He has edited a number of anthologies of poetry, and significant among them are Poetry from Leeds (1968) and Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets (1976). He started writing poetry at the age of 16 and has published widely in journals in India and abroad, in Encounter, London Magazine, Poetry India, Times Literary Supplement and New Letters and his poems are included in many anthologies. He won the Ulka Poetry Prize of Poetry India in 1966.
Parthasarathy is also a discerning critic. His very selective prose tracts like “Poet in Search of a Language”, “Indian English Verse: The Making of a Tradition”, “Notes on Making of a Poem”, “and “How it strikes a Contemporary: The Poetry of A.K. Ramanujan” form part of Indian literary criticism in English. Statements like “A poem ought to, in effect, try to arrest the flow of language, to anaesthetize it, to petrify it, to fossilize it” and “the poet by sheer dedication to words, arrives at a truth which may otherwise be impossible for him to attain” or “poetry is an ascetic art, doing without, rather than’ doing with, indulgence” have become almost axiomatic.
Parthasarathy is the most reticent of Indian poets. The poems written over a period of 15 years have been put together in one volume Rough Passage, which is the most neatly and deftly structured poetic sequence in Indian English poetry. Parthasarathy is a conscientious and fastidious craftsman who revises his poems constantly. “He is the legendary workman who roughs out, cuts and sets his form as a scultptor would extract his art from his material”. (Saleem Peeradina) Parthasarathy thinks in images and his poems become memorable, individual images.
“A cow stands
in the middle combing the traffic”
“a storm of churches breaks about my eyes”
“Painstakingly a wind
thumbs paragraphs of bright sea.”
The prose piece “Whoring after English Gods” provides the background, “the historical and personal circumstances in which the poem (Rough Passage) eventually came to be written” as well as “the terms of reference”, Parthasarathy tells us. The various thematic strands are the social commentary, (“the epitaph of the Raj”) the poet’s cultural and linguistic predicament, search for the ‘roots’ and the poet’s problem of craft — how to make poetic use of the past, particularly the memories of the complex South Indian family network with its telescopic relationships. No other Indian poet has explored his linguistic dilemma so thoroughly and so painfully as Parthasarathy has. Understandably, there is a pervasive wistfulness in Parthasarathy’s poetry.
In his relentless self-enquiry and the confessional mode of expression Parthasarathy resembles Robert Lowell and Rough Passage is, like Lowell’s Life Studies, the honest record of the growth of a poet. The strength of Parthasarathy’s poems “derives”, as he himself puts it, “from his responsibility towards crucial personal events in his life”.