Recognising some of the most poignant works of Indian literature, Akhil Katyal offers his poetry recommendations spanning Hindi, Urdu, and English languages. It’s a great starting point for anyone who enjoys reading Katyal’s poetry. By Paridhi Badgotri
Scholar, translator, activist and poet, Akhil Katyal wears many hats. Best-known for the queer poetry anthology, The World That Belongs to Us, and his poetry collection, Like Blood on the Bitten Tongue: Delhi Poems, Katyal is one of the most influential voices of contemporary India. His poems are the toast of many a literary gathering in the capital, especially among young readers.
Katyal generously curated a poetry reading list for Kunzum’s patrons. This list features some of the most fascinating and underrated works that you should add to your TBR shelf.
Akhil Katyal Reading List
Thithurate Lamp Post by Adnan Kafeel Darwesh
Adnan Kafeel Darwesh’s first collection of poetry, Thithurate Lamp Post, picks up stories from the past and gives scathing insight on the communal politics of our present. Darwesh pens down his observations on Indian society, Dharma, the existence of self, the role of religion in the subjugation of women, among other subjects.
Zelaldinus by Irwin Allan Sealy
A novel written in the form of verse, Zelaldinus is set in Mughal emperor Akbar’s historic city Fatehpur Sikri. Through encounters between the narrator Irv and the ghost of Akbar, the book unravels the story of the city and its architect. The ghost of Akbar in the contemporary helps to unite two lovers waiting for each other across the Indo-Pak border in Percival of Kolkata and Naz of Karachi. With reflections on solitude, love, and kingship, Zeladinus lets history and fiction, nobles and commoners, past and present, the simple and the fantastical rub shoulders on the page.
Beethoven Variations by Ruth Padel
Ruth Padel’s series of poems is a personal voyage through the life and legend of one of the world’s greatest composers, Beethoven. Charting his private thoughts and feelings through letters, diaries, sketchbooks, and the conversation books he used as his hearing declined, Padel unwraps the man behind the legendary compositions. She also draws an intimate connection between herself and Beethoven..
Bearings by Karthika Nair
Bearings is Karthika Nair’s attempt to establish her long connection with a language that feels like her own yet does not figure in her landscape anymore. Without any particular destination in mind, Nair’s book is a journey that encompasses themes of direction, bereavement, and absence, the loss of memory and love, home and identity.
Letters to Namdeo Dhasal by S. Chandramohan
This book comprises letters to Dhasal, the godfather of the 20th-century Dalit movement in literature. Chandramohan makes a self-conscious intervention in Indian literature, specifically in English. His poems generate a vast landscape that ranges from prominent Indian mythologies to deconstructed Western ideologies.
Rooms Are Never Finished by Agha Shahid Ali
With underlying themes of personal grief and loss, Rooms Are Never Finished is an inventive collection of poetry that excavates the devastation wrought upon Ali’s childhood home, Kashmir, and his subsequent journey back home following his mother’s death. Ali’s attempts to reconcile his Muslim, Hindu, and Western heritage is met with his exile from a strife-torn homeland.
The Fingers Remember by Aditi Rao
In this intimate poetry collection, Aditi Rao is preoccupied with the theme of memory. Forgetting or the lack of it, or the act of actively trying to forget, is the impulse behind most of her poems. She celebrates the most significant moments of her life with each poem developed in a different setting—from a mango festival to a monument and a cemetery.
Jejuri by Arun Kolatkar
Set on a pilgrimage to the town of Jejuri, this book highlights the cant of powerful Brahmins and the anachronism of religion in the modern world. Evoking the town’s crowded streets, history, and culture, Kolatkar’s poems offer a complex act of devotion to God. The essence of the poem is a spiritual quest, an attempt to find divine trace in this modern, degenerated world.
Necklace Made Of Skulls by Eunice De Souza
Eunice De Souza’s sharp, witty, and unapologetic poems are deeply rooted in intergenerational traumas passed on to women. Through her poetry, De Souza explores the Roman Catholic community, fraught relationships between children and parents, and the co-dependency of lovers.
The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy draws on myth and history while also subverting them in order to create something that holds an essence of the past with the crack of the contemporary. In this fascinating collection, she dons the perspectives of wives, sisters, and girlfriends of famous—and infamous—men. Her poems startle the readers with their wit, imagination, and incisiveness.