Categories
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.

Categories
Review

Lines across the Ocean: Love and the Impossibility of Words

Book Review by Soni Wadhwa

Title: Lines Across Oceans

Authors: Nalini Priyadarshni and D. Russel Micnhimer

A few days before this Valentine’s Day, Nalini Priyadarshni urged her friends on Facebook to  “consider getting a book of love verses for your sweetheart this Valentine”. The book is Lines Across Oceans: Intercontinental Love Verses which she has co-written with the late poet D. Russel Micnhimer, also a winner of Poet Laureate award in India. To those who love poetry and those who have been in love, Priyadarshni’s mischievous call to action invoked nothing less than a gleeful sentiment of “ooooh… another one” tinged with “oh no – not again!” It is a sentiment that gushes out of a lover/beloved every time a note of pleasure comes close enough to unfold aspects of loving.

While the book was published three years ago, it was a perfect moment to discover how the two poets from different continents would reinvent ways of understanding, expressing love and talking about it. The book does two wonderful things for the readers — it begins with Rumi and then somewhere in the middle declares what lovers already know about the impossibility of syncing love with speech:  

Listen if you must

Not my words, for they may be unbefitting

Listen to my silence in pure intent

My pauses bring forth what my words couldn’t 

If you don’t get my silence, my words were a waste

Anything that can be explained away in sounds and signs

can neither be deep nor abiding 

Eternal and elemental, the absolutely best in us

expresses itself as much in black as in white fire

Love cannot be spoken about, and yet, lovers continue to speak about it. Priyadarshni and Micnhimer affirm the paradox of writing about silence in love and so one can peacefully move on to enjoying the way of words that have the audacity to express being in love:

Words born in the recesses of your heart, I treasure 

Even before they rise in your throat 

Or find release from your lips 

I know them from another place, another time 

The refrain “another place, another time” throughout the piece concedes that being in love is being resonant with the idea of love that precedes the lovers in question. Hence, Rumi. Hence, poetry. Hence, reading. Hence, writing. This idea of another time, another place constitutes the iconography of love at the hands of Priyadarshni and Micnhimer:

We pour ourselves out to make room

For the best is yet to come.

What’s love poetry without the snapshots of togetherness? Here is an instance of the mood of the Valentine from the book:

Morning Ritual of shared coffee 

with a tea person should make you wary . . . . 

Mightn’t be the coffee they are after 

but coffee flavored kisses

One wants to blush at the thought of being outdone by the beloved thus. And then one wants to know how the beloved will walk the path of passion:

Knead me as a loaf with your fingers jaan . . . .

– I am growing, expanding, soaking 

in the joy of your laughter’s leavening 

overlapping the edges of meeting hearts. 

The eroticism spread throughout the book brings one back to words as the units constituting the idea of love:

How can I make my words taste as good as ice cream on a hot day 

make them tremble in your ears as they tumble from my tongue?

Lines Across Oceans is interesting for the way it weaves the idea of being together with that of writing together. This laying bare of the cohabitation in the text makes the collection of poems apt as more than a Valentine’s Day read. Sample the lines that articulate this: 

When you write poems for me

and I string my words together 

to write about you and us

we do more than make love

to each other with our words

we bestow each other with 

a slice of eternity

The book appeals to the right spot called desire – desire, that sits perched delicately on the suture between the pleasures of writing, loving, and being loved. In the ritual of reading a collection of love poetry, desire begins to linger on all rituals of living and making sense of life. 

While general readers will be able anchor their experience of love in the light and intense moments in Lines Across Oceans, “serious” and regular readers of poetry will find interesting for its experiments at the formal level in the way it incorporates less known forms of poetry – katuata, sedoka, choka and so on. A ‘choka’, for instance, works very tightly with a form organized around the alternating lines of five and seven syllables:

Let nights and days of

Our loving playfulness, stretch

Into forever

Love is about opening one’s self and shrinking it too. Each number in the book reflects that opening and shrinking in different ways. The collection affirms that love and poetry are so alike. 

Do pick it up — even though the Valentine’s Day is gone, the Valentine is still around.

Soni Wadhwa is an academician based in Mumbai. Her work can be found on Asian Review of Books and Deccan Herald, some of which has also got republished in Scroll and South China Morning Post

Categories
Poetry

Come to the Summer of my Arms & Bristle Stories

By Nalini Priyadarshni

Come to the Summer of my Arms

Come to the summer of my arms

the winter of our discontent has lasted too long

peppering our wisdom with salt and snow

settling into nook and crannies of our being

shadows of the moon on your forehead

has lengthened to reach our eyes

that have been growing dim

with each revolution of earth.

Come to the summer of my arms

we have harvested too long the silence

sown with the best of intentions

that has been whittling us beyond recognition

think of the moles and the birth marks that

need to be salvaged before we forget they exist

or keys that must be forged to unlock life

read books we discarded as unreadable

Come to the summer of my arms

for one of us cannot thaw without the other

winter of our discontent

inch by inch recovering the expanse of unexpressed

so that intimacy could be tilled into rows and rows

of languid kisses strewn with endless possibilities

perhaps then, someday we will

live our way into the passion we always sought

Bristle Stories

They arrive uninvited

like guests during summer siesta

and find strength in numbers

Stubborn as teens in combat boots

looking for trouble at street corner

my chin hair refuse to die

or remain dormant

They recoil every time I wax

Let me celebrate victory after a laser

Disappear for maybe a couple days,

but always return snapping gum vivaciously

 to sun themselves unabashed

bold and burping on a cloudless terrace

On weekdays, they foil with vengeance

 my all attempts at prettiness

refuse to apologise

throw tantrums, stomp and yell

spitting at the feet of men smiling at me

Feeling right at home, my bristles stretch themselves

claiming more space with each day

play cards, exchange stories and smoke cigarettes

Greedy

unapologetic

bordering on contemptuous

they reassure the woman in me

that they are paragons of

proud and vicious feminism

The woman inside me wonders

if greying calls for a truce

to make peace with my rebellious mongrels

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.