Cornell is celebrating the Bombay poets, who transformed English-language Indian poetry from flowery to gritty in the second half of the 20th century, with an exhibition and symposium.
The Kroch Library exhibit, “Films, Mills, and Poets: Mid-Century Bombay,” will run from September to mid-October outside the Asia Reading Room in Kroch.
A one-day symposium Sept. 15, “The Archive and the City of Bombay,” will take place at the A.D. White House and will feature poet Arvind Mehrotra and Viju Chitre, the widow of poet Dilip Chitre, as well as academic papers on topics from sex work to Indian cinema.
Both are free and open to the public.
In 2015, Mehotra and another eminent Indian poet, Adil Jussawalla, donated their personal papers to Cornell University Library, which is preserving them and making them accessible to scholars around the world.
“These men were rebel poets and no one would publish their work, so they self-published, preceding our modern zines. This was self-printed, wild stuff,” said Bronwen Bledsoe, curator of the library’s South Asia Collection. “By degrees, as the decades passed, they became grand old men with great stature.”
The Bombay Poets Archive includes manuscripts, draft and printed editions, diaries, the poets’ self-published “little magazines,” correspondence and some audiovisual materials.
The poets, who considered themselves brothers to U.S. Beat poets, were not all from Bombay, but converged there and celebrated their city primarily in idiomatic English, Marathi, Gujarati and Hindi.
From Mehotra’s translations of the medieval Hindi poet Kabir: “How do you, / Asks the chief of police, / Patrol a city ... / Where frogs keep snakes / As watchdogs, / And jackals / Go after lions? / Does anyone know / What I’m talking about? / Says Kabir.”
The events are sponsored by the South Asia Program, the library’s South Asia Collection, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the Society for the Humanities and Rutgers University.
Melanie Lefkowitz is staff writer, editor and social media coordinator for Cornell University Library.