Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
(Born: January 6th, 1964) is a poet and writer residing currently in Chennai, Tamilnadu. She was born in Kolkota and did her schooling there. Her husband, who was a bank manager with Canara Bank, died tragically in a road accident in 2008. She has two children, a daughter-in-law, and a grandson.
1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
I was about 5 or 6 years old when we were taught the poem ‘Boats Sail On The River’ by Christina Georgina Rossetti in school and asked to learn it by heart. This poem is a deceptively simple one and it appeals to children because of the visual images it creates—of boats and rainbows and clouds. I was captivated by the imagery, and I felt I could write poems like that too. So I wrote a poem choosing as topic the discussion that was going on in my family at that time—a rather profound discussion about whether God really existed and how religions differed. I had my own opinions about the subject, and this I now used to write my first poem, titled ‘Our God Is The Best’. The poem was a conversation between two birds who argued about whose God was the best. They finally decide that all Gods are good. When I showed the poem to my father, he was much impressed and he made copies of it and gave it to all our relatives and friends. My father encouraged me to write poetry. I wrote nature poems mainly. People would come over to our house to hear me recite, and as a child, I felt special. But all this changed when my father died when I was 10 years old. I could not go on without his encouragement, and I was also teased at this time for my limited vocabulary. However, I could not stop writing as it came naturally to me. I continued to write, but I did not show my work to anyone. It was only after I took up literature as my subject in college that I was able to evaluate my own work, and I realized it was good. What I needed to work on was my vocabulary and information and skills. At this point, I started exhibiting my work again, and I also reached out to likeminded people and communities, which helped me grow as a poet and writer.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Not sure if it’s still prevalent in schools today across India, but during my time we had the Radiant Reader series as English textbook. Book 1 for Class 1, and so on till Class 10. And these textbooks featured a range of prose and poetry in each, carefully selected to appeal to a particular age group. And so, my introduction to poetry was through my textbooks. I don’t remember my first Radiant Reader, but I do recall that we had ‘Someone’ by Walter de la Mare in Class 2 and I was so very fascinated by this poem. I think the fascination was that there was no answer to the question. I really, really wanted to know who had knocked.
My father was from Burma, which had been under the British rule at that time. He and his 6 sisters and 2 cousins had formed a music band. His mother had wanted him to become a Catholic priest, but that did not work out. He sang very well, and what was more, he could play all musical instruments. His favourite instrument was the Hawaiin guitar. He had, for a while, remained a rather distant figure in my life because of his constant transfers to other cities and travel, and also because of my being the youngest in the family and so very small. But as I turned five, his attention was suddenly caught by the fact that I was, well, different. I liked the English language, I liked arguing, I had an opinion about everything, and I liked to learn. He started writing out lyrics in a notebook, making me learn them by heart, and then making me sing along as he played his guitar. Some of the earliest songs I sang were Knock knock (Tears of rain… (Mary Hopkins), Oh! Susanna! (I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee…).
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Most children of my generation will recall The Radiant Reader with nostalgia as it was prepared with careful consideration of the choicest prose and poems suited to each age group. I can still recall most of the poems by heart. I read ‘Some One’ by Walter de la Mare when I was in Class 2, and it stays with me. Then, of course, there was ‘Boats Sail on the Rivers’ by Christina Georgina Rosetti, which actually set me writing poetry for the rest of my life. The day ‘Daffodils’ (William Wordsworth) was taught in class, there was such excitement and full attendance. We loved dancing with the daffodils. And then there were ‘Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog’ by Oliver Goldsmith, The Brook by Lord Tennyson, and so many more! My father was a huge fan of Edward FitzGerald’s ‘Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,’ and that’s been passed down to me.
Some of my favorite poets remain Robert Browning, Tennyson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Campbell, Milton, Shelley, Keats and others.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I generally wake up at around 8 in the morning and am ready to face the day by 9 am, having had my morning cuppa. I make myself a good breakfast, and then am on the Internet for a while, especially on facebook. After that I alternate between making GloMag and writing. Then I walk for an hour or more, and then I have my bath and lunch and go and bring back my grandson from school. While he’s there, I clean up the house and then I take him out to play for a while. My son comes to pick him up by 7 pm, after which I do some shopping, post on the GloMag group on Facebook, and have my dinner. After dinner, I continue writing till maybe midnight, or sometimes well past midnight. I generally go to sleep very late, which is compensated by my waking up very late too.
5. What motivates you to write?
I write as easily as I breathe. I can’t stop writing because it comes that easily and naturally to me.
I’ve always been very vocal and opinionated, and my family was quite fascinated by my talkativeness. But in school all we were expected to do was learn lessons by heart. Creativity was reserved for the composition class. I discovered that I could write quite by accident, but once I did, it was the most exhilarating feeling ever. And then too, once I started writing, my father took a deep interest in it and encouraged me no end. He got me a diary in which I could jot down my thoughts. He introduced me to different genres of writing. I had written a play by the time I was eight years old, and a whole lot of poems. My father also made me read a lot of literature that was way beyond my years. I was only ten years old when he died. After his death, my sister took over monitoring my reading habits. She got me to read classics a lot. Later on, I took English literature as my subject in college. A strange thing would happen as I was exposed to the richness of the language. My mind would suddenly go into a creative mode, and I would be writing most prolifically. Most of my notebooks had a line drawn a little above the bottom of the page, and I jotted down my thoughts there. It was a kind of madness that prevailed or maybe exposure to the richness of the language opened up a different part of my brain.
And then, I got married at the age of 21, and believe it or not, I completely forgot I could write. I got so engrossed in raising my children and taking care of my family, and I had two babies to take care of. This impasse went on from 1985 – the year I got married – to 1994, when my daughter was two years old. Watching an Oprah Winfrey show one day, the topic being ‘how to discover your destiny’ and the expert said, all you had to do was ask a question, “what is the one thing I cannot fail at”. And sitting there, with my baby in my lap, I automatically answered, “writing”. And since then, I’ve not looked back. I ask myself that question so many times in a day, and the answer has consistently been ‘writing’. It’s an on-going journey.
6. What is your work ethic?
My work ethic is that I create from my heart and only what I believe in. I never say anything that I don’t mean. I also prefer the apt word to the grandiose one. I feel a word can have so many synonyms but there’s a subtle difference between each one, and what is suitable for one occasion may not be suitable for another. I find I’m not able to compromise on that. Something rankles in my mind till I go, “That’s it! That’s the word I want!”
I also believe that all genres of creativity are just communication. I also define communication differently. I believe that if something I’m saying does not get across to my listener, then I’m not communicating; I’m not sharing the right things with the right person. As such, getting my message across remains my responsibility, not that of my audience.
I also try not to put out negative vibes into the world. Readers take from my writings and I want them to take what will rejuvenate them and help them in any small or big way.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I think what you read and experience when you’re young is what stays with you. It’s the foundation on which you build. I have this innate love for the English Language, and I’ve been blessed with very good teachers. I still follow the Wren and Martin format when it comes to writing prose, whether it’s writing a novel or a short story or an anecdote or other genres. That’s my foundation. I’m also much influenced by the classics. Having majored in English Literature, I am that blessed soul who got to read the works of some of the most creative minds.
In poetry, I’m most influenced by the famous Tamil poet, Kannadasan, and I try to emulate him. I fall short because of the sheer range of his genius. In English, I’m a huge fan of Lord Tennyson, and he’s been the biggest influence.
When it comes to prose, I think I’ve been most influenced by ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird’ by Harper Lee. The book is a single story and the reader is led gently through it, with every single chapter appearing to be a separate story or incident, with a definitive ending.
I try to follow that.
Another book that’s had a definite effect on both my writing and my personality is Godfather by Mario Puzo.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
This is a hard question for me to answer because I’ve hardly read for pleasure in a while, and when I do, I tend to go back to authors whom I trust and have read before. As such, I can’t boast of having read much of the new works. I work as a language editor for scientific research as well as humanities. It’s a must that I read and edit 80 MS doc pages per day. That apart, there’s GloMag, which again, is a lot of reading. By the end of the day, honestly, I don’t want to look at some more written words for pleasure. I’d much rather go for a walk.
That said, however, I have read works by Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, and I like all three, although Vikram Seth is my favorite. The language is simple and almost musical. I also like reading Chetan Bhagat books, again a very interactive style of writing. I haven’t had much of a chance to explore English and American writing except as part of my work (which is extensive) and would not like to comment.
All said and done, I’d conclude that my most favourite writers, and the ones I admire the most, are the writers on GloMag for obvious reasons.
9. Why do you write?
I write because I have no option but to write. I don’t know how to stop writing. It’s been something I’ve been doing all my life, sometimes – most times – my only comfort. I write to create, vent, weep, pray, introspect, and everything else between.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?
To someone who asks me how to become a writer, I would say be a dreamer. Lie down and relax, close your eyes and dream. Because you dream only about things that fascinate you, and what fascinates you will fascinate the world.
Read a lot, pay as much, or more, attention to grammar. I truly believe language is more important than what you have to say. Add to your vocabulary all the time, and most importantly, don’t connect your writing to fame or fortune. Write only because you have something to say.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’ve been trying to bring out an e-book of my poems for a while now, but I’ve shelved it to concentrate on writing a novel, the first draft of which will hopefully be done by December. I am also serializing another novel on Setu Mag, an international online magazine. I would like to serialize another one somewhere else. That apart, I continue to edit and publish GloMag.