Literary Shelf

In Conversation with Dr Vihang A. Naik.

T.S.Chandra Mouli : Namaskar! Thanks for permitting us to interview you, sir.

Vihang Naik : My Pleasure. Dr. T.S.Chandra Mouli

TSCM : How and when did you start writing poetry?

VN : It was during my teens that Muse caught me. Though it is difficult to locate the origin or time. If I recollect... it was somewhere around my ninth grade that I wrote my first lines, to my utter surprise it was my first verse. To be more precise I used to take morning walks at Maharishi Arvind Garden, Fatehgunj, Baroda. We lived very near to this garden. I believe garden is a not pre-condition of writing poetry but you see, the environment and the times and historical personnel and social conditions must have caused me to take up the pen. I used to scribble verses during my morning walks in Garden. Then often reworked them to ignite aesthetic quality when read out to friends and at poetry circles.

TSCM : Please tell us something about your childhood, studies.

VN : I was born to Gujarati Parents in Surat, Gujarat. After my birth my parents left the city, where I was born, Surat. They soon left the city to arrive at Baroda. My primary schooling was at Navrachana School, Baroda. I shifted often from Baroda to Ahmedabad. Changed cities and schools. Now it is the journey that remains with me, my memory. I used to scribble verses during later part of my schooling. Of course, after school I then entered the portals of The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. By this time I burnt one collection of poetry written in English by me during my early period of writing. I don’t know, but this personal event of my burning my collection was published in local newspaper when at twenty four my published book of poetry was on stand in 1993. Here I was introduced to Philosophy and Dr. G. N. Devy at MSU who encouraged me to read out from my published first collection at Commonwealth Meet Up organized by him where he released my City Times & Other Poems. I had just completed my Undergraduate Programme in Philosophy and English Literature then. It was just then after participating in National Seminar on ‘Teaching Creative Writing:A Creative Approach’ conducted by Clark Blaise from Iowa at M. S. University of Baroda my ideas on poetry were formulated and later Prof. P. C. Kar who was there for my Post Graduate Programme called me to present my views on poetry at his recently founded Forum On Contemporary Theory. As a participant I presented my Poetry Manifesto (an essay) propounding views on poetry and arts. Along with my post graduate programme I tried to establish poetry circle at MSU where practicing poets would come and read out from any languages including English. It did survive as long as I was there. From South Gujarat via Ahmedabad and Prantij ( the place I used to commute for teaching assignment while staying in Ahmedabad during 1996 – 97 ).Now I am at Ambaji in North Gujarat teaching at Shree Ambaji Arts College since last fifteen years or so.

TSCM : What are your concerns as a poet ?

VN : Initially the concerns of my poetry was city life in contemporary times. It kept changing. Then it was poetry. Poetry, on the art of writing poetry. That is on poetry on writing process with my personal aesthetics. To me poetry is more of a craft. To create an oeuvre text there is much of a hard labor and a little amount of inspiration. Of course, without intuition a poet cannot do anything. Intuition plays vital role in poetry writing. I do not encourage command poetry. On the contrary one can try with experiments in poetry with faculty of intuition. Of course, I do translate Gujarati poetry in to English besides writing in English.

TSCM : What perceptible influences are there on your poetry?

VN : One cannot write in vacuum. As a child I was introduced in schools to Romantic, Modern and Metaphysical Poets in English and Gujarati. Bhakti poets of India are recited in schools. A poet is born out of influences. Though there is something like healthy influence where a poet carries on the load of cultural memory, tradition and being one’s own voice too have a bearing, if you call it original or individual. Find out ways to play with language. Cause system of literary language, conventions, codes and rules of combination gets precipitated into a particular poem or text.

TSCM : Do you feel social consciousness or ideological approach is necessary for a poet? Could you elaborate?

VN : I do not believe poetry is handmaid of any ideology. But, you see, social consciousness is one significant element which no poet or writer can escape. It will come out in one form or the other. Or even personal history of a writer could crop up. Some would like to call it confessional poetry. But what a significant writer does is that of trying to objectifying personal experience into myths and persona. Rather than propagating ideology one should seek to reveal which is not seen. To go beyond that which is seen. Some call it metaphysis. Like metaphysical poets we had Bhakti poets in India. Experiment with poetry would be my first love.

TSCM : How do you employ images and symbols in your poetry?

VN : I don’t think I employ consciously but, you see, they come out as images, symbols and myths. A poet would like to experiment in newer modes. May be from cultural memory or from subtle response to experience.

TSCM : What are the recurring themes and images ? Could you give a few examples ?

Most of the poems collected in my Making a Poem are of this nature. I would like to quote most of my poems but I am afraid we do not have that much space. ‘A Poem Comes Alive’

after image
a poem
injects life
in the rib of words.

The other poem would be ‘Making A Poem’

You see a
    snake uncoil. Words bare
themselves. You come to know
what nakedness is a does.
    Menaka’s charm works as a
    Rule. A sage needs senses.
In this episode the pen runs
out of ink. Refill. The sound
    of music resonates. Sheets flap.
    The dance of the black ink and
little light. A poem is made.

Yet other my Poetry Manifesto :

Poetry Manifesto
Yes, a poetry must be
an unexpected thing; perhaps silly.
A nightmare or a dream.
A craft, a paper art.
Why bother for something more.
The why, the how
and the what of poetry.
May it be black and white or bloody.
Or let there be VIBGYOR
paper poems.

TSCM : Do you feel poetry festivals or events promote poetic creativity? Are they relevant at all?

VN : I don’t think they directly affect poetry writing or creativity. But they are relevant in the sense that they create a sense of social community. Like what we have in Facebook : a virtual social community. Couple of social virtual community groups I founded some couple of years ago which are vibrant and thriving even today. Perhaps, it is a need of hour. Of course, there are many in World Wide Web. We are living in changing times. Social Networking virtual sites are relevant to some extent. They pass on information and help you to self-publish or share your texts and may be you can get feedback or get encouraged by your virtual friends. What you expect out of social sites or meet ups that matters. You cannot expect that poetry festivals or meet ups or virtual social sites that will make one a poet but they do play some kind of role in our complex society. Like I meet number of good poets and writers through Facebook. Festivals and meet up are good for poetry readings. It is our Indian tradition to recite with get together?. A kind of our oral tradition of recitation of verse or story in verse. In Gujarat it is called Dairo which usually lasts whole night with folk poetry and songs. In indigenous communities in Gujarat it is called Chotro where communities gather for folk literary festival and which is something more than a conference. Oral poetry and literature is integral part of Indian societies, cultures and traditions among various Indian Languages. If festivals work in that direction we must help them to revive our culture and tradition in whatever language that may be.

TSCM : As a poet what is your view of the prevailing scenario?

VN : Indian poets need poetry of their own, even though the language is English. What is needed is to make poetry local without being conscious of putting efforts on making it global. The Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi is doing significant work by encouraging regional literary texts getting translated and making them available in English language. The act of translation activity gets encouraged by getting it published in Indian Literature or in book form.

TSCM : What are the trends you could notice in post-Independence Indian English Poetry?

VN : Pre- Independence Indian English Poetry had distinct elements of spirituality and mysticism along with Romanticism. Perhaps, it was the age of poets. You can see Henry Derozio and Michael Madhusudan Dutt as outcome of cultural conflict.Indian Renaissance with characteristics of spirituality and mysticism can be found in Sri Aurobindo and Rabindranath Tagore, though Sri Aurobindo came out with his theory of overhead poetry. The same period gave distinct woman poets, Sarojini Naidu and Toru Dutt. But in Post- Independence era there are many trends and schools and groups. Often one pitted against another, if not directly then one can trace through little magazines and journals. The elements are often carried forward as a part of culture and tradition though for a short period of time. One can find present day poetry carrying elements of all romantic, spiritual, mystic, modern, post-modern, realistic, surreal, magic realism, imagist and symbolist movements. One of the significant characteristic of Indian Poetry is that in India the history of poetry may not be found in chronological order as in the west. In India many movements exists simultaneously. Though Post-Independence Indian English poetry has distinct characteristics of being modern with elements of isolation and alienation, while our generation may not have feelings of alienation. Of course, modern Indian English poetry begins with arrival of Nissim Ezekiel who used to also edit The Indian P.E.N., from his office space given by The Theosophy Hall at Nariman Point, Bombay. I remember I was relatively young then he edited some of my poems from there. He did send me draft of one of my poem ‘Are You looking for That Poet’ and I was just amazed at his editorial skill as well. He promoted Indian poetry and poets and in fact, modern Indian poetry movement which was set forth by Prof. P. Lal with his controversial modern Indian poetry anthology and credo in 1969. Then we have modern poets along with Prof. Nissim Ezekiel like Dom Moraes, A. K. Ramanujan, Arun Kolatkar, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, R. Parthasarathy, Keki Daruwalla, Shiv K. Kumar, Kamala Das, P. Lal and Jayanta Mahapatra among others. These were the first generation of modern poets.

TSCM : Which trends have gained ground? What is conspicuous now?

VN: Borderless world. Poets are now at home with varying ideas and they do not show explicit signs of English Language as a medium of alienation and aphasia?. Though it comes to a poet even in mother tongue or when using any medium of expression.

TSCM : Could you sum up your views on your poetry, please?

VN : Poetry is fusion of thought and feelings. Moreover, a poem should be compact and chiseled to a fine work of art. It is an outcome of intuition, the faculty we don’t find in machines. A good poem does not dictate one fixed meaning with too many direct statements but is indicative and suggestive in diction and tone leading to multiple meanings which ignites poetic experience for a reader. After all it is the reader who breathes life into a poem. This can be achieved in poets’ private workshop.

TSCM: What is your prognosis of Indian English poetry?

VN: Indian English poetry has good future. What we need is to create an Indian English language from our local soil where we belong to, influenced by other regional Indian languages, traditions and cultures.Indian English Poetry can reflect our desi cultures through English Language. We need personal poetic language. Indianize English. The English which is in practice in India along with diction that is local. Use of pidgin English can be encouraged in our multi-lingual and multi-cultural scenario. In other words, that would be making desi English and what we would get is Indian Poetry in desi English communicating verities of desi cultures. A poet can develop a style, idiom; voice of one’s own to make it colloquial rooted in local soil affected by culture and tradition.

TSCM: How far the trends or movements abroad have influenced Indian English poetry?

VN: Indian English poetry has had complex relation with trends or movements abroad. Some healthy and some not so healthy. From the birth of IEP it has this love and hate relationship. The way English poetry had relationship with Greeks, French, and German and Russian schools to name some. But I do hesitate to label ‘Indian Poetry’ as a singular term. IP is plural from the beginning as India is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual country. Indian English poet cannot remain unaffected. In fact, the more regional, local culture it imbibes the more potent it becomes which is a practice with African and Caribbean poetry. Of course, Indian English idiom will still develop further as it becomes conscious of its own cultures and environment seeing the potentiality of multi-cultural characteristics of India. I have always found Indian Poetry to be plural in character as India is multi-cultural and multi-lingual country unlike mono – cultural and lingual trends and movements. Here poetry of Indian Languages may influence Indian English poetry. At times it may happen the other way, even while in translating poetry. What we have is not poetry but poetries in India.

TSCM: How far these have had an impact on your thought or craft ?

VN: I now see my journey from City Times and Other Poems to Making A Poem, both collections in English.Then another experiment of verse in Gujarati language Jeevangeet. The latest being Poetry Manifesto (New & Selected Poems) in English; it is a long journey experimenting in craft, style with intuitive vision.

Thanks for sharing your erudite views on poetry in general and Indian English poetry in particular. It helps us in appreciating your poetic thought better. We are honoured, sir.
                                     [ This is part of a text under process]


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