Born in 1956, Chandrakant (or Chandu) Shah is a Boston-based Gujarati poet and playwright. He is the author of two books of poetry, Ane Thoda Sapna and Blue Jeans, and several important plays in Gujarati theatre, including Master Phoolmani, Kabro, Khelaiya, Ek Hati Rupli and Eva Mumbai Ma Chal Jaiye. He has also written an English play, Mahatma.Gandhi.Com.
Shah’s other roles include those of actor, theatre director, producer, scriptwriter writer and journalist. He is the Artistic Director of the Avantar Theatre Group of Boston. He has also written several documentaries and short films, one of which won the National Award for the Best Experimental Film in 1982. He has recently conceptualised and produced an independent American film entitled Quarterlife Crisis, due to be released in 2006.
Shah has various affiliations with the Gujarati community in the US: he is an executive committee member of the Gujarati Literary Academy of North America and President of Gurjar, the Gujarati Association of New England. As a national sponsor of Gujarati plays from India, he organizes shows all over USA and Canada. He is also a foreign correspondent for a Gujarati weekly news magazine, Chitralekha. A frequent visitor to India, Shah has been on several reading tours, at the initiative of various cultural organizations.
Shah’s first book of poems, Ane Thoda Sapna (And Some Dreams), received the award for the Best Collection of New Gujarati Poems published in 1992-1993 by the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad. Both his collections of poetry have been prescribed as textbooks for Masters students by SNDT University, Mumbai.
The poems featured in this edition are from Blue Jeans, his second book, and have been translated by well-known Gujarati playwright, Naushil Mehta. Jeans here turn into a supple metaphor to talk about virtually everything: from art, current issues and politics to questions cultural, historical and existential. Shah regards the work as emphatically ‘contemporary’ in terms of theme, tone and texture (“It’s about human beings in the language of blue jeans.”).
The play of registers in the collection seems to owe much to the art of the dramaturge. The tonal variety ranges from the playful and parodic to the poignant and dramatic, inspired by sources as diverse as commercial advertising, motel signs and genetic research (the word ‘jeans’ and ‘genes’ being the source of much wordplay in the book). The better part of the collection, Chandu Shah explains in the accompanying interview, was written at the steering wheel of his Honda Accord – evidently the locus for a great deal of his creative writing!
Chandrakant Shah’s views on the contemporary Gujarati poetry scene aren’t particularly optimistic (“Right now, the only thing that is vibrant in Gujarati is Navratri!”). However, he confesses to an abiding fascination with the poetry of writers like Sitanshu Yashashchandra, Labhshankar Thaker, Ramesh Parekh, Mareez and Rajendra Shukla.
Chandu describes himself as “a risk taker”. As a poet, he declares he is committed to resisting the seductive traps of commercial Gujarati theatre. As a poet, he sees himself as “a threatening voice”, still young and exploratory, but one that has already “disturbed the Generation Next of Gujarati poetry”.
Letter to Ba
Also on this site
The faster I drive, the better I write.
Interview with Chandu Shah by Arundhathi Subramaniam.
Ane Thoda Sapna (And Some Dreams). SNDT University, Mumbai 1992.
Blue Jeans. Image Publications, Mumbai 2000.
Site hosted by Chandrakant Shah. Offers information on Shah: his bio-profile, poetry, plays and awards.
Review of Master Phoolmani, Chandrakant Shah’s play based on Satish Alekar’s Begum Barve.
Photographs of the inauguration of Blue Jeans and an image of the text.