Rizio Yohannan Raj

Dr. Rizio Yohannan Raj is a bilingual writer who has published poetry, fiction, translations, criticism and children’s literature in English and Malayalam. 

Her debut novel in Malayalam, Avinashom (2000) was shortlisted for the DC Books Silver Jubilee Award and is presently being translated into English. Her second novel Yatrikom was published to critical acclaim in 2004. She was part of the revival of the Mumbai Poetry Circle while she lived in the city. Her poems in English have appeared in journals and anthologies in India and abroad. Her debut collection, Naked by the Sabarmati and Other Guna Poems is under publication at the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi 

Rizio has also translated into English, some of the landmark poetical works in Malayalam such as Kumaran Asan’s Veenapoovu and Chintavishtayaya Sita, and many of the 20th Century Malayalam writers from various generations. She has done translations from other languages, the latest of which include two novels by the Swedish writer Torgny Lindgren, The Way of the Serpent and Sweetness into Malayalam, and the co-translation of the first single collection of Maithili poetry in English, Udaya Narayana Singh’s Second Personal Singular. She has also translated and introduced Gujarati and Marathi Dalit poetry into Malayalam.

Apart from her literary writings, Rizio has been balancing two simultaneous careers in publishing and higher education. During her decade-long career as a books editor, she had headed the editorial departments of Navneet (Mumbai) and Katha (New Delhi). A PhD in Comparative Literature, she has also been a faculty member in the Mass Media department of Sophia College, Mumbai. She lives between her home in Mumbai and Kasaragod, Kerala, where she serves as Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the Central University of Kerala.



While the show is on
beneath its sprawling shade,
age creeps in
without the tree knowing it.
the whole spectacle
is another ring of memory,
the trunk, older by a year.


Naked by the Sabarmati
You beckon me from the purple trail of the day,
I rise from the warm shore:
our clasped hands, a thorny globe in mid-air.
The salt in the air nearly blinds us;
yet we look into each other’s eyes
and find the first stars of the evening.
‘We must cross the night together:
it is time we sought the river.’
The silhouette of the hills
is a reverie etched along the horizon.
We are as prayerful as the trees,
hymns frozen on their way to God.

We walk under the moon in growing silence,
waiting for a song to come by.
Someone whimpers–
a feverish piccolo or a sunflower withering?
It’s one of those strange nights
one smells the dew on autumn leaves.
I close my eyes and chant –
Wind! Wind! Wind!
The road leads us to the wall of the city by the river.
We press our palms against it;
our touch, a sigh dividing a swell of silence.
The wall eagerly splits before us: we enter the city:
hushed slums and stained minarets, our witnesses.
But where are the men and women
who had painted dreams of hukkah on my autumn nights –
the handsome kite-flyer, the fat woman of wit,
the bearded old philosopher, the paanwali behenji,
the turbaned tractor driver, the Madrasi mechanic?
Where are the farmers
who had squatted upon after-harvest stories –
Chandrakant, Lalitabai, Bhoomir Dhrumesh, Fatema, Aalam?
Where are the sleeping children?
Where are the bhajans? Where is the banyan?
A tremor runs
down to my toes.
‘Your hands are flushed, ’
your quivering voice breaks deeper into the air.
Dear, I am red from within; I have swallowed embers:
words, gestures, silence.
You know it; your face shows your knowledge—
the stars in your eyes are tired while you whisper.
I cannot bear uncertainty any more, and run to the river.
But there are only dead stars and our pallid reflections in it.
Comrade, can you name this moment
to which even the river has lost its flux?

Perhaps, the river must wait
before it can flow again,
for everything waits:
field for seed,
serpent for woman,
fig for hunger,
rock for diamond,
bansuri for breath,
quill for ink,
parchment for Time
Waiting fills the elements, too:
a white piece of sky
a coppery speck of land
a cobalt drop of sea
a black pole of wind
an orange sun,
wait for Word.
And then you and I run
as though a lightning has entered us.
Through the flight our clothes leave us
one by one, till the skies offer
themselves to us, and we grow wings.
The peeling was abrupt; nothing
had prepared us for this bareness.
Now we are gliding witnesses
to the trembling of the city –
is it seized by fear or shame?
We can’t make out:
Have we been late in arriving?
Have we no choice now
but to flee in our starkness
as though our sins are chasing us?

City of opposites,
along our naked flight across your breast,
you remind us of our one true Spartan.
His frail body had warned us
against choking in our clothes,
like truth getting lost in words.
We now remember our semi-clad martinet,
and see how this age asks for all we have
to be allowed to return to our nature.
From the bare banks of this river
it is clear now: we have endured too many guises;
a shedding is inevitable.
We must lose all our garbs:
we must turn digambaras,
with just the ashen horizon on us.
Our wild bodies alone may save us now:
they will tell this blind century
that we are woman and man first.
Our nakedness will again connect us
with this river,
and with each other.

There, the river calls us now to its flow,
even as our last clothes renounce us:
‘Let us share our remains:
you, the sweat on your brows, and I, my longing.’

Now you and I stand in knowledge of each other
as in a garden of memories.
With infinite tenderness I tell you,
‘Comrade, let us celebrate our freedom.’
We embrace by the Sabarmati,
bare, forgetful.
And we enter the flowing river:
light floods us –