Talking literature with Monica Oswal: An interview by Lt Colonel Shyam Sunder Sharma, Shaurya Chakra (Retired)

Monica Oswal
Having known her personally as a poet and a dear friend, Monica Oswal comes across as a pleasant personality with a distinct confident and friendly aura. A woman of substance, Monica is at total ease with the multiple hats she dons, a corporate head, a poet of varied shades, a working mother, all rolled in one. Passionately in love with the written word ever since her childhood, Monica hails from a renowned business background and heads the brand communication department of her company. Adept as a business woman and corporate leader, poetry remains her first love; having penned over 300 poems and number of short stories. Monica was recently featured among the Incredible Women Writers of India 2016 by Many of her poems have been published in anthologies and magazines. Her views on poetry and life were also featured in an interview on FM radio. The choice of subjects in her poetry is varied and has finesse for Hindu mythology. Let us get more insights about Monica Oswal, the poet and the person by a direct conversation.

1. Since when have you been writing, what drew you to writing?

Monica:  As far as I remember, I have always been attracted to the written word.
Being a very shy introvert, I have always used the written word as a medium of expression right from my school days.

As a keen observer, I tend to absorb actions, reactions and feelings of people around me and they become my expressions written in ink.

2. How does poetry fit or misfits in your life as a corporate head and as a working mother? Does it fit easy, does it give you motivation or inspiration or some kind of relief? Or is it something you compartmentalize separately and do not allow interference?
Monica:  Poetry and my personal and professional life don’t interfere at all. While at work, my entire focus is on work. I love the challenges, the experiences that I face in the board room and sometimes they add a flavor to my writings.

Being a homemaker and a working mother has its own challenges though of different kind and I tend to use poetry as an effective medium to motivate and inspire myself. A break from mundane routine is always welcome and the urge to get back to my paper and pen, in some peace and quiet, lets me organize everything to the very last detail. One finds time to do what one loves to do the most.

3. You write both in Hindi and English. How do you choose the language to write a poem or does a poem choose its own language, for instance, your poem न्याय/अन्याय which I would like to share with readers?
Lt Colonel Shyam Sunder Sharma, Shaurya Chakra (Retired)
के बाँध पाषाण,
निकली हूँ
क्या अवतार लूँ मैं
अनभिज्ञ हूँ
कोरे पन्ने पर इन
तुम क्या लिख बैठोगे?
जो भी लिख बौठोगे
ध्येय वही कर,
ले लूँगी जन्म
निर्धारित किए नियमों
से आकार दे देने मुझे
विकल्प की स्याही
तुम उड़ेल चुके हो
कोई अधिकार कहाँ मुझे?
खाली कलम के सिवा
मैं कुछ भी तो नही

Monica:  A pen chooses its own language. While sitting down to write, I never pre decide the medium of language. The words and the language simply have a mind of their own then.

I have learnt over a period of time never to interfere the flow of words. Forced writing is something I have never been comfortable with. Their power gets diluted if we tamper with them.

4. Many of your poems explore human relationships and the interpersonal conflict? Do you feel human relationship today are under severe stress and most are on the verge of breakups? Does poetry help, if yes how does poetry help?

Monica:  Being a keen observer, I am very sensitive to the aura surrounding a person, their defeats, wins, disillusionment, joys ,hurts battles become mine. I must say it's a boon as writer but a curse as a human.

Relationships have changed over a period of time. Some have evolved and some have taken a back seat. Women for example have in the past shied away from expressing themselves openly and had been mostly silent. But no more. Women are breaking all norms and really evolving. Even many men today are becoming more sensitive to their partners .In a way, nobody wants a mentally, emotionally exhausting relationship any more. Being verbal and vocal has its own share of problems and solutions.

Yes poetry helps to a great extent. Your unspoken words, once they take shape, becomes an extension of your persona. Whatever you feel you write and in a way it sets yourself free. Unburdening helps us to build healthy, more relaxed and understanding relationships. I would like to share on my recent poem that largely answers this question.

A swirling kaleidoscope
of multicolored hues,
They are never still
Don't you ever tire?
I implore.
Never bothering to answer,
they are always in a mad rush
Hardened by their nonchalance,
I give up
Eighteen years
is a long time
I decide I am an orphan
and carry on with my daily chores
A careless word hurled
like a stone
and I catch it
unaware of the repercussions
Dark dingy alleyways
suddenly light up,
Djinns of past
tiptoe over my skin
I know
my nemesis is back
A coiled python,
that constricts
my throat
and I choke
Compelled to surrender
I admit defeat
a squeezed out
memories ooze out of me
till the python uncoils
and loosens its grip.
I am swathed
in memories
that had been
buried long deep
From recesses deeper
than I can fathom
memories gush back
in torrents.
I am not an orphan girl

5. Some of your poems draw heavily on Indian mythology and pick women centric themes, do you see a shift in the status of women back then and women today? Do we really have worthy heroes to look up to insofar as championing the right of women goes?

Monica:  Mythology has in a way laid down the structure of our modern society. We are sometimes so influenced and overpowered by them that we shy away from questioning them. Mythological stories and figures have outlined the roles of various individuals in a society in a set manner and over a period of time we have learnt to tweak them to our advantage. Sadly they are mostly misused by the different sects. Thinking, people change over a period of time and what held good thousands of years back might not hold good now. Subjugation of women was never encouraged but somehow we twisted the written word and   interpreted it the way we want it.

Women were strong then too and they are strong now too. It's a matter of how aware they were or are .History and present times is full of such heroes who have fought not only for themselves but are a champion of their fellow humans rights as well.

We meet Heroes in every walk of life, now a question is do we have the vision to recognise them?

6. You have two daughters, would you encourage them to read or write poetry or take up arts? In this practical world, how relevant are poetry and art?

Monica:  Both my daughters love expression but they have adopted a different medium than mine. They love to draw and paint. My elder one loves to write as well but mostly thoughts and she is blessed with an artistic muse. A few of her paintings have been exhibited as well. My younger one is still learning, she is blessed with a keen power of observation. Often I marvel at her attention to each tiny detail.

Poetry and art are lifesavers according to me. They help you to unwind and release all kinds of emotions.

7. Your poems have been published in number of magazines and anthologies, but you have still not published your own compilation? Do you intend publishing your own book of poetry? What would be your aim if you do publish?

Monica:  Yes I do intend to get my own books published.
If I do publish, the sole aim is only to make people aware that there is strength in writing and there is no need to shy away for fear of being judged or labeled, these have never stopped me from writing.

I have evolved as a person due to my poetry and I am proud of the way I have changed. Poetry has taught me the power of positivity and the responsibility of being a writer

8. Taking a leaf from your poem 'क्यों माँ?' which I would love to share with readers
उन नई तस्वीरों में मैं नही हूँ अब
जो सजी हैं घर के ड्राइंग रूम की बड़ी सी मेज़ पर
ब्याह के बाद हो ही जाती है पराई बेटियाँ
पर क्या दिल से ,आँगन से भी विदा हो लेती हैं?
हो जाती हैं धुएँ सी गुम नई तस्वीर जड़े फ्रेम से
आती हैं बस याद अब तीज, होली, दिवाली पर ही?
करवा चौथ की मिठाई खरीदते समय
या फिर राखी के त्योहार पर
भाई की कलाई सूनी नही रहनी चाहिए
अपशगुनी होती है... ये तुम कहती हो
दिनचर्या का बदलना भाभी को भी दुविधा में डाल देता होगा
उलट-पलट जाता है सलीक़े से बनाया हुआ टाइम टेबल
सच बतलाना,
रात को खाने की मेज़ पर,
गुड़ से मुँह का स्वाद बदलते हुए,
तुम मुझे याद करती हो?
मैं किस घर की हूँ माँ?
तुम्हारे नही, तो क्यों बंधी हूँ तेरी रेशमी, झालर सजी डोरियों से?
कन्या का दान किया था
तो पूरा करती माँ...
पूरे होने की इच्छा में,
हिस्से बटोरती हूँ तो तय नही कर पाती
की किस खूंटे की हूँ मैं
अधूरी सी डोलती रहती हूँ कभी इस घर
कभी बाबा , भाई के घर की देहरी पर
घर औरतों का नही होता
शायद आज जन्मी होती तो तुझसे जिरह कर लेती
खाने की मेज़ पर दूसरी तरफ बैठी
तेरी तो कोख़ भी घर मेरा हुआ
जलते हुए सवाल ले,
बैठ गई मुट्ठी भर मिट्टी के नीचे मैं
साँस नही आती माँ
जब पल्ले के कोनो से पोंछ रही होगी आँखें,
तो दबा ये दिल में चुभता सवाल,
नानी से भी पूछ लेना
'क्यों माँ?'
In the typical Indian customs, most Indian women leave their maternal homes for their husband’s abode. This displacement and establishing a new home is something most women go through. Our mindsets, including those of our judiciary are still meshed in patriarchy? How can poetry help change mindsets?

Monica:  A voice, however small and meek, has a power to destabilize the strongest of foundations. A crack can never be repaired. It will turn into a song and thousands shall sing it. A woman doesn't want anything but to be heard, respected and appreciated. That's not much, is it?

Our Society is at present going through a lot of change in this respect and something will definitely be achieved.

Every single drop is important to an ocean.

9. I have noticed that you do not adhere to any specific structure or form in your poems? Is traditional form writing such as say ghazals in Hindi/Urdu or sonnets in English restrictive? How often are you tempted to rhyme or to do you deliberate avoid rhyming?

Monica:  Mostly I write in blank verses. But I have written a few ghazals too and tried my hand in structured poetry. I respect them immensely but personally I find them restrictive. A ghazal has a longer life no doubt but I find it easy to express myself without any constraints. Again rhyming is something which I am not comfortable in. It restricts my flow of thoughts as I have to struggle to make it rhyme. But there are some poets who do it very comfortably not losing their flow of narration. Forced rhyming, I feel is jarring and I prefer to stay away from it. As far as avoiding goes, I don’t. What is bound to be written; will be written.

10. Who are your favorite poets in Hindi and English? Do you draw inspiration from them? 

Monica:  It would be a lie if I say I have studied or read poetry. It is only recently that I have started to read poetry but that too infrequently. Shakespearian style of poetry, big names in poetry and flowery words do not interest me if they do not speak to me.

Sometimes, a simple verse touches your soul more than the fancy poems and if I connect to it, it works for me. I do not go by a poet’s name but their poetry so I can say I have no favorite poets.

Lieutenant Colonel Shyam Sunder Sharma, Shaurya Chakra ( Retired)
A decorated and War wounded veteran, single parent to two daughters and two dogs, Shyam is an avid birdwatcher and nature lover. He holds a Master’s degree in English Literature.  Published in number of anthologies and magazines in India and abroad, such as Setu, Poetry in the Park Collection No 3 - A New Ulster Poetry A poetry collective in Athlone, Ireland, Lakeview Journal, Camel Saloon, Mad Swirl, The first cut, Earthen lamp journal, Episteme, Hans and more. Shyam was a Guest Poet at Fermoy International Poetry Festival at Ireland in August 2013 and the event coordinator of the Delhi Poetry Festival 2014. He runs a dynamic Poetry and Art Group on Facebook, by the name - Poets, Artists Unplugged.