Uma Trilok in conversation with Nalini Priyadarshini
Uma Trilok holds a doctorate in Education management and has taught Philosophy and Education at various university colleges. She has been Principal in a women’s college.
Trained in Hindustani classical vocal music and Kathak dance, she has been performing at various forums such as All India Radio and Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi. She is a research scholar and has presented her papers in various national and international conferences, which have been highly acclaimed.
Uma Trilok is proficient in both in English and Hindi and writes poetry, short stories and novels. Her short stories and novels have been staged as plays and are also being produced as web series.
Uma Trilok has written eighteen books including much acclaimed, Amrita Imroz- A Love Story, published by Penguin which has been translated in 11 Indian languages. Her poems have also been translated in a number of foreign languages.
Nalini: How does a poem start for you, an image, a concept or a line? How does it develop?
Uma Trilok: Poetry flows on its own with its inherent elegance. It is so fragile that it cannot be forced into a determined design. Poetry is a moment, that gets expressed suddenly. A word, a gesture, a sound, anything can trigger a poem. It overpowers the poet to get itself revealed.
Its texture and its ambiance is its own, which unfolds itself. In fact, a poem soars within you, takes its own shape and expresses itself in an idiom, which is very peculiar of its own nature. Images collide with each other and bring about kaleidoscopic designs, so much so that sometimes even the poet wonders over its final outcome.
A poem is unexpected, it enlivens suddenly, discovers and invents its own vocabulary, which takes it to various by-lanes. It enjoys its surrounding beauty before it reaches the end. Its voyage is as important as its goal. The reader enjoys both its “ways” and “way to”.
Nalini: What did you like to read as a youngster? Would you please share something about literary influences that moulded your literary sensibilities?
Uma Trilok: As a youngster, while I was trained in vocal classical music, I was introduced to the poetry of Urdu poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Shakeel Badaauni, and the likes of Sahir Ludhianvi, whom I loved to sing on the stage as well as on the All India Radio.
Though I did not study literature, Hindi or English, systematically, in college but I read works of Maya Angelou, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Rilke, Rumi, Khalil Gibran and Rabindranath Tagore with great relish and admiration.
In Hindi, I admired Mahdevi Verma, Nirala, Pant, Dinkar, and Dushyant Kumar to name a few.
In Punjabi, Amrita Pritam and Shivkumar Batalvi were my all-time favorites. Dharmaveer Bharti, Munshi Prem Chand, Bheesham Sahni and Kamleshwar are also some of my most favorite authors.
When you read, enjoy and admire writers and poets like these, you definitely tend to get influenced by them in sensibilities as well as in style.
Nalini: Poetry is often considered a stronger medium of expression in comparison to prose. As a writer, who is equally proficient in both, what is your opinion?
Uma Trilok: A poem is a capsule of messages of semi-elaborated issues of great concern, with the capacity to hit to which readers cannot help but respond. It has its advantages as well as it handicap — ambiguity and brevity. On the other hand, prose has a setting, a plot, a point of view along with a theme and a mood. There is a difference in the composition of both. The effectiveness of both depends on the treatment given.
Prose can be written in a poetic style, using emotional effects and heightened imagery. Poetry can also be written like prose with no rhythm or rhyme. I believe prose has a little raw element in it, whereas, poetry is brewed, distilled and refined.
A poem is like a shot of liquor and prose is like a glass of chilled lemonade. Both are refreshing, though. For example, if I were to recite following two lines of Dushayant Kumar, they are equal to a couple of chapters in prose,
” Kaun kehta hai aasmaan mein suraakh nahi ho sakta
(Who says the sky cannot be punctured with holes)
Ek pather to tabiyat se uchaalo yaro “
(Friends throw a stone and see)
Or, if we were to read lines of Nazim Hikmat,
“Being captured is beside the point,
The point is not to surrender “
The lines are loaded with meaning, but are said in so few words.
Nalini: Has the world become accepting of female poets with out of the ordinary thought process? From Plath to Amrita Pritam, what has changed, what hasn’t and what needs to?
Uma Trilok: In literary history of the world, through the ages women poets have raised their voices as catalysts against the atrocities and injustice against women. There are countless women poets who deserve acclaim. There are many loud and meaningful voices who have kept the flame of protest burning after Sylvia Plath and Amrita Pritam.
Maya Angelou was surely one of the phenomenal poets who won admiration from millions of people. She wrote poetry, essays, and autographies.
Mary Oliver, who through her very powerful poetry, called upon the women to claim and occupy their due place in the world. Rita Dove, a Pulitzer award winning poet has been named U.S. Poet laureate in 1993, youngest to date. Aditi Rao is another name, whose poems speak of griefs, wounds and exhilaration that women suppress.
Arundhati Subramaniam is yet another very prominent poet, writing upon issues that directly concern women. Rupi Kaur writes powerful poems on most forbidden topics such as menstrual taboos and sexual violence. She writes,
“our backs/ tell stories / no books have / the spine to carry “.
She also writes,
“the earth has waited its whole life for us “
The younger generation of female poets has attracted millions of online viewers, who take poetry quite seriously. Poetry of female poets is being sold much better than ever before. Figures tell that U. K. Market alone has grown by 48per cent. Wendy Cope managed to sell almost as many volumes of her own poetry as the all-time favorite Sylvia Plath could. And Rupi Kaur made nearly £ 1 million from poetry sales last year.
If this be taken as one of the reasons of their popularity and the prizes, awards and acclaims which they have won, I would say the female poets are being recognized well. There is an upswing. There is bristling activity, which is very encouraging.
Nalini: You had the opportunity to closely observe and know Amrita Pritam, who happens to be an icon of feminist writing in India. Has it influenced your sensibilities and writing style?
Uma Trilok: Interacting with Amrita Pritam was a golden opportunity for me. To know a person of her stature so intimately and not be influenced by her is not possible.
She did influence my sensibilities and quite deeply. But for her style of writing I am not conscious, how much that has affected my writing style, I don’t know. But people do say that our reactions to situations are similar.
Nalini: Please share some of the challenges you faced while writing Amrita Imroz, A love story. How has writing this enriched you?
Uma Trilok – One of the biggest challenges that I faced while writing Amrita Imroz, A love story was to ryo to avoid not to deviating from the reality of the two characters I was handling. They were living legends already. They were known all over. In fact, people had known about them but they had not known them as I saw them, the ardent lovers that they were, especially Imroz. The reality of Imroz was misconceived by them for years, I had to put it straight.
The book is a unique love story, quite an unbelievable in modern times. I had to make it sound unusual as it was and yet true. The story also is very delicate and fragile; my presentation of it, also had to be very non- interfering. In every story, there is always a scope of fictionalizing it but in Amrita Imroz, A Love Story I was only an amazed onlooker, who put the story as it was without fiddling with it in the least.
I was deeply impressed by the story of such intense love. I had to bring out Imroz, who was so misunderstood. His true self came into light through this book. I was so happy that I was instrumental in doing that. People came to know how giving and sacrificing he was towards Amrita. We all wondered how can any man in this world be so egoless. In fact, one has to be gallant and heroic to give so much and yet not demand anything in lieu of that. His unassuming self, expressed his large heartedness, but his modesty and humility has been misunderstood by people as debility which I firmly believed, had to be corrected. The book was a step towards it.
Nalini: How important are literary groups and readings.? Do you have circle of writers with whom you share your work?
Uma Trilok: Readings in small literary groups in dim lights, preferably when listeners sit around in an immersive mood, is the best way to read and listen to literary work, especially poetry. The word has an image to visualize, it also has a sound to listen. Sound enriches the word. Spoken word has its own very energizing connotation. In this type of gatherings, listeners can ask questions and ask for a repeat also. The ” Mehfil ” environment is very conducive to good reading and good listening.
Yes, we have groups of poets and writers, who meet and read to each other and get unedited feedback on their work. We, as a group, had a regular coffee table meets every weekend, where poets like Keshav Mallik, Rakshat Puri and Keki Daruwala and the like, participated along with us. We enjoyed cups of coffee and read poetry to each other.
Also, every month end we met at Aparna Art Center, Siri Fort to enjoy our own poetry and also the poetry of poets who were invited from outside. This type of meetings are very enriching and fulfilling.
Nalini: Has poetry taught you anything about yourself that had not occurred to you earlier?
Uma Trilok: I cannot fully analyze the value of poetry in my life, but the first word that pops up is emotional resilience. For example, when I write about hatred, anger and violence, I have love, empathy and fellowship at the back of my mind.
Poems take away stress and gift out serenity, contentment and congeniality. A poem speaks for all, for ourselves and also for those who cannot speak for themselves. you expand your purview of experience.
Nalini: What is the role of the personal in poetry? When you write, is it for you or the reader?
Uma Trilok: I write when I am fully filled with emotion, which I cannot carry any further. It is a compulsion for me, it is not a choice. The events that affect my feelings, my sorrow, my anger, my desperation force me to write. That is the time, a poem holds my hand. In fact, I don’t write a poem, it is the poem that writes me.
I do not change my words, make them mild or strong, to suit the audience. I say, what I want to say, irrespective of how the audience take it or ignore it.
Nalini: Any words for the aspiring poets and writers.?
Uma Trilok: In my view, the younger generation of poets and writers are doing very well. They are quite conscious of the environment around and are taking up issues, which were a taboo earlier. They are inventing new idioms to express in their own unique way. The female writers are being recognized and awarded for their work. They have been able to make poetry more popular and relevant by using new ways through print and social media. I want to say only one thing to the youngsters that they read more, more and more. Because if we don’t deposit, from where will we withdraw.
Thank you, Uma for taking time for this thought-provoking conversation and your insights about poetry and creative process.
Nalini Priyadarshni is a feminist poet, writer, translator, and educationist though not necessarily in that order who has authored Doppelganger in My House and co-authored Lines Across Oceans with late D. Russel Micnhimer. Her poetry, prose and photographs have appeared in numerous literary journals, podcasts and international anthologies including The Lie of the Land published by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. A nominee for the Best of The Net 2017 she lives in Punjab, India and moonlights as a linguistic consultant.
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