Books

 


British Museum

ISBN:9780571333738
Published by Faber and Faber: 2017

Dalit Nagra possesses one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary English poetry. British Museum is his third collection, following his electrifying version of the epic Ramayana, and marks a significant departure of style to something quieter, more contemplative and inquisitive, at times valedictory. His political edge has been honed in a series of meditations and reflections upon our heritage, our legacy, and the institutions that define them: the BBC, Hadrian’s Wall, the Sikh gurdwaras of our towns, the British Museum of the title poem. With compassion and charisma, Nagra explores the impact of the first wave of mass migration to our shores, the Arab Spring, the allure of extremism along with a series of personal poems about the pressures of growing up in a traditional community. British Museum is a book that asks profound questions of our ethics and responsibilities at a time of great challenge to our sense of national identity.

‘To anyone experiencing the sinking feeling that poetry in Britain is becoming depoliticised, Nagra’s work is a tonic.’
Sean O’Brien, Independent

‘[Nagra’s poems] do that rare thing in poetry of stretching language, making it do things it hasn’t done before. It’s multiculturalism at its most complex, individual and real.’
Chitra Ramaswamy, Scotland on Sunday

 


Ramayana

ISBN:TBA
Published by Faber and Faber: 3 Oct, 2013

The Financial Times and The New Statesman poetry Book of the Year

Daljit’s blog on March 1st 2103 for The Guardian about a digitalised version of the Ramayana.

Daljit Nagra Reinterprets the Ramayana

The Ramayana was originally an oral story and its oldest written version, attributed to Valmiki, is over two thousand years old. The story is about Rama's quest to recover his wife Sita from her abduction by Raavana, the Lord of the Underworld. Since Valmiki's version, the tale has been celebrated in many languages and versions; it has spread beyond India to many other countries including Nepal, Tibet, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. Ramayana was originally a secular text but it was adapted at least 1400 years ago by Hindus and Buddhists; in addition, the story exists as a Jain and as a Sikh text. The story lives in in many art forms such as drama, dance, sculpture, painting, prose and poetry.

Daljit Nagra was captivated by the versions his grandparents regaled him with as a child and has now brought the story to life in a vivid and enthralling version of his own. Accessible and engaging, and bursting with energy, Nagra's Ramayana will be a distillation and an animation for readers of all ages, whether familiar with or entirely new to this remarkable tale.

The Ramayana's epic journey into the digital world

This ancient tale has resonated down the centuries, and the British Library's digitisation sees it finding a new home in the 21st century.

The Ramayana I knew as a child was the Punjabi version my parents told me during Diwali. We had no books at home - my immigrant family was largely illiterate - so I never expected to come across this oral story in a bookshop. When I found RK Narayan's version as a young adult it felt like a joyous homecoming.

Looking back at it now, Narayan's Ramayana feels out of date, and is based on a particular version written by the Tamil poet Kamban in the 12th century. So I decided to write a version in verse, due to be published later this year, drawing on all the English versions of the Ramayana I could find, all of the religious traditions and a range of visual responses.

This ancient story tells how Rama's wife, Sita, was abducted by Ravana, and how he battles to win her back. The oldest written version is agreed to have been written by someone who was known as Valmiki . This has been followed by many different written versions, each with its own tradition, in countries such as India, Nepal, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan and China. For the first 600 years the Ramayana was not a religious story, but religious versions are popular among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. It has inspired poetry, prose, theatre, cinema, painting, sculpture and puppetry, but the story thrives to this day as much an oral story as it does on the page.

One of the most striking written versions I came across in my research is the one commissioned by Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar, which has survived since the 17th century. An illustrated manuscript in seven books, Jagat Singh's Ramayana was commissioned in 1649 and has been separated for over 150 years: five of the books have been in the British Library since 1844 and the other two books have been in Mumbai and Udaipur. Now the British Library has digitised their holdings and all that remains of the work is to be reunited online.

The Jagat Singh Ramayana is not only packed full of remarkable paintings - images that help us visualise an ancient imagination from the viewpoint of 17th-century Indians - it is also dazzlingly multicultural. Commissioned by a Sikh, this Sanskrit text owes a debt to a Hindu storyteller, and was illustrated by a Muslim. Most of the manuscript has also spent a large part of its life in the west. The internet is the rightful home for such a great text. The Ramayana is one of the greatest stories ever written, visualised or heard. As such it should be available to the world.

Perhaps the virtual reconstruction of the Jagat Singh manuscript and the similarities between the storylines of the Ramayana and the Iliad will reveal deeper cultural similarities between east and west. Perhaps this digitised version of the story will allow Asian communities living in Britain easier access to the cultural treasures in their background. Perhaps teachers will use this great store of images in the classroom and inspire children of all backgrounds to engage with a text that is not only a love story, but a tale of physical and verbal battles involving humans, demons and animals. These tales enthralled me when I was a child. This digitised version will inspire 21st-century children all over the world.

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Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!!

ISBN:9780571264902
Published by Faber and Faber: 18 Aug, 2011

The Guardian and The Independent poetry Book of the Year

Tippoo Sultan’s Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!! takes its cue from the eighteenth-century automaton (a tiger savaging a British soldier) in a series of poems that begin at the throat of the old British Empire. In these vivid, real and sometimes surreal pieces, Daljit Nagra creates his own inimitable linguistic bhaji: where Shakespeare meets the Subcontinent in a range of forms from English sonnets to spectacular displays of ‘bollyverse’ or the tender love songs of the monsoon. The poems take their bearings from cornershops and classrooms, the strange, part-arcadian, part-hellish streets of ‘Londonstan’ and the places where the north of England collides with the Punjab: from Larkin to the ladoos in Raja t’Wonder Dog. Little escapes Nagra’s tigerish gaze: race relations, family feuds, cultural inheritance, religious bigotry, the British honours system, Rudyard Kipling, the blurring of Kevin Keegan with Kabbadi. Comic, hard-hitting, passionate, satirical, Daljit Nagra has written a book that is as powerfully thought-provoking as it is delightful.

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Look We Have Coming To Dover

ISBN: 9780571238583
Published by Faber and Faber: 01 Feb, 2007

The Guardian, The Independent, The Financial Times & The New Statesman
poetry Book of the Year

I was born in England to parents who are traditional Sikh Punjabis and my collection is about the Britain where Indians came and settled. The reader should expect to be immersed in a community that often feels its values are self-evident. My community and its individuals intend to show their true colours. I hope the reader will experience this Britain from the ‘inside’.

The collection is heavily populated with first generation characters and their second and third generation descendants. I have sought to explore their thoughts, feelings and cultural attitudes towards their own community, other ethnic communities and the indigenous white population. I am interested in the diversity that exists within this small community. There is no consistent attitude across the poems. I have simply tried to be responsive to the practical and emotional needs of the character(s) in each poem.

As it is my own community that I am generally exploring, committing to such a fixed form as the English language in a poem on a page of a book has inevitably led to some struggle and some overheating. This is manifest in the words, grammar, syntax and rhythms of many of the poems. I hope this friction adds a vibrancy and excitement in line with the characters and their situations.

The poems are intended to be comic as well as enlightening experiences for the reader. Often my characters either seek to be funny or are exposed for their comedic value. For me this is a heartfelt empathy for their circumstances.

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