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An exciting ride would be more like it, with plenty of detours, diversions and hiatuses. Interestingly the first book I published way back in 2004 was not my own poetry but my translation of Sukumar Ray’s poetry (and prose) from Bangla into English (Abol Tabol: The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray, from Penguin, which quickly went on to become a Puffin Classic). My first poetry book (Sight May Strike You Blind, Sahitya Akademi) only came out in 2007. This was followed by my poetry book for kids, The Fried Frog and other Funny Foodie Freaky Feisty Poems (Scholastic) in 2009; my second poetry collection for adults, Absent Muses (Poetrywala) in 2010; and then there was a long gap until Space Gulliver: Chronicles of an Alien (HarperCollins) came out in 2015.
But these are merely the milestones that make the journey measurable (and visible). All along, whatever else I do, wherever else I may seem to be headed, it’s the poetry that has kept me going, kept me seeking, kept me experimenting and, most importantly, kept me believing in the word. As a poet, I have seen myself shifting towards heightened clarities, risking new adventures, finding myself newly unsettled, pushing myself in new ways, learning to surrender rather than control, and I think that this secret internal journey is the one I cherish the most.
2. You write poems, novels, short stories and you also translate, what do you enjoy the most? Why?
Oh, I think I enjoy each for a different set of reasons. Each offers me a unique set of challenges, keeps my writerly self alert and energized differently. The poems give me stillness; the short stories hone my mind; translation makes me travel deep inside other skins, other ways of thinking and being, makes me more attentive, more aware, more inventive. And as for novels – they teach me endurance, architecture and humility. I must add, however, that when I write poetry for children is when I have the most unadulterated fun! (Which makes me wonder why I haven’t written any since The Fried Frog came out … perhaps because I keep travelling with it to schools, and so it still feels new?)
3. What is the role of translation in literature?
To make the foreign familiar, to allow access to the inaccessible, to bring distant literatures closer. Translation is the only way we can cross linguistic and parochial borders, break down barriers of “otherness”, connect, enter and understand; it is a powerful, subversive, transformative and essential act that throws open the gates to the library of our shared world.
4. What do you think is the role of literature festivals?
To celebrate the word, to give writers an excuse to gather in congenial, creative, hopefully thoughtful ways, to share and swap their stories, and remind themselves that they are not alone.