Khushwant Singh awardee – Arundhati Subramaniam

By JIPL On Nov 25, 2020

JIPL // Arundhati Subramanian

Poetry is nearer to her heart, a versatile writer with many penning genres and winner of 2 literary awards,  Arundhati Subramanian  . She has kindly spared a few minutes to talk about her journey. Here is my interview with her.

Q1: Ma’am, first of all I extend you a warm welcome on behalf of JIPL. We are eagerly looking forward to some words of inspiration from you. How did poetry happen to you? How do you define yourself, writer or teacher, since you also have a full time occupation as a university professor? In short, how did you become a writer?


Ans:- I define myself primarily as a poet and lover of poetry, Yashika. And I suppose I became one because words give me a great deal of sensual delight. As a child, I was drawn to poems — whether nursery rhymes of nonsense verse — simply because of the sound, the rhythm, the patterning of language. And that is what poetry is, isn’t it? It’s dangerous, exciting, unpredictable, exuberant language. It’s buoyant trampoline language, roller coaster language! It seemed utterly unlike the more predictable rhythms of prose. Falling in love with it was effortless.


Later, in my teens, it became a way to express myself, understand myself. Still later, it became an opportunity to spend time in the heat and dust of the workshop of language, amid word-shavings and line lengths. Earlier I had learnt about language because I wanted to express myself. Now I began to learn about myself by learning about language. It was a terrific learning exercise. Gradually, I also realised poetry was a way of making political statements in oblique ways, offering us new ways to look at our world and inhabit it. And later in my life, I also began to realise that poetry is the art of pauses; it is not just about meaning and rhythm, but also about conscious silences.


My first book was published in 2001, after more than a decade of immersion and practice. Today, after twelve books (five of which are volumes of poetry), I’d say that poetry continues to excite me because it is the most pleasurable verbal route to myself that I know. Poetry is language that adheres to gravity even while yearning to leap off a page. No other verbal art has that quality in my experience!


And finally, let me add that I am not a university professor. I taught junior college in St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, for around six weeks in 1991 after which, luckily for myself and my students, I escaped for good! I do periodic poetry workshops today, but not full-time teaching. I have done various other things, however, to pay the bills — arts journalism, curatorial work, primarily. I’ve been a freelance journalist writing for various newspapers, a curator at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai, and founder-editor of the India domain of the Poetry International Web.


Q2: You are a poet, translator, curator, journalist and a spiritual writer at the same time. We wanted to ask you that how to write in so many zoners without facing any difficulties? And if you face some, what are they?



Ans:- The answer to that is that I never tried to be many things, Yashika. I was just busy being myself. As my interests deepened, I simply followed them. And I’m glad I did. Poetry was always primary in my hierarchy of priorities. I’m grateful for having recognized that early in my life.

But everything else that I did arose seamlessly from my love of literature and performance. I found that my journalistic writing on the arts helped me not just to pay the bills; it enriched my understanding of my own art. My interviews with dancers, writers and theatre artists deepened my understanding of culture and creative practice. My curatorial work enabled me to create the kind of art event that I, as a rasika, wanted to witness. It sharpened my awareness of poetry not just as a form for the page, but as a conscious spoken utterance. And as I began my editorial work with the Poetry International Web, I found that translation was my way of welcoming other voices from diverse contexts into the English language. It was also very good for my own poetry: it sharpened my understanding of language and its resources. Later, editing the anthology of bhakti poetry, Eating God, helped me to tune into voices from our historical past as well — voices that were waiting to be more widely heard.

As for spirituality, I have been a seeker for as long as I can remember. And when Ravi Singh of Penguin asked me to write a book on the Buddha, it felt like a natural extension of a long-standing preoccupation. Writing a biography of Sadhguru, editing an anthology on sacred journeys and a book of bhakti poetry — all these have been part of the same continuum. I take on a book only when I want to spend time marinating in a subject. If there’s no strong sense of urgency, no inner imperative, as it were, I wouldn’t do it.


Q3: You have been awarded with several awards one of them is Khushwant Singh Memorial Prize for “When God is a Traveller”. What made you write this spiritual book?


Ans:- I don’t think I’d describe it as a spiritual book, Yashika. But it is a book about the ways in which the magical intersects with the mundane in our everyday world. It is a book about journeys — real and mythic. One poem is, for instance, about a woman named Mrs Salim Shaikh whom one might meet on a Mumbai local train. Another is about the god, Muruga, and yet another about the mythic archetype, Shakuntala, who also become fellow passengers on the life journey. So, it’s about the crazy roller-coaster journey of life itself, and the varied people one might encounter along the way. It does acknowledge the sacred, the enchanted, the mystical, but it also acknowledges the secular, the commonplace, the ordinary. I’m interested in the way these two realms intersect and coexist, cheek by jowl with each other, all the time. Our only problem is we sometimes forget to notice it!


Q4: You appeared in several anthologies and you have edited several books as well, so how was your experience with other writers. Or is there a story you want to narrate us?


Ans:- It’s difficult to pick any one story. I can only say that conversations with other writers and artists have stimulated and provoked and nourished me hugely. I cannot imagine my life without these. I’m grateful to have lived in Mumbai at a time when it simply abounded in interesting writers — from Kiran Nagarkar to Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre to Dom Moraes, Adil Jussawalla to Imtiaz Dharker, Gieve Patel to Eunice de Souza. Nissim Ezekiel was a mentor figure to me in many ways. I was part of a wonderful writers group called the Poetry Circle that helped me hugely too, and where I met several contemporary writers from Jerry Pinto to Ranjit Hoskote, who have continued to be friends. Later, as I travelled, I met poets, writers, translators from other parts of the country and the world, so my circle widened. I also discovered writers who lived centuries ago, with whom I felt a deep kinship — from Nammalvar to Annamacharya, Kabir to Tukaram and Akka Mahadevi. So, how does one map one’s literary fraternity or ancestry? Where does one begin? And where does one end?


Q5: “Love Without a Story ” is your recent book tell us something about it, like how you started writing the book? What/who was your inspiration?


Ans:- The book circles the themes of intimacy, conversation and time, Yashika. Dialogue with people across frozen ideological and religious divides seems to be the only way in which we can navigate the polarized world we live in. And so, the poems in the new book are about odd moments of connection with people in diverse contexts — monks, lovers, goddesses, parents, mystics, friends discussing books in an Irani cafe, a bunch of Pakistani pilgrims in the Ajmer dargah. In very different ways, each of these encounters offers its own definition of love. And at the centre of it all is the figure of the Old Woman, an archetype that interests me more and more.

Wikipedia :- https://arundhathisubramaniam.webs.com.

Written by:-

Yashika Sapre

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