South Asian Contemporary Poetry


2006 was a crucial year for the reception of South Asian literature in Germany. The Frankfurt Book Fair had declared India as the Guest of Honour for the second time (after 1986).

A plethora of new publications related to India poured into the German book market. The German readers became acquainted with some prominent Indian authors like Kiran Nagarkar and Altaf Tyrewala. For a few weeks, Indian literature dominated the feuilletons and cultural programs.

On closer inspection, however, it must be noted that the major German publishers were predominantly interested in only a small portion of South Asian literature: for novels which had been written by authors who write their works in English, and often live in the UK or in North America. The well-known publishing houses were almost not interested in the poetry from South Asia. But there were exceptions, and that should be considered here in more detail.

The A1 publishing company published a beautifully designed book of poems under the title, “The Banyan Tree” containing poems of the Indian poet, Dilip Chitre, who is sure to be among the most important modern Indian poets. “Indian poets of the present” was the title of an anthology, which was published by the Wunderhorn publishing company. This volume contained poems of twelve important Indian poets, who compose their works in English.

Then there were ambitious anthologies, where, in addition to poems even stories were published. To name foremost among these is the band 223 by die horen - Journal for Literature, Art, and Criticism. A similar anthology was published by the Horlemann publishing company under the title, “India Recounts. In the shadow of the Taj Mahal”. This publisher also published the volume, “Kerala Recounts”, which contained the poem, “Three blind men describe the elephant”, which has been translated from Malayalam into German.

Three volumes of poetry were finally published in 2006 by the Draupadi publishing house. Foremost to mention is the anthology, “The Late Comers” by Vishnu Khare. The "prose poems" of this band have been congenially translated by Lothar Lutze from Hindi into German. “I do not believe in borders” contains poems of the internationally acclaimed and award-winning Indian poet, K. Satchidanandan, which have been directly translated from Malayalam by Annakutty V. K. Findeis. And then there was a book of poetry by the young Bengali poetess, Mandakranta Sen, which was presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

When viewed together, it can be said that in 2006 a considerable number of literary translations of high-quality poetry from South Asian languages had been published. However, these works were hardly noticed. Media interest was directed almost exclusively to a select few authors whose works (mostly novels) were published by famous German publishers.

Of the very few translation volumes that have been published since 2007, the following works are worth mentioning: “Rock Carvings, a Collection of Contemporary Hindi Poetry” translated and edited by Monika Horstmann and Vishnu Khare (2007), the anthology, “Night Rain” with poems by 34 authors from 14 Indian languages (translated by Asok Punnamparambil, 2010), “Dance on the Rope” by Sachchidananda Vatsyayan (translated from Hindi by Lothar Lutze, 2011) and “A Drop of Llight” by O. N. V. Kurup (translated from Malayalam by Annakutty VK Findeis, 2012).

All these books of poetry were published by Draupadi publishers. Two interesting collections of poems by authors, who write their works in English, were published by other publishers: “The Ministry of the Hurt Feelings” by Altaf Tyrewala (translated by Beatrice Fassbender, Berenberg Publishers, 2013) and “Miss Militancy” by Meena Kandasamy (translated by Raphael Urweider, Wunderhorn publishers, 2014).

In summary, it must be said that - considering the large number of books that are published each year - very few translations of South Asian Poetry are published in Germany. It would be, however, wrong to conclude that this country is not interested in poetry from the subcontinent. Some readings with Mandakranta Sen 2006, with O. N. V. Kurup 2012, and with Meena Kandasamy 2015 were well attended and received a positive response.

There are now many more opportunities to learn languages such as Hindi, Bengali or Tamil than there were 40 or 50 years ago. Also, there are now some very good translators from these languages. And it should be noted that the magazines, “My World” and “South Asia” regularly publish translations of South Asian poetry. It is important to have a targeted promotion of the translations of the South Asian poetry. Lots could be achieved here with relatively little money.

Christian Weiß studied German, History and Indology in Heidelberg. Post-graduation he worked as an editor and translator for different publishers. In 2003 he founded Draupadi Verlag, (Draupadi Publishers).
Christian Weiß, 2015
Translation: Tina Gopal
Related links