RN: Publishing an anthology of poems by local poets, who lived in Hyderabad city is unique. How did this idea come to your mind in the first instant? Are there any previous instances? Did you get inspiration from any other Anthology of other cities?
UA: As you know Hyderabad is the city where I grew up before I immigrated to the US. The desire to do something for the city of my formative years was always there. As a poet, poetry became the medium, and I began to work on the idea in 2019. What fascinated me was that over the decades Hyderabad was changing and growing into a mega city morphing fiercely from the city I knew. In some sense, I wanted to capture the city in my nostalgic memory, and also learn about the city that was flowing through my grasp.
RN: How is this book estimable in terms of literary standards? Was the editing and compiling by you a smooth sailing?
UA: This I will leave to the reader. I will say that I am happy with the timeline—from Tagore to present day young poets is a good representation in an anthology. A spectrum of voice, tenor, and flavor permeates the anthology. As I describe: from Tagore’s transcendental gleam to Sarojini Naidu’s lilting rhymes to contemporary urban angst. Representation was a key factor for me—not just celebrity poets, but new voices, and abiding by a serious editorial process. I spent quite some time working with some poets on the editing process. I enjoyed the process thoroughly.
RN: Can you please narrate how the whole project evolved, took shape from the beginning to the release?
UA: I initiated the project in 2019, and there was a period of intense editorial work that year for about 4-5 months that entailed spreading the word, finding poets, editing etc., Thereon, the next step of finding a publisher (facing a couple of disappointments), and then the eventual entry of stellar and generous organizations like thinkIndia Foundation, Doo Creatives, Laxma Goud, the blurbers, and Transcendent Zero Press brought in a positive energy, and weight to the endeavor. I am very happy that I’ve fulfilled my own expectations of delivering the project, keeping a word to the poets, gifting each poet a copy, and generously distributing free copies to people who helped us. A handsome book is the end product of the process, one I am proud to hold.
RN: Can you throw some light on Hyd Lit Fest and the successful anthology launch there?
UA: HLF has grown to be a gem on the map. As it is an anthology on Hyderabad, and my hometown, it was my dream to launch it there at the festival. We publicly released it to a packed hall on January 29th, 2023. I feel very grateful to the HLF team, and especially to Jayesh Ranjan ji for supporting the launch, and anthology in Hyderabad.
RN: To sell poetry books is an uphill task. It is amazing how about 365 books were sold in such a short span of time. Comment?
UA: That number includes, sales and free distribution Every step during the editing and production process has been rooted in clear and straightforward intentions. Since the release, it has been quite magical—(magic assisted with hard work of course). The anthology has received a lot of goodwill as it’s the first of a kind, and being embraced by young Hyderabadis. We moved books not just in sales, but also by generous distribution to those who helped us. When I say ‘we’ I mean myself and Viswaprasad of Doo Creatives who has been the working partner and illustrator of the project. Making money was not the priority, so the sale of about 250 books has been astonishing in 6 weeks. We haven’t pressured poets to buy copies, not even one. For both of us it has been a project of love primarily, both of us wanted to do something for Hyderabad—Viswa though his sketches, and me through poetry. Our energies were synergized similarly paving way to a rare harmonious working relationship, and being on the same page at every step. Hyderabad was the priority always. We are just guided by what’s good for the anthology, and want it to be celebrated by as many as possible. We were not expecting those numbers as a result. And we are happy at the press reviews and articles too of course!
RN: The title of the book is unique and at once-charismatic. Comment?
UA: The iconic Deccani is the first thing that comes to mind with Hyderabad. The title was a playful choice indicative of Hyderabad, and also evoked a transferred meaning for the poet’s voice: This is how we speak!
RN: Are there any more anthologies on the anvil at your end?
UA: Not poetry per se. A festschrift on Keki Daruwaala being reviewed by the Sahitya Akademi, and the edited version of the Shirdi Sai Satcharita just submitted to the Shirdi Sansthan. Writerly works are the upcoming I thought a thought, in June, and a co-written poetry manuscript with the Romanian poet Ruxandra Ceserneau is completed—with the less joyful task of a publisher hunt just beginning.
RN: Is anyone coming forward to translate the book into Telugu?
UA: I haven’t thought of that at all. Content with what I’ve done.
RN: The cover design is awesome. How did a top artist like Laxma Goud agree to it?
UA: As mentioned, after the initial hiccups, magical things happened. The cover art is a paper cut wall hanging I’ve had for over three decades. For reasons, not entirely logical, I kept seeing it as the anthology cover. When I called Laxma Goud garu for permission, he said he never gives permission but was thrilled as a Hyderabadi himself that something was being done for Hyderabad. A grand moment was visiting him to gift him copies, and spending some time in his wonderful studio and in Jubilee Hills chatting about his life and art. It is moments like this, moments of connections and friendships that have been the unexpected blessings that shine more valuable than any sales figures.