Ashwani Kumar is an Indian English poet, author and Professor of Development Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai). His books include Banaras and the Other (Poetrywala; Mumbai), first of a trilogy on religious cities in India; My Grandfather’s Imaginary Typewriter (Yeti Books; Calicut) and Community Warriors (Anthem Press; London) among others. His poems, reviews and columns are widely published. He is also one of the chief editors of London School of Economics’ prestigious publication ‘Global Civil Society’. He has been visiting fellow to leading universities around the world. Presently, he is a Senior Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research.
- Can you say something about what made you write your first poem?
“I was wounded early,/and early I learned/ that wounds made me” (Adonis). Don’t remember exactly what made me write the first poem; probably when I loosened the promontory childhood memories and experienced the furious lashing of adult fantasies of vernacular language in the palai(desert) in my backyard.
- What does poetry mean to you? What do you feel when writing poetry?
Poetry is like ‘skies with burning funnels’, and poets swim in the thick maelstroms ‘under the terrible eyes of prison ships’ as the French poet Arthur Rimbaud said. I am neither a formal student of literature nor a workshop trained poet. So personally speaking, I feel like burning in the fire of my own ashes when I am writing poetry.
- Do you think poetry speaks to all kinds of people in all walks of life? How do you think we can take poetry out its confined literary circle?
Poetry is not an opaque mystical thing that only so-called Godmen, spiritual healers or over educated literati can experience. It speaks to all. Remember what saint-poet Basavanna said “The rich/will make temples for Siva. /What shall I, /a poor man, /do? /My legs are pillars,/the body the shrine,/the head a cupola/of gold. In other words, only poetry can heal the wounds caused by Varna divide and quotidian injustices. Thus, poetry needs to be liberated from a culturally impoverished elite minority and neo-middle classes. And we need to create more inclusive mythic and mimetic poetic spaces with million tongues gossiping and quarrelling about the poetry. I am happy that poetry with Prakriti is one such instance.
- When do you write poetry? Is there a specific time in a day? What makes you write a poem?
When I am listening my imaginary Granny Maria’s favourite song ‘Picotante, paralysante…picotante, paralysante’ or when I am between my trips to the farmer’s market and making litti-chokha for my neighbours in Bavaria. But let me tell you the truth, I often fantasize about not writing anything.
- What do you think of this new wave of insta poetry of today? Would you treat it as poetry too?
New poetic traditions evolve, and old traditions acquire new indexical and symbolic forms. So wont be surprised if Insta poetry becomes triumphant messenger in the hubbub of La La land of baby-faced millennials. In short, Insta poetry is a liquid poetic body without permanent organs. Guard it from the narcissistic, guilt-ridden trolls and bots!
- Where do you want to take your work in d future in terms of poetry?
Presently planning to complete the Banaras trilogy. Hope, my poetry in future remains unvanquished satyagraha against the growing power of ‘lies and more lies’!
Thanks Prakriti foundation for organizing such wonderful event.
Thank you Haris, Gopi, Smita Anand for the pictures.