Know your Author

“WORDS are nothing but expressions; EXPRESSIONS are nothing but emotions; EMOTIONS are nothing but feelings; FEELINGS are nothing but poetry; POETRY is nothing but soulful words and; every word has a SOUL” - with these opening thoughts Irshad Kamil, noted lyricist, poet, author, writer, strikes a chord with Smita Dwivedi. Irshad KamilAt a tender age of five, he started appreciating words and original levitra even created a poem. Well, these were the unnoticed spurts of the birth of the poet: Irshad Kamil. The name is unique…so, is Irshad his real name? To this, he replied with a smile, “I was born with this name only. It has nothing to do with me being a poet. It’s my mom’s blessings that helped me to get successful.”

Beginning his journey from a lower middle-class family of Malerkotla (Punjab), the youngest amongst the seven siblings, Irshad took admission in Punjab University (Chandigarh) and attained a Doctorate Degree in Hindi poetry. But what remained an unseen, silent companion through the years, holding him together, close to himself, was his love for writing.

“One has to be in love, feel love and celebrate love within him first then only he can write words that will touch every heart and I have my stories too.”
This love from the inception to the time it became Irshad’s Raison d’etre is a mystery for Irshad too. On asking him, how this eternal affair with words started, he shared, “That’s very difficult to answer and there is no particular date or time for any author or writer to start playing words game. It’s a gradual process and result of years of personal, emotional and inspiration journey that leads us to a point where we are now.”

From TV serials to films…

Irshad had a brief stint as a journalist and theatre, but life took him into its folds and only for you he started writing for serials. But he was looking for something more and finally Irshad met Imtiaz Ali. First meeting with Imtiaz and a life-time bond was formed. Socha Na Tha was the first for both Imtiaz and Irshad.

Pure passion and original style began to weave itself through the pen of Irshad and be it any genre or style, Irshad proved his mettle. Though awards and accolades have been many, but the milestone was when he won himself the Filmfare Award for the song Ajj Din Chadheyya in the year 2010. Shabd, Jab We Met, Tum Milo Toh Sahi, Love Aaj Kal, Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Mausam…Irshad’s songs are his imaginative revelations, yet to be decoded by all. But RockStar is the closest to the reflection of this Lyricist. Writing for Rockstar, Irshad effortlessly unleashed the real rebellion that he is... Rockstar was a catharsis…an experience of returning to oneself…reclaiming oneself.

From films to books…

Having a successful and satisfying career in Bollywood, writing a book was neither an impulsive nor an easy thing for him. It was a long yearning within him to write a book. As he shared, “Poetry is a free process, it is like flying in the sky. Writing songs too is similar to flying in the sky but within limits, as there are a number of factors to be taken into account. But there is more freedom when you are writing for yourself, than when you are working for someone else. For films, you have to keep the story and characters in mind, whereas while writing poetry, our emotions and thoughts flow without any constraints. I have been writing poetry since a long time. This being my first book, Ek Mahina Nazmon Ka, I have written it in a particular nazm meant for my young followers and fans and has the tagline Love’s Long Biography. As the title suggests, it is a book on love with a very contemporary feel to it.”

Earlier, one of his plays Bolti Deewarein was published and he had also written an analytical book on Hindi poetry – Samkaleen Kavita and recently Ek Mahina Nazmon Ka. The latter has become a bestseller within a month of release. On asking about the title he said, “I liked the phrase, hence I decided to give that as the title of the book. Besides, it is a very apt title as the book contains 31 long and short poems for each day of the month.”

Inspiration for love songs…

On asking about inspiration behind so many love songs and poems, he laughed and added, “One has to be in love, feel love and celebrate love within him first then only he can write words that will touch every heart and I have my stories too.”

Romancing with books…

On a concluding note, while commenting on importance of books, he shared, “For me books are as important as relationships. Like we have mother, father, brother or sister, we need to have a book to read as well. And having a physical book or e-book, I always prefer paper and ink. As for me, reading a physical book is like romancing with your girl friend or and e-books are like mannequins.”

Amar ChandelAmar Chandel was working as an associate editor with The Tribune, Chandigarh, where he was also responsible for the page on Health. “It was then that I realised that lot of medical problems can be resolved without the use of medicines but people are unaware of it. I started writing a column, which was much appreciated and this later formed the basis of my first book,” he shared. His popular first self-help book, Perfect Health in 20 Weeks became a bestseller. “This book took three-four years to complete,” he said.

After resigning from his job at The Tribune, he has been practicing and teaching a comprehensive lifestyle modification programme called Holistic Healing in India and abroad, with the help of which thousands of people have cured themselves of acute and chronic diseases without the use of any medicines. “This course is foundation for learning meditation as your body needs to be fit before meditation.

There is no self-realisation when the person is under stress and 90% of stress is not because of lack of meditation but certain mistakes one makes day to day, which include breathing, food, thinking process, jealously, etc. And that’s what formed the basis of my second book Stress to Serenity,” he said.

Stress to Serenity has already received rave reviews and is on the path of being a bestseller. “My book is for all those who wish to lead a stress-free life. 90% of stress is for no reasons and if one changes one’s attitude, lot of problems can be solved,” he said. Being a journalist, was it easy for him to get published? “KPR Nair of Konark Publishers joined my holistic healing course and motivated me to write a book. So, it was a kind of easy to get published,” he said.

Amar is currently working on his next book Raw Miracle, Raw Diet which shows that many diseases can be cured without the use of medicines. “The book will be released next year,” he told.

So how important are books in the self-help category? “My personal opinion is that books fill the missing gaps. But, books are not really helpful until they are implemented. Only those should read self-help books who want to help themselves. Every author presents his work in a book and it should not be read like a novel. Read it slowly and put it to practical use. Read chapter by chapter and what may appear non-sensible might actually be the essence of the book,” he said.

On a lighter note, Amar says that journalists lead a miserable life with bad food and equally bad working hours and unhealthy competition. “It all falls upon them on a later age. So, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to be healthy,” he concluded.

–says Uma Vasudev, celebrated journalist, writer and documentary film maker

With three political biographies on Indira Gandhi, numerous novels, several books on culture, music and the arts, Uma Vasudev still continues to explore a wide and unusual creative range from history to fiction. Currently, she is working on two books alternating between politics and short stories. Smita Dwivedi in a long conversation with this inspiring octogenarian discovers her love for words, music and art. And how Delhi during 60s-70s was the best place in the world for creative writers and much more.

Uma Vasudev was the first editor of the magazine India Today. Author of two best selling biographies, Uma Vasudev is a popular Indian novelist and a well renowned columnist on political issues. She has also written, produced and directed several documentaries and television serials. Her biographies Indira Gandhi: Courage Under Fire and Indira Gandhi: Revolution in Restraint are worth reading. Some more books of Uma Vasudev include: The Song of Anasuya, Shreya of Sonagarh, Satish Gurjal: Where the Silence Speaks, Paintings, Kranthijia, Hariprasad Chaurasia and more.

As a freelance columnist, Uma has continued to cover topics ranging from politics to the arts, both in the literary field and for radio and television. Her particular interest has been Indian Classical music, in which she herself took vocal training at Delhi’s Gandharava Mahavidalaya. Her portraits of India’s great ustads and gurus were the earliest to be published in the Illustrated Weekly of India in the form of personal interviews, which are now of archival value.

On first book…

“My first book was The Song of Anasuya, which investigates and recesses around the complex human psyche. I had written this book in my 20s and it was based on male narration. This book is in Punjab University curriculum as well. So, it is close to my heart,” She shared.

On biographies!

The biographies written by Uma Vasudev are comprehensive. So, how it actually happened that she ended up with many such works. To which she laughed and added, “Even I am still wondering about this.”

Explaining it further, she added, “I was the only female journalist in 1970s to handle political beat. I got to interact a lot with Indira Ji and travel across the world with her. So, it was an obvious decision to write her biography, which was so comprehensive that we decided it into two different books. One is based on her life before emergency and another one after emergency. While, the biography on Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia was due to my immense interest in music and Satish Gujral was a good friend, so his biography was much easier.”

On Indira Gandhi…

Uma feels that her biographies on Indira Gandhi were actually an attempt to identify the country's history through a woman who governed it. According to her, she was a gifted person, with so much of courage. “She is one of the most magnificent Indian personalities of 20th century and I am lucky to spend so much time with her. It was really a great experience to trace her story from a young girl, who developed herself against the background of her grandfather Motilal Nehru’s rich fortune and early beginning in freedom struggle, to complete plunging into Indian politics and finally her fall after emergency. Also her personal life, her love life and her relationship with Mahatama Gandhi were worth knowing,” she narrated.

Characters…inspired from life!

Uma Vasudev deals with fictional as well as non-fictional approach while writing. For instance, none of the characters of her novels are entirely fictitious. She feels that fiction is basically a truth even it seems like complete fantasy. “The characters of any novel are created from within and not from outside of oneself,” shares Uma.

Delhi Diaries!

Uma loves Delhi and Delhi loves Uma; she maintained her loyalties with the city for her whole life. She spent her childhood in Delhi and was national level sportsperson too. She shared fond memories of this beautiful green city, with lots of space all over. “Coffee Shop in CP was the cradle for most of us. We were young and creative people, discussing change all the time. During 70s, it was a great place. We saw ministers…even prime minster sharing coffee with us. There are numerous great authors, writers, politicians, poets, industrialist and entrepreneurs which this city has given to India. There was something in the air; we were living freedom in true sense.”

In today’s era, when whole world is on web, the charm of watching artisans live has lost in sheen. And she shared her experiences of the time, when Delhi was a culture capital. “There was a time, when all the big artists used to have their concert in Delhi and it was pack house with all the top citizens. I was such a music fan that I used to write reviews, while I was coming back home in my car and it was published in next day newspaper. It was great fun!”

Message to readers…

“Read more and make your own opinion and learn something new every day. No matter what, books were…are…and will be our best friends,” concludes Uma enthusiastically.

Growing up in a village in Cochin with more temples than was necessary, it was no wonder that the Ramayana fascinated him. Ironically, he was drawn to the anti-hero of the epic – Ravana, and to his people, the Asuras, and that became the title of his first book. He did not stop at this; his second book Ajaya has Kauravas of Mahabharata as his heroes. Meet Anand Neelakantan in conversation with Varsha Verma. Anand Neelakantan is known for his debut novel Asura Tale of the Vanquished & AJAYA: Epic of the Kaurava Clan - Roll Of The Dice. Anand’s debut work Asura: Tale of the Vanquished was a surprise bestseller of 2012, breaking into the top seller charts within a week of its launch. And so is Ajaya.

So what is Ajaya all about? “If Jaya is the Mahabharata of Pandavas, Ajaya is the Mahabharata of Kauravas. Ajaya is Suyodhana’s (Duryodhana is more popular parlance) Mahabharata where Kauravas are heroes rather than the despicable villains they are usually made out to be. The first part of the book- Ajaya epic of Kaurava clan, Roll of the dice has been published on December 1, 2013 and the second and last part, Rise of Kali (note: Kali as in Kaliyuga) is slated for release by mid August this year,” tells Anand Neelakantan.

The book has featured in the top position in booksellers lists like Crossword, Landmark, Oxford, etc. “The response and reviews of the book has been fabulous so far. What is icing on the cake is that my first book Asura: Tale of the Vanquished is still in the charts,” he shares. The book has recently been launched in Tamil language and is receiving rave reviews.

And this is just the beginning, Anand is working on a few more books, all related to mythology. On asking why, he replies, “An author writes what he or she is most fascinated about. For me, it is mythology. I am working on Mudrarakshasa from Rakshasa’s view point. Traditional tellings say Chanakya’s story with Rakshasa as the villain. My novel will take the story from Rakshasa’s view point, at the eve of Alexander’s invasion of India.”

Since all such books make interesting trilogies, we asked Anand if he’s planning one. “Yes, I am planning a trilogy soon. Though, I prefer to work on single books as it gives a sense of completion to both author and readers. However, certain stories need a bigger canvas and I may have to write a trilogy for something I have in mind, as the story requires it,” he shares.

So, what’s the most satisfying and difficult part of writing? “When I write my first draft, I write for myself. That is the most satisfying part of writing. Nothing can beat its satisfaction. The hardest part is editing the first draft. Every word has been put with a lot of passion, but when I read it after a few days, I start doubting my sanity and writing ability. Editing out chunks of what I have poured my heart on is painful, but necessary,” tells Anand.

Anand feels that his journey so far as an author has been wonderful. “Three years before, I used to wonder whether anyone would ever read my books. Today, when my books are topping bestseller charts, it gives me a lot of satisfaction. I hope to write more and more books and perhaps try my hands in television or films,” he adds.

Cartooning remains his first love and he likes reading comics and children’s books. “The best thing to happen in the world is Tom and Jerry series, which I enjoy watching with my children. Other than that, I love to do oil painting,” laughs Anand.

As an advice to aspiring writers, Anand says, “Keep writing. The craft improves as you keep practicing. A musician practices for many years before he dares to perform in public, a sportsman spends most of his childhood practicing, yet many people who want to write expect that their first attempt to write would get published and they will earn universal fame. Writing is no different from any other profession. Practise makes a writer perfect.” 

“Read my books just as another fiction. They are not research papers and I am not a scholar by any stretch of imagination,” concludes Anand.

What else is poetry but the effusions of the innermost core of the human mind? From classical texts to the ultra postmodern practising poets and theoreticians have accepted as such. A poet today doesn’t live in an ivory tower and dream of the fantastic; he/she draws material succinctly from life, says Dr Nandini Sahu (NS) in conversation with Vipan Kumar.Dr Nandini Sahu is a major voice in contemporary Indian English literature, widely published in India, USA, UK, Africa and Pakistan. She is a double gold medalist in English literature and also the award winner of All India Poetry Contest, the Shiksha Ratna Puraskar and Bouddha Creative Writers’ Award. She is the author/editor of nine books entitled The Other Voice (a poetry collection), Recollection as Redemption, Post-Modernist Delegation to English Language Teaching, The Silence (a poetry collection), The Post Colonial Space: Writing the Self and the Nation, Silver Poems on My Lips (a poetry collection), Folklore and the Alternative Modernities (Vol I), Folklore and the Alternative Modernities (Vol II) and Sukamaa and Other Poems, (a poetry collection). She has one poetry collection under publication, Sita (A Poem). Presently, she is an associate professor of English in Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. Dr Sahu has designed academic programmes/courses on Folklore and Cultural Studies, Children’s Literature and American Literature for IGNOU.

In an exclusive interview with Dr Sahu; Vipan Kumar, lecturer in English, CASS, Adi Keih, Asmara, Eritrea, NE Africa, asks about her idea of marginal studies.

VK: Tell us something about your journey in the literary world?

NS: I have consciously never done anything for the sake of fame. Looking back today to where I started from, there is a degree of satisfaction at what life has given me as a person of literature. Born and brought up in a traditional Odishan village, educated in what many would call ‘white tile’ institutions but with a very strong family educational backgrounds, I have always found my moorings in my medium of thought and expression, the most nondescript of things in my surroundings, and most importantly, in the varied and vivid experiences in the journey of life. To tell you the truth, I am happy to have become what I always wanted to be….a passionate student of English Literature, an academic and poet in my own right and on my own terms.

VK: Do you think that 'poetry' has a good demand in this era of science and technology?

Dr Nandini SahuNS: I am both surprised and amused that the issue still exists! See, every age of civilization has had its own eras of scientific thought as befitted the levels of knowledge and advancement of the age; and literary pursuits in general and poetry in particular have always coexisted with that. In fact, some of the best minds of bygone eras have inculcated both facets in their work. From Aristotle through Omar Khayyam to Jayanta Mahapatra nearer home, I could give you instances galore of luminaries who were men of science in their academic capabilities and excelled either as poets or as connoisseurs of poetry. In our own times, I might mention Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, formally a student of Physics and Aerospace Engineering, and one of the most erudite Presidents our country has had. I refer to Dr Kalam as an answer to the veritable bridges between poetry and science and technology that you talk of; a man of science with a soul and spirit that is as ‘poetic’ as can be! What else is poetry but the effusions of the innermost core of the human mind? From classical texts to the ultra post modern of them, practising poets and theoreticians have accepted as such. A poet today doesn’t live in an ivory tower and dream of the fantastic; he/she draws material succinctly from life. Poetry (as an inclusive term), which to my mind, is basically the panacea for the myriad stresses of life, is most often a corollary to what you mean as the era of science and technology. The busy corporate might not be accepting the proposition overtly in so many words, but I see no conflict between the two! To put these thoughts in verse, I’d quote from my own musings that are of course now in print:

The gentle art of looking through,
A concrete experience of the abstract,
the union of life and peace,
the vision and the visionless
taken together,
the song and silence,
the corners where all the rivers flow
amid the heart’s dark floor,
a rapport with mortality,
a formula of sight,
a clarity of light,
a sign of the heart,
a look into the night,
a day that’s bright,...
what else is poetry
but a clear insight?

VK: Your main sources of inspiration are your land, people, place and social and political inequalities you see everywhere. But now as you reside in New Delhi, do you find any different social and political scenario here?

NS: Yes, my land with its topography and uniqueness, my people whom I’ve known intensely, the culture that has reared me and the socio-political milieu that I’ve seen evolve around me, though not necessarily in that order, have indeed been both my moorings in life and the inspiration behind my creativity. As far as residing in Delhi goes, well life in a big city has myriad hues, but the perspectives and insights acquired through felt experiences over the years have never really changed. It’s true that life today is comfortable, but the scenarios that differential power equations bring about are fundamentally the same. I have never been able to turn my eyes away from the obverse side of life; wherever I may be spatially located. The dream of reaching out to the disenfranchised (that is in several senses) that has been a nascent one only gets stronger by the day. As a poet and a human being, I would consider myself successful if ever my thoughts of a better tomorrow can be translated into action, in my own small ways.

VK: You have penned Folklore and the Alternative Modernities. Do you think folklore is full-fledged literature in itself?

NS: A literature, the product of and is a representation of mass culture, is definitely authentic and full fledged. Since there is this aspect of faithful representation of the ways of life of communities at the core of folk literature, I consider it as literature that is autonomous. The two books on folklore experiment with a flexible view of folk, removing notions of folk as part of marginal literature. My strong belief is, folk is not something out there in a museum, it is a part and parcel of our lives, and thus, fit enough to be our mainstream literature. The modern literary texts that have made explicit use of the folk traditions to make it available to the readers today are also treated at par with the folk texts that have only the oral tradition, called the pure folk. The books examine the nature, concept and function of folk in modern Indian literature. These volumes are of immense value for the literature teachers, researchers, folklorists, anthropologists, and experts of social psychology marginal studies, dalit studies, developmental studies, culture critics, linguists and policy planners. In the same vein, I have designed courses for my own University and have also been on similar assignments abroad on folklore and culture studies. My ideas of folk are appreciated and accepted all over, because roots are ultimately important for all.

VK: Your fourth poetry collection, Sukamma and Other Poems, is a tribute to the marginal, the subaltern. What do you understand by 'subaltern'?

NS: Sukamaa and Other Poems is, I would say, a subconscious recreation from a vantage point my tryst with deeply felt notions of subalternity that I now realize were always there like a nagging thought at the back of my mind, even when I wasn’t old enough to know any of these technical terminologies. The title figure Sukamaa was a rural, poor tribal Kondh woman, my childhood domestic help who was in no way related to me by ties of blood and was yet a vital support system for the family. In my poetic thoughts on the subaltern, I see her as an archetypal figure and my discourse is from the ‘other’ side, that is to say, an assay in unearthing the voices of the millions of Sukamaas who, true to the Wordsworthian conception of the rustic, are capable of showering elemental love and care on us, the more fortunate, without ever stopping to wonder at the unequal relationships of power that determine their interactions with their masters/employers. Somewhat in terms of a Marxist exaltation of the proletariat, I could as well say that they shine in their work and dedication that go beyond any reasoned analysis of rewards and returns; till they become inadvertent signposts never erasable from our repositories of memory. In that sense, my fourth collection is a long standing debt I owed to my past.

VK: Don't you think that classical literature is dying?

NS: No... I don’t think it’s dying. Classics or classicus means belonging to the highest, thus it has the position of its own. Classical literature denotes to the great masterpieces of the Greek, Roman, and other ancient civilizations, like Homer's Iliad, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Virgil's Aeneid, or Oedipus the King by Sophocles, or works by other ancient writers in epic, lyric, tragedy, comedy or pastoral. In Indian literature, it can be the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Vedic texts and many such. Classical literature builds up the base for all other literatures, so how can it die? Starting from our universities’ syllabi to our coffee tables, classical literature always asserts its position. In my writings, I do not intend to give teleological account of history, but tradition shapes me to what I am today.

VK: As you are very much active, industrious and energetic, what would you like to suggest the budding writers?

NS: I would suggest the budding writers to be honest to their writings, belong to a tradition, have the soul to call a spade a spade, and of course to take appreciation and criticism in the same disposition.

(The interviewer Vipan Kumar is lecturer in English, CASS, Adi Keih, Asmara, Eritrea, NE Africa. His areas of research interest are African American Literature, Post-Colonial Literature and Language Studies. The interview was taken on the occasion of the launch of Nandini Sahu’s fourth poetry collection, Sukamaa and Other Poems in New Delhi in August 2013.)