Interview: Sanjeev Sethi

Poet Sanjeev Sethi interviewed by Deborah Edgeley

(Courtesy: Deborah Edgeley and Ink Pantry; Published in Ink Pantry, UK on 22nd May 2018)

Sanjeev Sethi
You have written three poetry collections. Can you tell us about them?
Suddenly For Someone was published in 1988. I was 26 years old. Nine Summers Later, the second one as the title suggests, was issued as many years later. That makes it 1997. This Summer and That Summer was released in 2015/16 and published by Bloomsbury, India.
I see poetry as an extension of myself. I seek it in most settings. Poems are my response to stimuli. They help me make sense of my situation. I wrestle for nuance by wrenching words and woes. Some poems dip into my emotional deposits, others document the demotic. The attempt is to arrest a moment of truth in a tasteful manner. In short, poetry is my engagement with existence.

Each of these books encapsulates my understanding of the world and my capability to express it. The basic premise hasn’t changed, just my skills as a craftsman, and perhaps I have a deeper understanding of what I write about.

Can you share a few of poems from your collection, This Summer and That Summer, and walk us through the idea behind them?
The opening poem is Pigeons. In suburban Mumbai where the average size of a flat is as large as your handkerchief, the poem is about the issues a harmless bird and her progenies create as intruders:

Pigeons have no tenancy laws.
She placed her squabs on my sill.
When I protested, she gazed at me
with looks which were a hybrid
of hesitancy and hostility.

At night, the pigeons cooed.
Throughout the day,
the exhalation of their excreta
wafted across the apartment.
During feed-time, their twitter
was louder than church bells
annunciating crisis. But I was helpless…

Soon I decided — to be kind to myself,
I had to be cruel.
I opted to evict them.
But there are no courts for this.
No legal machinery.
Only feelings.

Feelings have always failed me.
(Soul Scan is a meditation on the travails of being a poet):

Soul Scan
Shells of silence underneath my skin
burst in a rash of run-ons.
Clear as mud, carp the critics.
But I soldier on like an infantryman
bulwarking his nation’s border,
hoping to be helpful
in an era of nuclear warfare
or bombardments from the Net.
In my growing years I wished to be famous.
Parents gave value to visibility.
It was reassuring for them
to have others accept their issue.
When their pressure ended
I realized,
I am best in my booth.
Without strain of the perfect gargle
or granules of pitch
I sing sweetest for myself.
Skills of a soloist
I have not gathered.
I thrive when my skin trills for itself.
(Have a look at):
Fraught with fissures, I can see
my life wriggling like some children
waggle out of their parents’ care.
In my case there is no one
to chide. I’m ward
and the warden.
Survival anthems urge
you to be accountable.
Here I’m,
mindful of my mistakes.
Now what?
(Ruse is a love poem):
Bathed in bounties of the elements
vacillating fronds blushed. On the corniche
your palm in mine, we were at a fork
parrying tines of the past. You & I
told our truth, as we wished it
not how it had panned out. Like maquillage
or habiliments, we tried removing
the restrictions but doing away with untruths
did not blend with our biotope.
Our chansonette ran on another tune.
(I will end this with Friendship):
Whenever I call her, she is on the cusp
of an interlude. When we are together
honesty is her other name.
The world riddled with rift must reign
in the sequences of her smile.
Grief is her gatekeeper.
When the phone rings, her callers
have promises to proffer.
Full of fire, she is destiny’s flaw.
Some symphonies will never be hers.
Still my friend’s lilt has the potential
to light the lame. Often she disowns this gift.
Her universe seems untidy,
but it is unsoiled. Her haphazardness
is on display while mine is disguised.
It is things that we disagree upon
are the things that draw me to her.
Fortitude is this friend’s flag.
You live in Mumbai, India. Describe a typical day in your life.
About five years ago I began an intense creative phase which continues unabatedIn this phase I have no life outside of writing. All of me is engaged in writing and its auxiliary activity. I’m at my desk for almost 15 hours.
If this seems drudge-like, it is not. I am in it out of choice. I luxuriate in it.

Who inspires you and why?
Life and its layers.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
To not be as tense as I have been. There is no big battle to win. The journey is about small everyday victories and loss. To try to have as clean and meaningful existence as is possible. To be of value to others, and if that isn’t possible, at least try not hurt others.

Tell us a story in five words.
You are your best story.

Have you been on a literary pilgrimage?
Almost every time I am on my desk. For me inditing is a meditative stance, so when I go within and create a meaningful poem, it is a literary pilgrimage. There are days when I end up at the picnic level, the results reach my dustbin. But that is another story.

Why do you think poetry is important?
Because it reminds us of our humaneness, it keeps us in touch with our truths. And perhaps makes us better individuals.

What are you reading at the moment?
In this phase of extensive writing I am not a serious reader. The internet has opened possibilities, on an average day my inbox receives fifty to hundred poems from various sources. As the mood and mind decides, I peruse some of them. But no serious reading.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?
To keep writing and publishing as long as I rejoice in it. I’m published in this or that place somewhere in the world, almost every other day. To continue with vigor.

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