Moorings are in thoughts and expressions!
What else is poetry but the effusions of the innermost core of the human mind? From classical texts to the ultra postmodern practising poets and theoreticians have accepted as such. A poet today doesn’t live in an ivory tower and dream of the fantastic; he/she draws material succinctly from life, says Dr Nandini Sahu (NS) in conversation with Vipan Kumar.Dr Nandini Sahu is a major voice in contemporary Indian English literature, widely published in India, USA, UK, Africa and Pakistan. She is a double gold medalist in English literature and also the award winner of All India Poetry Contest, the Shiksha Ratna Puraskar and Bouddha Creative Writers’ Award. She is the author/editor of nine books entitled The Other Voice (a poetry collection), Recollection as Redemption, Post-Modernist Delegation to English Language Teaching, The Silence (a poetry collection), The Post Colonial Space: Writing the Self and the Nation, Silver Poems on My Lips (a poetry collection), Folklore and the Alternative Modernities (Vol I), Folklore and the Alternative Modernities (Vol II) and Sukamaa and Other Poems, (a poetry collection). She has one poetry collection under publication, Sita (A Poem). Presently, she is an associate professor of English in Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. Dr Sahu has designed academic programmes/courses on Folklore and Cultural Studies, Children’s Literature and American Literature for IGNOU.
In an exclusive interview with Dr Sahu; Vipan Kumar, lecturer in English, CASS, Adi Keih, Asmara, Eritrea, NE Africa, asks about her idea of marginal studies.
VK: Tell us something about your journey in the literary world?
NS: I have consciously never done anything for the sake of fame. Looking back today to where I started from, there is a degree of satisfaction at what life has given me as a person of literature. Born and brought up in a traditional Odishan village, educated in what many would call ‘white tile’ institutions but with a very strong family educational backgrounds, I have always found my moorings in my medium of thought and expression, the most nondescript of things in my surroundings, and most importantly, in the varied and vivid experiences in the journey of life. To tell you the truth, I am happy to have become what I always wanted to be….a passionate student of English Literature, an academic and poet in my own right and on my own terms.
VK: Do you think that ‘poetry’ has a good demand in this era of science and technology?
Dr Nandini SahuNS: I am both surprised and amused that the issue still exists! See, every age of civilization has had its own eras of scientific thought as befitted the levels of knowledge and advancement of the age; and literary pursuits in general and poetry in particular have always coexisted with that. In fact, some of the best minds of bygone eras have inculcated both facets in their work. From Aristotle through Omar Khayyam to Jayanta Mahapatra nearer home, I could give you instances galore of luminaries who were men of science in their academic capabilities and excelled either as poets or as connoisseurs of poetry. In our own times, I might mention Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, formally a student of Physics and Aerospace Engineering, and one of the most erudite Presidents our country has had. I refer to Dr Kalam as an answer to the veritable bridges between poetry and science and technology that you talk of; a man of science with a soul and spirit that is as ‘poetic’ as can be! What else is poetry but the effusions of the innermost core of the human mind? From classical texts to the ultra post modern of them, practising poets and theoreticians have accepted as such. A poet today doesn’t live in an ivory tower and dream of the fantastic; he/she draws material succinctly from life. Poetry (as an inclusive term), which to my mind, is basically the panacea for the myriad stresses of life, is most often a corollary to what you mean as the era of science and technology. The busy corporate might not be accepting the proposition overtly in so many words, but I see no conflict between the two! To put these thoughts in verse, I’d quote from my own musings that are of course now in print:
The gentle art of looking through,
A concrete experience of the abstract,
the union of life and peace,
the vision and the visionless
the song and silence,
the corners where all the rivers flow
amid the heart’s dark floor,
a rapport with mortality,
a formula of sight,
a clarity of light,
a sign of the heart,
a look into the night,
a day that’s bright,…
what else is poetry
but a clear insight?
VK: Your main sources of inspiration are your land, people, place and social and political inequalities you see everywhere. But now as you reside in New Delhi, do you find any different social and political scenario here?
NS: Yes, my land with its topography and uniqueness, my people whom I’ve known intensely, the culture that has reared me and the socio-political milieu that I’ve seen evolve around me, though not necessarily in that order, have indeed been both my moorings in life and the inspiration behind my creativity. As far as residing in Delhi goes, well life in a big city has myriad hues, but the perspectives and insights acquired through felt experiences over the years have never really changed. It’s true that life today is comfortable, but the scenarios that differential power equations bring about are fundamentally the same. I have never been able to turn my eyes away from the obverse side of life; wherever I may be spatially located. The dream of reaching out to the disenfranchised (that is in several senses) that has been a nascent one only gets stronger by the day. As a poet and a human being, I would consider myself successful if ever my thoughts of a better tomorrow can be translated into action, in my own small ways.
VK: You have penned Folklore and the Alternative Modernities. Do you think folklore is full-fledged literature in itself?
NS: A literature, the product of and is a representation of mass culture, is definitely authentic and full fledged. Since there is this aspect of faithful representation of the ways of life of communities at the core of folk literature, I consider it as literature that is autonomous. The two books on folklore experiment with a flexible view of folk, removing notions of folk as part of marginal literature. My strong belief is, folk is not something out there in a museum, it is a part and parcel of our lives, and thus, fit enough to be our mainstream literature. The modern literary texts that have made explicit use of the folk traditions to make it available to the readers today are also treated at par with the folk texts that have only the oral tradition, called the pure folk. The books examine the nature, concept and function of folk in modern Indian literature. These volumes are of immense value for the literature teachers, researchers, folklorists, anthropologists, and experts of social psychology marginal studies, dalit studies, developmental studies, culture critics, linguists and policy planners. In the same vein, I have designed courses for my own University and have also been on similar assignments abroad on folklore and culture studies. My ideas of folk are appreciated and accepted all over, because roots are ultimately important for all.
VK: Your fourth poetry collection, Sukamma and Other Poems, is a tribute to the marginal, the subaltern. What do you understand by ‘subaltern’?
NS: Sukamaa and Other Poems is, I would say, a subconscious recreation from a vantage point my tryst with deeply felt notions of subalternity that I now realize were always there like a nagging thought at the back of my mind, even when I wasn’t old enough to know any of these technical terminologies. The title figure Sukamaa was a rural, poor tribal Kondh woman, my childhood domestic help who was in no way related to me by ties of blood and was yet a vital support system for the family. In my poetic thoughts on the subaltern, I see her as an archetypal figure and my discourse is from the ‘other’ side, that is to say, an assay in unearthing the voices of the millions of Sukamaas who, true to the Wordsworthian conception of the rustic, are capable of showering elemental love and care on us, the more fortunate, without ever stopping to wonder at the unequal relationships of power that determine their interactions with their masters/employers. Somewhat in terms of a Marxist exaltation of the proletariat, I could as well say that they shine in their work and dedication that go beyond any reasoned analysis of rewards and returns; till they become inadvertent signposts never erasable from our repositories of memory. In that sense, my fourth collection is a long standing debt I owed to my past.
VK: Don’t you think that classical literature is dying?
NS: No… I don’t think it’s dying. Classics or classicus means belonging to the highest, thus it has the position of its own. Classical literature denotes to the great masterpieces of the Greek, Roman, and other ancient civilizations, like Homer’s Iliad, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Virgil’s Aeneid, or Oedipus the King by Sophocles, or works by other ancient writers in epic, lyric, tragedy, comedy or pastoral. In Indian literature, it can be the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Vedic texts and many such. Classical literature builds up the base for all other literatures, so how can it die? Starting from our universities’ syllabi to our coffee tables, classical literature always asserts its position. In my writings, I do not intend to give teleological account of history, but tradition shapes me to what I am today.
VK: As you are very much active, industrious and energetic, what would you like to suggest the budding writers?
NS: I would suggest the budding writers to be honest to their writings, belong to a tradition, have the soul to call a spade a spade, and of course to take appreciation and criticism in the same disposition.
(The interviewer Vipan Kumar is lecturer in English, CASS, Adi Keih, Asmara, Eritrea, NE Africa. His areas of research interest are African American Literature, Post-Colonial Literature and Language Studies. The interview was taken on the occasion of the launch of Nandini Sahu’s fourth poetry collection, Sukamaa and Other Poems in New Delhi in August 2013.)