K. Srilata is a Chennai-based poet, fiction writer and translator. She writes in English. Her first book of poems, Seablue Child, was published in 2000, followed by Arriving Shortly, published earlier this year. As translator and editor, she has worked on two volumes of poetry and short fiction: Rapids of a Great River: The Penguin Book of Tamil Poetry (co-edited with Lakshmi Holmstrom and Subashree Krishnaswamy) and Short Fiction from South India (co-edited with Subashree Krishnaswamy). She is Associate Professor of English at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madas.
While there is obvious skill and assurance in Srilata’s poetry, what makes it distinctive, to my mind, is its lightness of touch. This is evident in her poem, ‘Bionote’, on the city of Chennai – or Madras – included in this edition, in which she affectionately ironises her own “middle class and very Madras” identity: “My idea of a holiday,” she confesses, “was rolling down the hillsides/ of Ooty/ dressed in white/ like Sridevi” and “my idea of arctic winter/ twenty-six degrees centigrade”.
My personal favourite, however, is ‘Arriving Shortly’, a poignant and textured poem about a mother from Chennai visiting her daughter in New York City. There are several skeins of feeling here: a daughter’s embarrassment at her mother’s sartorial oddness in a foreign land; a mother’s anxiety to “blend in” by donning monochromatic salwar kurtas; and the obvious aching intimacy of the relationship. A climate of cultural unease is captured through the vivid image of “uncles and aunties” in “unisex Bata sneakers”, shuffling past Air India counters, looking for “quarters and payphones”. The closing image is beautifully understated and tender:
I catch the edge of amma’s saree
like a malnourished fox’s tail
some other woman’s sweater
meant really for Madras’ gentle Decembers.
Arriving Shortly, Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 2011, (ISBN 978-93-5045-015-4)
Seablue Child, The Brown Critique, Kolkata, 2002
Table for Four, Penguin, New Delhi, 2011 (ISBN:978-01-4306-819-8)
The Rapids of a Great River: The Penguin Book of Tamil Poetry (co-edited with Lakshmi Holmstrom and Subashree Krishnaswamy), Penguin/Viking, New Delhi, 2009 (ISBN: 978-06-7008-281-0)
Short Fiction from South India (co-edited with Subashree Krishnaswamy), OUP, New Delhi, 2008 (ISBN:978-01-9569-246-4; edited collection of stories from the southern languages in translation)
The Other Half of the Coconut: Women Writing Self Respect History, Kali for Women/Zubaan, New Delhi, 2003 (ISBN: 81-86706-50-X)
Blogger: K. Srilata: K. Srilata’s blog with a few more poems.
Poetry with Prakriti and Open Space: Some more poems by K. Srilata