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The best of 2014: Sudeep Sen’s picks
Sudeep Sen  3rd Jan 2015

Sudeep Sen

Poetry

2014 was an incredible year for poetry with this genre clearly leading the way both in terms of achievements and quality of books that came out in 2014.

Imtiaz Dharker's wonderfully conceived fifth book Over the Moon (Bloodaxe) recently won her the prestigious 2014 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in the UK — a real honour and achievement. Adil Jussawalla's excellent book of poems, Trying to Say Goodbye (Almost Island Books) deservedly won this year's Sahitya Akademi Award in the English language category. K Satchidanandan's Misplaced Objects and Other Poems (Sahitya Akademi) includes a strong selection in English translation from the original Malayalam. One of India's best poets, his verse is marked by an acutely conscious political and poetic sensibility that uses deft play of language. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's Collected Poems (Penguin Modern Classics) is an important book that brings together his tightly wrought poetry and finely translated works back into print. Kamala Das's Selected Poems is the newest and a vital addition to the Penguin Modern Classics list.

The new Khushwant Singh Poetry Prize has a very strong shortlist: Keki Daruwalla's Fire Altar (HarperCollins), Ranjit Hoskote's Central Time (Penguin), Arundhati Subramaniam's When God is a Traveller (HarperCollins), Sridala Swami's Escape Artist (Aleph), and Joy Goswami's Selected Poems (Harper Perennial). All of these are must-reads, as are — Kazim Ali's Sky Ward (Wesleyen); Vandana Khanna's Afternoon Masala (Arkansas); Manohar Shetty's Living Room (HarperCollins); The Fingers Remember by Aditi Rao (Yoda) — two Authors Press titles: Painting that Red Circle White by Mihir Vatsa and Green Tin Trunk by Uddipana Goswami — and three from Poetrywala: Mani Rao's New & Selected Poems, Menka Shivdasani's Safe House, Bina Sarkar Ellias's Fuse, and In Other Words: Selected Poems 1975-2006 by H S Shiva Prakash.

Fiction &Non-Fiction

It was a good year for fiction & non-fiction too. My picks from among the best debut novels are: Devdan Chaudhuri's Anatomy of Life (Picador) is reflective and philosophical in nature that slows time down. There are no named characters in the entire novel, yet his unique characterisations are convincing and intriguing. Deepti Kapoor's A Bad Character (Penguin) uses a dark spunky writing style to portray an unsettling urban India story of coming of age with sheer brio. Saskya Jain's Fire Under Ash (Vintage) display fine storytelling skills and convincing use of dialogue writing. Among the senior prose writers, my picks are: Upamanyu Chatterjee's sixth novel Fairy Tales at Fifty (Fourth Estate) about "the horrible pointlessness of everyday reality" written with elegant panache; Amit Chaudhuri's Odysseus Abroad (Penguin) is funny, wry and bears his finely languorous prose-style signature. Vikram Chandra's Geek Sublime (Graywolf Press) is superbly erudite and engaging.

Translations

Three excitingly varied translations of Kalidasa appeared last year. Kalidasa for the 21st Century Reader: Selected Poetry & Drama (Aleph) is an innovative and excellent modern rendition of the original Sanskrit by Mani Rao (she had also done a fine post-modernist translation of the Gita earlier). Kalidasa's long poem, Kumarasambhavam (The Origin of the Young God) translated by Hank Heifetz; and the play Malavikagnimitram (The Dancer and the King) translated by Srinivas Reddy, are two important contributions to Kalidasa's translated oeuvre under the Penguin Classics series.

The Essential Tagore (Harvard University Press & Visva Bharati) paperback edition, edited by Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty, is perhaps the best and most comprehensive high-quality single-volume anthology of the Indian Nobel laureate. Two other Tagore translations I'd strongly recommend are: Rabindranath Tagore: Letters to a Young Poet 1887-1895 (Penguin) translated by Rosinka Chaudhuri; and Tagore for the 21st Century Reader: Selected Fiction, Poetry & Drama (Aleph) translated by Arunava Sinha.

Anthologies

I'd like to highly recommend David Davidar's excellent and judiciously edited literary anthology, A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces (Aleph) that contains 39 short stories from across Indian languagesfrom Khushwant Singh, Munshi Premchand, Ismat Chugtai, Vaikom Muhammed Basheer and Ruskin Bond, to newer voices like Shahnaz Bashir and Kanishk Tharoor.

Other fine and important anthologies that appeared in 2014 are: Another English: Anglophone Poems from Around the World (Tupelo Press, USA) edited by Catherine Barnett and Tiphane Yanique; Becoming Poets: The Asian English Experience (Peter Lang, Bern) edited by Agnes Lam; Wings Over the Mahanadi: Eight Odia-English Poets (Poetrywala) edited by Manu Dash; Parallel Speech: Fifteen Younger Contemporary Oriya Poets (AuthorsPress) edited by Meenakshi & Bibhu Padhi); and The Taste of Words: An Introduction to Urdu Poetry (Penguin), edited and translated by Raza Mir with a foreword by Gulzar.

Sudeep Sen's award-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Aria (A.K. Ramanujan Translations Award), and The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (editor).

 
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