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.”