With polarisation, youth know what’s at stake; it’s the temperament of time: Sahitya Akademi Award winner Ranjit Hoskote

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In the world of digital poets, Sahitya Akademi Award winner Ranjit Hoskote has carved a niche. His poem collections have been received with much appreciation globally and translated into several languages and he is compared with the likes of Nissim Ezekiel. In a conversation with FE, Ranjit Hoskote shares the idea behind his 2021 collection of poems Hunchprose and on the state of poetry in India. Edited excerpts:

How did the writer in you react to the pandemic?The focus in my case was to be able to write, read and re-read with deep awareness that this was a terrible urgency and an appalling situation for millions of people—a paradoxical situation. As a writer, I was able to be creative but a large part of my consciousness was caught up with millions of people being reduced to forced migration and everything that was breaking down. There was one crisis after another. I became preoccupied with questions of education; the digital divide was going to enhance and worsen existing asymmetricity. So, I was not just writing poetry and essays but also wondering what forms of empathy could be developed towards people who are going to suffer.

Your collection of poems Hunchprose published in 2021. What was the idea behind it?Hunchprose was largely written much earlier, but it came out in 2021. It came out of other kinds of urgencies and it is not really a pandemic book. I have written another set of poems during the pandemic. Hunchprose was a book that came out of my preoccupation with the ecological crisis that’s been concerning me for a long time as a writer and citizen and as someone connected to the curatorial world. Of course, the chaos or havoc that was inflicted on Kashmir happened in the middle of when I was working on the book, so many poems in the collection are visited by this question.

You have recently been announced the winner of the seventh Mahakavi Kanhaiyalal Sethia Award. Your thoughts on this?I had no inkling that was going to happen. So not only was I surprised but truly overcome, because it is a great honour and also carries forward the legacy of a poet who was multilingual and contributed to Rajasthani, Hindu and Urdu. He represented the ideal of someone strongly embedded in one place and yet a cosmopolitan in reaching out to other places and literatures. Even if you choose to write in one language like I do, it is crucial that creativity should be nourished and that’s why this is very resonant for me. That is the spirit in which I accept it.

Do you agree that in the last few years poetry as a genre has seen a revival, thanks to efforts of literary festivals and literary gatherings?This is a question that arises every few years. People announce the death of poetry and a couple of years down the line, it rises. I don’t think poetry has ever been in danger of extinction. It’s just that new forms find new practitioners and new audiences. The major shifts are the much wider diversity of online forms, which also act as focal points for new communities and encourage other forms of writing poetry. It is now available in multiple avatars—stage poetry, hybrid, podcasts—there are different ways in which poets and audience are connected.

But would you agree Instagram poetry has been able to reach a wider audience than traditional poetry?I don’t think it’s a genre. I don’t think poetry is defined so much by the platform. To some extent yes, depending on what technology it is. I am just interested in good poetry, no matter what the platform is. I am not interested in segregating by platforms, I am interested in doing the opposite—I would embrace the diversity of platforms. Haiku, for instance, was written in the 12th century. So, I don’t think readers are confining themselves to a format either.

There’s a raging debate that publishing houses prefer authors with brand value…It is a more complex and nuanced scenario. I think some authors could be translated into brands and on other hand great value could be added to fresh discovery. I can see debut authors and poets finding publishing places all the time.

You’ve translated poems of Lal Ded. What other translations are you working on?I am working on translations of works of Mir Taqi Mir, a great poet at the turn of the 18-19th century. It began as a Twitter project as I used to put out the original Urdu couplet, a Roman transliteration and my own translation with an image. It then gathered momentum and was a project that started on social media. It comes out next year. I am also working on a collection that talks of environmental catastrophe, deep sense of insecurity, forms of healing and empathy—questions that we all are confronted with right now.

Temperaments are becoming politically inclined, and that is increasingly reflecting in the works being written.It is unfortunate that we are becoming more polarised but the upside is that the young are aware of what’s at stake. I think it’s the temperament of time.