Sridala Swami (2010-11)

Sridala Swami

Swami’s second collection of poems, Escape Artist, is forthcoming in 2014. Her last exhibition of photography, Posting the Light: Dispatches from Hamburg, was a text and image experiment and opened at Kalakriti Art Gallery in November 2009. Swami has written four books for very young children, which were published by Pratham Books in 2009 and 2012. She curated a weekly poetry show, Poetry Mohalla, for the University of Hyderabad’s community radio in 2012. Swami was the 2011 Charles Wallace Writer-in-Residence at The University of Stirling, Scotland and has most recently been a Fellow of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa (2013).

Time at Stirling

My time at Stirling as a Charles Wallace Fellow was golden. Scotland has had a disproportionately large space in my imagination and I was more excited to be there than would have been cool to admit to anybody. The weather conspired to make the place especially beautiful, though - because I was escaping India's summer - I would have welcomed even dreary weather with enthusiasm.

I had an office and the company of the lovely people in the English and Creative Writing Departments, and it's only in retrospect that I realise how much work I'd got done while at Stirling. I've always written in difficult domestic circumstances and quite frankly, I don't think I knew what to do with all the time I suddenly had or the absence of stress. I intended to work on a project I'd begun but it was Stirling that I decided that I'd have to abandon that book entirely. That was not an easy decision to make. It was to fill that particular vacuum that I wrote most of the poems that are in my forthcoming collection. Stirling will always be special to me

Creative writing extracts

The Tenderness of Being Two

To know that
though far away
you are the reason I spin
in this direction
like this.

I am
unstrung song
because serial
like notes
not notation

never on the same page
but bookending silence
sometimes so small
we touch across
that time.

If we are two
we are two so
this tenderness
is made in
this betweenness.

Dream at 12

He is twelve
        and is to be executed by drowning.
He escapes.

Now he is sitting in front of me as if he has just come
out of a shower
but he is shivering.
I have no time to hold him
or release the grief that holds me.
I must hide him
from the full house that is
half-emptied of what it holds.

A cardboard wall, hardly enough.
It must suffice. For now.
The people know he is here
but they greet him as if he had never left
and never needed to.
I still do not know what he did.
Like every mother I say, “My son is innocent.”

How did they plan his execution?
Were they pirates? Would they make him walk
the plank? Did he walk off the edge
like a fool
with his head in the clouds?
I can believe this last

but I cannot believe in death by execution
execution by drowning.
It is not civilised. It is not how we live
where we live.
They weren’t men lined up, rifles pointed
at the boy who came up for air
and reached right for the clouds.

He flew. This is what occurs to me.
I still dream of flight
as if the bowl of heaven is an illusion
just because I can see right through it.
I gave him wings but he used them to come home.
Twelve is too young to be thinking of nests,
too old for a son and his mother.

The refusal of a gift is also an execution.
He cannot be drowned
though he can no longer fly.
But he can dream of flight
and perhaps that is enough
to bring him out of the water
as if it were an inverted bowl
without substance.

Sunrise over the outer ring road

The granite dust is incense
the roads, dark kolams.
For flowers, red flags
at daybreak.

At night the thirsty headlights
drink in the dark
offer in return points of reference
that gesture towards the ineffable.

The rocks have dissolved
into the air. Who knew
they were salt dolls waiting
for the ocean?

With dawn earthmovers claw
and pluck at the ground
for offerings. And now at last
the sun also rises.


Strength comes from within.
I want to be like a tree
on which the birds rest
but when they fly away
there is no pain.

Just the peace of the air
the feel of the wind
on my leaves
which drop when the seasons change
with no regret.

(from A Reluctant Survivor, Sahitya Akademi, 2007)

All Music is Memory

All music is memory:
a lone wind trapped in the chimes,
a window rattling dolefully
in time to the movement of the night.

If my life were stretched
across the drum of centuries
I might have time to discern
the pattern in the creaking of trees.

But destinies drown through time.
A million years are lost
and I try in vain to cup my hands
and hold a note, a scale, a song.

(from A Reluctant Survivor, Sahitya Akademi, 2007)

Dear Stranger Deciphering This Ancient Script

Dear stranger, dear sentient being from a future so far I cannot imagine anything about it:

not the shape of poems,
not the way you will handle the corners
of pages
not the science you will use to decipher
this ancient script in which I write but which to me is given and taken for granted,

Dear stranger who makes my work timeless and immortal, for whose eyes only I seal this message in the bottle of centuries,

Dear salvager, dear rescue artist, dear hauntologist:

What have you done?

I wrote to escape attention. There was a brief sentence I had to serve before remembrance could be not about what has been. I wanted to fall like dust and be renewed in leaves.

How much have you forgotten?

I would like these words to be like a child’s first drawings. If you must keep them, keep them as you would a stone you picked in order to remember a place you visited.

Dear stranger, I say these things because I know they will mean nothing to you.