(Image: Harper Collins)

Book: After Death Comes Water

Poet: Joy Goswami (Translated from the Bengali by Sampurna Chattarji)

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Genre: Prose Poetry

Language: English

Lovers of poetry can only hope to satiate some of their thirst for this enriching art if they meander into the world of translated verses. The globe with its linguistical variety is a trove of rare pieces of poetry and in translation lies the key to their discovery. Joy Goswami is one of the most prominent and finest of Indian poets from Bengal and a versatile crusader of modernism.

Sampurna Chattarji’s translations of his poems has brought the inimitable poet to readers of the English language. As an amateur poet myself, let me add right in the beginning that this book has not only painted a vast and varied landscape of prose poems but has also made me eager for more translations. It took me two back-to-back readings of ‘After Death Comes Water’ to understand the depth of emotions that characterize the poems.

 As a back story to how the book made its way to my library, I was to have a little interaction with Sampurna during Blogchatter’s Writing Festival, but for some technical issues it got stalled. Having read a little about her, I was keen to read her work and this translation was an opportunity to read two fine poets.

Meena Kandasamy (Author of Exquisite Cadavers) says about the book, “Allow yourself to be outraged and furious, allow yourself to be swept into Joy Goswami’s intimate world of passion. His poems are breathtaking. They will momentarily remind you of the time you were resting your head on the chest of a lover, and by the turn of a page remind you of the bloodbath that exists in the world outside. Sampurna Chattarji’s translations breathe life and fire into his words.”

The book is recommended enough by some of the stalwarts of poetry, with a foreword by Ranjit Hoskote, poet, art critic and Sahitya Akademi Award winner.

About the Author Joy Goswami is an Indian poet who writes in Bengali and is considered the most important Bengali poet of his generation. He is a winner of several awards including the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2000. The Library of Congress has fourteen titles by him. His everyday poetic prose is fiery and passionate. He is a powerful voice against violence, war and genocide.

Sampurna Chattarji, a well-known poet, novelist, translator and poetry editor at Indian Quarterly has eighteen books to her credit, including five poetry books. As a participant of international translation workshops, she has worked with poets from France, Holland, Ireland, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland and Wales. She teaches writing to design students at IIT Bombay. Her first translation of Goswami’s poems (Selected Poems) won him the first Tata Literature Live! Poet Laureate Award in 2014.

Review  Although I underline some aspects of the book in this section, it is more of an admiration of the versatility of the poet. It will not be befitting of me to talk about technicalities, considering that the vitality and visceral conviction of the verses completely overpowers the senses. And in any case, Joy Goswami is known to defy convention. So, I too have decided to refrain myself from talking about the book in conventional terms.

The book of prose poems is divided into three sections; translations of three collections by the poet, namely Solo for the Deer (Horiner Jonyo Ekok, 2002); No shame in bathing before your mother (Ma’er shamne snan korte lojja nei, 2012) and Whiplash(Shopaang Shopaang, 2017).

The subjects range from environmental conservation to absurdism, fate and meaning of life and in each rendition the poet blows you over with his sheer brilliance. Consider this,

//I’m leaving this

Unfinished poem behind

In the hands of all the

Imminent painters and sculptors. In oils in pastels

In acrylics—in wood in bronze in rock

Let them complete the body

Of this

Limitless map.//


//Agony, too, is a kind of institution. It will sit on you all the time swinging its legs from your shoulders.//

Joy Goswami doesn’t cease to surprise you. The surrealism and fantastic imagery creates the perfect dreamlike atmosphere.

 Jeremy Noel -Tod (editor of The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem: From Baudelaireto Anne Carson) recalls Charles Baudelaire when he writes about Goswami’s work. Baudelaire, as we know, is known for his original style of prose-poetry, modernism and inventiveness.

Goswami’s prose poems defy convention slipping easily between the metre and everyday speech. They are an ensemble of new styles, techniques, imagery, familiarity, recognizability as also uniqueness.

I am not versed in Bengali and I consider it a disadvantage because a translated piece of work is largely at the mercy of the translator. However, if I were to simply view this collection as my indulgence into the world of Joy Goswami sans the focus on language, I will say it flows seamlessly. Peppered with Hindi and several references, it makes one feel alive. The poems break barriers and as I felt, they move unconventionally from the personal to the universal and paint with perfect precision the insanity of existence. Sampurna Chattarji makes it a collection worthy of your time and senses both.  

My rating is five stars. Having read the book, I have been on a rampant research, studying about Joy Goswami and his work and it’s like diving into a vast ocean.

If you are a poet, this compelling book will motivate you to dive deep into translated verses and discover the raw beauty of India’s vernacular poets.

The book can be purchased from the following link,

This review is part of Blogchatter’s Book Review Campaign.


  1. I so look forward to Sampurna having a session with us whenever she can. I had been looking for translated works to read and since I love poetry I might pick this!

  2. Literature in translation, is such a double-edged sword, particuarly with poetry, which relies so heavily on sound and meter. On the one hand, the effect of the original language is lost on the reader. On the other hand, without translation, we miss out on some incredible work, as evidenced by the quotes from Joy Goswami’s work you include in your review.

    1. Liz I agree. In fact I myself have been considering translation of some Hindi writers from my state whose work remains obscure. But what you say plagues me as well. The lost in translation fear.

      1. I hope you’ll give the translation a try and let us know how it goes. I’m monolingual, so it’s a perspective I’m very much interested in knowing more about.

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