Nationality: Indian. Born: Bombay, 5 October 1944. Education: St. Xavier's College, Bombay, 1964–67, B.A. 1967; Bombay University, 1967–69, M.A. 1969; Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 1971–73, M.A. 1973. Family: Married Mumtaz Peeradina in 1978; two daughters. Career: Lecturer, Kirti College, Bombay, 1969–71; instructor, Forsyth Country Day School, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 1973–74; lecturer, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, 1974–75, St. Xavier's College, Bombay, 1976–77, Sophia College, Bombay, 1977–84; copywriter, Hindustan Thompson Associates, Bombay, 1984–87; visiting international scholar and professor, Adrian College/Alma College, Adrian, Michigan, 1988–89. Since 1989 associate professor, Siena Heights University, Adrian, Michigan. Awards: Fulbright Travel grant, 1971; British Council Writer's grant, 1983. Address: Siena Heights University, 1247 East Siena Heights Drive, Adrian, Michigan 49221–1755, U.S.A.
First Offence. Bombay, New ground, 1980.
Group Portrait. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992.
Editor, Contemporary Indian Poetry in English. Bombay, Macmillan, 1972.
Editor, Multifold: A Book of Student Writings. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University, 1973.
Editor, Cultural Forces Shaping India. Bombay, Macmillan, 1988.*
Critical Studies: By Bruce King, in Modern Indian Poetry in English, Bombay, Oxford University Press, 1987; "The Poetry of Saleem Peeradina" by Jaidev, in Journal of South Asian Literature (Lansing, Michigan), 1988; "The Humanism of Saleem Peeradina" by Jaidev and Sharma, in Contemporary Indian Poetry in English, Calcutta, Writers' Workshop, n.d.
Saleem Peeradina comments:
Whenever I have composed personal statements, I have always regretted them later. Seeing them in print produces a shock of strangeness: while the statement remains fixed, my position has often evolved. But writers are reckless creatures. So here goes one more time.
My dislocation in America is only the most visible of geographical and cultural shifts in my career. The real place of fidelity and fertility resides elsewhere. I continue to draw from the richness of my Indian origin and sources, while, at the same time, maintaining a global perspective. I should say that I have always produced out of a double consciousness, from having multiple allegiances to place, language, religion, the arts, and ideology. I was bicultural in a different way even in Bombay, my birthplace. Every place remakes itself into an environment of exile that can be an extremely stimulating condition for a writer. I live, teach, and write the conflict itself.
That, however, does not imply a perpetual state of unsettledness. In any given place you can construct a habitat to have a temporary home. Standing in the doorway, you can take your measure relative to the vistas stretching around you. Waiting at the window, you can watch for flares in the sky. The periphery is in constant motion; the center moves when you break your stillness. My writing emerges out of this condition of being.* * *
Saleem Peeradina primarily writes a terse poetry of place. The scene of his early poems is most often Bombay, whose teeming developments "grew on your hands like sixth fingers" ("Bandra"). For his later work the poetic place is a generalized cityscape, against which the human subject comes into manifest being. In "Group Portrait" a scooter carries a family of four to the beach:
A getaway vehicle
for a clutch of kindred souls
poised in flight
from the city's snares.
They are made whole by their brief escape: "We rise as a family / for the city dark to reclaim us." The ironic urban triptych "Family Man" predicts that middle-class homeowners will discover
as a prisoner in a cell does,
the trajectory of their paces
Between wall and wall, the floor plan's
From the rigid stratifications of urban space Peeradina finds an unsentimental redemption in the freer topography of familial relations, particularly in the parent's apprehension of his children. These lines are from "Michigan Basement II":
I am what I appear
To them: a country without borders. My space
Is their turf. I surface, with no place to hide
Except just below the skin.
Remaining whole is no longer the point.
It's staying divided, attaining equipoise.
Not unexpectedly, Peeradina's anatomies of the city are balanced by versions of the pastoral. Here, too, as in "The Purity of Pastoral," the landscape is never unpeopled:
The river mumbles, stirs
Where the woman bends as if
the ripples were shifting circles
of some dream the pot displaced.
In "Garden" human sexual awakening takes its terms from the lush plenitude of nature:
Under a custard-apple tree
I would wait, trusting her curiosity
Would bring my cousin to me.
And she would come, trusting me.
Then, with a single jolt, with power
From my lurking hand the tree's
Thousand leaves hurled on her
A shower of stored rain.
The landscape itself participates in the innocently incestuous act, fittingly located in a dreamlike past, and the tentative syntax is entirely appropriate for this rite of initiation and communion.
Peeradina's resolutely secular imagination finds comfort in the specificity of human affiliation, substituting for religious mysteries the daily currents of domestic affection and civic connection. In "Differences," a rare confessional poem, an apostate speaker revisits the seat of religion, the mosque:
Their lifted faces betrayed
a collective suspension of disbelief; and
ugh, the absurd posture of their hands...
The old pain raged in me as
I left the impotent walls
and stepping out
Found the sky ablaze.
Rather than the "shouldered conspiracy" of worship, the speaker chooses to rub "shoulders with warm indifferent shoulders / In the street alive with dung and tyres"; yet the end of the poem leads him only to a "questioning silence." We might speculate that it is precisely to answer this silence that Peeradina writes. Like the main character in his long narrative poem "Beginnings," a disobedient son who has schooled himself into a successful writer,
He has a name now
for the labour he puts into daydreaming.
He has heard the call: an agitation of the spirit
In the act of finding a resolution in words.
Peeradina's unflinchingly honest poems are offered as a principled and necessary impiety. Despite the occasional prosy awkwardness and faltering line, his skeptical intelligence is well served by his static, tableaulike images and angular rhythms. His title for the collection Group Portrait, by articulating social attachments with the detachment of the solitary observer, accurately conveys the duality of his poetic stance. As a poet Peeradina wishes to be both family man and outsider. His is an austerely modernist sensibility tempered by a genuine compassion, even a tenderness, for the middle-class life it ironizes.