An Indian-Irish 'Jugalbandi'

In All the worlds between, an enaction of a collaboration between sets of Indian and Irish poets results in an interplay of themes that we may have never considered we shared.

There is an interesting tradition in poetic interactions between countries. The most famous one citied in India is that between Rabindranath Tagore and William Butler Yeats, despite its sour ending. Another such relationship is that of Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet, who also served as the Mexican ambassador to India in the 1960s. His A Tale of Two Gardens, did a wonderful job managing the infusion of multiple cultures, with its phenomenal opening poem, ‘Mutra’ (Mathura), capturing the visceral nature of living in India, in a way few have.

“Summer, enormous mouth, vowel made of fumes and panting!
This day wounded to death creeping along the length of time and never finished dying…”

In their new book, All The Worlds Between, K. Srilata and Fióna Bolger have gone one step further and enacted a collaboration between sets of Indian and Irish poets. The end result is an interplay of themes that we may have never considered we shared. In their opening remarks, titled ‘A Curious Synchronicity’, the editors lay out how the collaboration came to be and what it became.

In her poems, Áine Ní Ghlinn describes the forced movement of young and old and how seeking refuge forces people to put their lives on hold. They are unable to plan their future while the past becomes a place they cannot visit.

Today there is history carried on a young back
Today a life story in a small backpack
Today there are soldiers
Today there is no tomorrow
Today there is walking
Only walking
Today there is only today

Coming as they do from two countries with sad histories of forced migration caused by famine, partition, civil unrest and economic underdevelopment, it is no surprise that the subject of migration, in its varied forms, runs beneath many of these poems. We look forward to a future where forced migration exists only in history books. But for now, sadly, these poems reflect the current reality.

It isn’t all sad, but it is haunting, these echoes between the countries. We reproduce a few poems below.


I made a bad deal. I couldn’t escape. Someone pass me my gloves so I can uppercut the boss for every undercut he throws me.

–Adil Jussawalla, Hongkong Lee

The Edge

I want you stoned, judged
in the street, the upper hand you wield
with glee, chopped off and waved
for a crowd to cheer. I speak for myself
not other daughters who know
they are not sons
and can never please or impress
but keep trying. I have no child,
only this hallmarked, sliced-onion
anger. It’s homemade and if it goes off
in my face, I won’t use makeup
to gag the scars. It’s pearls
and a black dress, chocolate
savoured in the bath, a six-pack
underbelly. It’s vertigo from living
on this cliff the sea will have
one day. I will hug my anger
wrapped in a blanket and curse you
until I swallow waves.

Sue Butler


Rest in Peace

it repeats, the neighbours come round, to hoover
fill up the cup of tea I don’t recall drinking
put out sandwiches, say their goodbyes
in the language of handshakes

later, once prayer has folded you away
I will sit amongst the tea things,
revisit you in stories
passed to me like butter
across the table

but even simple things
I cannot find words for,
not when I need them most,
loss is harder still,
it does not sit in my mouth,
I cannot point or gesture

you will stay scalded across my life,
I’ll catch myself asking you questions,
pause to see what you make of it all,
find only a chair crouched in your shape,
as a teabag bobs in a milky brown sea

Alvy Carragher


Tabula Rasa

The 5 am ritual hasn’t changed.
Nothing has –
not even the way she carefully dips
her Marie in coffee
and nibbles at the soggy edges
before the crisp arrives.

She then picks up her moleskin
diary and begins to write,
the colour of the sky,
pigeons, plants, a, b, c…
1, 2… three.

It’s the cookbook next.
For an hour, sometimes more,
she matches flavours
with memories.

Today she is a little quiet,
she pauses and asks,
‘Do I know you?’

He longs to tells her
how she stole his heart
thirty five years ago.

Shobhana Kumar

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