The Spoken Word Lingers

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ON THE first evening of the festival, a candycoloured tent hosted one of its most memorable events. As part of the Writer’s Chain project (organised by the British Council and Siyahi), four poets from the UK had spent a week with four Indian authors, exploring each other’s work through translation.

The performance began with English poet Mathew Hollis reciting a poem written for a terminally-ill friend. Its rural imagery was picked up in hard, stony syllables by the celebrated Khasi poet Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih. Nongkynrih proceeded to recite, in English, a translation of one of his own Khasi poems. “RK Narayan is dead,” began this most remarkable tribute to a mother, making the audience gasp with its affectionate ruthlessness. Tamil writer Sivasankari’s short story of a woman’s slow emancipation was translated into an Irish poem: Gearóid Mac Lochlainn exhorting Chandra, Chandra, now’s the time. Udaya Narayana Singh read in both Maithili and Bengali.

The final poem was jointly read by in English, in Irish and (by Sampurna Chattarji) in Bengali. Afterwards you walked around Diggi Palace yelling snatches of the poem. I am sick; Ami oshustho; Much of a muchness is too much for me.

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