, with that pattern then repeated in reverse.
As this collaborative project became reality, they hit upon the idea of enriching it further with a visual dimension. Gond artist Roshni Vyam and French illustrator Joëlle Jolivet were brought on board. Further, Chatterji and Nair decided to reverse perspectives by asking Jolivet to draw vignettes around the Mumbai Suburban Railway, while Vyam’s artwork would focus on the Paris metro.
“Over and Under Ground in Mumbai and Paris takes the reader-traveller to various routes radiating from these megapolises,” said Ambassador Ziegler, releasing the book. “All those who have taken the metro or suburban train, even once in their life, will feel a very familiar sense of belonging. This book is one of the numerous projects that have come out of the latest edition of Bonjour India”.
Commented Karthika Nair: “Countries are mammoth, unwieldy creatures and it is impossible to predict what their partnerships achieve. But change and invention and inspiration are triggered by the coming together of individuals.”