Translator's notes

On Seeing a Watermelon

By Monika Kumar

Monika Kumar is a young poet who writes in Hindi. Born in 1977 in Nakodar (a small town in Punjab’s Jalandhar district), she is based in Chandigarh, where she teaches English Literature. The poems in this selection are symptomatic of her desire to record the world while retreating from it. It is this a ention to the momentary – the urge to understand and inscribe, not in order to simplify the ‘mystique or incomprehensibility of the moment’, not even to resolve it, but to be in a conscious state of receptivity, even grace – that animates Monika’s poems. She has spoken to me of being ‘greatly enchanted by seeing people creating interesting things with simple and seemingly insignificant materials, like a mason building a wall, a tailor sewing and hemming with such precision, a carpenter making window frames from an impossible log of wood; and mother kneading flour or chopping a watermelon. They all brought a magnitude to the things they worked with, making them intelligible, comprehensive and beautiful.’ This is what I feel Monika does with the words she works with, making intelligible, comprehensive, beautiful things out
of the phenomena she observes. Tonally, her poems inhabit a direct, conversational register. There is a lucid transparency to the lines. She is not interested in flamboyant gestures. It is the stillness of her gaze and the profound necessity of her questions that earn my admiration. I had the pleasure of meeting her in Chandigarh at a translation workshop organized by Literature Across Frontiers (LAF) in November 2016. Hearing Monika read her poems in the original (and seeing how beautifully they travelled into languages such as Slovenian, Galician and Maltese from bridge translations) made me want to work, in collaboration with her, on fresh English versions, which are featured here for the first time.

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