First things first, and yes I am late again. Where did October go?! My review of Dilli, an Anthology of Women Poets of Delhi, was published in Spark Magazine’s October issue.
I felt that a review of the anthology wouldn’t be complete without telling people about the man behind it – Dr Amitabh Mitra – and his publishing house Poets’ Printery!
Dr Mitra is a South African of Bengali origin. An orthopaedic and trauma surgeon at the Accident and Emergency unit of Cecilia Makiwane Hospital, Mdantsane, South Africa, he is also a poet, painter, publisher and deep inside, a Gwalior boy at heart. Among the many books (on art and/or poetry) that he has either written/created himself or edited or published are Ritual Silences, A Slow Train to Gwalior, Mdantsane Breathing, ‘Splinters of a Mirage Dawn, Anthology of Migrant Poetry from South Africa,’ Tonight – an Anthology of Love Poetry and Dilli to name a few. You can learn more about him at his website. Get details about his publishing house here - Poets Printery . Read an interview of him here by Sola Osofisan.
I first read Dr Amitabh Mitra’s poetry in the erstwhile magazine Poems Niederngasse. That was more than a decade ago, closer to two decades actually! Dr Mitra’s poem was a love poem set in Gwalior. I remember being particularly enamoured of an image in that poem (I think it was titled Zubaida, if I remember correctly), an image of grave stones pegging the sky. The poem was short but haunting. I tried to dig it out from the archives of Poems Niederngasse, but alas they no longer exist. Only the very last issue is still online, which ironically carries a poem by me. I remember scouring the net, in those days we used Netscape, for Dr Mitra’s poetry, and felt a childlike delight when ever I found one. It was only after I began living in Chennai, that I “met” him through an online writers group, and then Facebook made interaction more face to face! In all these years, Dr Mitra’s talented children have grown – his daughter and son, and his poetry initiative – Poets Printery. Dr Mitra has published many poets from Africa and the subcontinent , hosted his paintings in galleries, written and published many more poems. Here we discuss the latest book published by him, Dilli, and the dil or heart behind it. :)
Me: What inspire you to do this anthology on Dilli? You are a Gwalior boy, why Dilli?
Dr Mitra: Delhi or Dilli is so close to Gwalior. One has to be in Delhi before coming to Gwalior. During the eighties, so much was happening at Delhi. I needed to be there at the centre of these movements. Poetry, Music, New Political Thoughts and above all fusing them to Love, that I believe is the core of our very existence. I was madly in love with some or other girl during those times. Loving at strangertimes, especially in Dilli was wonderful.
Me: Tell us a bit about the process of putting together this anthology
Dr Mitra: It all happened after encountering, William Dalrymple’s, City of Djinns. Everything came rushing back. It was like being there, the history of Delhi which is wrapped on to each one of us who witnessed those beautiful tumultuous years. I knew, I had to do something. The idea was Dilli. I requested Semeen Ali to edit and Susmit Bose to give a Foreword. It took more than two years to compile the anthology.
Me: Dilli is also a love anthology, addressing a city in this case. You have produced other love anthologies and collections as well. Are you a die-hard romantic in spite of dealing with trauma patients all the time? Your views on this subject
Dr Mitra: Laughing
Medicine is such a straight line; it hardly allows one to think of galaxies and life beyond. I am presently involved in MPhil in Emergency Medicine from the University of Cape Town. I don’t know when I will be able to complete it. Being in love is the greatest feeling, it just happens. Loving doesn’t end abruptly. Living and loving continue in an endless stream, like stranger-dreams weaving familiarity in many rude Chambal summers.
Me: Tell us something about your own journey as a poet and artist
Dr Mitra: There is no real journey; it’s just eyes catching thoughts everyday. Something really happened, when I penned down my first words in 1980. Since then, there has been no turning back. It’s just this awareness that is the unexplainable.
Me: Tell us about your current home in South Africa and your involvement with the poetry and art scene there
Dr Mitra: From my unpublished book of poems and drawings, Stranger than a Sun -
To be free is all we ever need. The age-old streets at Johannesburg are the same as in Delhi. One reflected its own reflection of the conqueror and the vanquished and the other spoke of once rusted rivers now barely an overcrowded thread. Each in its own way remembered their ancient strife; season in layers resented the estrangement of evenings and darkness. Today as I stand on a Dutch sounding street in Johannesburg, evenings of Jacaranda flower reminds me of its age and many such lost livings. Like me, you too might have been on an endangered street; saturday reasoning at dusk might even have the aroma of Karims at Chitli Qabar. We once talked about freedom here while watching pigeons fly. You said how we can have freedom when there are so many threads pulling the kites and so many skies living our lives. Brimming with tears from the hot kebab, we laughed the sunset of many such small beginnings.
Me: Who are your favourite poets and artists/painters?
Dr Mitra: Indian Poets – Arun Kolatkar, Pritish Nandy
South African Poet – Denis Brutus
Indian Painters – Arpana Caur, Vijay Mohite
Me: What are your poetic/publishing projects at hand now?
Dr Mitra: Ours is a small publishing house. Poets Printery will be publishing up and coming Southern African and Indian Poets. We are ‘booked’ until the end of 2015. I do wish to bring out a book of NYC women poets, we are still working on it.