Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Blurred Lines of Art and Heart

In a conversation with Jagran Cityplus, the well-known poet, art curator and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote talks about Indian poetry, his translation work on Lal Děd and more.

There is no easy way to answer the great Indian question, ‘Where do you come from?’ especially when you belong to an ethnic micro minority. But Ranjit Hoskote the celebrated contemporary English language poet, art curator and cultural theorist busts the interrogation mark through his work that liquefies the cross cultural identities to culminate onto what sub-continent has not cast its glance at.

It was not for nothing that celebrated Kashmiri American poet Agha Shahid Ali had said of him, “Hoskote wants to discover language, as one would a new chemical in a laboratory experiment. This sense of linguistic play, usually missing from sub-continental poetry in English, is abundant in Hoskote’s work.” In a conversation with Cityplus, Hoskote talks about Indian poetry, his translation work on Lal Děd and more.

On various ‘isms’

An art curator that Hoskote is, any ‘ism’ for him begins as liberation and ends up being a cage. ‘isms’ are not movements, but moments in Art. “Once these ‘isms’ mark a major breakthrough in terms of artistic practices, the nature of aesthetic experience, and how the line between life and art is blurred, the artist moves on to a new level of resolution. His sense of practice is transformed, but if he fossilizes that into a set of rules, then he is betraying himself. It is sad if someone remains a surrealist for his whole life.” 
On this the poet adds, “Isms create definitions of what belongs to the Self and what is against the Self. They become basis for antagonism. The minute you identify with that belief you are constrained and what is outside your Self appears hostile and strange. In political terms ‘isms’ are lethal, dangerous!”

Are artists or poets loners?

Anyone who is an artist knows the mystery of the world. “A good artist may be socially or personally alienated, but he is never alienated from his art. As an artist you recognize there is no unitary Self. Self, within itself, contains many other Selfs. It is hybrid and rooted in many places experiences, various cultural impulses and confluences. You develop a way of looking at the world in a different sense infused with curiosity and empathy. You do not create art to put down what you already know,” avers the poet and art curator.

On Tagore’s centenary of winning the Nobel

“It is very difficult to understand on what basis the Nobel Prize Committee makes its choices. Reasons why they chose whom are very obscure. Often, it has to do with their sense of a writer’s dealing with major political or cultural crisis. There are a number of Indian writers who could easily claim to be worthy of winning a Nobel.  Nevertheless, back home we have prestigious Sahitya Akademi.” The question, however, still oscillates from 1913 to 2013 with the air hanging still.

On Lal Děd

It is not often that a reader savours a work of translation as a pristine and independent entity in itself quite juxtaposed to the European styles. That is how ‘I, Lalla’ came into being. It took Hoskote twenty years to translate the vākhs of the 14th century Kashmiri mystic Lal Děd, Lalleshwari, Lalla and Lal Arifa as she is called. Hoskote gets nostalgic, “This mystic figure is very significant to me, deeply personal. It was a desire to connect with my original roots. Translating it was a challenge for me. I am a diasporic Kashmiri. It took over my soul. Every poem is annotative as there is Sufi, Tantric and Saivite usage. Hers was a poetry that cut across all divisions carrying heritage of Kashmir.”

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Poet Who Wears Many Hats

Sridala Swami is a rising star in the circles of Indian poetry. Her other interests such as photography, film making culminate as other opuses of her poetic sensibilities.

It is not often that somebody puts his / her fingers in many pies and takes the cake home. But Sridala Swami wears many hats with élan. She is a poet, photographer, short story writer and documentary film-maker. Swami has recently returned from prestigious Iowa University after a three month Writer-in-Residence program.

Tryst with writing

Sridala began writing poems when she was in her early twenties. And what William Wordsworth had said, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.” Sridala has an ambivalent take on the Bard’s views. She says, “An image or a whiff of perfume is enough to transport me to a different world from where I get my poems. I do not set out for a journey to find out a poem, it comes to me on its own.”

While she reverberates what Wordsworth had said her other views are juxtaposed. She elaborates, “We have overused nature as our inspiration. That suited Romanticism well, now we are in a Post Modern era; the images are as diverse as a spoon or the clitter clatter of a keyboard.” And it is interesting to explore her poetic sensibilities through her first poetry book ‘A Reluctant Survivor’ published in 2007 by Sahitya Akademi. It was short-listed for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Award in 2008.The brevity of lines contains themes as diverse as riots and maladies. She has penned four books for children as well. Her next book is a poetry volume entitled ‘Escape Artist’.

Her other facets

Swami is also a film editor from FTII. She has edited a number of short movies, documentaries and commercials. Her keen eye for details brought her closer to photography. That is how come her solo photography exhibition ‘Posting the Light; Dispatches from Hamburg’ held at Kalakrti Art Gallery, Hyderabad brought her accolades. She has just come back to Hyderabad from Iowa University where she was Writer-in-Residence at the International Writing Program. She says beams with joy, “It was a wonderful experience meeting other fellow writers from different countries.”

On Indian poetry

Many publishers claim that there are no readers of poetry. Sridala lambasts this notion saying, “If that were the case we would not be having so many enthralling poetry-aficionado-pulling poetry sessions at so many grand Literary Fests that are organised all over the country. Prakriti organises South India’s big festival related to poetry only.” She laments that in India its people do not know different periods of poetry unlike those of Britain. It is because the poets of different languages do not come and join hands on one single platform. “Poets, in India, need clarity of vision and unison,” she reminisces her favourite poets - Agha Shahid Ali, Nissim Ezekiel, Rainer Maria Rilke, Nâzım Hikmet and Anne Carson. She signs off, “These poets are so close to my heart. They make me want to learn poetry all over again.”

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Of Poetry and Lit Fests

“Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life.” Said William Hazlitt. Surya Rao makes this true as he is going to make verses hang in the air of Hyderabad this winter.
What if four Irish Nobel Laureates in literature come to your street in the mellow sunshine of January, 2014? You will want this ‘daydream’ to continue. And why not? Meet the man, who is all set to transmute Hyderabad into a mini Ireland. He is GSP Rao, the Festival Director of Hyderabad International Literary Festival and Founding Editor of Muse India, a non-profit literary web journal. An engineer by profession, Rao is an equally seasoned poet per se.

Cumulating literature with technology

The Romantic poet John Keats was a qualified medical practitioner and so was the Russian writer Anton Chekov. And in today’s age there are bureaucrats and engineers who make literature rich with their varied exposure. For Rao, too, poetry and technology were two 
poles – separate from each other. But his poetic pollination made the two amalgamate into one. “I was interested in literature from my college days. My background in technology always wanted me to conjoin the two. That is how Muse India was born.”

From Dalit to Danish Literature
Rao is the technical architect for Muse India. The e-journal focuses on Indian writing in English from the country and overseas. The budding young writers and the renowned ones share a common platform. The poetry of protest finds its way in the journal’s posts. One gets to see the moving works of Gogu Shyamala and others. “The poetry of protest has a very strong voice. And so is the Diasporic literature. For example, a writer like Tabish Khair, who has made Denmark his home, talks about rootlessness. But his work now gives a flavour of Danish literature. This blend completes the Indian Diaspora. An honest writer brings this cross-cultural element in his writings.”

The Festival of Literature

Surya Rao along with other members of Muse India started Hyderabad’s first International Literary Festival in 2010. Wordsmiths from India and abroad flock to Hyderabad, and celebrate this Lit Fest. Every year a ‘Guest Nation’ is featured. That is why Irish stalwarts like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw and W B Yeats are going to take the breath of Hyderabadis away. “The Lit Fest will be celebrated at Road No. 8, Banjara Hills at different venues,” beams Rao talking about transforming this street into a ‘Literary Street’. There will be street theatres, book stalls and musical performances on the street. “We have invited the Ambassador of Ireland to India Feilim McLaughlin for the inauguration,” Informs the poet, flipping through the pages of his planner.

With a Vision

All arts bloom from literature. Rao solidifies this take by exemplifying the magnum opuses of maestroes like Raphael and Rembrandt. “Their art works are related to Greek mythology. The words they read flowed on their canvas. It was poetry in dots and colours. Why just painting? Drama and cinematography is based purely on what wordsmiths create. Web journals preserve everything as digitalized. The reach to global audience has become wider.”

With three books that range from a collection of poetry, collection of short stories and biography of King Krishna Dev Rai of Vijay Nagar, Rao enjoys his penchant for different literary forms. For now his energy is focussed to make the streets of Banjara Hills a literary kaleidoscope as HLF gets ready to be unveiled.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Dedicated to Heritage and Poetry

What does a person do when history calls to him from the corners of the city? He becomes a mystic of History and uncovers tales from the regal ruins for posterity to read. Meet Sajjad Shahid, a heritage activist of Hyderabad and an aficionado of Art and Poetry par excellence. 

“If you as yet fail to comprehend, you will be annihilated O’ countrymen!
Your very mention will be erased from the chronicles of the world,” croons Sajjad Shahid on the condition of dilapidating heritage buildings.

Born in a noble family of Hyderabad Sufis, Shahid had his origins firmly rooted in the Deccan soil. Sufi literature left indelible imprints on his mind, more so because his father was researching on ancient Sufis of Deccan – especially Bijapur. And the voice of History would call to Shahid from the book his father wrote. The bridge to ancient past made him fall in love with ruins of architecture. “We would go to dargahs at least once a year. Seeing the dilapidated condition of beautiful old dargahs made me sad! What troubled me more was how the relics of history were being changed in the name of maintenance,” laments the heritage activist.

A lover of history

His interest changed into passion. A civil engineer in construction that he is by profession his technical background opened up the macrocosmic world of ancient architecture to him. In 1995 he joined INTACH, Hyderabad Chapter. He had to document the details of Dutch monuments at Bheemunipatnam. 
He is the Co-Convener of INTACH and the Secretary of Centre for Deccan Studies. And then, came his tryst with the architecture of Hyderabad namely Golconda Fort and tomb of Maha Laqa Bai Chanda, the famous courtesan and lyrical poet of Nizam’s era. “We conserved the 200 year old mausoleum at Chanda Bagh, Moula Ali. As part of the restoration-exhibition we put on display her portraits and volumes of her poetry,” avers Shahid. The work was undertaken under a grant from the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.  An American scholar Dr. Scott Kugle worked on an English anthology of Chanda’s poetry. 

Governments Apathy

What bothers Shahid the most is the apathy of government towards conservation of heritage monuments. There are more than 5,000 tombs in India that are not being taken care of. And the irony is that Government of India has released only Rs 100 crores for all the monuments of India. “This much amount is required for the conservation of Qutub Shahi alone,” he wonders. He is the crusader for conservation of old monuments of Hyderabad. Be it Naya Qila, Moazzam Jahi Market, Khusro Manzil or Koti Residency. Disappointed with the lackadaisical approach of Government, Shahid suggests, “Much like Britain National Trust we require to form a Public Trust for Conservation in India. The funds that the Trust will receive will go for the conservation of the heritage monuments. Officially the conservation should be transferred to the Trust from the Government. Then we will see concrete actions.” With this vision he hopes to preserve the slices of history scattered all around Hyderabad. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ik Shaam

saman ke baazar
rooh key taar
                    aasman pe chipsaan ik bosaa
                    peshani pe ubharti ufaq
                    pyale mein ghulti hui
                        Chopin ki dhun
                                                       mera saaya,
                                                       terey pekar
                                                       ki naram dhoop
                                                       aur Shelley ke
                                                       champak phool
                                                       kii shatranj
                                                       mein zandaan,
                      hawa ka surmai harf
                      barf ki muhr se azaad
                      eelchi banke tere paas
                      ayaa toh hoga, na?
                                         terey shahar ki Hoor raatein
                                         terey bistar ki silwaton mein
                                         noor chhod jaati hongi, na?    
          chandni ki ik shaakh
pe baarish ka makaan. titliyon ka safar
qandeel ki lau tak. seedhiyan thande
gulabon tak jaati huin. shaam, ik raqqasa

                                                             duur kahin parbat ke uss paar
                                                             merey bina, meri rooh kahin
                                                             saans toh leti hogi, na ...

© Saima Afreen (Photograph and poem)