Poet, Author, Editor, Creative Writing Consultant

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review of ' The Gods of War ', my short story published in Eastern Heathens

"Abha Iyengar’s “The Gods of War” – a sophisticated, tightly-plotted 
retelling of an episode from The Ramayana – seems to suffer from a similar myopia. The male characters are without exception sexist, morally reprehensible and brutal in their treatment of women. Malini (a name associated with the “invincible” Mother Goddess Durga and her incarnation as the fierce Kali, the embodiment of shakti, or feminine empowerment) is stereotyped as emotionally volatile, cunning and vengeful: “Her eyes wild and her hair an untamed black cloud all around her. She looked like Kali” (103). What saves the story from this banal polemic is the more circumspect consciousness of the narrator, Tanya, through which the bloody gender wars that ensue are filtered. At the story’s climax she reflects, “So much death and destruction, mistrust and mutilation.
No one won such wars” (103). This formulation neatly ironises the otherwise too simplistic dialectic – while taking nothing away from the story’s powerful indictment of male chauvinism and violence in India."
~Roderick B. Overaa
East Tennessee State University, USA (His review of my story in 'Eastern Heathens: An Anthology of Subverted Asian Folklore', published in
IIUM Journal of English Language and Literature)
Here is the link: http://asiatic.iium.edu.my/article/Asiatic%207-2%20pdf%20files/Roderick_review.pdf

Friday, January 24, 2014


I sit in the space, on a boulder, hidden. The sound of the water flowing from a pipe into the pond is like a gurgle. I like it, it is said this is akin to the sound of the womb,  that is why we humans like to be near the sound, near water. The goldfish , large and orange and gold, had been spotted once by me in this pond,  but I search for it now and cannot find it. The pool is muddy, it is difficult to see clearly. The boulders are rough and red, the two central ones have flat surfaces, but are also lower.
I have chosen one of the flat surfaced ones to sit on and it feel cool and smooth under me. Opposite me is a hut like structure build in a traditional style, open, raised on bamboos, and with thatch as roofing. It has clay pots placed on a high ledge, an opening that connects the structure’s inside with the outside. From my low vantage point, I catch a glimpse of more clay objects through that opening. The look is cool, inviting, and I almost unseat myself to explore this structure and what it holds, but force myself to keep in place, willing myself to enjoy the stillness.  I hear a bird’s sweet call, the water’s soft gurgle, the sound of an airplane above, and nothing seems amiss in the world order. I close my eyes, trying to drink in this peace.
A sound. My eyes open, angry at being disturbed. A man is dragging a plastic hose , a long cream coloured thick , snake like creature, across the uneven and muddy terrain at my feet, a couple of feet away from me, indifferent to the fact that I am sitting there. He places the hose pipe into the pool, letting its water pour forth. I wonder why he needs to do this, the pool is already being fed by another hose pipe near to where I am seated, at a point where I had spotted the goldfish. He has disturbed the equilibrium. He goes away and my eyes wander.
I can see to my left a vast expanse of open green lawn, where the sun shines with intensity and no trees are there to stop its glare, and watch two of my friends drift into the space and out of it. I wonder, are they still looking for a place, a place to seat themselves and be quiet? I can sense their restless energy, the need to find a location. At the same time, I feel somewhat like a voyeur, I can watch them from my hidden shaded spot and they do not know that they are under observation.
Another sound of feet hitting the ground. I look back to the space in front of me, the rough ground, and another man is walking past. He comes up to the hosepipe and washes his hands in the water that is pouring out. He leaves, retracing his steps. I find myself distracted by all these comings and goings. Though no words are spoken, the entries and exits bring with them an element of disturbance and noise.
 To the left and back of me, behind the garden space, is the main building, with a stone pillar painted with coloured acrylic art forms almost guarding the entrance. It is very modern and contemporary and goes with the monolithic, triangular style structure of the building. The building is imposing and seems strong and foreboding, set amidst the surrounding nature that is so green and bending, accepting and vulnerable in comparison.
I am looking out of the spot so much that I cannot bring myself to be at peace with what is immediately around me, the movement of the water, the natural roughness of the boulders, the colours of the leaves, the gentle shade which shields me from the harshness of the sun. The way the tiny little leaves and flowers lie scattered on the brown mud path, some trampled, some still fresh. All this is not consciously and willfully imbibed into me, I am searching everywhere around , looking in the distance for some kind of filling into my being, a pouring forth into me from the outside.
 I look again at the thatched building in front of me, with its clay and terracotta figures and objects and the contrast of the two buildings in the same space hits me. My eyes travel up the baked mud exterior of this pottery building and stop at the ledge. I am about to get up from the seat and as I do so, I find that someone had been observing me quietly from behind the ledge, for his eyes meet mine as I rise. My bottom feels painfully frozen and numb as I begin to stand.
A sense of shock and strangeness overcomes me, I am not the only voyeur. I had been observing quietly, drinking in the surrounding scenery and people, thinking that no one could see me doing so.
I have an unexplained feeling of embarrassment as I walk down the path, back to where everyone is, where interactions are taking place openly. Here people distract with words, not through the making of noise. Here they communicate through voice and direct gaze, not through the silent observations of hidden eyes. Here the guards are up, people are not allowed to observe without being put in their place.
But now I know, even when you think no one is looking, you can be quite sure that you are wrong. You are being observed.
© ABHA IYENGAR, April 2011

First published online in Red Room.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


"In your eyes, depths
In mine, only a desire to drown
Perhaps that is why when I look at you
You meet my glance with a frown."

(C) Abha Iyengar, 22/01/2014.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Indianization of English Poetry: Some Thoughts ( prepared for The Delhi Poetry Festival at JNU, 10th January 2014)

The Indianization of English Poetry:
1) If it means the writing of poetry in English by Indian Poets, this began a long time back. We have famous poets like Sri Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), A. K. Ramanujan (1929-1993), and others that have followed like Nissim Ezekiel (1924-2004), Adil Jussawalla, Keki Daruwalla and Kamala Das (1934-2009).

2) If it means the writing of poetry in English with Indian Settings and References, then again these very distinguished poets and others have done that. Ramanujan’s poem, “Prayers To Lord Murugan” addresses the ‘lord of new arrivals, lovers and rivals’ to ‘arrive at once with cockfight and banner’… had references to a god which an English reader would be hard put to understand. 

In Adil Jussawalla’s collection (The Right Kind of Dog), “A Song for Eklavya” refers to Eklavya’s story (in the Mahabharta). The Indian reader will ‘know’ the reference.
Nissim Ezekiel’s poem, The Professor, is in fact a satire on the Indianisms we use everyday. Some lines read, “We are keeping up. Our progress is progressing.” And “If you are coming again this side by chance, Visit please my humble residence also. I am living just on opposite house's backside.” ( Rukhaya MK, in ‘Telling it like it Is’ calls  this Indianism an adaptation of the language to adopt to the native language structure. It highlights mother-tongue interference).

3) If it means the inclusion of Hindi words in the English dictionary, then that too , as we all know, is in existence, words like jungle, curry, chai, being a few of them, known not only to the English but also the global reader.


What we are, however, talking about today , when we talk of the Indianization of English Poetry, is the assimilation of English as a language into our own writing of poetry in a way that it becomes more ‘comfortable’: reaches a wider audience, is read and understood by many more, and allows more Indians to take to writing in English with comfort and freedom.

This has also led to the development of what is also called HINGLISH, when the spoken language has lent itself to the written word. This is the non-elitist, everyday-speak form of English. Just like Urdu , a mix of 3 languages (Farsi, Arabi, and Hindi) was made popular by poets like Ghalib and Iqbal, so also it may be that one day Hinglish is the language made popular by today’s poets in India.

There is a breaking of elitist chains with youthful voices willing to experiment and produce new work. When free verse came into being, there was initial protest. When free expression in a language more attuned to Indian ears (but originating elsewhere), takes place, there is bound to be protest, but it will finally be welcomed and appreciated.

The Indianization of English poetry will bring more colour and life. It may be an initially disquieting presence, but it will free the Indian voice, bringing it from the stiff proscenium venues to the open stage.

A word of caution: This liberty accorded by today’s freedom of expression does not mean that one can write anything in the name of Indianization of English Poetry and hope to get away with it.

Whatever we do, we must always use our language with care and we should not dim the intensity of the poetic gaze.

Given below, a poem in Hinglish.

In Praise of Hinglish

We are putting away, writing off
what they call it? 
Partridges in the pear tree.
Now we are writing about peacocks 
dancing away in the jungle.
More correct, I thinks.
What you thinks?

Writing off and away, we are,
 Sammy and Harry 
Writing about, now, 
Sweetys and Harry Singhs.
Doing jungle mein mangal.

We are 
Doing poetry
with words 
like drinking the cutting chai, 
eating the pav bhaji,
I am liking it. 
Writing all this in Hinglish.
What this you saying?
Like only English Vinglish? 

But why? 
We are also making
Our words rhyme and sing
Telling our poems
to a certain praaji,
Or even this lovely Auntiji.
Or a close fraand.Not girlfraand! 
How can you suggest such a shocking things!
But I must say, dear,
We are having
the poetry within us.

It will find a way. 
Chalo, likhona, puttar.
Write it anyway
No agar magar about it now.
What difference between bull and cow?
One and same thing.
I am liking it. 
Writing all this in Hinglish.
What this English Vinglish?
Write in Hinglish
I am understanding it so well only.

© ABHA IYENGAR, 9th Jan 2013 for The Delhi Poetry Festival.