Almost Island, the imaginative publishing house that exists almost everywhere, has a small publishing list, just three books so far. And who knows, maybe some more are almost here. But importantly, the list of three is impressive.
Magadh, Shrikant Verma’s crowning achievement, was published in Hindi in 1984 and is one of the key works of late 20th century Indian poetry. Speaking both archly and urgently through unreliable narrators — commoners, statesmen, wanderers, people close to power (but never in power) — often like a kind of prudent and duplicitous advice for the ears of monarchs, the 56 poems range widely in tone from nostalgic to ironic to bitter to sorrowful. In a style that is both minimalist and richly allusive, Verma tells scathing tales of the decline and deep inner corruption of ancient empires on the Indian peninsula — tales of guilt, loss, arrogance, ignorance and karma — with unmistakable contemporary echoes. Interestingly, Verma knew at close hand exactly how ideas could be abused by power: he had himself been a senior member and spokesman of the Congress party in the late 1970s and early 1980s, during some of India’s darkest times.
While Cavafy, Borges and Calvino might be easy touchstones, it is Verma’s keen political eye that sets him apart, and Magadh remains a unique book — one of the most important collections of modern Hindi poetry, and the masterpiece of a great world poet. Shrikant Verma has been translated from the Hindi by Rahul Soni in 2013.
Rs. 399 in hardcover, 176 pages, ISBN: 9788192129525
Five Movements in Praise, by Sharmistha Mohanty is a fictional work that brings together images and text. Here, the landscape and the human have equal presence, and the pleasures of the book are not in the fulfillment of narrative expectations, but in the creation of new pathways of desire in storytelling.
Rs. 550, in hardcover, 122 pages, ISBN: 9788192129518
Trying to Say Goodbye is the long anticipated third collection of poems by Adil Jussawalla, who continues to be a seminal figure in post-independence Indian poetry.
Forty years on,
with the forest gone,
my sight’s improved... — from “Snakeskin”
This is an intimate but still-sharp voice, fearless but melancholic, marked by a darting, wily syntax, bristling rhymes, and an original prosody. Here, he moves across time to address an array of histories, both personal and public. He lifts and pays homage to poets, artists, drunks, vagabonds, and eccentrics on the one hand, and to the deep inner life of objects and materials—a wristwatch, a radio, clay, wood, marble, a cloud, a fly—on the other.
Rs. 300 x + 78 pages in hardback, ISBN: 9788192129501