Volume 39.2
Summer 2008

book review:

Indian Haiku: A Bilingual Anthology of Haiku by 105 Poets from India Angelee Deodhar
Children’s Haiku from Around the World: A Haiku Primer
Hindi translation and bilingual publication by Angelee Deodhar

Soap Bubbles: Haiku by K. Ramesh

Reviewed by Charles Trumbull

Indian Haiku: A Bilingual Anthology of Haiku by 105 Poets from India, Angelee Deodhar, compiler and editor (Chandigarh, India: printed by Azad Hind Stores Ltd., spring 2008). 70 pages (numbered separately in English and Hindi); 4  x 7. No ISBN. Semigloss burgundy card covers; perfectbound. Rs. 100/– or $2.50 from the author at 1224, Sector 42-B, Chandigarh 160 036, India, or <angeleedeodhar@gmail.com>.

Children’s Haiku from Around the World: A Haiku Primer, Hindi translation and bilingual publication by Angelee Deodhar (Chandigarh, India: printed by Azad Hind Stores Ltd., autumn 2007). 242 pages (numbered separately in English and Hindi); 5  x 8 . No ISBN. Semigloss gold card covers; perfectbound. No price given; inquire from the author at the above address.

Soap Bubbles: Haiku, by K. Ramesh (Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2007). 54 unnumbered pages; 5  x 8 . Color card covers; saddle-stapled. ISBN 978-1-893959-63-7. $6.00 from the publisher.

Haiku from India

Suddenly there seems to be an explosion of haiku from the Indian subcontinent. This is surely related to the banner 9th World Haiku Festival held in February 2008 in Bangalore under the auspices of the World Haiku Club, but it is unclear whether the flowering of Indian haiku was the reason for the conference or the other way around.

To be sure, there has long been a corpus of excellent haiku poets in India itself (natives and visitors) and of Indian heritage abroad. For all those who read haiku in journals and on the Web, names such as Amitava Dasgupta, Kim Dorman, Alan Gettis, R. Narayanan, Johannes Manjrekar, K. Ramesh, Kala Ramesh, Malini Rao, R.K. Singh, A. Thiagarajan, and especially Angelee Deodhar will not be unfamiliar. Recently, however, there seems to have been a quantum leap in the activity and global visibility of Indian poets.

An exciting aspect of these developments is that bridges are beginning to be constructed among poets who write in Hindi and those who prefer English, the two main unifying languages of a country with literally hundreds of tongues, many mutually unintelligible. This is one major accomplishment of the indefatigable Angelee Deodhar, who has taken it upon herself to publish a series of basic books that lay the foundations for a pan-Indian haiku. In 2005 she put out a Hindi- and English-language edition of If Someone Asks ... (briefly noted in MH 33.3 [autumn 2002]), an annotated collection of Shiki’s haiku that had been issued in 2001 by the Shiki-Kinen Museum English Volunteers in Matsuyama, Japan. Now she has produced two more books in the same style.

In Indian Haiku Deodhar has compiled the work of Indian haiku poets and done the necessary translations — Hindi to English and English-to-Hindi — herself. Her major sources for the Hindi material were Haiku 1989 and Haiku 1999, two anthologies, edited by Kamlesh Bjatt ‘Kamal,’ and the journal Haiku Darpan, edited by Jadesh Vyom. As evidenced by this collection, Indian haiku has not entirely emerged from the umbra of classical Indian and modern poets such as Rabindranath Tagore, who himself was known to have experimented with haiku early in the twentieth century. That is to say, much of the work in this volume is more lyrical, metaphoric, exhortative, etc., than we are normally comfortable with:

moths burn
in the arms of the lamp
just a little ash

Ram Niwas ‘Panthi’

the winter night
lies curled up
in a bed of snow

Shakuntala Talwar

mountains weep
a thousand tears
a stream flows

Manoj Sonkar

dense fog
has settled in every corner
bring in the sunshine!

Rajni Bhargava

In other cases the structure of the haiku presented is closer to what Westerners expect, and the luminosity of the images can be stunning:

on the veena strings
her fingers

Vidur Jhoti

the scent of rain
from somewhere

Rajiv Lather

The first of these is reminiscent of Elizabeth Searle Lamb’s harp haiku, e.g., “the harpist’s face / hidden in shadow / pale moonlight.” Lather’s haiku was published in The Heron’s Nest in 2003.

This volume is a delight for us to own — it must be priceless to Indian haiku poets. Priced at $2.50 it is a steal.

Children’s Haiku from Around the World reprints with permission 306 haiku from five Japan Air Lines haiku contests in English, adding Deodhar’s Hindi translations. Three essays — a preface by Deodhar, “Haiku — A Shaft of Sunlight in Our Hearts” by Momoko Kuroda, and “World Children’s Haiku” by Patricia Donegan — plus a short glossary of haiku terms by Donegan make this book suitable for use by teachers of haiku and of interest to adult learners as well. Unfortunately, there are no haiku by South Asian children in this book (underlining, perhaps, the need for such a volume), but here are two samples from children who live not too far away, in Thailand and Malaysia, respectively:

High public praises to soldiers
Who died for their fatherland
But I lost my papa

Nokee Jaisupap, age 12

Approaching twilight
Droplets of rain pattering
Swaying emotions

Ima Affiza bt. Missman, age 11

K. Ramesh, who hails from Chennai in southern India and is one of the more internationally prominent haiku poets from that country, has had Soap Bubbles, a book of his haiku, published in the United States. This is a solid collection, filled with lush images of South Asia. We concur with Christopher Herold, who in his “Introduction” observes that “what appears most plentifully in Ramesh’s work is pure joy. Everywhere he turns, it seems, he finds wonder.” A fine maiden effort.

back from my hometown . . .
scent of ripe mangoes
in the empty bag

a chatter of frogs outside
the teacher’s house

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