Reasons for Belonging is a 2002 anthology of Indian poets writing in English, who belong to the second generation of post-colonial Indian poets. Published by Viking Penguin and edited by Ranjit Hoskoté, the book includes the poets Jeet Thayil, Tabish Khair, Ranjit Hoskoté, Vijay Nambisan, H. Masud Taj, Rukmini Bhaya Nair, C.P. Surendran, Vivek Narayanan, Gavin Barrett, Anjum Hasan, Jerry Pinto, Smita Agarwal, Arundhathi Subramaniam and Anand Thakore. In this excerpt from his introduction, Hoskoté, who is a poet, cultural theorist and curator, explains how he came to assemble this anthology:
A new generation of Indian poets writing in English made its appearance in the late 1980s, in journals and the literary sections of magazines. Within a few years, some of these poets saw their first books come out. They befriended or had known one another, fought one another and fought for one another, and developed the understanding that they were a single grouping, however widely dispersed geographically. They saw themselves, and were seen by critics, as successors to the established poets canonized in the influential anthologies edited by R Parthasarathy, Vilas Sarang and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.
Reasons for Belonging is a selection of fourteen distinctive voices from this new grouping. Seven of them belong to what has been described as the “second generation of post-colonial Indian poets” in several anthologies and surveys. Born between 1950 and 1970, these already anthologized and relatively established figures include Jeet Thayil, Tabish Khair, Ranjit Hoskote, Vijay Nambisan, Rukmini Bhaya Nair, C P Surendran and Smita Agarwal. The other seven poets represent an alteration of the graph. Among them are four poets who belong chronologically to the second generation, but whose work has come to public notice more recently (H Masud Taj, Gavin Barrett, Jerry Pinto and Arundhathi Subramaniam), and three poets born in the early 1970s, who mark the advent of a third generation (Vivek Narayanan, Anjum Hasan and Anand Thakore).
These fourteen poets are at home in a world in which the boundary between the local and the global has increasingly been blurred; they wrestle, in their work, with the ethical and artistic dilemmas produced by such a blurring. They live in, or have significant experience of, India’s major cities; some have joined the South Asian diaspora, migrating overseas during the last decade. Their poetry reflects the formal assurance and urbane fluency of their metropolitan location. And while they never descend to reportage, they are keenly responsive to their crisis-ridden lifeworld: a political environment menaced by violence, repression and mounting emergency; an economy dominated by global capital; a society churned by the continuing struggle between elite and subaltern classes.
These poets are not apologetic about the fact that they write in English; their poetry is refreshingly free of the excess ideological baggage of Indianness that encumbered the earlier generation of post-colonial Indian poets in English. They feel no obligation to prove their Indianness to nativist detractors who, arguing from an essentialist model of cultural identity, vilify Indian literature in English as being ‘inauthentic’ and ‘alienated’ from its context. The poets whose work is presented here savour the uses of hybridity; or at least, are at ease with such a cultural condition. Raised as they were in multi-lingual India, most of them are polyglot; their mother tongues are among the several languages they know. English, however, is their language of creative expression, one that they inhabit, re-shape and extend, more than they do any other.
Reasons for Belonging brings together some of the most striking voices in contemporary Indian poetry in English. These poets are at home in the world. Most of them operate from India’s metropolitan centres, and their poetry reflects the formal assurance and urbane fluency of that position. They celebrate the possibilities of hybridity; they are cosmopolitan in their attitudes, and English is their first language of creative expression. Their poetry emerges from the metropolitan experience: speed, exchange, novelty, interplay, violence, solitude and isolation, and nostalgia for other regions and states of being. And their tones range from frenzy and anger through coolness to quietness and reflection.
About Gavin Barrett, Hoskoté says this:
The landscapes that open across these poems are often activated by journeys. Travel provokes cartography but also causes dislocation; between these alternatives, the self exposes itself to view. Gavin Barrett streams outside the individual body in ‘One Way Out’:
“Part of what I am is in the road, / In travelling past the dusty names,/ In the grimed towns that flash/ Past the car-window,/
Past the creased, tired maps I read.”