Grant Period: Over one year
This grant will support poet/author, Jeronimo Pinto, in writing a book on the making of Clearing House, a poets’ cooperative established in the mid-1970s in Bombay that published eight poetry books in the ten years of its existence. In his book, Pinto will not only trace the development of Clearing House but will also look at the emergence of the small press movement in Bombay and the cultural and political ambiance in Bombay during the period. The core team of Clearing House comprised of Adil Jussawalla, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Arun Kolatkar and Gieve Patel. The first four books published by them in 1975 were their own works—Kolatkar’s Jejuri, Mehrotra’s Nine Enclosures, Patel’s How Do You Withstand, Body and Jussawalla’s Missing Persons. Jejuri won the Commonwealth Book Prize in 1977 and about the others, The Journal of South Asian Literature commented, “These titles are solid collections of poetry, worth reading, savoring and reading again.” Not only was Clearing House a cooperative of prodigal poets but it also set a precedent for independent English language publishers in India. It inspired at least two other cooperatives that defied market driven publishing—New Ground and Hack’s Cooperative.
Poet and art critic, Ranjit Hoskote, explained the reasons why Clearing House was able to transform the idiom of Indian English poetry. Firstly, Clearing House books marked the emergence of a new generation of writers who were “politically aware, linguistically inventive and playfully alive to the variousness of rhetoric.” Secondly, whether it was through bilingual practice or through translation commitments, the poets of Clearing House immersed themselves in other Indian languages like Marathi (Chitre and Kolatkar), Hindi and Prakrit (Mehrotra) and Gujarati (Jussawalla) which led to the building of sensitivity to polyglot contexts. Thirdly, these poets deliberately pursued an engagement with the local as the world around was rapidly being reshaped by global concerns.
The primary source for this book will be the archive of Jussawalla, the first publisher of Clearing House. Pinto will receive permission from Jussawalla to access the entire archive comprising letters, postcards, reviews, poet’s responses to reviews, publicity material and order forms, among other materials. He shall also receive clearance from Jussawalla to reproduce excerpts from the letters for his book. Apart from being delightful exchanges between great minds at work, the letters also reveal their concerns, arguments, questions, and decisions. Apart from Jussawalla and Patel, Pinto will interview Jayanta Mahapatra and Hubert Nazareth, both of whom were published by Clearing House. He will speak to Rafique Baghdadi and Melanie Silgado who set up Hack’s Cooperative and New Ground, respectively. Pinto’s book will include responses to Clearing House from contemporary poets Arundhati Subramaniam and Ranjit Hoskote.
From IFA’s standpoint this project will be worth supporting because it chronicles a significant and defining era in English language writing and publishing in India, giving the poets of today and tomorrow a sense of location.