BENGALURU: Over the years during his exemplary career, Ranjit Hoskote has put forth his work under various roles. The writer, art critic and cultural theorist is, however, perhaps most known as a contemporary Indian poet who has written with sheer conviction. In town to take part in the fourth edition of Bengaluru Poetry Festival, Hoskote told CE what drives him to write extensively. “For me, it’s a way to articulate my curiosities of this complex world, it’s about trying to find a cogent response to the crisis that surrounds us and are inside us,” he said.
Writing in various languages has excited Hoskote, who has learned Urdu. “Writing lines in a language without punctuation opens up different directions,” he said, adding that Indian poetry has changed over the years, especially with flattening of language. “Poets were captivated by the short personal lyric which isn’t adequate to the questions one has to deal with after. There is a diversity of poetic forms that are emerging to deal with this crisis,” he said.
An alumnus of Elphinstone College, Mumbai, Hoskote further went on to pursue his Master’s in English Literature at the University of Mumbai. He is the author of five collections of poetry, including the Zones of Assault and The Sleepwalker’s Archive. His recent work, Jonahwhale, was published in 2018. In 2006, The SH Raza Foundation honoured him with its Raza Award for Literature.
In 2011, Hoskote published I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded, a translation of poems written by the 14th-century Kashmiri poet Lal Ded, which was a result of his 20-year research. “I, Lalla was a special book, especially with me being a diasporic Kashmiri, it was more than a project. I am now working on a translation series based on Sanskrit terms, and another project that emerged while I was working on Ghalib,” he said.
Hoskote has also played an important role in shaping contemporary art in the country. A vocal defender of cultural freedom, the the 50-year-old poet from Mumbai believes that his various roles often end up influencing each other. He says, “We are being asked to see ourselves as heirs to a single past and to work towards a single future. The country has had plural pasts and it should have a plural future, and we have to take a stand for this.”
Influenced by the likes of James Meril and Adrienne Rich, Hoskote often revisits the collections of these esteemed poets. On whether poetry has made him the wordsmith he is today, Hoskote says, “I have mixed feelings about the word. Of course, it sounds great and adds an artisanal touch, but for me, poetry
is a work in progress.”