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Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Visiting Poet

Arvind Mehrotra

Poet, translator, essayist, and editor Arvind Krishna Mehrotra was born in Lahore and educated at the universities of Allahabad and Bombay. He is the author of four books of poems, Nine Enclosures (Clearing House, 1976), Distance in Statute Miles(Clearing House, 1982), Middle Earth (OUP, 1984) and The Transfiguring Places(Ravi Dayal, 1998). As the journal Fulcrum proclaims, “His poems derive their power from what they leave out as much as what they say, as if a host of ghost lines stood behind eeach line on the page.”

Since 1968, Mehrotra has taught at the University of Allahabad, where he is currently Professor of English. He has been a visiting writer at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, a Homi Bhabha Fellow, and has spent periods of residence at Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study and Conference Center, Bellagio.

A History of Indian Literature in English, which he edited, was awarded the Choice magazine’s Outstanding Academic Title of the Year. Mehrotra also edited The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets (OUP, 1992) and The Last Bungalow: Writings on Allahabad (Penguin, 2007). His translation, The Absent Traveller: Prākrit Love Poetry from the Gāthāsaptaśatī of Sātavāhana Hāla (1991), has recently been reprinted in Penguin Classics.

Mehrotra’s poems, essays, and translations have appeared in dozens of anthologies, most recently, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (W. W. Norton, 2008), Longman Anthology of World Literature (Longman, 2004), and Vintage Book of Modern Indian Literature (2004). His most recent publications include Songs of Kabir (translations) and Partial Recall: Essays on Literature and Literary History, both 2011.

Select Poems


This is about the green miraculous trees,

And old clocks on stone towers,

And playgrounds full of light

And dark blue uniforms.

At eight I’m a Boy Scout and make a tent

By stretching a bedsheet over parallel bars

And a fire by burning rose bushes,

I know half a dozen knots and drink

Tea from enamel mugs.

I wear khaki drill shorts, note down

The number-plates of cars,

Make a perfect about-turn for the first time.

In September I collect my cousins’ books

And find out the dates of the six Mughals

To secretly write the history of India.

I see Napoleon crossing the Alps

On a white horse.


My first watch is a fat and silver Omega

Grandfather won in a race fifty-nine years ago;

It never works and I’ve to

Push its hands every few minutes

To get a clearer picture of time.

Somewhere I’ve kept my autograph book,

The tincture of iodine in homeopathy bottles,

Bright postcards he sent from

Bad Ems, Germany.

At seven-thirty we are sent home

From the Cosmopolitan Club,

My father says, ‘No-bid,’

My mother forgets her hand

In a deck of cards.

I sit reading on the railing till midnight,

Above a worn sign

That advertises a dentist.


I go to sleep after I hear him

Snore like the school bell:

I’m standing alone in a back alley

And a face I can never recollect is removing

The hubcaps from our dull brown Ford.

The first words I mumble are the names of roads,

Thornhill, Hastings, Lytton;

We live in a small cottage,

I grow up on a guava tree

Wondering where the servants vanish

After dinner, at the magic of the bearded tailor

Who can change the shape of my ancestors.

I bend down from the swaying bridge

And pick up the river

Which once tried to hide me:

The dance of torn skin

Is for much later.

The dog barks and the cat mews,

The moon comes out in the sky,

The birds are mostly settled.

I envy your twelve hours

Of uninterrupted dreaming.

I take your small palms in mine

And don’t know what

To do with them. Beware, my son,

Of those old clear-headed women

Who never miss a funeral.

The next one will come from the air

It will be an overripe pumpkin

It will be the missing shoe

The next one will climb down

From the tree

When I’m asleep

The next one I will have to sow

For the next one I will have

To walk in the rain

The next one I shall not write

It will rise like bread

It will be the curse coming home

About Arvind Krishna

Poetry Center Reading Dates: September 2008, September 2011