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An exploration

Athena Kashyap’s Crossing Black Waters and Randhir Khare’s Walking Through Fire are similar in that both works revolve around identity

Athena Kashyap’s Crossing Black Waters, a collection of poetry, is an “exploration of borders” while Randhir Khare’s recently-released novel Walking Through Fire is “an exploration of identity”.

A reading-and-launch of Athena’s and Khare’s works was organised by Toto Funds the Arts at the British Council recently.

Randhir Khare writes in an email interview, that Walking Through Fire “is set in an India that is in the throes of internal upheaval and change”.

The novel, which spans the era from post-Independence India to more recent times, begins with the protagonist Sean Varma lying critically injured in a hospital. He tries to understand what brought him there, and it is from here that the story unfolds.

Rooting the narrative

Although Varma’s ancestry is based entirely on Khare’s own, the narrative on Sean’s life is different from the author’s. “I use physical, social, historical and psychological settings and locations in the novel that have in one way or another been similar to mine. But I did this in order to structure and root the narrative.”

Khare adds that “he has transformed the living experience into a work of fiction with a life of its own and hence, the character of Sean into an individual with his own life path”.

Khare, an award-winning writer, teacher and artist, is known to create vivid and powerful characters. In Walking Through Fire too Khare “delves deep into the very being of his characters and brings alive the intensity of their experiences, perceptions, beliefs, hopes, struggles and how they relate to the world around them.”

He says that he has done his utmost “not to play God, but instead draw readers into the world of his characters”. Khare, considered among India’s pioneers of Indian writing in English, hopes that the “critical climate improves”, but thinks that Indian writing in English is “still in a healthy state,” adding that “we are now getting to see a lavish display of imagination and technique”.

Athena Kashyap’s Crossing Black Waters traces a family’s odyssey from the India of 1947 to the United States. Furthermore, the poems, written in free verse, explore the meaning of loss, be it of a child, a father or a home.

In Reunion in Bangalore, Athena writes of her return to Bangalore; memories she has of the city is tied up to her father.

Even though one senses the poet’s happiness on her homecoming, the poet laments what the city has lost due to its progress.

In one stanza, the poet describes the city as a heart that has all its arteries blocked, expressed evocatively in these lines: “Father dead long-since, the few trees remaining, smothered by soot from autos, buses and cars, clogging the arteries we once cycled, encircling the city.” Athena writes in free verse and the skilful arrangement of words lends an ethereal beauty to her poems. “A poet uses minimal words to explain many things,” she says. Indeed, Athena infuses deep meaning into three simple words, “I am knot”.

“The play on knot to mean one can never really be free as one is always knotted to the past. It also includes the ‘not’ of existence in a foreign country.” Athena says that poetry requires a “reader to slow down and understand what the poet means” Athena doesn’t believe that a writer must be in a rush to get his work published.

“A poem is a work in progress that could take eight to nine rounds of edits to finally be ready,” says Athena, whose next collection of poetry Sita of the Earth and Forest is due to be published. Crossing Black Waters (Stephen F. Austin State University Press) is priced Rs. 150 and Walking Through Fire (Niyogi Books) is priced Rs. 395.



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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 1:02:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/an-exploration/article4221962.ece

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