Arundhathi Subramaniam (India)

Arundhathi Subramaniam

Described as ‘one of the finest poets writing in India today’ (The Hindu, 2010), Arundhathi Subramaniam is the award-winning poet and writer on spirituality. She is the author of eleven books, most recently, the recent book of poems, When God is a Traveller, the acclaimed anthology of sacred verse, Eating God, and the bestselling biography of a contemporary mystic, Sadhguru: More Than A Life. She has been active over the years as critic, curator and poetry editor.

As a poet, she is the author of When God is a Traveller, (HarperCollins India and Bloodaxe Books, 2014), a book of poems that won the inaugural Khushwant Singh Prize at the Jaipur Literary Festival in January 2015. The book was the Season Choice of the Poetry Book Society in the UK, shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize, and awarded the International Piero Bigongiari Prize in Italy (2015).

Author of four books of poetry, Subramaniam has won other prizes and fellowships over the years, including the Raza Award for Poetry, the Homi Bhabha Fellowship, the Visiting Arts Fellowship and the Charles Wallace Fellowship. In 2016, she was the recipient of the first Zee Media Indian Women’s Award for Literature.

Widely anthologized and translated, she has been invited to literary conferences in the UK, Italy, Spain, Holland, Turkey, China, West Africa and Israel, as well as in various parts of India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Her work has been translated into several languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Italian, German and Spanish. An anthology under the title of A una poesia non ancora nata has recently been published in Italy by Interno Poesia, translated and edited by Andrea Sirotti.

Subramaniam has edited various anthologies, most recently a compendium of pan-Indian sacred poetry, featuring new and familiar translations of mystic poets: Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry. It has been described as ‘a wonderful mix of 48 voices, spanning several centuries, in adept, stylistically varied translations’ [with an] ‘extensive and deeply intimate Introduction… elegantly ushering readers into a trance-like receptiveness’ (The Sunday Guardian) and ‘extremely well-researched, personal and stirring’ (The Hindu).

Her other books, as anthologist, include Confronting Love (Penguin, 2005), a co-edited volume of Indian love poems, and Pilgrim’s India (Penguin, 2011), an anthology on sacred journeys. She was also invited by the Sahitya Akademi to edit an anthology of Indian poetry, published in 2013 (Another Country: An Anthology of Post-Independence Indian Poetry in English).

‘…by turns both laconic and passionate, she asks questions about morality and integrity that many poets simply refuse to take on. Yet she is also an extraordinary love poet…This is a remarkable book, from a remarkable poet.’ — John Burnside, Poetry Review, Summer 2009.

‘…a combination of sharp (at times even cutting) intelligence, uncompromising honesty, and probing subtlety…It just such writing that illuminates the fact that in our times the truly global perspective is offered by writers like Subramaniam, who have the privilege of knowing the philosophies and mythologies, the human and natural landscapes, the sounds, smells and tastes of both East and West.’ — Brenda Porster, Semicerchio, 2009

‘Few poets capture contradictory impulses so convincingly. This unexpected range is what makes Subramaniam’s work such a pleasure to read. You never know what country, mood, streetscape, or relationship you’ll be plunged into but the ferociously intelligent attention to detail ensures that you are given every opportunity to engage with the pure energy of the poem.’ Jules Mann, Poetry International Web.

Andrea Sirotti

When God Is a Traveller
(wondering about Kartikeya/ Muruga/ Subramania, my namesake)
Trust the god
back from his travels,
his voice wholegrain
(and chamomile),
his wisdom neem,
his peacock, sweaty-plumed,
drowsing in the shadows.
Trust him
who sits wordless on park benches
listening to the cries of children
fading into the dusk,
his gaze emptied of vagrancy,
his heart of ownership.
Trust him
who has seen enough—
revolutions, promises, the desperate light
of shopping malls, hospital rooms,
manifestos, theologies, the iron taste
of blood, the great craters in the middle
                                of love.
Trust him
who no longer begrudges
his brother his prize,
his parents their partisanship.
Trust him
whose race is run,
whose journey remains,
who stands fluid-stemmed
knowing he is the tree
that bears fruit, festive
with sun.
Trust him
who recognizes you—
auspicious, abundant, battle-scarred,
and knows from where you come.
Trust the god
ready to circle the world all over again
this time for no reason at all
other than to see it
through your eyes.