Dr. Ajit Kumar in a conversation with Indian-American Poet, Actor and Filmmaker, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis

Photo Courtesy – Kalpna Singh-Chitnis
Kalpna Singh-Chitnis is an Indian-American Poet, Filmmaker and Actor of East Indian descent based in the United States. She was born in Gaya, Bihar, India in a Hindu family. Right from the childhood, she had a great influence of Buddhism on her. She was educated at Magadh University Bodhgaya and New York Film Academy at the Universal Studios in Hollywood. She began her career as a writer and lecturer of Political Science. She also worked as an actress and a model, before turning to the film directing. She has produced a wonderful collection of poems, Bare Soul in English, nominated for the 2017 “Nazi Naaman Literary Award” and three collections of poems in Hindi. Kalpna received a great success as a writer at a very young age. She won the prestigious “Bihar Rajbhasha Award” (1986-87) for her first poetry collection Chand Ka Pavand (Patch of Moon). She also received the “Rajiv Gandhi Global Excellence Award” in 2014 in New Delhi, for her contributions to literature and film at national and international levels. She was nominated for “Honor of Yeast Litteraire” by French magazine “Levure Litterarie” in 2014, where she also served on the Editorial Board.


Kalpna’s poetry collections have received praise from eminent writers, scholars and critics such as Nobel prize nominees Dr. Wazir Agha, Naseer Ahmad Nasir, Vaptsarov Award and Ordre des Arts et des Lettres winner poet Amreeta Pritam, Academy Award winning lyricist, poet and filmmaker Gulzar, Gyanpeeth Award winner poets Kedarnath Singh, Shaharyar and others. Her fourth poetry collection, Bare Soul was among the top 10 best selling American Poetry, and top 27th bestselling World Poetry on Amazon Kindle in its first year of publication. Her poetry album Touched by the Devil (poetry in paradox) 2011, and her poetry collection Bare Soul are available for the readers and audiences online. Kalpna’s literary works have been widely published in the Indian subcontinent, Middle- East, Europe and North America. Her poetry and its literary criticism have appeared in prominent journals like World Literature Today, California Quarterly, Tiferet Journal, Levure litteraire, The Enchanting Verses, World Poetry, Prairie Light Review, San Diego Reader, Hans, Kadambini, Dharamyug, Saptahik Hindustan, Indraprastha Bharti, Femina and Care just to name a few. She has been interviewed by ABC Channel 7, Voice of America, LA 18, Doordarshan (India’s National Television), KPFK Radio, Aakashvani (India’s National Radio) and has made several headlines in newspapers like The Telegraph, OC Register, Los Angeles Times, Daily Pilot, OC Weekly, Times of India, Navbharat Times, Prabhat Khabar, Indian Express and others. Kalpna’s work as a film director has been recognized worldwide. Her short film Girl with an Accent was screened at many international film festivals and won the “Silver Award” at SMTV Mumbai International Film Festival. Girl With An Accent had its Television Premiere on LA18 TV in California and Hawaii in 2015. Her debut feature Goodbye My Friend (Adios Mi Amigo) world premiered at the Silent River Film Festival, and had its South Asian premiere at the Dhaka International Film Festival in Bangladesh. Goodbye My Friend has also been officially selected at Guwahati International Film Festival (India), LUMS International Film Festival Lahore (Pakistan), Life Fest (Hollywood) and Broadway International Film Festival (Los Angeles) in the United States.

Kalpna is currently working on developing the screenplay of her next feature film All About My Father and shooting her next film Dancing in the Rain (based on a true story), to raise awareness about the issue of honor killing in the Indian Sub-continent and Middle-East. She is also the President and Founder of “Silent River Film Festival” and Editor-in-Chief of “Life and Legends” literary magazine. Bare Soul is her fourth poetry collection, written originally in English. It is a collection of poems about life and love.

Dr. Ajit Kumar in a conversation with poet, actor and filmmaker Kalpna Singh-Chitnis.

Ajit Kumar: Indian-American or Globalized one, we are proud that you were raised and educated in India, and from there emerged as a successful poet, filmmaker and an actor. Could you please share about your early life, family and educational background?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: I was born and brought up in a progressive Rajput family in Gaya, Bihar, India. I had my early education at Kendriya Vidyalaya and earned a Master's degree in Political Science from Magadh University, Bodhgaya. I taught international relations to postgraduate students at Gaya College, before coming to the United States in 1994, and getting another degree in Film Directing from the New York Film Academy. I have been writing since the age of fourteen and have published four poetry collections. Acting was my first love. I acted in several plays and television shows in India. I also did some fashion modeling. Now, my family in India lives in Mumbai, and many of my relatives are in the entertainment industry.

Ajit Kumar: Well, let me wish you a “Happy International Women's Day!” How do you look at this day, since it has been a long struggle for women, and the feminists are still fighting for equal rights?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: Thank you! It is nice to have a day that celebrates women. On this day, I appreciate anyone who has fought to end gender discrimination and stood for women’s rights. We still have a long way to go in earning equal opportunities, wages and fair treatment in every part of the world. The recent women’s protests in the United States and elsewhere the world are a proof that women are still struggling to protect their rights. The solution is to bring changes from the grassroots level. We must give education to both boys and girls, and provide them equal opportunities to end a biased society, where politicians, religious leaders and lawmakers fail to protect the interest of women. Unless, we treat the other half the world population fairly, we cannot dream of a better world.

Ajit Kumar: What inspires you to write?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: Reading is one thing that inspires me to write. But I also draw inspiration from my surroundings and meditation.

Ajit Kumar: Why poetry…why not a novel or drama?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: Because first and foremost, I'm a poet. Poetry comes to me naturally. However, I have written several short stories, screenplays and writing a novel now. I also wrote and directed plays, when I was in India. I still write stories, but mostly in the form of screenplays for the films I direct.

Ajit Kumar: In writing a novel, how much is a conscious construction corresponding to your beliefs, and how much is autobiographical?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: I'm only working on my very first novel right now. The story is based in India, and it is being written from the perspective of a youth inspired by her childhood memories. This novel is an observation of the social and political climate I was exposed to in my early age, growing up in a small historical town in Bihar. But I try to keep my personal beliefs aside as much as possible, while telling a story of others also.

Ajit Kumar: While writing, do you talk to the readers?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: Sometimes I do talk to the readers. Sometimes I talk to myself. And sometimes I talk to people and things unknown.

Ajit Kumar: Do you read something to prepare the background for your poetry?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: I do not feel the need to prepare backgrounds for writing poetry. I'm spontaneous and organic in my approach when I write poems. Although, I do read and research when I write prose, and use the references as needed.

Ajit Kumar: Whom do you appreciate the most among the poets and why?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: I have a long list of my favorite poets (ancient, classic and modern) from all over the world. Among contemporary poets, I like those who are writing from their heart without worrying about the popular trends and what is selling in the market. I like to read poetry that explores life, reveals its beauty and complexities in simple words and communicate well with the readers.

Ajit Kumar: Kalpna, did you get any idea from some other poet?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: I like to stay original in my expressions. I get ideas from my surroundings, not from others. For an example, my first poem was about the impermanence of life. I wrote that poem as a teen, after seeing the red flowers falling from the silk cotton tree on a grave in a Muslim cemetery, that was near my childhood home.

Ajit Kumar: The lines of your poem, “Jungle”, “Let’s rise in gratitude, and blossom like wild flowers” (Singh-Chitnis, Bare Soul 1). And the next, “In the jungle there is no need to pretend, let’s just be, whoever we are,” (Singh-Chitnis, Bare Soul 2) are really inspiring and heart touching poetic creation. What makes you produce such elegant poetry?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: Thank you! These lines spoke to me in a state of an analytical meditation. It is a burden for anyone to live a life that is not truthful, or putting a face that is not real. Truthfulness brings vulnerability. But it also brings freedom and allows us to accept ourselves; the way we are. Being in touch with my inner self has often inspired such poetry.

Ajit Kumar: Your emotions are at the peak in “Ancient Quest” when you say, “I wear you like my soul, and become full of life” (Singh-Chitnis, Bare Soul 17). What makes you create such emotional poems?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: What inspires an emotional poem is not running away from emotions, but facing them. I’m glad you liked this poem.

Ajit Kumar: Your first poetry collection “Chand Ka Paivand” (Patch of Moon) came out when you were not even 21. What was it, that asked you to choose poetry writing as your professional interest?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: I wrote Chand Ka Paivand (Patch of Moon) between the age of fourteen and nineteen. I did not choose to write poetry, it came to me, and I went with the flow. Only after writing my first poem I realized that I was a poet.

Ajit Kumar: Your poetry collections, “Tafteesh Jari Hai” (The Investigation Continues) and “Nishant” (The Dawn) have received great appreciations not only from the readers but critics, scholars and writers too. How do you view this success?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: When I look back, it is hard to believe that I had the attention of many great writers, scholar and critics, when I was just an emerging poet in India.

Ajit Kumar: Your film Goodbye My Friend and the short film Girl with an Accent have been the heart rendering presentations. First Hindi poetry, then English and finally to films and acting. Was it all a plan or just the flow of life? How do you view it?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: I always wanted to be an actor, writer and filmmaker, but I had no plans in place to have a career in film and literature. I studied Political Science, taught in a college, and my father wanted me to join the Indian civil service. But it seems like my dreams had more power. I had my early success as a writer, artist and model in India; and what I was not able to accomplish there, I did after my coming to the United States.

Ajit Kumar: You are a global personality now. Moving from one place to the other, you meet with many readers around the world. From where have you gotten the maximum love for your poetry?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: When I wrote in Hindi, I received much appreciation for my work in India. I can safely say that I also have a readership in the Middle Eastern countries, after my poetry collection, Bare Soul has been translated into Arabic by poet and translator Nizar Sartawi. I have been writing and publishing in English also for quite some time now. But in the west, your work gets more attention when you receive critical acclaims, belong to certain groups and organizations, or have an affiliation with academic institutions. If you have a story to tell that sells well in the western media, (in other words, attracts propaganda and publicity) or fits western narratives, your work is more in demand. Many writers of ethnicity are being stereotypical in their writings, just to get attention. But this idea for some reason never attracted me.

Ajit Kumar: Literature has revolved a lot around the concept of mysticism and realism. What is your philosophy about mysticism and realism?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: Both are the two sides of the same coin. What we call mysticism is also a type of realism, that cannot be seen with our naked eyes. And what we call a reality is a deception, as the reality is constantly changing and becoming nothing , or something unknown. I often find it sad to grasp on things that we call real, only to find that everything is constantly changing, and very soon they are no longer the same; at least in a way we thought they were before. Bare Soul poems are the results of these conflicts between understanding and not understanding these phenomenon.

Ajit Kumar: Anything in specific such as love, emotion, gender, nature etc., that you are inclined to write about?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: I write about anything that touches my heart and makes my mind wonder.

Ajit Kumar: It would be great for the readers, if you could please share some lines from your collection of poetry!

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: It is hard to pick lines from my own poetry collections. But here are some short poems from Bare Soul:

JUNGLE

The jungle has caves,
but no cages.
It has a freedom unchained,
for everyone.
The jungle has no rules but one,
to have no rules, but disciplines.
The jungle has one language,
only to be heard in the silences,
and its meaning to be discovered
in the outburst of our joy! (4)


RIVER OF SONGS

I opened my eyes
and found poetry before me.

I turned my back on it
to face reality,

ever since I’m transformed into
a river of songs! (6)

           ANCIENT QUEST

When I try to reach you,
you step back;
when I try to let go,
you follow me everywhere...
I don’t know,
whether you are my obsession,
or I’m yours?  (16)

Ajit Kumar: Are you satisfied with your success as a poet?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: Success for me is being on my journey, not arriving at a destination. In that sense, I'm satisfied with my success as a poet.

Ajit Kumar: In the postmodern English literature, female authors and poets voice the human rights for women, what do you have to say about it?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: Women's rights are human rights. They are not separate from what is known as human rights, as some people think. Women constitute half the population of the world, but they still have limited opportunities. Even in the 21st century women are not receiving equal treatment as men do. They are expected to take care of their family and also work outside to bring financial support. Still, they receive less salary in comparison to men and compromise ranks in work places. Women are also the victims of domestic violence, abuse, rape , human trafficking, etc. . Even the most beautiful and qualified women still pay a dowry to get married in many societies. We cannot make our world a better place by discriminating and dismissing women.

Ajit Kumar: You have won many awards for your writing. How do you feel when you are rewarded and appreciated?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: Recognition has brought me satisfaction and appreciation has inspired me to take writing more seriously.

Ajit Kumar: Critics say that your poetry is a reflection of everyday life. How do you react to this?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: More often, it is also about the hidden layers of life.

Ajit Kumar: How is poetry different from other forms of literature?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: Poetry is more subtle. Whereas, other forms of literature are more direct. Poetry is like fragrance in a flower. Whereas, other forms of literature are more distinct in nature, structure and form.

Ajit Kumar: How does fiction affect a society?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: It depends on what kind of fiction we are talking about. A fiction can have both good and bad effects on a society. A fiction may not always deal with our day to day life, but can give readers a break from the harsh realities they see every day. Good fiction can also amplify creativity and imagination and make people stress free. Whereas, lurid, crime and fantasy fictions may have adverse affects on us.

Ajit Kumar: What is for you the difference between your two images – as a creative writer and as a filmmaker?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: I do not see them as different. Both share my voice and passion. It is that after writing, my filmmaker takes my work to yet another level, giving audiences an opportunity to view my story through the eyes of a camera, from my filmmaker’s perspective. The only difference is that my creative writer is a reserve person, and my filmmaker is more open and outgoing.

Ajit Kumar: What is your future plan?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: I plan to travel, write a number of books, make movies, and enjoy my retreats whenever possible.

Ajit Kumar: Any message for the readers?

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: I'm thankful for their love and attention to my work.

Ajit Kumar: Thank you very much for your time!

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: My pleasure! Thanks for the opportunity to have this great conversation!


References
Singh-Chitnis Kalpna. Bare Soul. Partridge, India - Penguin Random House - 2015. Print.
--- . Chand Ka Paivand. Ayan Publication, New Delhi, 1986. Print.
---. Tafteesh Jari Hai. Kadambri, Gaya, 1993. Print.
---. Nishant. Publisher: Kadambri, Gaya, 1993. Print.
 *Dr. Ajit Kumar is a lecturer of English in the department of education, Haryana (India). He has presented, edited and written a good number of research papers on gender studies and feminine theories. His latest literary interview with Arundhathi Subramaniam will feature in dialog, the journal, of Panjab University, Chandigarh.