Anisur Rahman is a literary critic, translator, and a poet. Formerly a Professor of English at Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central University in New Delhi, he is currently the Senior Advisor at rekhta.org – the world’s largest website on Urdu language, literature and culture. He has worked and published in the areas of comparative, translation, postcolonial, and Urdu studies.
He has published four books, two collections of Urdu poetry in English translations, and edited/co-edited six other volumes. His most recent publications include Earthenware: Sixty Poems, In Translation: Positions and Paradigms, Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi: The Wonderful World of Urdu Ghazals and Socioliterary Cultures in South Asia. His collection of Urdu Poetry in English translation titled, A Garden of All Senses: Five Centuries of Best Urdu Poetry, is due late 2020.
What is your writing schedule?
My poems come unannounced – anytime, anywhere. even when I am in bed. There is a call that I listen to and I chase that call. So, there is absolutely no schedule for that. For my translations, tiresome critical works and blogs, I am in a different mode altogether and I have to prepare differently for them. I have to be fully aware of what I intend to do and what I am doing. There is a fair amount of discipline involved in writing critical pieces and translations, even the occasional pieces. So, there is a schedule for those.
Does writing energise or exhaust you?
Poems energise me for sure; translation and critical essays are demanding, so they are exhausting. But once I am through these trying pieces, I can smile at them and they smile back at me. That’s really energising. Whatever kind of writing I do, I am always energised sooner, or later. This reconciliation between energy and exhaustion keeps me going all the way.
Writing advice you’d like to give your younger self ?
Advice? Well that’s taking an exalted position, isn’t it? So, in all humility I would say think better of yourself, study more in the genre and pursue one’s vocation with sincerity. Read more and more of poetry if it has given a call, read more and more of fiction if there is a tale to tell. It’s important to fix priorities and preferences, be aware of what’s going on around. Writing is so much of a conscious act.
What are your favourite books?
I have no favourites. I like an author, or a book at one point of time. There may be another set of books and authors at another. There are no books and no authors sacrosanct to me. Time is the arbiter of taste. There is so much hype about books these days in which both authors and publishers take equal part. I should be able to know what I am going to read and why.
Literary success vs number of copies sold?
The number of copies sold is not a measure of success. Most often, ordinary books sell far better than the extraordinary ones. Also, certain genres are more successful than others. So, if poetry sells less, as the publishers say at the cost of poor poets, it does not mean it is any less important. Literary success is not determined at the end of the financial year by looking at the royalty statements.
Good literature makes its place slowly and painfully. Sometimes, a particular work makes a mark in just one go. Some get established much later, which does not bring them down in the hierarchy of literary success. After all, shelf-life is something one needs to think about when there is such promotion of books and such explosions of the printed word.
Your favourite spot/s in Delhi to write?
One end of my six feet long dining table is my work station. That is because I don’t have a study. I wish I had one. Anyone who says there is a favourite spot in Delhi for him or her to write at, must be joking.