Literature

Randhir Khare was born on July 25, 1951, in a small cottage on his paternal grandfather’s property in the dusty town of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. When he was three, he moved with his family to Calcutta where he grew up, was educated and embarked on his first job as a journalist.

At three, with paternal grandfather in Kanpur
At three, with paternal grandfather in Kanpur

He first began writing when he was 11 and saw his work in print by the time he was 16. During his early creative years, his poetry began to appear in little magazines, literary journals and papers in Calcutta and he was often invited to read his work at various gatherings. Some poems were even translated into Bengali and used in theatrical performances. He was given the Winter Cultural Festival Poetry Prize and his work gained wider acceptance by the time he was in his early 20s and he began travelling around the country in 1973, reading his poems in far-flung towns and cities, building up a readership uniquely his own.

Arriving in Bombay, he found himself inbetween generations and groups of poets writing in English. This resulted in him often finding himself in isolation, his work rejected and misunderstood. Hunger (Writers Workshop, Calcutta) his first volume of poems was neglected as an urban Western India readership and writing community did not entirely comprehend nor accept his poetic voice nor the themes that he explored. However, Max Mueller Bhavan chose to sponsor an evening of dramatic readings from his work and an exhibition of posters that attempted interpreting his poetry.

When his next volumes Thirteen Poems (Sivercord, Bombay) and The Circle (Silvercord, Bombay) appeared, the reception was warmer. Alliance Francaise presented Green Wings of The Living, an audio visual based on the poems in the two books, juxtaposed with poems by Paul Claudel, Robert Desnos, Jacques Prevert, Arthur Rimbaud and others. So well received was the presentation that it travelled to other cities in India, including Pune and New Delhi. Back in Mumbai, he began to be included in poetry readings and the poets Adil Jussawalla and Kamala Das befriended him. A regular participant in Kamala Das’s literary sessions, his poetry found willing listeners and readers and recognition in the form of The Bahutantrika Poetry Craft Prize. It was at these gatherings did he meet and get to know Stephen Espie the then Editor of Span Magazine which led to him writing his celebrated essay A Crying Thing Of Wings (a response to the poetry of Carl Sandburg) for Span.

In late 1982, Survivors (Fiction India, Bombay), a collection of short stories about the lives and struggles of people from the Anglo-Indian community was published. Robust and poignant, the stories were hailed by the novelist Stephen Alter as path-breaking in use of language, theme and style. Khare continued to explore Anglo-Indian themes in the stories that followed and then moved on to explore wider concerns of identity in post-Independence India.

When he shifted residence from Bombay to New Delhi, he struggled to adjust to an unfamiliar social and cultural ethos. But the Capital received him on kinder terms than Western India did and he quickly became part of a larger cultural milieu. His presence as a poet and writer became increasingly public and he went on to be given the Sanskriti Award for his poetry and short fiction.

Randhir Khare in New Delhi in the 1980s
In Delhi in the late 80s

In the late 80s he was nominated by the Indian Council For Cultural Relations and the Sahitya Akademi to visit Bulgaria as a literary representative to the Festival Of India In Bulgaria along with the Hindi poet Manglesh Dabral, the Malayalam poet Sugatha Kumari and the Bengali poet and writer Sunil Gangopadhay. His dramatic poem of protest Iron And Seed was performed in English and Bulgarian before a mammoth audience in Sofia and he then travelled on to read his work in Plovdiv and Smolyin. At the Writer’s Union Sofia he was awarded The Pegasus (The Gold Medal For Poetry).

His travels took him to former Czechoslovakia before the Velvet Revolution where he roamed a sanitized Prague. In the old town square, he stood in the rain on a public bench and recited a poem by Antonin Bartusek, the opening lines saying…
"At a time of such uncertain certainties
Such certain uncertainties
Its dark in this room"

A passing policeman asked him to get down but he persisted and rendered lines from a poem by Vitezslav Nezval…
"I’ve no illusions about nations which rule the world or about foreign settlements
I don’t regard the people whose language I speak as either better or worse than those of other countries
I’m linked with the fate of the world’s disasters and only have a little freedom to live or die"

Later, he moved on to Bratislava and roamed among the ruins of a city closing in on itself beside the Danube.

Back home in Delhi, Khare wrote his well known cycle of poems Before The Velvet Revolution and two essays The Struggle Of Memory Against Forgetting and Grey Rain Over Prague.

The themes of his writing had begun to expand and with his increasingly frequent journeys into tribal lands and outreach places in Central India, his poems took on a new colour and range and his short fiction became powerfully engaging.

Return To Mandhata
Return To Mandhata

He took on a public presence by performing his poetry in an effort to resist communalism and collaborating with Dadi Pudumjee the contemporary puppeteer who adapted his poems for a number of local, State, National and International Puppet Theatre Festivals and regular performances. ASIANET commissioned A.R.Rahman to set four of his poems to music and Khare went down to spent time with the composer in Madras while the compositions were being created. It was during those years that his poems were used in an exhibition titled Nehru And The Making Of Modern India which was on display at The Victoria and Albert Museum.

Return To Mandhata, Selected Stories (Penguin India) appeared at that time and was received with excellent reviews.

In the mid 90s he moved back to Bombay, a city which had undergone its own measure of upheaval and change and spent a few years writing feverishly and intentionally keeping his work out of public domain. The result was Swimming Into The Dark (HarAnand, New Delhi), a collection of poems, followed by Notebook Of A Footsoldier (Stories, Harper Collins India).

Swimming into the dark
Swimming Into The Dark
Notebook of a footsoldier
Notebook Of A Footsoldier
DANGS: Journeys into the heartland
DANGS: Journeys Into The Heartland
The last jungle on earth
The Last Jungle On Earth
The singing bow
The Singing Bow

In search of a creative space that would give him the right sort of elbow room to write and connected enough so that he could continue to travel into tribal lands and outreach places in the country, he moved to the city of Pune. Here, he discovered the vibrant heart of his creative self in connection with the larger and deeper Indian reality. Dangs, Journeys Into The Heartland (Photographs by Susan Bullough, Harper Collins India), The Last Jungle On Earth (A Fable, Harper Collins India), The Singing Bow, Song Poems of The Bhil, (Translation, Harper Collins India), an essay in People Unlike Us (Harper Collins India) followed rapidly.

People unlike us
People Unlike Us
KUTCH: Triumph of The Spirit
KUTCH: Triumph Of The Spirit
Call of the blue mountains
Call Of The Blue Mountains
No place for freedom
No Place For Freedom

His travels in Kutch with his partner Susan Bullough Khare, the photographer, resulted in Kutch, Triumph Of The Spirit ( Rupa and Co, New Delhi). The collaboration went on with Call Of The Blue Mountains ( essays on tribes with focus on tribes of the Nilgiris in South India, NAWA Books) and No Place For Freedom (The Narikuravar In A World of Fences, Grasswork Books, Pune).

River day
River Day
Flight of arrows
Flight Of Arrows
Written In Sand
Written In Sand
Over The Edge
Over The Edge
The Legend of Creaky
The Legend Of Creaky

Meanwhile, he continued to work on new cycles of poems and new fiction and published River Day (Poems, Grasswork Books, Pune), Flight Of Arrows (Translations, Grasswork Books, Pune), Written In Sand (Poems, Grasswork Books, Pune), the novel Over The Edge (Rupa and Co.) and the children’s novel The Legend of Creaky (Sakal, Pune)

At the Ubud Writers Festival in Bali
At the Ubud Writers Festival in Bali

Amidst this creative whirl, he lectured at the Nehru Centre in London in 2005 and 2007 and participated as a visiting writer in the International Writers Festival 2005 in Bali, Indonesia.

The Sahitya Akademi awarded him a Residency Grant in recognition of his contribution to Indian literature in English.

His poetry has been used in creative arts and educational workshops in Ireland and England. These include: projects and exhibitions for One World Week, self development workshops for women, professional workshops for Teachers, Cultural Education Courses in Colleges of Education, Creative Projects with Minority Groups and Refugees, Education Classes for Traveller Education Support Groups. Readings of his work have taken place during lecture presentations on India, exhibition openings and Arts Festivals in Dublin and rural Ireland.

A number of volumes of poetry and fiction are waiting to be published. These include Memory Land (the Dangs cycle of poems), Catfish Afternoon and Collected Poems as well as Collected Stories.