(for details of the books click here)


read when god is a traveller AND learning to say yes, from When God is a Traveller, HarperCollins, India, and Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2014

read prayer AND For A Poem, Still Unborn from Where I Live: New and Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2009

arundhathi reads out ‘song for catabolic women’ [From Love Without a Story, Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2020] on firstpost

arundhathi reads out some poems from love without a story, bloodaxe books in a video celebrating its publication

Arundhathi Subramaniam reads and introduces a selection of poems from two Bloodaxe titlesWhen God Is a Traveller and Where I Live: New & Selected Poems:

Arundhathi reads out eight poems from Where I Live: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2009): ‘Winter, Delhi, 1997’, ‘To the Welsh Critic Who Doesn’t Find Me Identifiably Indian’, ‘Prayer’, ‘Home’, ‘Madras’, ‘I Live on a Road’, ‘Recycled’ and ‘Confession’.

I Grew Up in an Age of Poets

(‘Best to meet in poems’ – Eunice de Souza)

I grew up in an age of poets

who told me joy

was for cabbages

until I found

that beneath their smoking

empires of sulphur

there lay a shiver 

of doubt,

that they wondered, 

as I did, 

about what it might mean  

to be leafy,

to wilt, 

to be damaged sometimes

by upstart caterpillars 

and still stay green─

chaotically, wetly, powerfully


Now I meet poets

who exchange visiting cards,

are best friends with the dentist,

all dankness deodorised,

their poems cool seashells, 

their laughter splintered eggshells,

poets who never seem

to wonder

about cabbages

at all.

Still best to meet in poems.

[From Love Without a Story, Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2020]

How to Read Indian Myth

(for AS who wonders)

How to read Indian myth?

The way I read Greek, I suppose ─

not worrying too much about

foreign names

and plots,

knowing there is never

a single point

to any story,

taking the red hibiscus route

into the skin,

alert to trapdoors, willing 

     to blunder a little in the dark,

      slightly drunk

                    on Deccan sun,

but with a spring in the step

that knows

we are fundamentally


built to float,

built to understand,

and the chemical into which we are tumbling

will sustain,

has sustained before,

knows a way through,

knows a way beyond,


the two

aren’t separate.

Read it like you would read a love story.

Your own.

[From Love Without a Story, Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2020]


The tongue is alone and tethered in its mouth’ – John Berger

The man in front of me

is reading

a balance sheet.

He is smiling, his gaze

shimmying between columns,



And though a little drunk

on the liquor of profit

I like to think he is not immune

to the sharp beauty

of integers, simmering

with their own inner life,

and I wonder if he feels

the way I do sometimes

    around words,

waiting for them to lead me

past the shudder

   of tap root

         past the inkiness

               of groundwater

                            to those places

where all tongues meet─

         calculus, Persian, Kokborok, flamenco,

the tongue sparrows know, and accountants,

and those palm trees at the far end

of holiday photographs,

    your tongue,


the kiss that knows

from where the first songs sprang,

    forested and densely plural,

the kiss that knows

no separation.

[From Love Without a Story, Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2020]

Song for Catabolic Women

We’re bound for the ocean

and a largesse of sky,

we’re not looking for the truth

or living a lie.

We’re coming apart,

we’re going downhill,

the fury’s almost done,

we’ve had our fill.

We’re passionate, ironic

angelic, demonic,

clairvoyant, rational

wildly Indian, anti-national.

We’re not trying to make our peace

not itching for a fight,

we don’t need your shade

and we don’t need your light.

We know charisma isn’t contagious

and most rules are egregious.

We’re catabolic women.

We’ve known the refuge of human arms,

the comfort of bathroom floors,

we’ve stormed out of rooms,

thrown open the doors.

We’ve figured the tricks to turn rage

into celebration,

we know why the oldest god dances

at every cremation.

We’ve kissed in the rose garden,

been the belles of the ball,

hidden under bedcovers

and we’ve stood tall.

We’re not interested in camouflage

or self-revelation,

not looking for a bargain

or an invitation.

We’re capable of stillness

even as we gallivant,

capable of wisdom

even as we rant.

Look into our eyes,

you’ll see we’re almost through.

We can be kind but we’re not really   

thinking of you.

We don’t remember names

and we don’t do Sudoku.

We’re losing EQ and IQ,

forgetting to say please and thank you.

We’re catabolic women

We’ve never ticked the right boxes,

never filled out the form,

our dharma is tepid,

our politics lukewarm.

We’ve had enough of earnestness

and indignation

but still keep the faith

in conversation.

We’re wily Easterners enough

to argue nirvana and bhakti,

talk yin and yang,

Shiva and Shakti. 

When we’re denied a visa

we fall back on astral travel

and when samsara gets intense

we simply unravel.

We’re unbuilding now,




We’re caterwauling,




           catabolic women.

[From Love Without a Story, Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2020]


(wondering about Kartikeya, Muruga, Subramania, my namesake)

Trust the god

back from his travels,

his voice wholegrain

       (and chamomile),

his wisdom neem, 

     his peacock, sweaty-plumed,

     drowsing in the shadows.

Trust him

who sits wordless on park benches

listening to the cries of children

fading into the dusk,

     his gaze emptied of vagrancy,

     his heart of ownership.

Trust him

who has seen enough –

revolutions, promises, the desperate light

of shopping malls, hospital rooms,

manifestos, theologies, the iron taste

of blood, the great craters in the middle

                           of love.

Trust him

who no longer begrudges

his brother his prize,

his parents their partisanship.

Trust him

whose race is run,

whose journey remains,

who stands fluid-stemmed

knowing he is the tree

that bears fruit, festive

     with sun.

Trust him

who recognizes you –

auspicious, abundant, battle-scarred,

                     alive –

and knows from where you come.

Trust the god

ready to circle the world all over again

this time for no reason at all

other than to see it

through your eyes.

(from When God is a Traveller, HarperCollins, India, and Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2014)


They matter,

the minor questions –

the smell of a new wardrobe,

the eternal bus ticket

in the bag’s second compartment, the leer

of the late shift security guard.

Yes, Draupadi’s sari is endless

and there’s no way to tame

life’s wild unstoppable


but this:

Fill out the form. Do it in bloody triplicate. Enroll.

(from When God is a Traveller, HarperCollins, India, and Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2014)


May things stay the way they are

in the simplest place you know.

May the shuttered windows

keep the air as cool as bottled jasmine.

May you never forget to listen

to the crumpled whisper of sheets

that mould themselves to your sleeping form.

May the pillows always be silvered

with cat-down and the muted percussion

of a lover’s breath.

May the murmur of the wall clock

continue to decree that your providence

run ten minutes slow.

May nothing be disturbed

in the simplest place you know

for it is here in the foetal hush

that blueprints dissolve

and poems begin,

and faith spreads like the hum of crickets,

faith in a time

when maps shall fade,

nostalgia cease

and the vigil end.

(from Where I Live: New and Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2009)


Over tea we wonder why we write poetry.

Ten people read it, anyway.

Three are committed in advance

to disliking it.

Three feel a vague pang

but have leaking taps and traffic jams

to think about.

Two like it

and wouldn’t mind telling you so,

but don’t know how.

Another is busy preparing questions

about pat ironies

and identity politics.

The tenth is wondering

whether you wear contact lenses.

And we,

as soiled as anyone else

in a world addicted

to carbohydrates

and conversations without pauses, 

still groping

among sunsets and line lengths

and slivers of hope

for a moment


by the wild contagion

of habit.

(from Where I Live: New and Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2009)