Conversation: Nandini Sahu with Sunil Sharma

Nandini Sahu

SS (Sunil Sharma): Please tell us about the intriguing title of your latest poetry book.

NS (Nandini Sahu): A Song, Half and Half is a volume of my love poems. The poems play around the poetic personae’s ideas on complex human emotions, relationships, romantic love, even humour and of course the existential issues of life. The tone and tenor of these poems are a different ball game altogether; here one can notice a sea change in the moods, modes and mores of my personae. Here, I reveal as much as I conceal. Penned as soliloquies from my covid bed, in memory of my love, and then the rekindling of love in a mystic character, ‘Ocean’, these are my politically incorrect poems. I share my life—half and half—with my Muse. Here I celebrate an anonymous love that is still knocking my door, and my personae has left the door ajar.

Sunil Sharma

SS: How relevant is love poetry in toxic times?

NS: Can love ever lose its relevance? In fact, it is more so during the ‘toxic’ times, as you put it. The world needs pure, transparent love. About the relevance of this collection of poems, A Song, Half and Half is a selection of my love poems written between 14th February 2021 to 14th February 2022. Life has never been as eventful as these few months— some mystical waiting of years came to an end during this period. And then I had the most hectic yet fulfilling academic accomplishments in March 2021—with multiple academic lectures and launch of a new academic programme, MA in Folklore and Culture Studies, designed by me singlehandedly, creating ripples in academics. Then in mid-2021 I shifted to my ‘home’, to the home of my own; moving from government accommodations and rented houses, now I have a home, a room and a table of my own. And then in mid-2021, I succumbed to Covid. I was confined to my bed, isolated; I faced low oxygen levels to worst nightmares, near-death situations and mood swings. And then, poetry became my therapy, one poem a day became my survival strategy. Now after my complete recovery, I look back at the previous year with awe. And then there was this moment of epiphany in early 2022, submerging my being in the Pacific, when I decided to publish my love poems as a collection, A Song, Half and Half.  All the poems are about my moods, modes and mores, they are about the roller coaster rides that I had, and of course about the most complex human emotions.

SS: What is the inspiration for composing love lyrics, a staple of romance and cinema? How did it work out for you as a poet situated in mass culture?

NS: Times are rapidly changing. However, I use poetry as the method for which mass culture is twisted, and popular culture is disbursed, expended. That's the difference. Mass culture is something that is shaped by a people and popular culture is something that is used up. I experiment with both. My readers and researchers may find the poems in this collection  very different from my earlier poems. Mythical poet, folklorist Nandini writing romantic, jovial, humorous, light poems, while talking about the existential issues at the same time! I have always advocated social mobility literature, Witness Literature, backed with myth and folklore as my poetic tools. For example, the poem “A Man Like You” professes love for my ‘man’, my poetic personae, when I am in the best of my moods. The logic behind falling in love with the man is, had I been feeling lonely, low or blue, I would have rather gone to seek therapeutic help. Because a depressed mind will only transfer depression to her/his lover. I preferred to fall in love with ‘a man like you’ because I am feeling the best of my feelings now—romantic, optimistic, positive—and I pass on these feelings to ‘you’. Almost all the poems advocate one such thought, a flickering, flaming emotion, and then the words flow freely. I never edited any of these poems, because somehow, I don’t know in what delirious modes I penned these poems. I wrote these poems in a trance, never to look back, edit, re-read, re-write. I kind of renounce my poems once they are written, I detach myself from them and offer them to my august readers to read and give them a meaning. There is one poem in this collection, “Ahalya’s Waiting”. The poem talks about Ahalya vis-à-vis her womanhood. To the myth makers; she was basically a woman cursed by her husband to remain a stone for ages, to be redeemed by Lord Ram. This poem ventures to an alternative reading of Ahalya’s character. It backers the need for indulgence of a woman when Ahalya’s creator asks her to discover her ‘self’ all by herself. ‘Touch’ is used metaphorically in the poem. Ahalya requests her archetypal Lord Ram, if he wants to touch and redeem of her of a ‘sin’ that she never committed, she would prefer to remain a stone; that would be her ultimate liberation. At the same time she wants her Lord to ‘touch’ her, if at all, as an elemental man would touch an elemental woman and both of them will complete each other. To me, this is the alternative modernity of myth.

Somewhere I have experimented with humour in some poems — in fact ‘humour’ has been  the most neglected genre in Indian English Poetry. The poem “To Laugh Like You” uses the pun of ‘General-Body-Meeting’, indicating the meeting of the lovers. And the poem, “A Parody of Love” is a burlesque, it’s a travesty of love. In it, the lady is mocking at a pseudo-lover with his toxic masculinity while talking to her true-love, while speaking about the former as a man who wears his gender as an emblem of honour and uses it to try and subvert the woman. A smart, independent, freethinking woman who ignores fools, is too much of a disappointment to the pseudo lover. The poem exposes such people, of course humorously.

SS: Can love poetry neutralise the extreme reification of emotions?

NS: I think yes. Love of humanity is the answer to all the questions that we have today.

 Poetry, as a trade, is honest or otherwise, is not my question in this collection. The variance is that in poetry we tend to conceal much in our passions and gibe those out to reveal poetically. As poets, we are clear about what we are trying to transport to other mediums. What is History by E. H. Carr is a book which speaks of the debate over subjectivity and objectivity in times gone by. In fact, no unqualified actuality is history, not even in the myths of medieval or ancient times as they are based upon the discernments of who they were. We can attempt to reach a near historical objectivity and precision depending upon the foundations accessible to us as poets. Once we start writing, if we already have a proposition in mind, like historians, then that piece of writing will be blocked from our vision, with a biased view about race, ethnicity, upbringing, gender, faith, edification, class, etc.  In this status quo, we can unquestionably write confessional poetry which could be very near reality based on our individual lives or on life in its universal theme or on the lives of our near and dear ones. It is the subject of a poet -- how much is too much, and what to reveal, and what not to. Here, I reveal as I conceal.

SS: What is more important for you as a female poet: technique of the poetry or emotions, feelings and sensibilities that challenge the dry technicalities of writing heart-led poetry?

NS: I am the queer combination of a poet, professor/teacher, researcher and folklorist. All these identities balance each other and at the same time they overpower each other, I like or dislike it. Thus, for me, techniques, sensibilities, emotions and feelings are equally important in the poetic process. Words have their own culture. They are independent once they are written, they have their own path. But before creating those words, the writers form their own course under the guidance of some divine agenda. I follow my heart and that divine agenda.

SS: Something about your audience?

NS: I have always been fortunate about it. My readers have embraced all kinds of literature I have penned—be it myth, folklore, romantic poetry or fiction, even serious academic research and pedagogy. I experiment with all genres and forms, and I have an ever enthusiastic, elite, very academic audience.

SS: Any memorable incident?

NS: If you are asking about this poetry collection, then yes, the ‘Ocean’ rekindled love in me during the trying times. Of late, I have been thinking a lot about love and God as counterparts working towards eternity-- a love that is unrequited, a love that has no boundaries. The saplings come out gloriously only when the earth cracks open; thus, life culminates only when love happens. Love is the touchstone to deify life. Now I sense, I am the apex of love, and this is my state of being. I would rather go with this quest for love till my last breath. In the first part of the epic poem Mahabharata, it is written that the Sage Vyasa asked Lord Ganesha to transcribe the poem as he dictated it to him. Vyasa goes on dictating the Mahabharatha with his ideas while Lord Ganesha finished writing the Mahabharata in a few days. While I wrote those poems in  just a few months, I had almost similar kind of an experience. There was some divine agenda working in my favour, and I heard a voice dictating me these poems. I simply penned those down.

SS: Thanks for your time.

NS: Thank you indeed for this heart-warming conversation Prof.Sunil Sharma! I have always been an avid reader and contributor of SETU. This is a journal worth its salt. You are doing a commendable service to academia through this journal. I wish you all the best for your mission of touching lives through literature.

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·       Portions of some answers by NS have been borrowed by the poet herself from the Preface of the book, A Song, Half and Half, by Nandini Sahu.


3 comments :

  1. PADMAJA IYENGAR-PADDY, INDIAJuly 7, 2022 at 5:35 AM

    An excellent interaction between two literary greats! Thoroughly enjoyable with lots of learning!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your kind words!

      Delete
  2. PADMAJA IYENGAR-PADDY, INDIAJuly 7, 2022 at 5:43 AM

    An excellent interaction between two literary greats!

    ReplyDelete

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