Arun Kolatkar’s Description of India

Vidyan Ravinthiran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Literary description has traditionally been underrated by the Anglo-American academy; also by Indian critics with fixed ideas about what poems in English about their country should be like. (“Description”, in this context, isn’t simply a stylistic term — it relates to how a style influenced by Anglo-American poetics might collide with traditional cultures.) I find in Arun Kolatkar’s descriptive verse about the temple town of Jejuri and urban Mumbai a type of exact factuality with aspirations toward something more: a nuanced understanding of India and its history. His tropes of sight affirm the importance of accurate reportage while also promulgating an unillusioned view of his nation’s colonial past. Documenting the lives of the poor and those caught between a superstitious and a rational understanding of the world, Kolatkar alludes to the larger processes of cultural and technological reorganization which condition their existence — while stressing that individuals are more than the product of their surroundings. His verse demands for its appreciation a true poetics of world literature, which would understand the tiniest cells of stylistic texture as historically expressive. This article therefore features several close readings of individual poems in which effects of rhyme, assonance, syntax, and tone outline a self-critical intelligence unique to Kolatkar’s poems in English. Which start, mischievously, to interpret themselves — critical analysis should not jettison the playfulness which cannot quite disguise the poet’s longing, when he writes in this language, for a greater intimacy with the people and places he describes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-377
Number of pages18
JournalThe Journal of Commonwealth Literature
Issue number3
Early online date28 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2014


  • Description
  • India
  • Kolatkar
  • poetry
  • style


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