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Interview

In Conversation with Atunis Founder Agron Shele

Agron Shele, Founder Atunis

Each day, he brings out a variety of poems from all over the world. Some of it is translated from multiple languages and some are in English. The blog is called Atunis. He is a well-known figure in the Albanian literary world, Agron Shele.

A multifaceted individual, Shele has authored novels and poetry collections and brings out anthologies regularly featuring writers from all over the world in the form of an annual publication called, Atunis Galaxis.  Trained by various United Nations bodies, he is the chairman of the “Environment and Community” and “Children and youngsters” societies and the recipient of various literary awards in Albania. Currently, he resides in Belgium and continues to dedicate his time and efforts to publishing literary works with universal values. Universal values and spiritual development through literature for the benefit of mankind is a recurrent theme of this discussion. Let us now, plunge into the world this humanitarian visionary poet opens up for us.

What made you turn to writing? What languages do you write in?

My passion for writing came early in life and it relates to my childhood memories, as I initially began to read stories and legends by different authors. Fascinated by the majesty (beauty) of the descriptions of local and foreign authors, and the natural beauty of my homeland, I was inspired to write and research about written art, as one more form of communication; individual consciousness — contact with literary experiences (from mythology to postmodernism today) — the inner spiritual world. I write in Albanian, but my reading is not restricted to Albanian as I read in different languages as well.

You are also a professional management personnel. Does it affect your writing?

Of course, management also has a great influence on my work, as my collaboration is always with professional authors, with whom we do not only finish a single page of writing, but we also discuss the principles of a whole variety of different art themes, creative forms and structures on which a poem or prose is based and ultimately the latest trends and developments of universality thought.

When did you start Atunis? Tell us more about your blog. What is the intent of your blog?

Atunis Poetic Galaxy is an international link of writers, poets, and painters, which unites different nationalities with creative innovation but with a wide spiritual basis, to help the transmission of art in all ethical-cultural-social forms. Respect for diversity and different cultures forms a free literary spirit of communication between authors with full global literary identity. This is the goal of Atunis, a muse that circulates inside a global literary galaxy, where the journal explores art in the service of development, emancipation, divine justice, and human respect. The authors are united by the common literary spiritual force, described by a deep sense of aesthetics, motivated by an essential creative character and the revival of cultural values on the most civilized international scale. Atunis Poetic Galaxy was founded in 2011, registered under the Legislation and functions as a literary link, always in collaboration with other sister links and professional authors.

 What does the name Atunis mean?

Atunis is a Pelasgian word. Fortunately, this word is preserved even today in the Albanian language and has the meaning: The father left, the horse left (definitive meaning) — Good luck!

How many poets have you published in your blog? Do you publish prose in your blog? What languages does your blog carry?

The Atunis Literary Page has many authors’ publications, for the simple reason that this site publishes authors from all over the world and in many foreign languages. It is currently a site that has over 1.2 million viewers, but what makes it special is not the quantity of publications, but the quality and elevated level of presentation. So not everyone can be published on the Literary Page. In terms of publications, Atunis publishes in all genres: poetry, prose, drama, translations, literary criticism, reports, etc.

The languages on the Atunis literary site are English, Albanian, Italian, Spanish, French, and Dutch.

You bring out an anthology regularly. What is the frequency and what do you look for in finding poets for your anthology?

The Atunis Literary League publishes the Atunis Literary Magazine and the Atunis Anthology. We have published Literary Magazine (hardcopy): Atunis (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8) — (Albanian, English, Italian) and literary anthologies: Atunis Galaxy Anthology (2018, 2019, 2020). The authors are represented through the literary correspondence of the members of the Board of Directors with professional authors and with other International Connections (IWA-USA), IPTC (Asia), WPS, and many other connections in Europe and Poetas Del Mundo (Latin America).

Is your anthology always in English? Tell us more about the anthology.

Of course, it is. Atunis Galaxy Anthology is published in English and annually selects the literary feeds of successful authors. The magic of the word is the best articulation of synthesis and symbiotic memory and when words are raised into art, the expressed power touches on the apex at a new important level. Literature with its magical touch and its mysticism has always attracted many turbulent souls, souls that are reborn over the flirting of creational beauty, the beauty of life, natural beauty. Literature reflects the aspirations, values, and the purest thoughts on humanity. It captures such an important level of human vitality, where the word is transformed into a myth, into the production of genius ideas that moulds and shapes endlessly our civilization.

How do you tackle a variety of languages? Do you have a team or manage yourself?

Atunis Poetic Gakatika is a literary link managed by the Board of Directors, where each member of the Board is responsible not only for the country he represents, but also a basic language through which an author is introduced.

How do you juggle time between your development as a writer, the blog, and anthologies?

My free time is not only managed as a publisher but also as a creator. In my spare time, I edit books of colleagues, write in prose or poetry, and I write prefaces to books written by different authors.

Do you translate too? Poetry? Do you find the original and the translation at variance?

I am not a translator and I consider the translation of a poem or a fragment very sacred because, in my opinion, the field of translation is not simply the reflection of an entire creative world of an author, but also an attempt to unify the cultural diversity that it represents.

Edward Fitzgerald spoke of translating the essence of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat and not the literal text. Does that hold true for translations you use?

 Omar Khayyam has been translated into Albanian language by the master of translation of many works of Shakespeare, Theofan Stilian Noli, and what I would describe is that his literary, Rubaiyat, not only stands as a pearl in World Literature, but continues to influence today’s poets in their lyrical spirit. When you read Rubaiyat, it is like traveling to another world, which grabs you and transports you to another poetic galaxy. Khayyam is always inspiring and quite influential even today. Unrepeatable with his lyrics, this Persian uses this phrase as his motivational quote: “it is not known whether Persian created poetry or poetry created Persian”.

What future do you see for Atunis and yourself?

The Atunis Literary League is already home to many authors who, thanks to their cooperation, have enabled the exchange of ideas and unified elite literary thought through mutual translations, and as such, thanks to creative alternatives, they have become missionaries for more peace, divine justice, and civilization of human society.

  Any advice for upcoming writers?

I would recommend that young authors and poets read as many selected works as possible. This would help them build their foundation and develop their talent and generate new ideas that would lead to beautiful works of literary art. 

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This was an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Interview

How the Impact of the Hiroshima Blast Lingers

An exclusive interview with Kathleen Burkinshaw, author and the daughter of a survivor of the first nuclear blast that bloodied the history of mankind three quarters of a century ago

Kathleen Burkinshaw

The best introduction to Kathleen Burkinshaw is that she a humanitarian. She wrote a novel that has been taken up by The United Nations as a part of its peacekeeping effort. She has been actively participating in efforts to ban nuclear weapons, including presenting with Nobel Laureates. Kathleen Burkinshaw, the author of The Last Cherry Blossom, a book that is in the process of gathering further accolades, is a peace activist who talks of the effects of the nuclear war. She is the daughter of a hibakusha, a survivor of the Hiroshima blast that took place seventy-five years ago. Burkinshaw still suffers the impact of her mother’s exposure to the Hiroshima blast, where the protagonist of The Last Cherry Blossom, based on her own mother, sees her father die of the exposure and loses her best friend in the middle of a conversation. In this exclusive, Burkinshaw talks of the book, why and how it came about and the impact the bomb continues to have in our lives.  

Why did you write your book? Tell us your story. 

When my daughter was in seventh grade, she came home from school terribly upset. They were wrapping up World War II in their history class, and she had overheard some students talking about the ‘cool’ mushroom cloud picture. She asked me if I could visit her class and talk about the people under those famous mushroom clouds, people like her Grandma.

I had never discussed my mother’s life in Hiroshima during World War II. My mother was a very private person and she also didn’t want attention drawn to herself.  But after my daughter’s request she gave me her consent. She bravely shared more memories of the most horrific day of her life. Memories that she had locked away in her heart because they had been too painful to discuss. 

The main reason, my mother agreed (aside from the fact her granddaughter asked her), was that she knew students in seventh grade would be around the same age she was when the bomb dropped. She was 12 years old. She hoped that students could relate to her story and by sharing her experience, these future voters would realise that the use of nuclear weapons against any country or people, for any reason, should never be repeated.

I received requests to visit other schools the following year. I began to write about my mom and August 6th after teachers requested a book to complement their curriculum.

I told my mom about this request. Later that week, she sent me a copy of her most treasured photo from her childhood. It is the one of her and her Papa (which is in the back of the book). When I looked at the photo which I remembered from my childhood because it always had a place of honor in our home; I realised there was more to her life than just war and death, she had loving memories as well.

That’s when I knew I needed to start the book months before the bomb. I wanted to show the culture, the mindset, and the daily life in Japan during the war. I intended to give the reader the view of the last year of WWII and the atomic bombing through the eyes of a 12-year-old Japanese girl-something that has not been done before.

Your book explores colours of Japan. How different is it from US?

The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) discusses life in Japan during WWII. I wanted to show how the Japanese citizens viewed their political leaders — very different from the US. I also wanted to show that Japan had been at war for 14 years (they invaded Manchuria in 1931) by the time of the atomic bombing — they were out of so many natural resources, as well as the young soldiers. The majority of the Japanese soldiers were fighting out in the Pacific. So even though Hiroshima was once a strong military port, in 1945 it was mostly elderly, women, and children. In addition to that, the firebombs dropped on Tokyo decimated that city and other areas in Japan had endured Allied bombing. The US did have the horrific Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, bringing the US into the war — but no other US cities with citizens endured bombing after that.   However, what I really wanted to emphasise was the similarity between the two countries.  The children in Japan like my mom, loved their families, worried might happen to them and wished for peace. Exactly the same as the children in the US.

When and why did your mother move to US? Did your mother find it difficult to adjust?

My mother met my dad (a white American serving in the Air Force at a base close to Tokyo) in Tokyo. They married at the US Embassy in Tokyo in 1959. His time serving ended shortly thereafter and they moved to the United States.

Yes, my mother found it difficult to adjust. My mother didn’t expect the prejudice and racial slurs against her. She figured it was 14 years after the end of the war and she was on the losing side. She didn’t tell them about the atomic bombing-she wanted to have the least amount of attention. She told everyone she was from Tokyo. I didn’t even know she was from Hiroshima until I was 11.

She wasn’t a shy person. She was intelligent and determined. She learned English and became a citizen within 5 years of arriving in the US. She had a job at an electronics company and made circuit boards that were on Apollo 11. Unfortunately, the town we lived in had very few Asian people and none of them were Japanese. When I was born, she “Americanised” (her word) our home. She wanted people to know that I was an American so I would not experience racist actions. However, being one of the few Asians in elementary school, I experienced quite a bit of prejudice and racial slurs, anyway.

My mother was the bravest person I will ever know. She lost so much on August 6th, 1945. Yet, she never lost her ability to love.  

The UN has taken up your book as part of its peace process. Tell us a bit about that.

In December of 2018, John Ennis, the Chief of Information and Outreach at the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) contacted me after reading The Last Cherry Blossom. He felt very strongly that the book should be used in classrooms to future voters. Nothing like it has been written before from this point of view of a 12-year-old girl. He told me that it would be designated a UNODA Education Resource for Students and Teachers. I was beyond happy that a book honoring my mom and what she experienced would be on that list. Later in 2019 UNODA invited me to the United Nations in NYC to discuss my book at the UN Bookshop as well as to participate in a workshop for NYC teachers on how to add nuclear disarmament to their curriculum. It was a surreal honour to be a presenter with Noble Peace Prize winners Dr. Kathleen Sullivan and other members under the International Coalition Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for the Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons!

What exactly do you do to create an awareness about the nuclear issue?

In addition to interviews like yours I have spoken at teacher conferences, school librarian conferences throughout the United States. In addition to that TLCB has been on many school lists so I have had opportunity to speak with students, future voters all over the world! For example, I have had the joy to speak with students in Hiroshima who have chosen TLCB to be their 6th grade read for 4 years in a row. The students also made my first book trailer. The latest group of students I had the joy to speak with were in India! 

I feel that the more I can discuss my mother’s experience so that students can relate and connect to the devastation, horror, and loss my mother and her family endured — they leave that classroom as future voters knowing that nuclear weapons should never be used again.

Do you think after the holocaust another nuclear war is likely? How do you see the role of your book propounding peace?

People have asked me 75 years later — why should these stories still be told? Well time passes, and technology changes but the need for human connection through emotions is timeless. So, I feel that while statistics and treaties are very important — if we can’t get people to understand/relate to the humanity under those now famous mushroom clouds, then none of the numbers or science is going to matter. And if it doesn’t matter because there is no connection, then yes, we are at risk of repeating the same deadly mistakes again.

I hope that TLCB relays the message and an emotional impact that two paragraphs in a textbook could never do. I want readers to understand that NO family should ever have to endure the hellish, horrific deadly destruction that MY family has.

I lived with the scars of the atomic bombing during my childhood watching/reacting to the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) effects on my Mom and  I still live with it each day with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (chronic, progressive neuro pain disease that affects the sympathetic nervous system). Doctors have said that the damage to my immune system from the radiation my mom was exposed to from the atomic bomb, attributed to this.

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This was an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Click here to read the review of The Last Cherry Blossom.

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Interview

Amrita Pritam lives on in her works

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.

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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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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Interview

Countercurrents: A People’s Journal

Binu Mathew, Founder and Editor of Countercurrents.org, in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

Binu Mathew

Can you interview an online site?

You can’t. So, I did the next best thing. I interviewed Binu Mathew, the man behind the award-winning million readers a month or three million-page views a month online journal, Countercurrents. Mathew claims this is not a big thing except that his journal is based on ideology and openness. He calls it a “people’s journal” in his you tube interview.

He has also started a ‘People’s Manifesto‘, a campaign that will be released by August 15, 2020. He is asking people to give an alternative vision to the government for a post-COVID 19 India. Mathew grew up in a farm on Kerala and turned to journalism. He has talked of his life in an interview with John Scales Avery, a theoretical chemist who is a part of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Pugwash Conferences.

Mathew is a man who finds links and interlinks between major world issues from climate change, COVID to economics and politics. What impresses me most about Mathew is that while almost all writers and journalists see their journeys at an individual level, he completely identifies with his journal and lives by his ideology. Here in this exclusive, we have Mathew himself unravel his ideology.

You have been running Countercurrent.org for 18 years. Tell us how it was conceived and why?

 I was working as a journalist in Malayalam language news paper. It was a mundane job. Although the job gave me some financial security, it didn’t satisfy my intellectual curiosity. My desire to do something positive for the society kept nagging me. The job itself was a monotonous one, doing local beats and making local pages.

Some of my college mates and I had some discussions about starting an alternative weekly or monthly in Malayalam language. But the financial cost was huge, and it was beyond our capacity.

By the year 2000, internet infiltrated into our homes. There I chanced upon Znet, Electronic Intifada and many such fascinating websites. It was a revelation to me. Znet was a great source of left intellectual literature. Noam Chomsky, the rock star of intellectuals was free to read at the click of a mouse. In those days it was very expensive to buy books by Chomsky.  In other websites, I found people telling stories from Palestine and other conflict zones.

In around the same time, I read the book, When Corporations Rule The World by David Korten. It was an eye opener. I thought I had to do something more than doing the local beats for my paper. Internet gave me the opportunity to do this. I decided to start a website like Znet.

I had zero knowledge in computing language. So I joined a basic html course. I and some of our friends had a brain storming session and decided on the name “Countercurrents“. I took a loan from bank and bought a computer. It was a 20GB hard disc, 256 MB RAM computer. It cost me Rs 40,000 at 18% interest! I paid it back by monthly instalments from my salary.

It was also the time a pogrom in Gujarat against Muslims was going on, in which at least 2000 Muslims were killed. We decided to launch the site as soon as possible.

Artist Razi designed the site, Ajith Kumar B converted it into html. I translated an article from Malayalam by the well-known writer Sarah Joseph titled, “The Womb and the Sword”, on the attack on pregnant Muslim women in Gujarat, in some cases where the pregnant women’s belly was cut open and the foetuses were thrown into the fire. That’s how I became the editor of Countercurrents. It was on March 27, 2002 the first article was published. Since then more than fifty thousand articles have been published. Thousands of well-known and young people have written for CC. Some of them went on to become big journalists or activists.

Tell us about your team and what makes you tick?

I don’t have a team to speak of. Most of the editing work is done by me. There are people like K.P Sasi and Satya Sagar who help me with their intellectual inputs. There are also many other people who are part of the Countercurrents Collective who don’t like to be named. In that way, I’m very fortunate and extremely thankful to them.

What is the philosophy of Countercurrents?

Humanity is facing its greatest existential threat ever with climate change and resource depletion and environmental degradation. This is not a crisis waiting to happen in the future, but it is already here and manifests itself in the COVID-19 pandemic we are facing today. Many resources wars continue to rage in several parts of the world, rising food and fuel prices, growing hunger, natural calamities of horrifying proportions, water scarcity, debt crisis, unemployment, social tensions among communities, growing human rights violations and unprecedented ecological degradation. Unless we take urgent action to change the way we live, trashing our only home, this beautiful planet, this crisis has the potential to wipe out the entire humanity and a majority of the other species from the face of this Earth.

The objective of Countercurrents.org is to spread awareness about this crisis and search for meaningful solutions. We believe that energy intensive globalization should end and it must be replaced by a low energy, ecologically sustainable local economies.  If humanity is to survive, the destructive system of capitalism and consumerism must be replaced by an economic system which is based on just equitable distribution and need based use of resources.  

Your motto says —“Educate! Organise! Agitate!” How do you explain it?

Susan B. Anthony (February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906), who was an American social reformer and women’s rights activist and played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement said, “Organise, agitate, educate, must be our war cry.”

In the Indian context Dr Ambedkar gave the call “Educate, Agitate and Organise.”

We combined both the slogans and took as our motto —“Educate! Organise! Agitate!”

We thought of it as a revolutionary call for caste annihilation and women’s empowerment, two of the major concerns in the world today. It also envisages a new kind of journalism which ‘educates’ instead of entertains as in ‘infotainment’. Organisation is necessary for social change. Without organisation, we cannot make any social change. However, it is not the duty of Countercurrents to establish an organisation. We hope that an organisation would emerge organically from the masses. An example is ” Fridays For Future” initiated by Greta Thunberg. Countercurrents has been educating the world about the danger of climate change from its inception. It is happy to see organisations emerge organically, especially on critical issues like climate change. Agitation is the final push for social change. It will happen or it should happen. Otherwise, we are all going to perish.

You have many hallowed names attached to your journal, like noted intellectuals like John Scales Avery, Magsaysay award winners, Sandeep Pandey and Prafulla Samantara and social activist Ram Puniyani. What do you think made them pick your journal over others?

I respect and love all these people. They are regular writers of Countercurrents too. They must have seen Countercurrents as an engine of social change. Otherwise they would not have endorsed CC.

You have recently started a section called Citizenship Amendment Act and it has won some recognition from US universities. Can you tell us a bit about this initiative and the subsequent recognition? How will this recognition help Countercurrents or your initiative?

Countercurrents was covering the Citizenship Amendment Act from the initial days of this controversial pact and the resultant agitations across the country. We were happy to know that Ivy Plus universities in the US decided to include it in their digital library for the benefit of faculty and researchers. Their communication said, “The Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation has selected your website — https://countercurrents.org/tag/citizenship-amendment-act — for inclusion in its India’s Citizenship Amendment Act Protest Movement Web Archive. The Archive is an initiative developed by librarians at Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, and New York University, under the auspices of the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation. The Archive contains material related to protests against India’s new Citizen Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizenship, and was created to preserve and expose this content for academic research in politics, religion, sociology, and interdisciplinary South Asian Studies.”

It is extremely heartening to have this recognition from such prestigious universities, especially in this age of fake news. This speaks volumes of the authenticity of the content Countercurrents publishes. By the way, Countercurrents is archived in the US Library of Congress too. That too is an immense recognition

What kind of contributors do you look for?

Whatever the articles that Countercurrents publishes have some insights, give a new perspective to the reader. We won’t publish articles that don’t fit this criterion. We have contributors from Nobel Prize winners to grade ten students. Achievements doesn’t matter. Insights matter.

What kind of readership do you have?

We have readership from around the world. I get emails from even a remote village of Nicaragua.

What do you see as the future of Countercurrents and your own?

The future is beyond our control. We do our best while we can is my motto, the rest is beyond our control. If I die tomorrow, I hope someone will be willing and capable enough to take over.

You Tube interview of Binu Mathew with Vidya Bhushan Rawat, a social and human right’s activist

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Interview

How the young and Ms Sara battled COVID

A brief journey into the world of founder Nidhi Mishra and co-founder, Archana Mohan.

Nidhi Mishra(Left)&Archana Mohan(right)

What is the smell of a book? Bookosmia. 

Bookosmia is also a publishing house that aims to promote reading among children, curates writing from youngsters and brings out books for youngsters in both hard and soft copy as well as audio books in varied languages. It was conceived by Nidhi Mishra who pivoted to children’s publishing from a 10-year banking career, post IIM, in 2017. After a fast paced career, she quit as Vice-President of HSBC (Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation) to create something from scratch in a space she was passionate about, making better use of her time and skills. Nidhi teamed up with Archana Mohan two years ago.  Mohan had worked as  a  journalist, corporate blogger and editor working with names like Business Standard, Woman’s Era, Deccan Herald, Chicken Soup for the Soul and Luxury Escapes Magazine.  She won the Commonwealth Short Story contest’s ‘Highly Commended Story’ award in 2009. 

In this exclusive, Mishra, founder and CEO of Bookosmia, and  Mohan, co-founder and head of content, tell us about their journey. 

When and how did Bookosmia come about? 

NM*: Bookosmia was launched in 2017 as a disruptive children’s content company, hoping to make kids fall in love with reading, writing and everything else around stories. While an already cluttered space in India, children’s  content was either always educative, western or inappropriate. No one wanted kids to just enjoy a good story without necessarily helping them in academics or teaching moral values. We wanted to change that. 

But what kind of stories do kids really like? What better way than to ask them directly. Hence our key premise that kids are perfectly capable and deserving, of telling their own stories, is the biggest differentiator in the market. 

What does Bookosmia do?

NM: Bookosmia is India’s premier writing platform for kids, publishing over 100 original digital stories a month with young writers from lesser known Indian districts like Kiccha, to the bustling metros, from Munich to New Jersey. Bookosmia recently launched its brand persona— a 10 year- old athlete Sara, fondly hailed as “our new best friend” by The Hindu recently. Sara has India’s premier and largest repository of stories for kids, by kids. Additionally she brings a whole host of fun and age appropriate content to kids through digital stories, video stories, audio stories and lots of fun activities for kids for perfect engagement for kids. That is what we offer from a product perspective.

However, we are onto a larger mission– to create a new ‘category’ of kids content, which strongly hinges on a “stories for kids, by kids” philosophy. Children lead their lives with a constant inflow of inputs. Parents, schools, teachers rarely pause to ask them for their original output. How are they feeling?

At Bookosmia, we are different from other content companies and publishers because we have a two-way conversation with our audience. Yes, we have digital  and video stories to engage children meaningfully. But we also have the intent to ask them and publish how they are feeling in the lockdown, during a world cup final, after listening to our science stories. We feel making young kids feel valued and heard will help in the following ways:1) They will be able to process their emotions and launch their imagination better, instead of hopping from one activity to another. For example, we love the stories 6-year-olds write to us where animals feel lonely, are behaving badly only because they are looking for a best friend. 2) It will help them boost their self-confidence. A child who feels empowered today will grow up to be a more engaged citizen tomorrow. For example, we have older kids writing to us on issues of racism, taboo around periods, refugee situations and more.  3) It will help children feel more positive, hopeful and raise awareness by evaluating what they can be grateful for. For example, our “Gratitude during Covid” series was a perfect example where even little kids sent us entries recognizing there is a lot to be thankful for, even in these difficult times.

How did you conceive Sarachats?

AM*: At Bookosmia, we take our ‘by kids, for kids’ mantra a little too seriously! This is a company where children call the shots. Our young friends decide the topics they will write on for the month, activities and new features to be added. So, the obvious thought was why not have a young character representing us in all our interactions as a brand? That was when Sara was born.  

Ms Sara

Sara isn’t a genius, nor does she possess magical powers. She is a curious and happy go lucky kid and every child will identify a bit of themselves in her. With her young friends from across the globe, Sara reads stories by kids, she listens to story tellers, she tells stories to little ones, she does fun activities and she even chats to cool older people to know more about their lives.

To us, Sara is a heart child. She has not one but many mothers! She was designed by the brilliant Parvati Pillai, ex design head of Chumbak. Our chief visual designer Aayushi Yadav has adapted the design fabulously and brought in her trademark humour, enriching Sara’s personality. As for how Sara talks, behaves and the capers she gets into, blame that all on the rest of us! 

In a very short span of time, Sara has made quite an impression on our young followers. Everyday, Sara’s inbox is flooded with messages by her friends across the world who love to share their thoughts and wait to hear back from her. For them and for us, Sara has become an inseparable part of our lives. 

How many children have responded to Sara chats? 

AM: We publish over 100 young writers a month, so the answer is, quite a few! But it’s not just about publishing. Some of our young writers are from lesser privileged backgrounds, so the whole concept of expressing themselves in a medium like the short story, is an alien experience to them. But guess who instantly connects with them and draws them out of their shell– their friend Sara.  

Similarly, some of our young writers have great ideas but lack proficiency in English and it is Sara who writes to them regularly encouraging them to put their thoughts into words without being boggled by vocabulary. We believe that every child has a story to tell and our global platform through a much-loved ambassador like Sara gives children an opportunity to express themselves and feel heard in a safe and non-judgemental space. From writing about their dreams, their family to topics like periods, disability, grief to bullying, our young writers are unafraid to write about subjects that move them. To say their refreshing optimism and understanding of the world stuns us, would be an understatement. 

What made you think of the icon of Sara? 

AM: Our girl Sara, is a stereotype buster. She is the answer to generalisations like “all girls like pink” and “sport is for boys”. Sure, she is notorious for breaking a windowpane or two with her football, but she is no different from any other girl in the world.  She represents every child who gets picked on for ‘being different’, for daring to think out of the box and for questioning norms that don’t make sense to them. Does loving sport instead of playing house make her any lesser of a girl? Absolutely not. And that’s the message Sara brings to every child of the world. You are you. Don’t feel pressurised to change just because you don’t fit into someone else’s mould. 

Is this a voluntary organization? 

NM: No, Bookosmia is a for profit private limited company.

Tell us how Ms Sara serviced children across borders through the trying times of COVID.

AM : Like we always say, it is the kids who drive this company and so it should come as no surprise that our much lauded ‘Gratitude During Covid’ series was conceived out of children’s conversations with Sara where they spoke about how their lives had changed post Covid. While most adults chose to binge watch during the lockdown, children from far flung corners of the country and even abroad, took up on our call to write essays, poems and short stories about ‘gratitude’, exhibiting an incredible amount of maturity in handling an unprecedented situation. 

And what delightful takes they had! While the younger ones were thankful for the cleaner air, food on the table and more time with their families, the teenagers wrote about how they had become conscious of their privilege, developed empathy for their domestic help and learnt to go ‘within’. 

As a company, we felt validated. Clearly, by engaging with them meaningfully, we had been able to make children feel valued. 

Are you still into bringing out books online? Or has it suffered from the pandemic too? Has the pandemic affected Bookosmia?

NM: Yes, the pandemic has affected Bookosmia, but only for the better. We have doubled our audience every month and it only speaks of the strong need that exists for safe, meaningful yet fun screen time for kids .We like to think of ourselves as the intersection of a parent’s need ( to keep their child meaningfully engaged) and a child’s want (to find relatable content).

We publish 4 free digital stories, written by kids, on our website everyday. Yes, we are releasing fewer online paid ebooks but that is mainly because our focus right now, through these tough times, is to make our free content available to as many kids as possible and build a community.

What are your future plans for both Bookosmia and Ms Sara? 

NM: In question two, I touched upon our intent to create a new “category” of kids content. A few years back I used to be very judgemental of the new generation of teens. Always on social media, gunning for more likes and comments, with dwindling attention spans and enormous need for approval. Over the years, I have realized the problem was not in that generation but in the world we have created for them. Yes, they are active on Facebook and Instagram and snapchat, but which other platforms value them. We have to give these young minds a platform where they feel safe speaking up, sharing their views and stories, not afraid of being dismissed with a ‘too young’ tag. 

Yes we have some excellent writers who share their stories with us. And it can be expected that children can create content(stories/ essays/ poems) that other kids will like more. Purely because it is first hand and organic. But we are not looking to churn out great authors, we are looking to make young voices feel valued.

Sara has found great relatability with children. She looks, talks and thinks like them. They have a lot less inhibition in writing to her than they would to a publishing house. We want Sara to take these stories from kids, far and wide across the globe and not be tied down to a particular country. Like any other kid, Sara is also upto a lot of things. Good at some, like sports and curious about others like Science, Art or Nature. So you will see Sara introducing kids to a whole range of topics and not limit herself to reading and writing. Also conscious that there is nothing more joyful than holding your beloved characters in your hand, Sara may soon be seen in a physical format.

*NM : Nidhi Mishra, Founder and CEO of Bookosmia. 

*AM : Archana Mohan, Co-Founder and Head of Content, Bookosmia. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

Categories
Interview

A Renaissance Poet in the Twenty-First Century?

Dustin Pickering in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

He talks of love and religion and writes poetry that is often critiqued by some as similar to verses from the past. And his role model is from the Renaissance — Michelangelo. To some, he is a loyal friend in need, a person who whips up essays and articles on demand. He is often published within India, which could well be his second literary home. He is prolific with his writing and publishing. He also does paintings and sings songs with a guitar on you tube. Some might have guessed by now — he is Dustin Pickering.

Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press. This year one of their books, Neon Apolcalypse by Jake Tringali, has been nominated for the Elgin Award 2020 along with names like Ilya Kaminsky, Marge Simon and Brian Dietrich. Pickering is also the founding editor of Harbinger Asylum, which  was nominated for best poetry journal by the National Poetry Awards in 2013. That same year, Pickering participated in Houston’s Public Poetry reading series and was interviewed on 88.7 KUHF. He has been a featured poet for Ethos Literary Journal, a contributor to Huffington Post, and has published essays in Cafe Dissensus, Countercurrents, Borderless, Journal of Liberty and International Affairs, as well as reviews in The Statesman (India), Tuck Magazine, Lost Coast Review, World Literature Today, and Inverse Journal. He placed as a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal‘s 2018 short story contest, and was a Pushcart nominee in 2019.

His books include The Daunting Ephemeral, The Future of Poetry is NOW: bones picking at death’s howl, Salt and Sorrow, A Matter of Degrees, Knows No End, Frenetic/No Contest, The Alderman: spurious conversations with Jim Morrison, O’Riordan: spurious conversations with Dolores, The Madman and Fu, Be Not Afraid of What You May Find, The Red Velvet Robe, The Forever Abode, and a collaboration with Dory Williams called Imitations of Love Poems. He recently attended New York City Poetry Festival, and has been a reader at Austin International Poetry Festival many times. He hosts the interview and oddities for authors site thedailypoetsite.com. He co-edited the anthology Selfhood: Varieties of Experience, and published its companion Epiphanies and Late Realizations of Love. He has written introductions for books by Amit Saha Sankar, Kiriti Sengupta, Bitan Chakraborty, and Jagari Mukhergee. He was given a Jury Prize at Friendswood Library’s Ekphrastic reading in 2019, and was awarded with honourable mention by The Friends of Guido Gozzano in 2019. He lives in Houston, Texas, USA. In this exclusive, Pickering reflects on his journey as a writer.

Why do you write?

Within me, there seems to be a deep passion and yearning for something inexplicable. I also write to combat doubts, leave a record of my thoughts for myself, and to tell the world whatever interior mysteries I uncover within my own mind and studies.

When and why did you start writing?

Very young. One boring day at home in 1st grade, I asked my grandmother what sort of activity I should do. She suggested I write a story about something I wanted but didn’t have. I wrote a children’s book called The Little Red Wagon about a child who loses a wheel on his wagon. He looks everywhere for it and finds it behind a tree where he least expected to find it.

What form came to you before — poetry or prose?

Prose, but poetry is always more natural to me.

Lots of your essays and poetry have to do with God or spirituality. What makes you weave these into your lore?

I was raised Catholic, and as they say, “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.” I model myself after an early hero of my teen years, Michelangelo. I consider myself a person of Renaissance nature. I also believe we are in a pivotal moment in human history where the guidance of God and Spirit is needed. I think poets are the best people to bring this message to the world, that science and faith are compatible.

You have a whole book dedicated on God, I believe, which did rather well — Salt and Sorrow. Do you believe in God or are you an atheist? Do you believe in any religion? If you are an atheist why do you write on God?

I counted myself an atheist for many years, beginning at age 13. I was probably led there by the punk band Bad Religion and may have inherited it from my mother whose father was also an atheist. Yet some part of me felt connected to the mysteries of Spirit I could not apprehend and did not want to. Something moves the world and the universe, but I believe that is something I am inclined to believe is sentient, not merely pure accidental motion. I believe this because my life has always felt purposeful to me. I also borrow from Christian humanists such as Erasmus, the Renaissance artists, Shakespeare, many others who share a love for humanity and a sense of purpose for our existence. Although Macbeth did say:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

The use of the word “signifying” is mysterious to me. It seems to designate a sense of randomness or entropy — perhaps humankind is the idiot? Yet life is a tale told, passionately!

You have published Salt and Sorrow in India. Was there a reason for that?

I connected with publisher Kiriti Sengupta a few years ago after publishing the acclaimed Indian poet Usha Akella’s masterful work The Rosary of Latitudes. He saw a lot of my Facebook posts at the time concerning spirituality and asked me to write a collection that brought out “the God of the Bible.” For some reason, perhaps my sensibilities, I have developed a strong presence in India. I have never visited, but I hope to someday!

You often refer to fossil in your poetry, especially in your upcoming collection, The Skin of Reality, you have a poem that says, “I stare but see an empty fossil:/ what is final is never the end.” To what purport do you see the fossil? Is it a relic from the past? Why do you use the image of fossil?

The simple answer is I am fascinated by rocks, fossils, embodiments of history. What came before. It is still present in the very earth we walk on. I believe the human genome is a record of where we have been, and it also records where we are individually and contains a lot of animal history. Jung’s archetypes and collective consciousness seem to indicate this as well. As a child age 5, I used to sit on the playground where there were a lot of rocks. I picked them up, observed them. I kept some but the teacher told me I could not take them home. I told her they were fossils. She examined them herself and agreed, surprised. She allowed me to take one home. I still have it. That line seeks to illumine the truth I see that death is not final—who we are leaves an impression on the world irrevocably.

Where will you be bringing out this collection? In India or US?

I don’t have a publication plan right now. It is still in its infancy.

Where do you find/seek your inspiration?

Most of my ideas come from a lot of readings and thought. I don’t even entirely understand a lot of what I read, but it shapes my creative impulse in an extraordinary way. I am very forgetful too, so I have to continuously reinvent myself and how I choose to express my ideas. A lot of my imagery comes from life, including my long battle with mental health struggles.

Which writers fascinate you the most? Have any of them influenced your writing?

I cite as my primary influences in thought and writing the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and The Holy Bible, particularly The Old Testament. I also am intrigued by mystical writings from the Kabbalah, St. John of the Cross, sacred Hindu texts such as The Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, St. Francis of Assisi, and the endless list of mystics. I also found metaphysical poetry interesting in my college years. I accidentally stumbled upon John Donne and found him interesting. Milton influenced me in my teen years as well. My senior yearbook quote was, “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell.”

I love the surrealist poetry of David Gascoyne. I read all of William Blake, W H Auden, and a long list of others, but those seemed to have left the strongest impression. I’m also interested in psychoanalysis and have read a lot of Anthony Storr, Freud, Jung, Kay Redfield Jamison, and several others.

I appreciate philosophy too, and enjoy works by Plato and Aristotle, Heidegger, Sartre, Emerson, Burton, and many others. Among fiction writers, I enjoy Henry James, Tennessee Williams, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Hermann Melville, Dostoevsky, and many others. I especially love Dostoevsky’s psychological acumen in The Double. I tend to prefer short fiction but have read all of Joyce. Nietzsche has invaluable insights into the art of writing, but you have to mine them.

You bring out a popular quarterly, Harbinger Asylum. Did you start that? When and why?

I founded the journal in 2010 with my longtime friend Alex Maass who sometimes writes the “Not Quite a Political Column” and suggests themes. I started it after a poetry gathering at University of Houston-Clear Lake. I was invited by my new friend at the time Dru Watkins, who was an early contributor, and after coming home I thought about how I could better serve the literary community. The journal started with an anarchist bent and I published a lot of libertarian writing. I also included writing by friends. Over the years, we’ve had submissions from highly regarded poets such as Simon Perchik, Joseph Bottone, and others whose names I ran across before getting their submissions. Later on, we acquired two new editors Z. M. Wise and Stuti Shree. Z. M. is my good friend and business partner, and Stuti is a university student in India.

You run a blog that belongs to Transcendent Zero Press. It is a strange name. Any reason for calling it as such?

Transcendent Zero Press is the company through which I publish Harbinger Asylum, as well as other books. It’s the name of my publishing company. Years ago, it was my punk band that never happened. I liked the concept. So, I re-made it into the publishing company.

It began with a word I read in the dictionary combined with the popular song “Zero” by Smashing Pumpkins. I thought it had a distinct conceptual flavor. Ultimately, I also designed the logo to be conceptual. On one side of the zero, there is a dark crescent. The other side has a bright crescent. This symbolizes Ultimate Nothingness, the idea that all is in harmony. Essentially my own mystical concept. Then a “T” crosses it, symbolizing the axis of the universe. I also conceived of God as having the qualities the Tao ascribes to great leaders. A person who does nothing yet let’s all happen. Lao Tzu wrote, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.” Zero signifies such an approach to life.

What are your future plans as a writer, editor and publisher?

We recently expanded into publishing literary criticism. So far, the books have dealt with Indian works in English. I would like to publish more literary criticism but about literature in other countries. We will soon have an anthology of Albanian poetry released. I’m interested in Southeast European literature as well. I may publish a broad collection of Edgar Lee Masters’ lesser known work. I have a friend, Dr. Ryan Guth, who plans to work that out for us.

Any message for aspiring writers?

My English teacher in high school Mrs. Teltschik used to say, “Write because you have to.” Something in you must answer a call. Write to contribute but write for yourself. It is hard to break in at all. Don’t shoot high if you are young unless you have exceptional talent, connections, or both. Work your way through. Don’t be afraid to learn. Be thankful and mindful of all your successes, and consider failure and rejection an instructor, not an obstacle. Don’t fear revision. Stay focused. Write a lot. Read a lot. Find what makes you spin rapturously and write about it. Keep a journal, especially if you are young. Don’t throw away your writing. Mine old material or edit when you are dry on inspiration. Most of all, learn to enjoy! Live as well as write. Travel!

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Interview

A Weaver of Borderless Dreams: Mutiu Olawuyi

Mutiu Olawuyi in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

He is a maker of dreams for writers – a man who believes in dreams that are woven in words and multimedia across the world. He connects writing with multimedia, not just by writing and YouTube screenings but also by putting upcoming writers on his television show to battle out challenging questions about how literary development affects the world. He looks for writers with a sense of social responsibility and awareness. The extent of his work is huge. Meet this personality extraordinaire — Mutiu Olawuyi (popularly called the Jungle Poet) an international award-winning poet (2013 World Poetry Empowered Poet Awardee, Canada); Honorary Professor of International Art Academy, Volos Greece; World Poetry Cultural Ambassador (2014, Vancouver – Canada); and Master of Literary Innovation (2019 – World Poetry Conference, Bathinda Punjab, India).

He is the producer and host of ArtFlakes on CBA TV, the Voice of East Africa and he is also the Editor-in-Chief of Parkchester Times and MCR newspapers (Print and Online) based in Bronx, New York, USA.

He has authored numerous books of poetry (Among them are American Literary Legends and Other Poems [2010], Thoughts from the Jungle [2012], 9/11 Poetry [2012], and The Journey to the Archangels [2013]) and has edited numerous international anthologies, journals and magazines.

Mutiu is a teacher, English language and literature curriculum developer, freelance writer/editor, literary critic, inventor of a new form of poetry called 9eleven (a poem of 9 lines written with 11 syllables) and the first writer of a story without verb – The Blotted Pawpaw (published 2013 by Bharat College in India). He is also an editor for The Criterion International Journal in English based in India. 

Mutiu has some of his poems, short stories and research papers published  in online and offline journals and magazines in India, Ireland, England, Canada, Greece, Nigeria and USA. Finally, some of his works have been translated to Arabic, French, Esperantos, Malayalam, Telugu and Hungarian. In this exclusive Mutiu takes us on a journey through his creative world.

Mitali: Why and when did you start ArtFlakes? What is the intent of this program?

Mutiu: ArtFlakes is a TV Show initiated primarily to give voice to creative writers around the globe. It was established to project literary works of art on the screen. I am pleased to say it is the only TV show on earth where global issues are explored through creative and literary lenses of writers across every corner of the world. Moreover, I believe creative works like poetry and prose shouldn’t be restricted to papers and pens alone. Those inkers shouldn’t always be placed behind the camera; they deserve to be projected on the screen too.

Mitali: How did you come up with the idea?

Mutiu: The idea came up when I was brainstorming with the managers of CBA TV on the best way to make the station unique among all its competitors, especially in the Horn of Africa. And it was actually Ridwan Adelaja, a creative member of the media team at the studio, who came up with the name, after hearing the concept.

Mitali: How many writers have you interviewed in Artflakes? What do you see as its future?

Mutiu: The show actually kicked off on air on January 25, 2019 with a review of the literary works of Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame, popularly known as Hadraawi, a renowned Somali colonial and neo-colonial literary activist, who used his poetic prowess to eliminate Siyad Barre from power, and thereafter lyrically called for reconciliation and unity among the Somalis in the region after the civil war that ousted President Barre out of power.

This was co-explored with Abubakar Isiaka Ubaji (aka Eazy), a vibrant unsung Nigerian literary critic and poet. Thereafter, we started using our literary binoculars to explore critical issues in African societies. So we ended up exploring the world of people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti, Republic of Sudan, South Sudan, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa and Bostwana through the review of works of African writers like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Sembene Ousman, Ama Atah Aidoo, Helon Habila, Ifrah Monsour, Gaariye, Nadifa Mohamed, Cristina Ali Farah, Tayeb Salih, Bessie Amelia Head, and many others.

By the end of 2019, I decided to move beyond Africa and change the style of anchoring the show by contacting the creative writers directly, instead of just reviewing their works on the screen with my regular guest, Eazy. So I started with the Greek literary world via an interview with a Greek poet and physicist, Professor Chryssa Velissariou. And so far I have covered the literary world of the United States/New World, India, Philippines, China, Yugoslavia, Indo-Singapore, Sweden, Liberia, and Pak-America by voyaging through the world of authors like Elizabeth Castillo, Bengt O Björklund, Wang Ping, Catherine Zickgraf Christopher Merill, Dustin Pickering, Ibrahim Honjo, Sonnet Mondal, Jernail Singh Anand, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley and of course, Mitali Chakravarty, the borderless Asian poet and literary activist.

 Mitali: Don’t embarrass me Mutiu – do not see myself as an activist really. But let us get back to you. You teach. You write. You do television shows twice a week. Where do you find your time and energy?

Mutiu: Everything in life is all about passion. I am an edupreneur, creative writer and freelance journalist/editor – I own a college, serve as a consultant for universities in the areas of curriculum review for ESL (English as Second language) and Journalism, edit two newspapers in New York and teach ESP (English for Specific Purpose) courses at my institute and a postgraduate school of a university in the Horn of Africa. And don’t forget I also manage my college and the two media outlets in the United States, and even support the top management team of the TV station in key managerial decision making. But if you keenly look at all these responsibilities, you’ll notice that they all revolve around my passions – pedagogy, creative writing and modern media. So I always find time from no time to accomplish my missions in these key areas. My creative writings flow spontaneously, by the way.

Mitali: You call yourself a ‘Jungle Poet’. Why?

Mutiu: This is an interesting question. I first answered this question in a book I published in 2011 titled – Thoughts from the Jungle, a poetic presentation of African proverbs. If you interpret Jungle Poet denotatively, you’ll definitely get it wrong. Anyway, here is my connotative interpretation:

…The world was initially a jungle (i.e. a piece of land [of freedom] without borders) and it will finally end up becoming a jungle. Findings have shown that people who live in the jungle preciously preserve their cultural norms and values, and consequently live a better harmonious and healthy live – compared to people of the urban areas, where manipulation of nature is the order of the day. Connotatively, jungle therefore means “universal”, “aesthetic”, “naturalist” or borderless.

I guess, with this, you can now decode the reason for calling myself Jungle Poet (JP)…  

Mitali: You have written on many issues that affect mankind in general, even about violence against women in India. What about women in Africa? Do they face any violence any abuse? How do you see their condition in context of women in other parts of the world?

Mutiu: Yes, I have led several global literary advocacies against gender inequities and violence, and have published several international poetry anthologies on universal peace and love, plus protest against rape and domestic violence. But note that violence of all sorts is a universal issue. It’s not limited to India alone. Rape and other forms of domestic violence are also common in Africa, as they’re common in other Asian world, Mideast, Europe, Australia and America.

It’s true that some women have chosen to die in silence; they bury within themselves the wounds inflicted on them by their male counterparts. However, this abuse has been extensively curtailed in Africa these days, especially with the influence of politically strong African women activists and other activists against gender violence. Most women nowadays are “in-charge”. I mean they are “FULLY in charge”.

In fact, the case is becoming vice versa – some men these days are becoming victims of domestic violence, especially in Nigeria. This is why I personally believe that advocacy for gender equality is like a fairytale, because it’s an impossible dream. True activists fight for gender equity; not gender equality! 

Mitali: Africa is where mankind started its journey. Yet we know very less about Africa, the different cultures it houses and your own culture. Educate us a bit about this.

Mutiu: You’re right. Anthropologists will tell you categorically that the journey of mankind started in Africa. It’s a continent with abundant natural resources and diverse cultural norms and values, with numerous socio-linguistic settings. Nigeria alone, for instance, has got over two hundred languages, and of course over two hundred socio-cultural groups, with a population of over two hundred million.

Apart from Ethiopia and Liberia, two countries that didn’t experience colonialism, African cultures started losing their values when they came in contact with the western colonialists, particularly the Britons, French, Portuguese and Italians. Influence of Arab colonialists couldn’t go beyond the Abyssinian territories in the Horn of Africa, whose leaders were major suppliers of slaves to the Arab world.

The assimilation and indirect rule system put in place in West Africa by respective French and British colonialists, who initially disguised with the three B’s (Business, Bible and Bullet) to cajole and conquer African kings, swiftly aided the establishment of the colonialists’ socio-political and economic dominance.  And they diplomatically sealed their presence even after the abolition of slave trade and colonialism in the continent. They handed over power to their puppets when leaving Africa and since then, they’ve been major determinants of the socio-economic and political systems in the continent. Our key resources are managed by out imperialists, safeguarded for them by their boot-lickers, our so-called power-drunk leaders.

This long-term dominance has therefore dramatically affected African cultural heritage. It’s pathetically diminishing. Even some African traditional rulers, nowadays, invest heavily in the West, surprisingly with resources gathered indirectly from their subjects. You can see there a serious problem – what do you expect the younger generation to do after seeing their elders still licking the foot of the West? It’s sad to disclose to the borderless literary world that African cultures are dying day by day. Most Africans nowadays now live either an Arab or a Western lifestyle. Most of the youth have proudly lost the understanding of the core aspects of their local languages to foreign tongues. It’s really, really pathetic!

Mitali: You have a huge repertoire of works. Tell us how and when your journey as a writer and creative person started?

Mutiu: I actually started with visual art, because I guess it’s hereditary. No one taught me how to draw, but one thing I knew was that my father was once a visual artist before he became an engineer and university instructor. So I picked up my inbuilt creativity from him since I was 6, and got more into creative writing when I got to high school. And the rest of my formal education pursuits have been in the area of creative writing, media and language pedagogy.

More importantly, my early childhood experience made me a poet, if you understand what I mean. You know, poetry is medicinal; it heals wounds within; wounds that pharmaceutical products can’t cure. But to be candid, I can vividly say I started serious creative writing about 24 years ago, when I realized I couldn’t find other way out to solve my personal domestic challenges… So I resorted to offloading my heavy thoughts poetically on papers.

I have had numerous poetry publications to my credit especially on socio-cultural, political and economic issues like gender violence, socio-economic disparities, culture, peace, love and unity among human race. I have also collaborated with several great and passionate creative minds within Africa and beyond Africa, especially from countries India, England, the United States, Greece, Romania, France, Cyprus and more.

I have co-edited global literary anthologies with passionate creative writing giants and pedagogues like Denise Dee Sweet and Kirsten Hemmy (both from USA), late Madan Yayati Gandhi (India), Chryssa Velissariou (Greece), Sunil Sharma and Jernail Singh Anand (both from India), Stephen Billy Olajide (Nigeria), Kathy Figueroa (Canada), Mario Melendez (Italy), Lucette Bailliet (Australia)  and the likes.

Essentially, as an explorer and true creative mind, particularly in the world of English language and literature, I got to a stage in my literary journey where I was no longer satisfied with myself just a poet or short story writer alone; I was tired of following the rules established by so-called renowned writers in the past, so I decided to try my hand in unique literary innovations.

This led to creating in 2011 a new form of poetry called 9eleven (a poem of nine lines written with eleven monosyllabic words), and likewise writing a story without a verb in 2013 called The Blotted Pawpaw, which was first published in the same year in an academic journal in India. I actually initiated the latter to debunk syntacticians like Noam Chomsky and McHalliday who believe that a sentence is incomplete without a verb. Now with my story, we can obviously change the conventional rule of sentence structure from Sentence = (Subject) + Verb + (Object) + (Adjunct/Complement) to Sentence = (Subject) + (Verb) + (Object) + (Adjunct/Complement). Mission accomplished, right? Hahaha…

Note also that I later joined the media fraternity mainly because I was tired of the mainstream media operators, who are paid to report and show to the rest of the world nothing good in my continent Africa and Asia.

I was tired of being misrepresented in paper and on screen. So I realized that my universal peace advocacy will be fruitless without changing the narratives through the media. I found out that everything good is reported about the West in the Western media with global presence, but the reverse is the case when dealing with media reports from Asia and Africa.

Where then is the objectivity in the global ethics of journalism? Who is deceiving who? And you know the worst and most unfortunate part of this is that the key figures in charge of the media in these two continents have been brainwashed to believe that media market is lucrative only when you focus heavily on negative happenings in the society.

The finance report that shows extreme poverty in Congo or Rwanda or health issues and war in Liberia or Seirra Leon, but no finance to cover homelessness and abject poverty in Mississippi, and the Bronx in the United States or even the “mighty” London. This is nonsense! This narrative has to change…

Our people in the media must know the truth – we must fairly project every situation in our society – positive and negative, and be given the chance to see the other side of the so-called developed countries.  I am the voice and the true descriptor of myself and I cannot allow anyone to define me. Never! Enough of using media for creative racial, religious, and socio-cultural divisions among human race! We should also know that the same media can be used for creating peace, unity in diversity, and projecting socio-economic realities…

Mitali: What was it like growing up in Nigeria and how far do you think you have journeyed? Where do you see yourself, your show and your writing in the future?

Mutiu: Nigeria is a great nation; a nation of hardworking and entrepreneurial people.  I was actually raised in a metropolitan city of Ilorin and spent almost a half of my life there, before relocating to other cities in the south east and south west. In 2009, I became a foreigner in my homeland because I jetted out of the country, and since then, I only returned thrice as a stranger who spent only maximum of three months in his fatherland.

Everything I left had changed completely – both human and materials. The most shocking part of these changes was seeing our young men and women becoming so inferior that they no longer cherished their natural skin – they had opted for body bleaching creams and soaps, all in the name of being “white”.  It’s sad, right? So so sad… This is what you get when your school syllabi are designed to suit only “Western” standard; and not indigenous standard.  On the other hand, infrastructural development had taken over most cities in Nigeria, except for few places unfortunately handled by greedy politicians.

Anyway, as an ambitious person, I believe in the next couple of years I would have been able to set up independent platforms for unsung creative minds around the world through digital/electronic media. This, I believe, is one of the best ways to speak directly to those in power and the masses. Fair share should be given to creativity as it is given to politics, science and technology through news, shows and documentaries. With my borderless mind, I can easily get it done by collaborating with like-minds in other parts of the globe.

Mitali: How diverse are the cultures in different parts of Africa, within the country and without? Has this influenced your writing?

Mutiu: Africa is a home of cultural diversity with over 1.3 billion people. Research, in fact, shows that the continent has more than 3000 different ethnic groups speaking more than 2000 unrelated languages. Likewise, most Africans practice a multiplicity of religions, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and numerous traditional religions attached to individual ethnic group.

This multilingual and multicultural nature of African continent has greatly influenced my writing. For instance as a writer, who has lived in different socio-linguistic settings within the continent, apart from Yoruba, Arabic and English, which are languages I acquired formally, I can proudly say, at least, I have basic understanding of five other African languages, which I use a lot in my poems and short stories. As a borderless writer too, I’m still learning languages like Chinese, Dutch and French for global intelligibility.

Mitali: You have written poetry on Apartheid. Is apartheid still an issue in Africa?

Mutiu: Not really. Apartheid has significantly faded away from Africa. Its remains could only be seen in the areas of gender, and caste/tribe. And they too are fading away gradually. I actually wrote the poem on apartheid to remind our younger generations about past happenings in Africa and its painful effects. This would make them comprehend it as an abomination.

Mitali: In some of the developing countries, we see a yawning gap between the rich and poor. Is that true of Africa too? Does literature in Africa take up these issues?

Mutiu: Every capitalistic society generally has one thing in common – the wide gap between the rich and the poor; the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer. And it’s important to note here that the influence of American and Chinese politico-economic systems in Africa has made this a reality in the continent.

Does literature in Africa take up these issues?I’d say: Of course yes, it does. Some African creative writers like Wole Soyinka, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Olu Obafemi, John Pepper Clark, Ama Attah Aidoo, Sembene Ousman, Fatou Juka Jabang, Nana Grey Johnson and the likes are really trying to expose this in their writings. These are leading African literary figure who are tirelessly promoting the preservation of African culture through literature.

Young unsung African poets, playwrights and novelists too like Abubakar Isiaka Ubaji, Abullahi Jatta (The Kunta Kinte), Abubakar Ibrahim, Seun Sokoya, Ridwan Adelaja, Lekpele Nyamalon, Taofeeq Ogunperi, Nii-Ayi Solomon, Robert Ebi, Kinsley Nwadishi, Ndaba Sibanda, Darlignton Njobuewu, Kibrom Habtu, Muizat Kehinde Hameed, Alex O. Edevwie, Timileyin Olajuwon and the likes mostly pour their feelings on socio-economic and political decadence in the continent – perhaps because that’s the reality in their modern individual world.

But as far as I am concerned, I strongly believe in juxtaposition of socio-cultural revitalization and politico-economic revelation in creative writing. Our ideas shouldn’t be caged in one world alone. Creative writers are borderless. We should be able to link the past with the present in order to accurately and creatively capture and proffer solutions to future societal challenges.

Mitali: Is there a large body of African writers writing in English? What are the themes they like to address?

Mutiu: There are several country-based established associations of creative writers in Africa. Some of these are managed by people of academia, so voices of young or old less academic Africans are not really heard there. However, there are also numerous platforms available online (especially social media literary groups) that connect African writers together – regardless of age, academic or socio-economic background. Most African writers nowadays focus their works on socio-political and economic issues like relationship, deception, corruption, poverty and fraud.

Mitali: Have you travelled to all the countries your work has travelled to?  Has your travel affected your writing?

Mutiu: As a proud borderless writer with keen interest in universal peace and love, I can only say boldly that I have, of course, travelled physically and digitally to a lot of countries within Africa and beyond. This is why I could write about socio-cultural and economic issues in India, Greece, Canada, the US, the UK, China, Middle East and of course various countries in Africa.

Categories
Interview

An Interview with a COVID 19 Virus

by Abdul Rashid Agawan

ARA: Well Mr Covid-19, it is said that you are born and brought up in Wuhan.

Covid-19: I don’t know exactly. Some say I was created by Zionists to reduce the world population. There is also an opinion that CIA has launched me to destroy Chinese economy, whereas USA blames that a Chinese lab has fathered me as a biological weapon. Muslims believe that Allah has created me to punish their enemies. Some vegans are of the view that I am an incarnation of God assigned to eradicate omnivores from the Earth. Really, not sure who I am? I remember that when I saw the world in my first encounter with it, I found myself stuck on a toilet wall in the Wet Market of Wuhan from where a lady vendor transmitted me to others and soon I have become almost omnipresent.

ARA: What is your mission?

Covid-19: I feel an internal urge to reform the world. I see how race, nationalism, religion and history are causing sufferings to vast majority of mankind. I see how a section of mankind is devastating nature, its own home. I am against divisive tendencies. Of course, I am against a mankind that failed to respect other kinds of the world. I don’t give value to nationalism. I don’t care for religious hypocrisy. I am not even bothered by masses who elect tyrants. I would like to teach them all a lesson or two.

ARA: You may perhaps agree that there is a natural diversity among people on the ground of race, geography, religion, history and the like.

Covid-19: In my view, they are all differently-one. A tree is a one unit though its roots, trunk, leaves, flowers and fruits appear differently. There is no doubt that mankind is one race with 99.9% common DNA. National boundaries are fictitious. All religions claim their origin from one supreme being. History is just a story book of the past. If they cannot be sure of a few months-long history of my origin then how can they passionately believe in their distant past, including prehistory. Alas! Man lives in his self-made illusion. I am forcing him to come out of this illusion.

ARA: How much you have succeeded in your mission?

Covid-19: First of all, I have prisoned the culprit – man – to further harm anyone or each other. Those who will unfollow my dictates, will suffer. With this global lockdown and two billion homebound prisoners, nature is reclaiming its space. Air has been purified. The rivers are clean. Animals are free to move. The green carpet of the earth is expanding. The ozone layer is healing. Crimes have come down. The shallowness of religious bigotry has been exposed. The ideological polemics are becoming redundant. So much so far.

ARA: But, millions of people are suffering, thousands are dying every day….

Covid-19: I am not to be blamed. It is their own chosen fate. They are free to adopt better system, better leader and better code of life. However, their greed is unparalleled  in nature and almost insatiable, which distracts them from taking a right decision. If man is diminishing thousands of species with billions of life forms in a year, he has no right to claim mercy. There is no one to weep for men.

ARA: What is your advice to people who care?

Covid-19: Man should develop a global system based on justice, freedom, dignity, mercy, equality, knowledge and brotherhood, not only within human society but transcending to all life forms on the earth. Everything has its due share in nature and that should be respected. Greed is catastrophic. Let man learn during my reign the lessons of caring and sharing. Let him break his shell of greed or face the consequences, as I am not going to rest until I fulfil my mission. If I fail, there are more like me in store to join the onslaught. As I have said, whatever is occurring represents a human choice. Man has an option to choose a pleasant future. He will, if he is wise as he claims.

Abdul Rashid Agwan is a social activist, political analyst and author of many books.

First published in Countercurrents.org

Categories
Interview

“There is a voice within me/ That will not be Still”

Nalini Priyadarshni in conversation with Anu Mahadev

An abuse victim in the past, Anu Mahadev is a poet based in New Jersey. She is a 2016 MFA graduate of the Drew University’s MFA program in Madison, NJ. With two poetry collections to her credit, Myriad (2013) and Neem Leaves (2015) Anu is a curious reader and lifelong learner. She is passionate and outspoken about issues such as domestic violence, girls’ education and independence, and depression/bipolar disorder. She loves music, languages, animals and long walks. She writes and edits at The Woman Inc., and Jaggery Lit, a literary magazine for Indian diaspora. In this exclusive, she responds to questions from feminist poet Nalini Priyadarshni.

Nalini: Thank you so much, Anu, for taking time to talk to Borderless Journal. I have enjoyed reading your poetry for its vivid imagery and the subtle imprints it leaves on one’s mind. If you have not been asked umpteenth time already, let me ask, why do you write poetry? What is your goal?

Anu: Thank you Nalini for this interview, and for reading and appreciating my work! To me, poetry has always been my favourite form of expression. I write simply because I have to. I am an introvert by nature, and writing is not just my outlet, but my raison d’être. It is not a “hobby”, but what I do, and I do it because I don’t know any other way to be. I do not have a far-reaching goal in mind but I do think it is important to keep the arts alive. If I can change the way people look at the world, through a different lens, by the power of the written word, I would be happy.

Nalini: When is a poem done for you?

Anu: I don’t think I have a fixed rule for that. I try not to wrap my poems with a pretty little bow at the end. I do believe in revising and editing though. The first draft is seldom my final piece. That’s something I had to change about my writing – my impatience. The teachers at my MFA program insisted on it, and drilled it into my habits. Sometimes I even revisit a poem 6 months later with a fresh pair of eyes, and I may have an epiphany! When I feel like I have conveyed what I want to, with just the right words, with economy, I consider it done. Less is more when it comes to my writing.

Nalini: How does a poem begin for you — with an idea, an image or a form? Let’s just say, what triggers a poem?

Anu: My poems are usually an emotional response to something that is happening around me. Either something I’ve heard or seen or felt – sensory triggers basically. Or a memory from a long time ago, that has morphed into something different in the present. I don’t go seeking a poem. It comes to me when it has to. I do not force anything. I’ve been told to set aside time to write every day, which I probably should do, but I don’t believe my best work comes that way. I find that taking a break keeps my writing muscles fresh, and then I can be more open and receptive to what the world has to offer me, in terms of images and ideas. I am not a big fan of forms, and don’t write them unless I am forced!

Word of Mouth

Alive in the ice and fire, was a package

of minutes with no expiry date.

We unwrapped layer by layer,

unraveled the novelty, the raw scent

of unopened nerves, neatly tied up

in twine.

You said people don’t have a shelf life,

and I laughed.

Then we tasted the hate that comes only

from familiarity, it’s boring faults,

its ripened haste like a cashew flower’s

early bloom.

You said it’s a car with no brake pedal,

no insurance and no collateral damage.

I believed you then, when there was

nothing left in the airwaves but static,

doubt and guilty breathing.

Alive in the ice and fire, is a story,

its tiresome minutiae, and I still

gape at its impossibility with impatience.

Nalini:   Plath said, “Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it and the imagination to improvise.” What is your opinion?

Anu: I believe the next line is “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt”. I agree fully with her quote. There is no reason to limit yourself to just a few aspects of life, because you are experiencing those at the moment. The world is your oyster, as they say. Everyone always has something interesting to say, whether they know it or not. Everybody has a story to tell. The fear of whether you will get published, or what if people don’t like it, should not come in the way of your writing. Easier said than done, I know, and it does seem daunting. But write the story, the whole story, and worry about revising later. Everything will come together at some point. Be brave enough to explore your soul.

Pencil

her pencil writes —

of styli, quills

scratched sound waves

impenetrable

between the lines

wood shavings

scattered word fragments

soft chipped graphite

shaded fingertips

empty notebooks wait

in silence, ruffled pages

reams of white

soon to be covered in print

this day

broken only by these faint

noises, muffled roar

traffic, teapot, dryer

her tapping toe rings

against the chair

the pencil writes —

of such things

when her thoughts

cannot sing her song

Nalini: Some of your poems come with a tinge of nostalgia such as– photograph in b/w, saudade while some of your poems like Laws of Poetry and Needlepoint Theory advocate breaking down old order. What can you tell us about this tension between belonging and charting new paths?

Anu: I don’t believe there is a tension or a tug between the two. Yes, I tend to write a lot about the past, the memories of growing up, family ties and so on, but also about what affects me in the present and what the future holds. Some poems are keen and curious observations about what a character might be feeling at a certain point of time. Some are extrapolations of my experiences, where my imagination takes over. I am equally part of all of these. Maybe I tend to write about loss more than anything else, and the pain associated with it, but these are personal experiences, and it is cathartic to write about them.

Photograph in b/w

sepia toned acacia tree, two

little girls standing—

one, bigger, smiling, two

dolls in her hand

one, smaller, wailing, one

doll, clay-baked mud

matching dresses, hairbands,

shoes, one happy

— she’s not an only child

anymore, she won’t

share though, the other

screams for mom

separated soon after birth,

reunited as sisters

strangers in the womb

awkward, holding

hands, trying to understand

how a family behaves

the definition of love, where

it comes from

Nalini: Do you recall a moment in your upbringing or childhood that, when you revisit, seems to presage for you a life in poetry and writing?

Anu: I think that being a shy and quiet child led me to books and writing, long before I realized that it was to be my passion. As an introvert, I grew up to be very observant about others and the world around me, and felt that I could see what others simply took for granted. As a sensitive child, I was generally ignored at school. Left to my own devices, I gave myself the freedom to explore. Without cellphones or Google, and with plenty of time to be bored, my imagination soared. I guess around the age of 10 till about 17 is when I wrote plenty. Life took me in other directions after that – engineering and computer science and so on. I got my second wind after my son was born and I was home for several years. It felt like poetry had never left me. I started writing again and enrolled in an MFA program for poetry at Drew University. After that, there was no looking back.

Nalini: How did you overcome the trauma of abuse to lead a normal life?

Anu: I suffered mental and physical abuse for four years in the mid 90s. Coming out of it was a Herculean task because first of all I did not know that I HAD to come out of it. As a victim I had learned to accept things as the status quo, believing that I had no other choice and that it was fate which brought me to that situation. Whatever little self-esteem I had had been eroded to such a bad degree that I could not think for myself any more. But the two things that were untouched were my faith, and my love of books/writing. Those too would have gone had I stayed longer, but I soon understood that this was a toxic relationship. And that it was better to be alone, no matter how terrifying that sounded.

Nalini: What role did writing, in general and poetry in particular, played during this difficult phase of your life? And how has it changed your perspective since then?

Anu: Overcoming the trauma was no small feat. What I did not know at the time was that I was also suffering from chronic depression. At first, building myself bit by bit felt like an ordeal, but soon, having removed the bad influences from my life, it was actually peaceful. Nobody to boss me around or show me the consequences if I did not do something right. Or waste my time after a long day at work. I returned to books and kept a small journal to chronicle my thoughts and my progress. Over the years, I have written more about living in abuse, and seeing my life on a sheet of paper has been surreal, but it helped a lot to write openly about that phase and get it out of my head. From believing that nobody would love me, or that I was not fit to have a normal life, I now believe that everyone is deserving and capable of love.

My desire is to help women in a similar situation understand that the power of the written word can work wonders. They light the fire that results in changing a thought. I know it seems crazy but Tagore’s “Where the mind is without fear” would help me. It was for a country, but at that time, I felt like it was written for me to wake up and take action.

“Star-crossed”

I remember a different time when Orion brought us

good luck. When the Big Dipper would point to Sirius,

and we thought the spirit of every dog lived there

When I would stare at your freckled back and look for a map of cities

where we would go, where we would separate

The hunt is important, you would say, so is the capture

who cares what happens after that?

They say it’s easy to get anything, maintaining is the hard part –

clothes, toys, luxury items,

relationships,

you with your blasé look — I, still hungry, look for a side of a cold bed

that’s no longer slept on

Your mind, partitioned into different countries,

a concubine in each harem, an echo in each chamber

I’m singing the same song, in a different intonation,

the way you did when your tongue first caressed my nape, my mouth,

my name

Crumbs of red velvet are still crumbs, in a vagabond’s palms.

Nalini:   We live in an age of Twitter and Instagram. There is a deluge of poets writing micro poems and riding on instant fame. It might seem that poetry has become more popular in recent years but is it really so? What do you think of instant/micro/4-line poetry written around popular notions?

Anu: I have nothing against micro-poetry, as long as it is well done. 4 lines can sometimes convey more than 40 lines. And as for the popularity, one can say they are easily relatable to the masses, therefore they become famous. However, the trend I observe is that there is nothing fresh about the poems themselves – they are trite and clumsy. I am not saying that someone has to come up with some out of the world topic – come to think of it, many poets write about the same things, but they do so in different, refreshing ways. That is what I find lacking these days. And in general, the opinion is that it is very easy to become a poet, as opposed to a fiction or a screenplay writer, and therefore everyone feels like taking it up. I have a problem with that J Poets go through rigorous technique training too, just like the others, and so, writing 4 lines one day doesn’t make you a poet. They are born, and then made just like in any other profession. I am not trying to sound like a snob. Certainly, everyone has the freedom to write, and everyone’s aims are different. If you want instant fame, sure social media will do it for you. But if you want to write everlasting poetry, something that will be quoted for generations to come, then that isn’t the way to go about it. I am getting to know several poets who write beautifully but don’t have a book out. So that definitely is no measure of success!

Nalini:   Talking of social media, Facebook poetry groups are ubiquitous. I keep removing myself but still I must be in a million groups. Though I must admit they are great places to read, share one’s poetry and interact with other creative minds. Poetry group, The Woman Inc.  that you run is one of my favorite for the powerful poetry it shares. How do you think internet and social media contribute towards well-being of the poetry?

Anu: I think it is great that these groups exist. I was a hesitant poet once, very unsure of my writing, and these groups gave me the confidence that I too could write. What I like is that the feedback is honest and sincere. I don’t like groups where everyone simply praises each other for a great poem, whether it is true or not. And if I am added to such a group, I remove myself. I myself started a small Facebook group for New Jersey based South Asian poets, where we post our poems and solicit blunt critique. That is the only way to grow. It is great for the future of poetry because budding poets come alive and develop their writing skills, and go on to write far better than when they started out with. Not to mention the community it creates. Such communities are important for the arts to thrive.

Nalini:  And now a question that all those who write poetry ask themselves at some point of time — what does it mean to be a poet?

Anu: According to me, being a poet means being connected to a deeper part of yourself, and feeling each moment, each ripple. The response that you create when you see something that moves you – a painful event, an injustice, a happy moment, the beauty of nature – these are just examples that make you want to bring about a change, even a small one, in the world. I think being a humble student for life is a poet’s personality. There are days when I struggle with the impostor syndrome, thinking I don’t belong here, or my writing is awful. But to persevere, and have faith in that part of yourself that is able to capture a different view of the world, is what makes you a poet. To be able to distinguish between seeing something and looking at something, to be part of that self-discovery that expresses who you are as a person, defines who you are as a poet.

Nalini: Any words for budding poets?

Anu: Read! Read your favorite poets, poets you’ve never heard of, the classic poets, the Pinterest poets, anything you can – this will expand your horizons and you will also learn to distinguish between different varieties of poetry, different styles of writing before gravitating towards some and developing your own style. And write regularly. Continue writing – I cannot advise that you do it every day because that is not what I do – but often enough, and find a mentor, a sounding board whom you can approach from time to time.

Also, start slow, and then find journals to submit to. You will get a lot of rejections before you get an acceptance, and that can be frustrating. But if getting a poem published is that important to you, then keep at it. You are creating something out of nothing, and that is a powerful skill. Be engrossed and be committed to your art. Feel each word. Get your ego out of your head and be open to receiving feedback. And in the midst of all this, don’t forget to have fun in the process.

Nalini: Thank you so much, Anu. It was a pleasure talking to you.

Anu: Likewise, Nalini! Thank you.

(This interview was conducted via email.)

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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Interview

In Conversation with Physicist-Novelist K.Sridhar

By Nalini Priyadarshni

K. Sridhar

K. Sridhar is a Professor of Theoretical Particle Physics and has published a book Particle Physics of Brane Worlds and Extra Dimensions published by Cambridge University Press. He has an edited volume on Integrated Science Education and more than a hundred research papers in physics.

He is also a writer of literary fiction, has published a work of fiction called Twice Written, a critical edition of which has also been published more recently. He is working on his second novel, provisionally entitled Ajita. He writes poetry though he does not publish his poetry. He dabbles in philosophy, especially of science, and writes reviews of visual art shows. He is fond of doing lectures on rock music and writing short pieces on Hindi cinema on social media. He lives with his wife and daughter in Mumbai. Poet Nalini Priyadarshni unravels his literary journey in an online interview.

Nalini: Thank you so much, Sridhar, for taking time to talk to Borderless Journal. It’s not every day that we get a chance to read literary fiction written by an accomplished scientist. What struck me when I was reading your book was its layered narrative, story within story and eminently relatable characters. Tell us, how Twice Written began? Was it a character or an image?

K. Sridhar: Actually, neither. I think it was the concept. I should remind you that Twice Written was called ‘Palimpsest’ originally and the title was changed only before it was published. It was really the idea of a palimpsest I was working with and about lives being erased and written over. So that is where it began, I think. Of course, as I got into the actual writing, I was drawing on a fund of characters and images that I had stored somewhere in my memory to flesh out the details of the book.

Nalini: Why is the unconscious mind a writer’s best friend?

K. Sridhar: I think it is what the unconscious tosses up into one’s writing that holds a lot of surprise, not just for the reader, but also for the writer. In fact some recurrent literary elements, some shades of a character that one has not even planned out make their appearance in the writing and helps break what would otherwise be very structured prose.

Nalini: Which of your characters of Twice Written do you feel more connected with? Why?

K. Sridhar: I feel connected to all the protagonists in the story. However, one of them, Prahlad is probably closest to the person I am — his story sounds pretty much like my own. But I connect also to the other characters, not just Prahlad.

Nalini: What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

K. Sridhar: Writing any character is a challenge, even if it is ‘someone very much like you’. But when you don’t share sex, region, temporal location, class, caste with your characters it is an even bigger challenge. My own approach is to feel the person and write as honestly as one can about the person.

Nalini: What did you like to read as a child?

K. Sridhar: As a child and as a young adult, my reading was quite eclectic. I read virtually anything I could lay my hands on. But when I was about eight or nine, I read and reread the Mahabharata in English, written by C. Rajagopalachari and really remembered every detail of it. After the age of about 16, I started reading a good amount of philosophy and books related to science. I also started reading poetry seriously around then.

Nalini: What book are you reading these days? Which contemporary writer you enjoy reading the most?

K. Sridhar: Again, I read authors who I have been reading for a long time and it is over a period of time I have read them and my respect for them grows every time I return to them. I don’t worry about their contemporaneity. As for favourites, Borges, Kundera and Calvino are right up there.

Nalini: What authors are you friends with and if they influence your writing process. If yes, how?

K. Sridhar: I have a few friends who are authors, some even very successful and well-known. But I can’t say any on them has influenced my writing. It is partly because they think of themselves as writers and of me as a scientist who writes!

Nalini: E M Forster said “the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves.” What do you think? Is there a book that left a lasting impression on you?

K. Sridhar: If you want me to name one book, I will probably choose Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller . . .

Nalini: How do you manage being a globe-trotting scientist, an academician, an art critic, a writer and a poet? Did I miss music enthusiast and an avid movie buff?   

K. Sridhar: I think I owe this as much to my wide-ranging interests from an early age as I do to the fact that I do not take any of these tags too literally. I think it also helps that I have a good deal of self-belief so I don’t find it daunting to explore a new area of interest.

Nalini: What is your writing kryptonite?

K. Sridhar: I think for any writer, it would be distraction from what one is working on. Especially for writers of fiction, I feel that distraction can be a problem. It is when one lets oneself get distracted that one could hit a block. It is something one can handle only with perseverance and discipline.

Nalini: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

K. Sridhar: Even when I was writing Twice Written, I knew I was writing it for myself, for the pleasure of writing. The process of publishing (and republishing – the book has got republished as a critical edition) has, if at all, convinced me even more that I should be writing the way I want to and write what I believe in. If that also appeals to a readership then all the better, if not, there will always be an intimate circle who will read it and appreciate it because they know what effort has gone into it.

Nalini: Do you have any writing quirks? Would you share them with the readers?

K. Sridhar – Nothing very much. But it may interest your readers to know that I typeset my novels using a typesetting system called LaTeX which is usually used for mathematical and scientific typesetting. But because I use it so much it is like second nature to me and so I also use it to typeset my novels with.

Nalini: Do you Google yourself?

K. Sridhar: I did a bit after the novel was just out but, after a while, no.

Nalini: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

K. Sridhar: This is a confusing question for me. I was not so young when I started writing my first novel. And now that I am deep into my second novel I don’t feel very old either. I guess I am the sort who feels that time flows like a river but it hasn’t done much beyond wetting my feet!

Nalini: Let me reconstruct my question, if you could time travel and communicate with Sridhar who had just started writing Twice Written, is there anything you would like to tell him? What would that be?

K. Sridhar: I guess it will be ‘You are off to a good start. Keep at it.’

Nalini: What words of advice do you have for writers just starting out?

K. Sridhar: I don’t want to sound pretentious and “advice” aspiring writers but I think it is good to remember that one writes for oneself. One cannot start writing by positing an imagined reader.

Nalini: Thank you so much once again. It was a pleasure talking to you.

(This interview was conducted via email.)

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.