“Academia in India is not something about which you can have any illusions”: An Interview with Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

13 January 2016
Pradeep Gaur/Mint Via Getty Images
Pradeep Gaur/Mint Via Getty Images

Born in Lahore in 1947, the poet, translator and literary critic Arvind Krishna Mehrotra is widely acknowledged as one of the leading voices of Indian English poetry. Mehrotra has published five books of poetry, including Nine Enclosures (1976) and The Transfiguring Places (1998), two of translation, and has edited various anthologies. He has translated over 200 works from the ancient Prakrit language, as well as from Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati.

Mehrotra studied English literature, ancient history, and economics during his BA at Allahabad University. After graduating in 1966, he moved to Mumbai (then Bombay) for his masters. It was here that Mehrotra met the poets Adil Jussawalla, Arun Kolatkar and Gieve Patel, all of whom are known for their contribution to shaping Indian poetry in the English language. In 1976, the four poets started the poetry publishing collective Clearing House. Mehrotra joined Allahabad University in 1968 as an English lecturer, and retired in 2012. He now lives in Dehradun.

Ishan Marvel, a web reporter at The Caravan, spoke with Mehrotra on 10 January 2016, a day after Mehrotra had delivered a lecture on Arun Kolatkar, title “The Writer as a Tramp.” The lecture was a part of a symposium on “deprofessionalisation” held at the India International Centre (IIC), Delhi. Mehrotra spoke about the tradition of English poetry in India, his views on academia, and his advice for young poets.

Ishan Marvel: Could you elaborate on the theme of the symposium at IIC—what does the deprofessionalisation of literature imply?

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra: People have been constructing the idea of the writer for a long time. But writing novels or writing poetry is seldom anyone’s career. As a matter of fact, people can do very interesting and valuable work in genres they are not identified with. For instance, we don’t think of Arun Kolatkar as an artist, but he did a wonderful book of drawings called The Policeman: A Wordless Play in 13 Scenes that no one talks about. So, the whole idea of the symposium was to explore the notion of being a non-specialist, or a dabbler.

Ishan Marvel is a reporter at Vantage, The Caravan.

Keywords: academia Indian poetry Arvind Krishna Mehrotra Writing
COMMENT