Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? At what age did you start writing? Who/what first inspired you to begin? Who are some of your favorite writers and artists (past and/or contemporary)?
Born in erstwhile Bombay to parents that assumed many identities in the post-Nehruvian India, one being that of liberal educationists, I was introduced to art early on. My first memory of writing was when I was three years old, when I saw a rainbow after it had rained. The sight stirred and rumbled inside me for long, and was the continuation to what has now become a way of life: writing.
My favorite artists are far too many to name, but here are a few (in no particular order): Ernest Hemingway, Storm Jameson, Henrik Ibsen, Hermann Hesse, Socrates, Amrita Pritam, J.M. Coetzee, Dalip Kaur Tiwana, the Brontë sisters, Simone de Beauvoir, Charles Baudelaire, Sadat Hasan Manto, Herman Melville, Edward Said, Anita Desai, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Charles Bukowski, Vincent Van Gogh, Zelda Fitzgerald, William Butler Yeats, Attia Hosain, John Steinbeck, James Joyce, Jonathan Safran Foer, R. Parthasarathy, Emily Dickinson, Jean Paul Sartre, Kamala Das, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, A.K. Ramanujan, Zora Neale Hurston, Dilip Chitre, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Louisa May Alcott, Jean Rhys, Arun Kolatkar, William Shakespeare, Kamala Markandaya, Christopher Marlowe, André Breton, Thomas Hardy, Victor Hugo, Virginia Woolf, Salman Rushdie, Khaled Hosseini, Mulk Raj Anand, John Osborne, Samuel Beckett, Rabindranath Tagore, Harold Pinter, Shashi Deshpande, Salvador Dalí, Mahasweta Devi, Arthur Rimbaud, Bhisham Sahni, Amrita Shergill, Tristan Tzara, Bapsi Sidhwa, Rumi, Meister Eckhart and many, many more.
How do you first start writing a poem? Does it come to you out of the blue, or do you have a set time where you meet with your Muse each day and let the words just … flow?
There is no linear procedure or methodology I follow, though writing does embody a certain sense of discipline that I practice. In a poem, language assumes different shapes. With writing, one has the freedom to create. A sunset, for instance, can be described in as many different ways as there are interpretations. To explain writing is to define it, and thus limit the scope of all that it entails. The way I understand it is there have been several different ways in which poetry arrives to me. A storyteller can sit by a windowpane that overlooks a lane and that becomes the clay for the plot. With poetry, the process is more organic. Poetry is a form of dissent, like a forest that grows uncontrolled. The process of editing is another form of exercise I follow, to bend its shape or augment more dimensions. Once writing becomes the chain that links you to all else, there is nothing else that offers as much a refuge and pleasure.
What does poetry mean to you, and has your idea of what it represents changed over the course of time? Where do you see it going in the future?
Poetry is freedom and a voice that dances because it knows it is free. In a world where one is bound by boxes of definitions, poetry is both; a radical mouthpiece as well as an illuminator of all one looks at but never sees. Figuratively, words are like grains stuck on the sponge of a poem. While poetry assumed a more formal methodology for the longest time, the paradigm shift that free verse brought forth is refreshing. I take pleasure in both, formal and free verse, having written in both styles, though I tend to lean toward the latter.
While there is enough ink spilled about second language acquisition theories and non-native speakers of a language recently, I reckon every expression has a different parabola. I am coherent in the tongues that the chains of my insides know, and not one language. I join hundreds of artists in commemorating the human spirit, and the anthropocene, at a point in time where social change is paramount. Poetry embodies those subterranean terrains that cannot be achieved mechanically and it holds within itself the power to reflect, absorb, inspire and even change in the way one looks at things. Poetry will always have a place in the hearts of those that have learnt to defy a standardized way of looking.
Are you on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how?
I do not use social media, though I must mention that it works as a tool for the younger generations to propagate awareness about many current-era concerns. On a lighter note, social media to the present generation is what satellite television was to the previous generations a few epochs ago, only much more. The idea is to not get swayed by distractions. I have imbibed a certain sense of everyday discipline in writing over the length of time and steer clear of unproductive time.
Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they? What are you reading right now?
I have cultivated and sharpened a sense of observation. I do not necessarily see a link of separateness from artists across continents for often they speak from the same light. These form my community. For instance, I visited Europe in 2015 and the streets held much resonance. The sepia monochromes were a sight that pulled me to explore the stories written in the cervixes of cities. Paris in autumn, to me, looked a thousand veils were being shed. Among the damp, one finds as much inspiration as in stupors of yellow hue. In a small town in the Netherlands, I made acquaintance with a theatre artist, in his late seventies, and he had seen the years pass by as relics. We exchanged our views about theatre as it spanned the centuries. In the Singer museum, I was a special guest that was invited for an art exposition. The intricate pastels on display interwove a story of their own. One of the ways you learn is through observing from other people that create art. More often than not, you find that there is a shared community of people that rebel against the same things that seem unjust in a society, and often reveal the creases of beauty, kindness and empathy in the world.
In Freiburg, Germany, I spoke to a street musician and singer (in my limited knowledge of the German language) for ten minutes, and it was enriching to hear his story. This charts resonance with the musician I watched for an hour on an autumn day in November in Montmartre, Paris, while reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (because reading A Moveable Feast would be predictable) and speaking to supposed strangers that shared the same chord. He sang because he was free: he explored the lengths and depths of the human soul with his melody. In India, I often engage in conversations with those at the fringes of society: skilled artisans and practitioners of art. While one is more often than not told that society is different, when you travel, the world shrinks into a gigantic, extended family of cultural exchange.
As of now, I would soon begin reading the translated poetry of Amrita Pritam and have just finished reengaging with Tiwana’s Who Am I? alongside theories of postcolonial ecocriticism.
As 2017 continues rolling along, what are your expectations for the year ahead? Do you have any new projects in the works that you’re particularly excited about?
Every project, and on a more micro level, every piece is exciting. The concept of time is relative, I reckon. I endeavor not to expect as much as surrender to art. The process is the force. As someone that writes, we assume varied identities, then become formless to unmoor. In such a scenario, it helps to be detached from the world a little, to see it outside-in. Everything else you highlight about yourself act only as sieves and obstruct your vision. It is vital to unmoor from those nets and threads of societal definitions and drown into the very core of our being. I also look forward to producing more work in the French language. This remains my incessant expectation from 2017: to write to free any shackles, to practice my art and skill vibrantly and to keep writing.
What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are trying to get their work noticed?
Every individual is unique, as the micro chasm of a molecule and general advice is often dangerous. Still, I’d say – travel, and if you cannot travel the world, travel the length and breadth of the place you find yourself in at a given point in time. Excavate the unseen mosses that grow by the end of the alley and the sentiment in the eyes of people. That becomes your map, and you can choose which part you trace through your art. Listen closely to the silences between the winds, and similarly, have faith in what you write, regardless of anything that the world might infer. Another part of the process is to submit your work into the void of the universe and accumulate rejection letters, then toss them out the window (if you cannot recycle the paper) and try again. Your artistic voice will carry through, not your name. Understand that there are several worlds within this one: utilize your feelings and thoughts to stir a metamorphosis.