The nothing that comes of nothing

‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.’—A-nil

As a publishing house, Navayana enters its twentieth year on 5 November 2023. It means nothing. As an idea, Navayana is over 2,500 years old (2,585 really). We are just a spoke in an old wheel that has been turning in and out. Navayana literally means a new vehicle, a new path. So Navayana remains as new as the day it was born, renewed by and born again with each book it publishes. We could be over a hundred titles old. We have not counted, really. For it all counts to nothing. So we think it is essential and necessary to observe such an occasion with both solemnity and gaiety by celebrating a poet whose very name is nothing: A-nil’s The Absent Color. The book comes with a hard back and shows serious spine. A book we modestly believe is to language what Annihilation of Caste is to politics. We will also be giving 20% off on all our titles on the Navayana website and free shipping on all orders above Rs 499.

Come Sunday, A/nil would have travelled all the way from Palakkad to Delhi to be in conversation with another fellow-traveler in this path paved and carved by the words of Babasaheb, Buddha, Kabir and Raidas—the artist, writer and filmmaker Artedkar, whose show Field Notes from Begumpura is ongoing in Delhi. His name, too, is a name taken, not given (Rahee Punyasholka). Like Ambedkar says in Annihilation of Caste, ‘I am sorry, I will not be with you. I have decided to change.’

On Sunday, we will witness the staging of what Slavoj Žižek calls an ‘authentic miracle’. This will happen at the India International Centre in Delhi, oh yea, while the Extermination is on in Gaza. If you can’t be witness to a miracle, tell a friend who can so you get a first-person account of how we painted Delhi blue, a special blue at that: Pantone P 104-8 C, to be precise. Those with FOMO must just buy a copy of the book to experience this very special color that frames The Absent Color. (Take our word for it, this blue never shows true on any screen—this illusion has to be printed first and then be imprinted in your eyes.)

At this momentous momentless moment, which really is nothing yet quite something, here’s a short interview with A=nil. S. Anand, the publisher of Navayana (who in the process of working with A/nil, has become an/And, a fracture and a fraction as a–nil would say), asked the poet nine profoundly simple questions. Nil was wholly up to the task. He after all is a wholesome sum of all his holes and parts: A–nil, A+nil, AxNil A÷nil, A=nil, a nil. Here are his an/swerves:


Why do you call yourself a-nil?

Who knows? Maybe, I am pretending that I am pretending. Or why bother? Earlier It was Lincolnesque: “of, by, and for a nil”.  My poems? Never took ’em too seriously. Nor did those around me! But when I showed them to you, you went all in. Now, bro, that deserves an explanation, and maybe even an apology! O, as a kid, Mom dubbed me ‘pencil-mark’ for my skinniness. ‘A-nil’ has a better ring than pen cil, right?

If to annihilate is to render everything “nil”, are you an annihilationist?

The point is that there is no point. In answering such questions.

Were Buddha and Ambedkar annihilationists too?

Why repeat the unrepeatable? I don’t no. People will get that they won’t get it.

How do you see the idea of form?

If I want, I could belt out my love for the Mandelbrot set and all its hi-fi friends. But let’s face it, or let me face it all alone, I see nothing. Absolutely nothing!

What is your favourite color?

Bro, crude psychology? I just said I see nothing. Better luck next time! Only very smart people can answer this question. Both you and I know that we fools have better things to do. Lol! Or as Beckett could have said: “What does it matter?” Or as Keynes said: “In the long run we are all dead.”

Where do your poems come from? Where do you see them going?

Long ago, while teaching in Tripura, I was alone and had a desktop with a word processor and the CD Rom of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. So, I can safely say: Computer works, therefore I am! Most of my poems have gone to the recycle bin. The rest, if readers are generous enough to follow this trend, will go to their dustbin. Beware: when you an/and die, you will have to answer for being an enemy of the human race.

What labour do you expect of a reader of your poems?

The minimum labour required for not opening the book. But I must say they must buy it: the cover is gorgeous!

What Navayana books have you read? Any favourite?

You suck at marketing, man! Nobody is going to read a book that I claim to have read. People have common sense in plenty. Anyway, I have some of your books. Jalalul Haq’s The Shudra is phenomenal: I read it cover to cover in one go.

What are you reading right now?

You must ask this question! The day you said we would launch your book in Delhi, my bird, as we Malayalis say, has left me. The only thing I’m reading these days is the calendar. You know why, right? Just to know when all this will be over so that I’ll be left to tend to my personality disorders. Other than the calendar, I’m reading this wonderfully written little book The Absent Color by an impostor called a/nil. Once in a while, you must have something interesting to read, right?

PS: If you want to do another such interview in the future, you’re free to fake it. The only thing you should promise me is this: don’t tell your readers that you have faked it. Please.

(A\nil will also be speaking at two other events in Delhi: at the Centre for English Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University on 6 November, and at IIT’s Department of Humanities and Social Sciences on the 7th. Details on our social media handles here and here.)