Release of Over and Under Ground in Mumbai & Paris [fr]

H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India, today released Over and Under Ground in Mumbai & Paris, a volume of illustrated poetry by Sampurna Chattarji, Karthika Naïr, Joelle Jolivet & Roshni Vyam.

New Delhi, 16 January 2019

The Ambassador of France to India, H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler, launched Over and Under Ground in Mumbai & Paris, a collaborative Indo-French illustrated book of poetry published by Westland.

Poets Sampurna Chattarji and Karthika Naïr met in February 2016 during the Kala Ghoda Festival, and decided to test the possibilities of a dialogue in verse across latitudes. With one based in Mumbai and the other in Paris, they first sought a common denominator. And the link they chose was an integral part of their respective megalopolises: the local rail networks -– the Paris Metro and the Mumbai Suburban Railway. The project took shape during Bonjour India, as the authors worked together for the ‘Metro Lands’ project.

The poets drew inspiration from the train networks to blueprint their modus operandi: just as each train may stop at a station, and be joined by another train, their poems too are linked to each other. In the first section of the book, the last line of Naïr’s poem is reprised in the first line of Chattarji’s response, and vice-versa. In the second section, it is the first line of Chattarji’s poem that becomes the last line of Naïr’s subsequent poem, with that pattern then repeated in reverse.

As this collaborative project became translated into reality, they hit upon the idea of enriching it further with a visual dimension. Gond artist Roshni Vyam and French illustrator Joëlle Jolivet were thus brought on board. Further, Chattarji and Naïr decided to reverse perspectives by asking Jolivet to draw vignettes around the Mumbai Suburban Railway, while Vyam’s artwork would focus on the Paris metro.

Speaking on the occasion, Ambassador of France to India, Mr Alexandre Ziegler, said: “Over and Under Ground in Mumbai and Paris takes the reader-traveller to various routes radiating from these megapolises. All those who have taken the metro or a suburban train even once in their life, will feel a very familiar sense of belonging. This book is one of the numerous projects that have come out of the latest edition of Bonjour India”.

Commenting on this collaborative project, Karthika Naïr said: “I look at it more as a partnership between individuals, artists, thinkers, makers, enablers first and only then between two countries. Countries are mammoth, unwieldy creatures and it is impossible to predict what their partnerships achieve. But change and invention and inspiration are triggered by the coming together of individuals...”

The work is certainly a genuine and concrete representation of Indo-French people-to-people relations, as poet Sampurna Chatterji points out: “It enables creative artists to come together, and it makes for a whole new dialogue between our two countries, a dialogue that is eloquently expressed not just in our work, but in our lasting friendships.”

About the authors

Joëlle Jolivet was born in 1965, and as far as she can remember, has always been drawing, painting or engraving… After graphic arts’ and lithography’s studies, Joëlle found her favorite tool of expression in linocut. She illustrated numerous children’s picture books, book covers and novels, and also works regularly for the press. Her books are published throughout the world. She published in India The Honey Hunter (Zubaan Books) and An Indian Beach: By Day and Night (Tara Books).

Karthika Naïr calls herself a portmanteau person, “like sofa-beds and motels”, and is the author of several books, including The Honey Hunter (Editions Hélium – Actes Sud/Zubaan Books, 2013), illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet. Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata (HarperCollins India/Arc Publications UK, 2015), her reimagining of the Mahabharata in multiple voices, won the 2015 Tata Literature Live! Award for fiction and was shortlisted for the 2016 Atta Galatta Prize for Fiction. Naïr’s poetry has been widely published in anthologies and journals across the world.

Roshni Vyam was born in Sanpuri village in the Dindori district of central Madhya Pradesh. She belongs to a third generation of Gond artists, and her parents Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam are both renowned artists today. Imbibed with the tales of her mother, Roshni is combining traditional and contemporary elements in her work to break the stereotypes surrounding Gond art. She has exhibited her work in numerous galleries in India and abroad and won the Ojas Award for ‘Young Gond Artist’ at the Jaipur Literature Festival. She has also worked on designs for graphic books with publishers such as Navayana (for the book Bhimayana), Tara Books (I Like Cats) and Eklavya (Chakmak).

Sampurna Chattarji is a poet, novelist and translator. Her fourteen books include her poetry books Absent Muses (Poetrywala 2010) and The Fried Frog and other Funny Freaky Foodie Feisty Poems (Scholastic 2009); her novels Rupture and Land of the Well (both from HarperCollins); as well as her collection of short stories about Bombay/Mumbai – Dirty Love (Penguin 2013). Sampurna edited Sweeping the Front Yard (SPARROW 2010), an anthology of poetry and prose by women writing in English, Malayalam, Telugu and Urdu. Her translation of Joy Goswami’s Selected Poems (Harper Perennial 2014) was shortlisted for the Khushwant Singh Memorial Prize for Poetry and her translation of Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol has been a Puffin Classic titled Wordygurdyboom! since 2008.

About French Institute in India (IFI)

The French Institute in India (IFI) is the culture, science and education service of the Embassy of France in India. It facilitates academic and scientific exchange between higher institutes of learning and research, enables student mobility, and promotes French language and artistic and cultural partnerships. Cooperation between India and France takes place through a number of sectors: Arts & Culture, Books & Ideas, French Language & Education, Study in France programme, Academic Partnerships, Science & Technology, as well as Innovation and Multimedia. To know more, visit

About Westland

Founded in 1962, Westland is one of the largest English-language trade publishers in India. Westland’s bestselling authors include VVS Laxman, Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi, Devdutt Pattanaik, Ashok Banker, Rujuta Diwekar, Rashmi Bansal, Savi Sharma, Anita and Harsha Bhogle, and Preeti Shenoy, among others. It has recently launched a new imprint ’Context’, which publishes literary fiction and non-fiction by some of the finest Indian writers, graphic novelists and chroniclers of our times. Westland publishes print books, e-books as well as short reads in genres ranging from popular and literary fiction to business, politics, biography, spirituality, health and cookery. Westland was acquired by Amazon in 2017. Westland brings Amazon Publishing’s bestselling international books to the Indian market available in over 1000 outlets.

Last modified on 29/01/2019

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