Mahendra Solanki was born in Nairobi to Indian parents in 1956. He arrived in England in 1965 and his family settled in Leicester. After studying English and philosophy in London, where he worked in publishing and bookselling, he returned to the city and has lived and worked in the region ever since.
Mahendra has worked in adult and community education (as tutor, adult education co-ordinator and eventually as Head of Avalon Community Education Project) and at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre as an Associate Director. He has worked as a writer in schools, colleges, libraries, local authorities and universities as well as taking up residencies for the Arts Council, the Poetry Society and the Arvon Foundation. He undertook a year-long residency at the East Midlands Forensic Mental Health Centre, working at the secure unit for prisoners with mental health issues.
He now works as English Programme Leader in the School of Arts & Humanities at Nottingham Trent University (NTU). Having previously directed the MA in Writing at NTU, he continues to teach on the MA as well as leading the undergraduate English and creative writing programme. He is currently First Story’s Writer in Residence at The Nottingham Children’s Hospital, the first such post in the country.
Mahendra’s work has appeared in magazines and anthologies in Britain and abroad, including The Observer, Poetry Review and The Rialto as well as being broadcast on BBC radio. He has undertaken public commissions, collaborating with artists such as Kay van Bellen (for the Leicester Riverside Commission and now held in Leicestershire’s Permanent Art Collection) and film-maker Jaharlal Sen (for the Royal Festival Hall). His poetry is included in the prestigious Out of Bounds: British Black and Asian Poetry, edited by Jackie Kay, James Procter and Gemma Robinson (2012).
After a while you believe the lies you tell
After a while you believe the lies you tell
That bump on your head -
did your father really throw you down the stairs?
- that story about your name and how,
not able to to read, write or speak English
you copied the Sikh girl's name as your own -
and you say no one noticed
until you moved to another school.
And that one about how
you said you'd care for me
and would rather die
rather than do any harm?
There are no pictures of you as a child,
no way of checking if that lump was there before.
There are no old exercise books with the girl's name.
There is no piece of paper with your promise -
just this ring, this bruise and the words I recall.
This relatively recent poem, which also provides the title of a new collection, The Lies We Tell (2012), contains some familiar strands in my work as well as signalling a new direction in my writing. The poem continues the sequence that started with 'Bapuji', which was originally published in my first collection, Shadows of My Making (1986). That slim volume tried to explore the difficult relationships between a son, mother and father. It is an attempt (by the son) to understand the conflicting expectations associated with being the eldest son in an Indian family, as well as trying to give the marginalised mother a voice, having left her own homes in rural India and East Africa behind. The sequence is continued in What you Leave Behind (1996), where the son responds directly to the father after his death.
The poem questions the veracity of what I’ve written about my family in a large number of poems published over an extended period. The poem contains ‘truthful’ detail such as not being ‘able to read, write or speak English’ when I came to England, and copying the Sikh girl’s name (Mohinder) as my own. And, yes, I do have a small bump on my head but now I can’t recall how I got it. The second part of the narrative begins to question the son's account of his violent father and begins to deliberately merge the two lives together, picking up on the violence that is tangibly present in earlier poems, such as 'Trademark', ‘and on not finding a cooked meal/ kick her as she lay rolled up on a stone floor.’ The reasons for this are complex. I suppose I am tired of my own sad story (one which I invariably keep coming back to) and I want to experiment with another way of telling stories which nonetheless contain emotional truths. This way of writing, where one can combine fact with fabulation makes it possible to talk about things I have previously left unwritten. I have always respected Emily Dickinson’s advice to ‘Tell all the Truth but tell it slant’. Now I am beginning to take it to heart.
Fading from View , Nottingham: Eyelet Books, 2009
The Rat’s Mirror with Matthew Caley, David Crystal, Peter Pegnall & Paul Summers, Bangor, Co. Down: Ha’Penny Press, 1999
What You Leave Behind, Leicester: Blackwater Press, 1996
Exercises in Trust, London: Aark Arts, 1996
Shadows Of My Making, London: Lokamaya Press, 1986
Poems in anthologies
Out of Bounds: British Black and Asian Poetry, edited by Jackie Kay, James Procter and Gemma Robinson, Tarset, Bloodaxe, 2012
The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry by Indians, ed. by Sudeep Sen, India: HarperCollins, forthcoming, 2012
The Yellow Nib Contemporary English Poetry by Indians, ed. by Sudeep Sen, Belfast: Queens University, forthcoming, 2012
Speaking English, ed. by Andy Croft, Nottingham: Five Leaves, 2007
Poetry: the Nottingham Collection, ed. by John Lucas, Nottingham: Five Leaves, 2005
Miracle & Clockwork, ed. by James Roderick Burns, Durham: Other poetry Editions, 2005
The Redbeck Anthology of British South Asian Poetry, ed. by Debjani Chatterjee, Bradford: Redbeck Press, 2000
Settling the Score, ed. by Ross Bradshaw, Loughborough: East Midlands Arts, 1999
Twelve Modern Young Indian Poets, ed. by Sudeep Sen, Edinburgh: Lines Review, 1996
Wasafiri: India, South Asia & the Diaspora, ed. by Sudeep Sen, London: Queen Mary & Westfield, 1995
Write Here, ed. by Catherine Byron, Leicester: Leicestershire Libraries, 1993