London’s South Asian Radical Writers
On 3 October 2012, to mark the launch of Wasafiri’s Special Issue, ‘Britain and India: Cross-Cultural Encounters’, guest-edited by Florian Stadtler, three writers came to together at Asia House in London, to reflect on the largely unacknowledged legacies of forgotten South Asian writers who were active in Britain in the early twentieth century. Contemporary writers Shyama Perera, Daljit Nagra and Bidisha chose excerpts from the Special Issue which, as a departure from our usual publications, cast a retrospective glance towards South Asian writers of yesterday. Each writer then offered their own original responses to these older works, excerpts of which are reproduced below with the generous permission of the authors.
For Shyama Perera it was Cedric Dover’s poem ‘Brown Phoenix’ which stood out. Of mixed ancestry, Dover’s poem, published in 1950, pins its hopes on ‘tomorrow’s man/Offering to share/Love, and the difficult quest,/in the emerging plan’ and looks toward a future of diversity and racial inter-mingling. Reading Dover, Perera was reminded of her own feelings about the birth of her daughter which she described in a very personal account of being the mother of children of mixed heritage.
Daljit Nagra, chose Balachandra Rajan’s poem ‘None Shall Escape’ (1948), an individual response to Rama’s rescue of Sita in the Ramayana. He then went on to read an excerpt from his own retelling of the Ramayana epic which is forthcoming in 2013.
(Both songs come from Gito-Bitan, Collection of Songs, published in India in 1931. The following poems come from the section of the collection called Shodesh, translated as Homeland, which contained patriotic songs by Tagore).
On the dense road, at the tough pass, should they flee,
If there should be no lantern light, nor hearth, nor flame,
Then do what others cannot: