MEENA KANDASAMY is a feisty new entrant into the duck-pool called Indian English poetry. In Touch, she makes a Rimbaudian attempt at clearing the decks and telling it straight. Plain-speaking is favoured over artfulness (“a h ypocrisy named sophistication” she says). If one were to look for overarching themes, poems on love and caste dominate. Towards both she strikes a series of attitudes. [. . .] She writes rousing songs promising vendettas — “we will singe the many skins you wear to the world/ the skins you change at work/ the skins called caste and/ the skins called race”. Anger is the engine of Kandasamy’s poems and she is even more effective when that anger ripens into sarcasm. [...] For instance, she has a marvellous poem called “Mulligatawny dreams” where instead of laboriously describing the pros and cons of writing in English she simply says — “i dream of an english/ full of the words of my language.” And later, “an english in small letters…an english with suffixes for respect…an english of tasting with five fingers”.
She begins the collection with a flamboyant invitation — “come./ colonise me/ creep into the hollows/ of my landscape…” She ends it with one of her startling descriptions — an account of a female ancestor who with “her rice-white teeth tore/ Through layers of khaki, and golden white skin to spill the/ Bloodied guts of a British soldier who tried to colonise her”. I hope Meena Kandasamy goes in the direction set by that great-great-grandmother and writes more poems one can sink one’s teeth into. There is enough evidence in Touch to make me confident that she will.