World Poetry Day 2017

Today is World Poetry Day and I’ve been itching all day to come back home and read poetry – Swirl words in my mouth, say it aloud, marvel at the meaning and feel the beat in my blood. What should I read and what am I in the mood for? I could go back to one of my favourite poems – so simple you can memorise in a few minutes.

Or I could read some perfect verse from Ted Hughes – The Thought Fox.

Or I could read nonsense rhyme (and an alternate legend) from Roald Dahl.

Then I decided I should check out contemporary Indian poets who are writing amazing poetry in both their own language and in English – people who have had similar experiences to mine, poems that have arisen from the crowded streets of an Indian city.

Here is a little taste of the poems I’ve been discovering. So delicious, so full of meaning, like a layered cake full of your favourite flavours and some that are full of bitter truths like a little piece of ginger inside a plum cake.

Here read this by Anamika, translated into English.

Which is the place from where we fall,

become clipped nails,

fallen hair trapped in combs,

fit only to be swept away?

Read the rest here:

And read this, my latest favourite poem by Jerry Pinto, who also writes wonderful children’s books.

I want a Poem

I want a poem like thick tropical rain

Dense green spatter of syllables

Drumbeat consonants, fertile with meaning.

Sudden. Short. Unforgettable.

Afterwards, jungle silence. 

And it goes into more beautiful imagery… read the rest here.

And here is a scene from a crowded train in Mumbai – the poem Andheri Local  by Arundhathi Subramaniam evokes emotional and physical proximity so well.

Like metal licked by relentless acetylene

we are welded –

dreams, disasters,

germs, destinies,

flesh and organza,

odours and ovaries.

Find out how the narrator feels when she (or he) gets out of the carriage.

And finally I want to finish one of the greats of Indian poetry – Maharishi Rabindranath Tagore.

This snippet from verse 21 is one of my favourites from Gitanjali – the Nobel Prize winning collection of spiritual poems.

The spring has done its flowering and taken leave. And now with the burden of faded

futile flowers I wait and linger.

The waves have become clamorous, and upon the bank in the shady lane the yellow

leaves flutter and fall.

What emptiness do you gaze upon!

Do you not feel a thrill passing through the air with the notes of the far away song

floating from the other shore?

I can’t let WorldPoetryDay go past me without writing a little snippet myself. Here is my humble attempt

When My Grandmother Came…

Chitra Soundar

When my grandmother came, as an immigrant bride

She brought with her, a box of bronze

Simple, plain and its edges chipped by grandmothers gone.

I opened it to find,

The coolness of cumin,

And the grace of fenugreek,

The confidence of coriander,

The passion of peppercorns.


When my grandmother came, naïve and wide-eyed,

The box she brought, the one of bronze

Fragrant and familiar of things left behind.

I opened it to find,

The sliver of joy,

And the reason for love,

The reason to belong,

The attar of HOPE!



Fabulous February

Where is February, I ask. It has been a whirlwind of activities in London and rest of England, armed with a bag of books and props, often looking like a bag lady on National Rail Service. And it was mostly fun even when rain poured through dark skies and sleep was a rare commodity.

This February has been extra special – having been invited to the prestigious Imagine Festival at Southbank to run workshops and to the Chester festival of half-term fun and to the South London’s favourite bookstore Tales on Moon Lane’s half-term festivities. Half-term ended with wonderful storytelling at Discover Stratford.

World Book Day ran almost back to back with Half-term across England and my story train barely stopped between the two. I was on the move, constantly checking my orange National Rail tickets and printed maps just in case my phone runs out of juice. Between the boroughs of London, I moved from East to West to North to South, testing TFL’s quality of service.

When I was bereft of sleep and missing home-cooked dinners, there is one thing that kept me going. My engine was fully powered by the stories I tell and the stories the children were inspired to write. We made up wonderful stories with the children and in some schools we told them and in some we wrote them down. Either way, there was no limit to their imagination. That’s the primary reason I go into schools and do events – to fire up the imagination of both children and parents alike and at the same time, be absolutely enthralled by the stories the children create.

From Greek gods to aliens, pigs to fishes, our stories were full of adventures, mishaps, journeys and cartloads of fun. Here are a few stories children jotted down during the workshops.

If you want to be part of the next workshop, do sign up to my newsletter so you can find out about an event near you or if you want to invite me to your schools, do get in touch.

Not Yet! – #ReadDiverse2017 Review

Not Yet! is a picture book published by Tulika Books, written by Nandana Sen, and illustrated by Niloufer Wadia. I was not planning to be at this book launch but for the fact that I was at Jaipur Lit Festival, and had met Nandana Sen the previous evening and of course the book was published by Tulika Books who also published two of my stories.

Not Yet! is a classic bedtime picture book where the child and parent tussle for control. In this imaginative story in rhyme, the child brings to life the animals in her imagination and the mother tries to remind her of bedtime. And of course all naughtiness has to end in niceness and it does.

The story has also been translated into Bengali by the author herself, with a little help from her mother, the legendary poet Nabaneeta Dev Sen.

It’s a great book to read aloud and children could of course even act it out – as long as they do get into bed with a little kiss – as weary parents would know. Nandana Sen had invited kids from a local school and from the audience to the stage and they did have a wonderful time acting the animals out.

I’m hoping to read it to my nephews and I’m sure they too would enjoy it given they have a menagerie of animals in their room. Who knows – they might make up new play about their donkey, meerkat and more.

Countdown by Amitav Ghosh – #ReadDiverse2017 Review

I didn’t expect to find this book at all. I was visiting Higginbothams in Chennai, my yearly pilgrimage. Year on year, I’ve seen this legendary bookshop lose its allure, and fall into the shadows – with dusty shelves, no curation, no new books. Their mainstay still being academic books – their general categories reduced to dust covered Indian editions.

As I perused the shelves, I found a thin book with Amitav Ghosh’s name. I first thought it might be a novella – and I like small books – books that give me a sample of the literary prowess without demanding the next week of my life. I picked it up and I was more intrigued to find that it was non-fiction – a journalistic essay on the nuclear powers of India and Pakistan. I was intrigued.

It didn’t take long to read, but still the arguments were well placed, the research and first hand gathering of information was wonderful and it wasn’t an opinion piece – it was really a good analysis of why India and Pakistan are hell bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and the probability of an impending war.

Pokhran where India’s nuclear tests were conducted

The facts are scary, and heart-breaking. The reality is frustrating. Any Indian who grew up in the 20th century India knows that politics has stopped functioning for its people and I could hear the echoes of why our politicians are failing us. When this travesty grants control of the button to start nuclear war to these self-serving political class, we are truly facing a similar crisis to that of America and the UK where demagogues and identity politics are rife.

Imagine a world where North Korea is poised to press the button as it now has an agnostic, inward looking US government along with China being angry with the US’s handling of foreign policy under the current administration; India and Pakistan now left to their own devices to deal with their squabbles while the US itself is not far from the pressing the dreaded button as a show of hollow might, with UK not far behind. We have a truly global nuclear conflict in sight and for the first time the planets have aligned for the wrong kind of outcome.

In this context, reading Countdown was like a wake-up call. Even though it was written years ago, when BJP government was in power, with Modi now in power under the same BJP government, with Hindu ideologies that are performing surgical strikes into Pakistan and gloating over it, we are truly back into countdown mode. The nationalistic wave that has swept the nation in 2015-16 has whipped up a frenzy of anti-Muslim rhetoric and the said button is not too far away.

If anything, I think this book should be reissued again in today’s context with perhaps some updates on how this threat is more real in a world where Narendra Modi boasts of his friendship with Donald Trump and how their anti-Islamic rhetoric is not in step with the liberal citizens of their country.

Before We Visit the Goddess – #ReadDiverse2017 Review

I have the utmost privilege of having this book signed by Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni and also meeting her at JLF 2017.  I had to sit on my hands until I reached JLF to buy this book so I could get it signed by Chitra.

I’ve been reading so many children’s books and especially those that are full of adventure and humour. But I’ve been steadily carving some time out to read books by diverse authors – especially Indian authors.

I read “Before We Visit the Goddess” over a single day. I started it at breakfast and kept reading while waiters deftly moved around me at the restaurant. I read in the hotel room postponing my shopping in Jaipur and I finished it in record time before we left for the Writers’ Ball.

The story moves between Calcutta and US between generations of mothers and daughters. From Durga to Sabitri to Bela to Tara, the story shows us how their lives are intertwined across continents. It shows how every decision taken by an earlier generation impacts the futures and fortunes of the next.

As a writer, I was amazed at the switch between tense and viewpoint, the effortless transition from past and current and the command of language. As a reader, I was inspired by Sabitri’s courage and her honesty, on her motives and her fallacies. I was frustrated with Bela and her choices until she breaks free and I was afraid and hopeful for Tara. I enjoyed some of the cameo roles in the story including the south Indian scientist who gives Tara a perspective she had not seen before.

It is a story for all mothers and daughters, regardless of where they were born and where they are right now – across cultural and national boundaries. This is a subtle story of vanquishing demons – those demons that women nurture in their hearts that keeps them bound and guilt-ridden. This is a story that illuminates Tagore’s saying about love.

Love's gift cannot be given, it waits to be accepted.