Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s Sing of Life is a revisioning of the Gitanjali, a Rabindranath Tagore classic that won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. In the book, published by Westland, the author gives a new life to Tagore’s prose-poetry into intense poems and invites us to re-engage with the Gitanjali. Chabria is an award-winning poet, translator, writer of nine books of poetry, speculative fiction, literary non-fiction and translation and editor of two poetry anthologies.
Her books include Andal: The Autobiography of a Goddess (translation), Calling over Water (poems), Clone (speculative fiction) and Bombay/Mumbai: Immersions (non-fiction).
According to you, how will this book impact a new generation of readers? What led you to revisit it?
In Sing of Life: Revisioning Tagore’s Gitanjali, I have revisioned the original which is an aesthetic and spiritual delight. Classics periodically need metaphorical dusting to make them sing afresh because their truths are timeless. In Song 35, ‘Where the Mind is Without Fear’, Tagore urges us to question unfair societal rules and build a nation based on reason. This is important today, as is his fierce belief in freedom of thought and expression. Again, Tagore’s harmonious relationship with the Earth alerts us to treasure our planet. If not, we stare at the consequences of climate breakdown. Wisdom, graciousness and beauty of language run through Tagore’s Gitanjali. I think of my revisioning as another conduit for this spiritually charged song to the earth, and his profound meditation on life’s journey. How this will affect readers is for them to discover. I was in its thrall from page one.
What were the challenges you encountered while revisiting this world classic?
My book was born from the recklessness of rapture. It’s a tribute. I didn’t insert words of my own, or change his word order. All I did was shift the archaic pronouns into the intimacy of everyday speech, as in the bhakti tradition. I chiselled intense, experimental poems from his prose poems. The Gitanjali, for me, is a 20th-century addition to wisdom literature. I stay with its living spirit.
Could you talk about the impressions of Tagore’s work on your writing?
He’s part of our cultural consciousness. For a start, Tagore composed our national anthem. And who has not swayed to Rabindra Sangeet that he wrote and composed? His paintings are unforgettable. I have also come to Tagore through cinematic adaptations. Perhaps, he’d be pleased that people absorb his writing through various art forms. Tagore was a polymath, committed to hybridity in artistic practice; he also believed that all life is imbued with sacredness. Both these principles are vital to me as a person and writer.
Please introduce us to path-breaking poetry books by Indian poets and the reasons you admire them.
I prefer contemplative, experimental poetry that pushes the boundaries of language and layout, sound and silence. However, I value other kinds of explorations that are lucid, lapidary, large-hearted, deeply thought and intensely lived. Also, over time the theme and timber of the poetry we write and read changes. Choices shift. As Founding Editor of the literary journal Poetry at Sangam (http//:poetry.sangamhouse. org) I’m constantly reading new work by poets of different generations, some of which are stunning. You’ll find my choices there.
What are you working on next?
Poems that I write will, I trust, gradually collate into a collection. Meanwhile, I am putting together a book of speculative fiction stories. Perhaps, another experience like the Gitanjali will break over me. Who