Ranjit Hoskote

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colonialism, globalisation, history, human rights, humanism, identity, interculturalism, memory, multi-culturalism, politics, Society, time, transformation
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May 9, 2008
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Ranjit Hoskote
Ranjit Hoskote. © Ilija Trojanow


Leave something behind

‘A receiving station’ is how Ranjot Hoskote once characterized poetry in an interview. It can tune into frequencies of all kinds without the poet having to be aware of what he is receiving. He waits, receives, crystallizes and weaves a coherent but open whole. The poet, culture-critic and free-lance curator born in Mumbai/India simply engages with what is hovering in the air. The statement casts a clear light over his work and understanding of his role. He is without vanity, since he only perceives. Into his perception fall images, informed by history, art and politics, which he weaves together till they bear metaphorical or archetypical traits without thereby losing their changeableness.
What is known of his early years can easily be told. Ranjit Hoskote was born in 1969 in Mumbai, where he is still living. He went to the Bombay Scottish School, Elphinstone College and Bombay University. Already at this time Hoskote took up the threads which later ran through his critical, artistic and curatorial work. He gained a bachelor’s degree in politics then turned to English literature and aesthetics. His feeling for and interest in these themes typify his work and are interwoven throughout his whole opus, which since the early 1990s has found many ways to reach the public.

Of course whatever he writes, be it poetry, political or art-critical essays, is in English. He claims to be free of forms of cultural indebtedness: ‘Thanks to the older generation the war has been waged …English has struck root in India, and it is not possible to eradicate it in any case. There is a class of Indians which speaks and writes English as a first language.’

Hoskote belongs to a new generation of post-colonial poets in India. Whereas the generation of the Indian struggle for independence wrote mainly in languages rooted in India, his, the younger generation of urban, cosmopolitan poets, relies on its cultures and range of languages more as points of reference. This is only part of an inexhaustible repertoire which this generation resorts to. This is true of Hoskote in particular, who moves freely between genres, cultures and periods – or who is moved freely by them. His poems are as political as his political and academic writings about culture are poetic.

Hence in his essay about intercultural communication ’Beyond the House of Wonders’ he writes: ‘I thought that this presentation would take on the character of that traditional lyric form: the threnody, the lament, the recording of loss.’ It is typical that his path through cultural history begins with the Delft master Johannes Vermeer from the 17th century. Hoskote leaves nothing out or, as his friend and co-author Ilija Trojanow puts it: ´He is a self-willed eclectic who for instance, in his book of poems "The Sleepwalker’s Archive" (Mumbai, 2001), touches upon the monastery Pernegg, Lawrence of Arabia …the forbidden city in Beijing, Seleukos Niketor, Flaubert, Chopin and Magritte, Kabir, the minotaur and the mujaheddin, Benares and Wittgenstein.´

It is together with Ilija Trojanow that Hoskote has written his sharpest political texts. Just before the unilateral US war on Iraq these artists, who had got to know each other at a reading given by Trojanow in Mumbai, made a joint statement against it: ‘Who Cares for Human Rights? – Remember, It’s a just War.’ They declared that the ‘god-fearing’ George W. Bush with his notion of a just war was supported by a group of US-American ‘gurus and media-pundits’ including the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington. The latter’s book ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ had, five years before the attacks of September 11th, prophesied an inevitable collision between Islam and the West. Huntington put forward in his standard work a fatal picture of globalization – facilitated by an ossified image of culture.

It was also the ‘grotesque nonsense of the Free World’, tried out in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which may have moved Hoskote and Trojanow to write an obvious anti-book to Huntington. ‘The Clash Denial’ with the subtitle ‘Cultures don´t battle -- they flow into one another,’ which appeared in German in 2007, is a further exploration of eras, cultures and their processes. The book, which was first meant to be academic, became gradually more and more popular in slant. Both authors wished ‘to reach more than the 2000 readers, who read such writings anyway,’ according to Hoskote. According to Trojanow ‘The book was genuinely written by both of us - every single sentence in it.’

The two authors impressively prove that the European renaissance was inspired by the Orient, as were fables and troubadours’ music. Even forks came from the Orient. Cultures, they claim, are not static, and the present-day values cherished in the West would be unthinkable without the Orient – without Buddhism or Islam. ‘The bigger a river, the more misleading its name.’ ‘Leave us something’ wrote Hoskote in his poem ‘To the Sanskrit Poets’: ‘Leave us these threads to unravel, embroider: secret messages inked in white on white beneath the unsettled weeks …Leave us the jigsaw of previous lives.’
(in: Die Ankunft der Vögel/ English: The Arrival of the Birds, 2006).

Hoskote’s work would be unthinkable without the limitless references, the silt and threads of the past, which he draws to the boundaries of the surreal. But Hoskote is above all an artist of here and now, who – like the river evoked in ‘The Clash Denial’– is fed by the past. This is shown by more than his political activism. Even as a curator Hoskote moves in the field of contemporary art with a clear preference for ‘intermedia art’.

The quotations stem from an interview with the author in the House of World Cultures, 2008, and from The Virtual Writing University Archive (http://at-lamp.its.uiowa.edu/virtualwu/index.php/archive/record/ranjit_hoskote_interview/)
Author: Heike Gatzmaga


Ranjit Hoskote was born in 1969 in Mumbai. He went to the Bombay Scottish School then to Elphinstone College, where he gained a bachelor’s degree in political science. At Bombay University he studied further and gained an MA in English Literature and Aesthetics. Since the early 1990s Hoskote has been publishing his poems. They have appeared in many Indian and international magazines like the Poetry Review (London), Wasafiri, Poetry Wales, The Iowa Review, Green Integer Review, Fulcrum, Rattapallax, Lyric Poetry Review, West Coast Line, Kavya Bharati und Indian Literature. His poems have also appeared in Die Zeit, Akzente, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Wespennest and other German language magazines. He has been the art critic of the daily The Times of India (1988-1999) and an author and columnist of the daily The Times (1993-1999). From 2000 till 2007 he was an art critic, commentator and editor of The Hindu and its magazine Folio as well as of The Hindu Sunday Magazine. Hoskote has also written many monographs, essays and a biography about the painter Jehangir Sabavala. He has been president of the Poetry Circle Bombay (1992-1997) and is now general secretary of the PEN All-India Centre and co-publisher of its magazine Penumbra.

His literary work has won many awards including the Sanskriti Award for Literature (1996), the first prize of the Poetry Society All-India Poetry Competition of the British Council (1997), the Sahitya Akademi Golden Jubilee Award (2004) and the Raza Award for Literature of the S.H. Raza Foundation (2006). As a curator he has organized 13 exhibitions of Indian and Asian art and is also the joint curator of the 7th Gwangju Biennale in South Korea (2008). He presently has a grant from Sarai CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) in New Delhi. He lives and works in Mumbai/India.


Exhibitions curated (Selected)

Exhibition / Installation
2009/10 ´Detour: Five Position Papers on the Republic´ Chemould Prescott Road, Bombay 2009 ´Retrieval Systems´ Art Alive, New Delhi; ´The Pursuit of Intensity: Manu Parekh, Selected Works 2004-2009´ Foundation B&G and Tao Art Gallery ´Shrapnel´, Foundation B&G and Tao Art Gallery, Bombay ´ZIP Files´, Foundation B&G & Tao Art Gallery, Bombay, 2009 and Foundation B&G & Religare Arts Initiative, New Delhi 2008 ´To See is To Change: A Parallax View of 40 Years of German Video Art´ ;Jnanapravaha & Chemould Prescott Road, Bombay The 7th Gwangju Biennale (Artistic Director: Okwui Enwezor; Curators: Ranjit Hoskote and Hyunjin Kim; Gwangju, South Korea 2007 ‘Aparanta: The Confluence of Contemporary Art in Goa’. A survey exhibition. Old Goa Medical College Building, Panjim/Goa 2006 Strangeness. Anant Art Gallery, Calcutta, India Aparanta: The Confluence of Contemporary Art in Goa. Old Goa Medical College Building (Escola Medica e Cirurgica de Goa), Panjim, India 2005 Visions of Landscape. The Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai, India Jehangir Sabavala: A Retrospective. The National Gallery of Modern Art: Mumbai and New Delhi, India 2002 Clicking into Place. Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, India (Indian part of the trans-Asian exhibition Under Construction. See below) (Co-curator) Under Construction. Various venues in Asia/ Japan Foundation Forum/ Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, Tokyo, Japan 2001 The Bodied Self. Gallery Sans Tache, Mumbai, India Labyrinth/ Laboratory. Japan Foundation Asia Center, Tokyo, Japan The Active Line. The Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai, India 2000 Making An Entrance. Mumbai, India Intersections: Seven Artistic Dialogues between Abstraction and Figuration. The Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai, India Family Resemblances: Nine Approaches to a Mutable Self. The Birla Academy of Art & Culture, Mumbai, India 1997 Private Languages. Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai, India 1994 Hinged by Light. Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai, India

Publications (Selected)

Published Written
Pale Ancestorspoems by Ranjit Hoskote and paintings by Atul Dodiya. Mumbai : Bodhi Art 2008; Kampfabsage. Co-authored with Ilija Trojanow. Munich: Random House/ Karl Blessing Verlag, 2007 (German) The Crafting of Reality: Sudhir Patwardhan, Drawings. Mumbai: The Guild Art Gallery, 2008 The Dancer on the Horse: Reflections on the Art of Iranna GR. London: Lund Humphries/ Ashgate Publishing, 2007 Die Ankunft der Vögel, Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2006 (German) Vanishing Acts: New and Selected Poems 1985-2005. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2006 Baiju Parthan: A User´s Manual. Mumbai: Afterimage, 2006 The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala. Mumbai: Eminence Designs/ National Gallery of Modern Art, 2005 Sudhir Patwardhan: The Complicit Observer. Mumbai: Eminence Designs/ Sakshi Gallery, 2004 (Ed.) Reasons for Belonging: Fourteen Contemporary Indian Poets. New Delhi: Viking, 2002 The Sleepwalker’s Archive. Mumbai: Single File, 2001 The Cartographer’s Apprentice. Mumbai: Pundole Art Gallery, 2000 Pilgrim, Exile, Sorcerer: The Painterly Evolution of Jehangir Sabavala. Mumbai: Eminence Designs, 1998 Zones of Assault. New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 1991


Sahitya Akademi Golden Jubilee Award
British Council/Poetry Society of India Annual Competition
Sanskriti Award for Literature


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.


Exhibition, Films, Literature, Dance, Conference

(13 March 08 - 18 May 08)


Who Cares for Human Rights?

Essay of Ranjit Hoskote/ Ilija Trojanow in Counterpunch

Essay on Countercurrents.org

The Mob As Censor (13.02.2004)

Essay for the Anthology of Art

Nov 2001