Of love and poetry

'The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems' has poems in 28 languages


Busy right now with my precious bamboo flute,

my delicate fingers on the holes.

Darling, can't snuggle you now,

I'm lost fiddling this melodious flute.

Chill out—have some chilli!

Can't squeeze you right now.

Busy with my precious little bamboo flute,

my delicate fingers on the holes.

This anonymous poem in the Gondi language is as casually titled as 'Chill Out'. Amongst all established names in Indian poetry cataloged 'The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems', highlighting this nameless little one only reinforces the speciality of this collection. Poet-diplomat Abhay K. has traced an arc of Indian love poetry spanning 28 languages over 3,000 years in this anthology conceived and put out in the world in 2020. This includes verses in Kokborok (from Tripura), Khasi, Gondi and Mising, Tibetan, Oriya, Sindhi, Nepali, being truly reflective of the multilingual social fabric of the Indian subcontinent.

“While I was editing my series on 100 Great Indian poems, I found out that many of them were actually love poems. There I got this idea that why not do an anthology of love poems," says Abhay, who has also edited 'The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems' (2019). Abhay knows Hindi, English, Russian, Nepali, Portuguese and Sanskrit.

When English poet Simon Armitage's poem Lockdown, published last year in March, mentioned a reference to the Kalidasa's epic poem Meghadūta, Abhay was put on a path of delving deeper into the ecstatic stanzas of Meghadūta and Ritusamhara—extracts from both the classics in Indian love poetry find a place in this collection. In fact, there is a profusion of Sanskrit love poems here, from Rigveda to Bhavabhuti and Bhanudutta, alongside classic Tamil and prakrit love poems. English verses from Sarojini Naidu, Kamala Das, Pritish Nandy, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra to Tishani Doshi, Ranjit Hoskote and Arundhathi Subramaniam round off a captivating list of contemporary poets.

Although Indian love poems have been extensively anthologised from Tambimuttu's 'Indian Love Poems' (1967) to Amrita Narayanan's 'Parrots of Desire:3000 Years of Indian Erotica' (2017), Abhay would like to distinguish his collection as more expansive and diverse; some of his translations are also an attempt to make them more accessible. "I felt we needed newer, more contemporary translations of these classic love poems, so it can speak to the current generation."

Savoured slowly and surreptitiously, this cornucopia of love, longing and desire should easily resonate with the young and the old.

The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems

Edited by Abhay K

Page 200

Price: 399

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