Interview with Aryama Sen

Aryama Sen is a final year student of engineering living in Kolkata. Her interest in a lot of things all at once led her to begin ind.igenous. Good films, books, and music are three of her most important driving forces in life.

What motivates you to write about the Indian Subcontinent? Besides personal affiliations, what is it about the region that speaks to you?

I have grown up with a lot of exposure to Indian art and culture. Music, literature, cinema, dance – all forms of art from the Indian subcontinent have shaped me into who I am. While I’ve continued to discover brilliant work from my country, I haven’t seen a lot of people around me being as attract- ed to it as I was. I started writing about things that are close to me because I wanted them to reach more people, and microblogging on Instagram felt like a good start to it. I wanted my 20-something friends to be as excited about a Shyam Benegal film as they are about the latest episodes of Game of Thrones, to have Ravi Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee on their playlists, and to appreciate Abanindranath along with Gogh.

What is your opinion on the decline of Urdu and how do you think it has affected Indian entertainment? Does it retain its essence through cinema and pop culture?

I cannot read or write the Urdu text, so I do not know if it is my place to comment on this. All I can say is, most of the Urdu I’ve learned and loved has been from films made a few decades ago – be it Gulzar’s Doordarshan series on Ghalib, Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan, or Merchant-Ivory’s Muhafiz. I haven’t come across a lot of films in recent times that have delved deep into the language, and there definitely should be more. On the plus side, however, there’s more online content than ever today, and websites like Rekhta make Urdu accessible to people like me who haven’t grown up learning the language. The anti-NRC-CAA movements saw the return of Urdu in protest songs and poetry. Perhaps there are brighter days waiting for the language.

Hindi and regional cinema have in the recent decade started exploring the values of femininity and the way we define it in mainstream culture. From your perspective, how has the female character arc evolved in films over time?

Strong female characters in Indian cinema of earlier times had emerged mostly from the parallel cinema movement – be it Mirch Masala or Mahanagar. The woman in mainstream Indian cinema was mostly portrayed as the wife, the mother, or the sister, with no agency of her own and blatantly conforming to a patriarchal mindset. That situation has definitely improved a lot. There are more women-centric films even in popular cinema, female characters have found voices of their own. This is perhaps also because the makers today feel answerable to an evolving audience.

India is a diverse country with cultural and communal identities varying from region to region. We’re interested in knowing the variations that different language’s cinema produces in “human behavior”? Is it true that some cultures portray human characters with more depth, more cadence than others?

I wrote about Satyajit Ray’s ‘Hirak Rajar Deshe’ a while ago – a children’s film which is inherently very political, and someone commented, ‘I think such a film could only be made in Bengal.’ Being a Bengali, as much as I would love to be happy hearing this, it isn’t true at all. In India, language changes every twenty kilometers or so, but the basic human emotions, experiences, struggles of the working class aren’t very different across the subcontinent. Watching a Telugu film may feel different from a Marathi one, but that is because of the language and culture of the region that the film portrays. I do not think there’s any difference in depth. Brilliantly poignant and powerful films have emerged from every Indian language.

In India, language changes every twenty kilometers or so, but the basic human emotions, experiences, struggles of the working class aren’t very different across the subcontinent.

You’ve taken quite deep and resilient takes on cinema. We’d like to know when and how your tryst with Indian regional cinema began?

I grew up watching a lot of films in my mother tongue, Bengali, and to me, that wasn’t ‘regional’ cinema, but simply an introduction to the beautiful world of films. Calling Bollywood films Hindi cinema and labeling films of every other language as regional cinema is one of the saddest things that continues to happen. It was my love for cinema as a form of art that gradually led me to discover Marathi, Telugu, Assamese films. Only when we carry on with the Bollywood-regional divide, we limit ourselves as an audience.

Referring to musician Suman’s songs, you’ve mentioned “these were songs that one could play at a protest march or on a first date, all alone in the middle of the night or with an old friend at a coffee shop.” We’d like to know more such gems, do you have any recommendations for our readers? (Any language, any genre of art will work)

So happy you asked this because I’m at my happiest when I give recommendations! You may explore the music of artists like Moushumi Bhowmik and the band Mohiner Ghoraguli from Bengal. A very different genre of music, but with this question I’m also reminded of Iqbal Bano’s renditions of Faiz – beautiful songs of love, freedom, and life.

Interview with Megha Rao

Credits: Shivaji Stormsen

Megha Rao is a performance poet and surrealist artist from Kerala. Megha’s work has been featured on platforms such as Penguin Random House India, Firstpost, The Open Road Review, New Asian Writing, The Alipore Post, Spoken Fest, Why Indian Men Rape and Thought Catalog, and trended at #1 on Spotify podcasts in India. Megha has also been interviewed by leading newspapers such as The Hindu, New Indian Express, Business Standard among some notable others. Megha is a postgraduate in English Literature from the University of Nottingham, UK, and when she’s not writing, she’s either facilitating workshops for young poets or working on her upcoming poetry collection, Teething (HarperCollins India).

How would you describe your relationship with literature? Was it a tryst or did it take a particular event for you to know that you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I was six, but up until high school, I only saw it as a hobby. And then one day I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I had a bunch of brilliant ideas I liked but didn’t love. I’d walk around saying I wanted to be an astronaut or a pilot or something, and then one day at a social event, my father’s friend said something along the lines of, oh, I know what you’ll be, you’ll be a writer. Obviously. I couldn’t believe I’d never considered it before, I think I adored art so much I never thought beyond creating it. But suddenly, the prospect of choosing it for college felt very real. Suddenly, I just knew.

We’ve noticed that a lot of your poems are anecdotal and deeply personal in nature, how was it navigating your own identity through poetry?

Music has been a constant, powerful influence in my life, and I love the poetry in lyrics. I love simple writing, so anything that sounded beautiful and relatable was immortal to me. I didn’t come across poetry I enjoyed until college when I was introduced to Sylvia Plath and Yehuda Amichai, and Arthur Rimbaud. Most of my influences write with a brutally honest voice, and that’s exactly why I gravitated towards them. For me, art is about being raw and cut open.. It’s about spilling. I believe all art is in some way, confessional. I remember starting out as a naive, clueless child, and then transitioning into a powerful, indestructible force – writing has been my vehicle of metamorphosis. I’ve discovered things about myself through it. Every time I write, it’s like marking a new entry in a diary, and in a way, it’s a record, an analysis of a past event. I’m reclaiming my narrative through it, and that’s intensely empowering. The sheer amount of personal growth that poetry offers is astounding, and I’m in awe of it, to say the least.

How would you describe the relationship between your writing and that of your culture? Our theme for this issue is “Homeland” and we’re curious about how your own remnants of home and culture shaped your writing?

It’s scattered, yet fiercely loyal. I’ve drifted a lot ever since I was a child, and there are many cities and countries I’ve almost called home. When we settled in Kerala after my fifth grade, there was a lot of adjusting, a lot of cultural shocks. Time has been kind towards my relationship with my people and my culture. I’m from a place that’s ferociously communist in its ideology. In my state, my people are extremely political, believe they can create change, and wake up early to go vote. We are simple and empowered. When I’m home, I’m usually accompanying my mother to the coconut oil mill or helping my father pull out the edible parts of ripe jackfruit when I’m not taking work calls. There are so many amazing artists here. The singers are extraordinary. My upcoming poetry collection with Harper Collins titled ‘Teething’ has a Kathakali artist in it, is sprinkled with Malayalam words, is rooted in my culture. I secretly write Malayalam poems and it feels so liberating. My experiences from my roots are an integral part of my work, and I’m proud of that.

In a larger context, is poetry a medium to romanticize life? To maybe pick up fragments of trauma and create something beautiful out of it?

There’s a difference between romanticizing life and romanticizing trauma, I believe. The first one makes you look at life from such a beautiful lens, makes you love and live it to the fullest. The latter is a dangerous affair. For me, trauma isn’t beautiful. Pain isn’t beautiful. People who fight their trauma like warriors, people who despite falling show up in front of life willing to be a part of it – their courage, their determination, their resilience, their zest – that’s beautiful. That’s what I want to make art on, that’s what I want to tell the world about. After all that life’s put me through (and I’m hyper-aware that though I’m only twenty-five, I’ve just spoken like an old woman), I still hunger for it. I salivate over new experiences, over blue skies and freshwater lakes. I crave new connections, but also the gentle comfort in solitude. I want it all. I think life is romantic, I want to romance life, I want to be a part of it all. It’s truly as simple and complex as that.

Don’t complicate it, use words people understand. Remember they’re listening to you, they’re not reading you

Credits: Namrata Khera

We love that a lot of your writings are from a feminist lens, who are some female artists that inspire you?

I am hopelessly, desperately, obsessively in love with Frida Kahlo. I love her letters, I love her undaunted passion. Audre Lorde is my idol. I took up her collection, The Black Unicorn, for my university dissertation. Anna Akhmatova is just as precious, and so is Margaret Atwood. And did I mention Plath? Yes, I guess I did. How about Kamala Das? She’s from home. And even Sugathaku- Mari is rather lovely. They’re my favorite artists, but they’re also my muses. Does that make sense?

How was the transition for you to go from the written form of poetry to the long-spoken form? Are there any tips you would like to give?

Initially, terrible. I’d memorize my page poems and go up on stage. And you know, written poems are read well, but with performance, it’s different. Spoken word poetry is all about the senses, all about auditory details and even body language. There’s a focus on repetition, and when I create spoken word poetry, I turn to the goddess of rhymes. Word-play helps. Don’t complicate it, use words people understand. Remem- ber they’re listening to you, they’re not reading you – they’re not going to sit there analyzing your work. They’re not going to hang onto every word, so time your punch lines, fit your pauses where you truly need them, and enunciate. Get ready to get emotional, you’re exposing the vulnerabilities of your heart. Go rage and grieve and be swept up in a maelstrom of euphoria on stage. Not that I knew any of this at first. I remember being super lame. I also remember growing, adapting, and learning fast, I remember loving the process through it all. It’s been a thrilling, chaotic, and absolutely gorgeous journey. And I know I did right by my art. Always.

Interview with Anindita Sengupta

Anindita Sengupta is the author of Walk Like Monsters (Paperwall, 2016) and City of Water (Sahitya Akademi, 2010). She was a Charles Wallace fellow (Kent) and has received awards from Muse India and TFA India. Her work is in several anthologies and journals such as Plume, Feral, One, Ice Floe Press, Perhappened, and others. She lives in Los Angeles, California. Her website is and she tweets as @anu_sengupta

Describe the relationship between your culture to your writing. How is your identity a navigating mechanism for you to write your pieces?

Culture is hydra-headed; sometimes it affects my work insidiously. I am obsessed with the place and often use it as a lens, a way of looking, a way of entering a poem. If stanza means ‘room’, I often step into that room with a particular place in mind. My identity is somewhat hybrid: I was born in Kolkata and grew up in Mumbai. In my twenties & thirties, I lived in Bangalore. I moved to Los Angeles about five years back. A hybrid identity is a way of moving in the world. It is like stranded colorwork in knitting. You have to maintain the tension between various strands just right or the whole thing goes off. I am finishing a full-length collection that talks about this tension, the invisibility one can feel in different spaces. Because to be part of many groups is to also not be part of any of them. For a while after moving to the US, I felt disembodied. The book explores how I embodied myself by making things with my hands, specifically through yarn crafts. It was a way of healing, of fashioning myself anew.

In terms of my ancestors, my father’s parents moved from (then) East Bengal during the Partition. That resides alongside my own pre-occupations with home, migration, and alienation. Themes such as poverty, colonization, and post-colonial trauma affect me. I write about them to understand and navigate. Sometimes, to argue. Because there is a dominant culture that surrounds me and I must be in an argument with it. I have a poem coming out in a journal later this year that deals with global inequity in waste management.

I draw on natural imagery from places but also from books, movies, science journals. Beyond the identity of a nation-state, we are affected by the common world we live in, the one inhabited by bears, salmon, geese. Reading about that world and bringing it into my writing is almost an act of defiance, a refusal to be bordered by narrow expectations of what I “should” sound like.

Describe your thoughts while writing the piece.

As news of the second wave of Covid-19 in India started coming in, like most Indians in the Diaspora, I felt a mix of grief, rage, helplessness, and survivor’s guilt. I was spending all day on Twitter, glued to the news, and having nightmares when I slept. Watching family and friends in India deal with loss and grief, wanting to help them, not being able to visit—these have been common experiences for so many of us who live far away. At the same time, people in the US are being vaccinated. They are feeling cheerful and optimistic. Things are re-opening. The contrast is almost unbearable sometimes. Inhabiting two different worlds can split one at the seams.

It is not that I grudge the happiness of one set but how I wish, some of that was available for others. The global inequity in terms of vaccines is being discussed widely. The US recently agreed to back a vaccine patent waiver so production can be scaled up but a few countries are still blocking this waiver. This happens even as people die en masse in several countries around the world. The pandemic is not over because rich nations decided it must be so and sealed their borders.

Separately, I was reeling from the Indian government’s abject selfishness and utter, malignant incompetence. I did not have high expectations of this government—they were responsible for genocide in Gujarat—but I had underestimated their appetite for carnage. Overcome by the horror, I started writing a series of poems to sort through the images, to put them down somewhere. It became a way of bearing witness, of documenting all the different aspects of this trauma. I can’t say it helps me “make sense” of it. There is no way to make sense of such devastation. Some things must remain beyond comprehension. This is an attempt to record and remember.

Interview with Urooj

Urooj is a Freelance Graphic Designer and owner of @gupshhup. Her online space is all about sharing her creative journey with her audience and her personal goal is to grow as a creative, whilst inspiring women who can relate to her art based on societal issues and stigmas we face daily.

Describe the relationship between your culture to your art. How is your identity a navigating mechanism for you to create art?

The illustrations question stereotypes and stigmas within the South Asian culture whilst exploring attributes such as gender equality, race, personal issues such as marriage/career, and cultural heritage (e.g., norm and the way of living developed by a community passed on from generation). A lot of societal issues within the South Asian culture aren’t spoken about for example a women’s menstrual cycle or the tradition of dowry. Before I started my platform, I wasn’t half as aware of these issues as I am now and that’s due to seeing powerful pieces by other artists which challenge these stigmas. The more these issues are spoken about the better, as art is something most people enjoy looking at visually and combining it with societal issues can make it a powerful method to spread awareness. There are a lot of amazing things about my culture, however, there are more issues that need to be spoken about instead of being hushed and that is what I aim to do in order to make a positive impact within the South Asian community. 

Describe your thoughts while creating the piece?

I like to be quite flexible when creating my pieces, as long as I can visualise the outcome and what I want from it. My main focus is the message and that has to be supported by the illustration itself. Factors like their body language and facial expressions play a big role within the pieces. When it comes to choosing colours, I like to keep the pieces vibrant and colourful as it reminds me of my culture. It also adds a hint of playfulness as I don’t want my pieces to come across as being too ‘serious’. I can be a bit of a perfectionist as there have been times where I’m halfway through a piece and have decided to scrap it and start again, just because the message doesn’t fit with how I’ve portrayed it. However, I see it as part of the learning process so I don’t mind as long as I’m happy with the end result! 

Mathushaa Sagthidas for our Homeland Issue

Mathushaa Sagthidas’s photography showcases a strong interest in fine art, contemporary fashion, and styling; she is studying fashion promotion at Ravensbourne University London and fine art photography at Camberwell College of Arts, UAL. Mathushaa’s work often examines her identity – Tamil Eelam ethnicity and British nationality, which is a pivotal part of her work. This complex cultural identity is often reflected through traditions, history, and strongly by fashion photography. Mathushaa feels that her work surrounding Tamil culture plays an important part in embracing the history and heritage. Mathushaa’s work has been featured on Campaign Magazine, Graduate Fashion Week, Fashion Scout, FAD Charity, Anisha Parmar London, MESA Magazine, Asian Woman Festival, and more. Feel free to check it out!

Describe the relationship between your culture to your art? How is your identity a navigating mechanism for you to create art?

I would describe my relationship with my art and creativity as very much intertwined and really connected – within many of my personal projects, it’s sort of like one can’t exist without the other, especially as I use my creativity and process to figure out and express where I stand with my Tamil roots as someone who was born and raised in London. My art and work is very much a reflection of who I am as a person and what has impacted me to become the person today – which is why a lot of my work really revolves around Tamil culture, something growing up in London I had distanced myself from to fit into westernized society. So I guess my work/ creative process is my way of me trying to find my way back to everything ‘Tamil’ that has had such a strong influence on who I am and the decisions I have made too.

Describe your thoughts while capturing your photographs.

My thoughts when it comes to creating my work really do differ and really depend on the type of work that I am creating. When I’m doing collaborative shoots, no matter the location, it’s just my thought process and creative thinking that is taken into consideration but also those around me, so in these types of shoots, there’s so much going but it’s incredible because we either all have really interesting and unique ideas/ perspective or something have very similar mindsets.

When it comes to doing some still life work and self-portraits, there’s just often only my vision involved so I would describe that process as quite easy and quick because at the moment I’m very focused on captured the ideas/ vision that I have in mind; whereas when I’m doing shoots with my mum (something that I started doing during the third lockdown in the UK), there’s this slight tension but in a really good way because my mum’s ideas have more a traditional take whereas mine have more fusion type perspective, but I feel that’s more because of our own lived experiences as Tamil women.

Interview with Irshaad

Irshaad Poetry is an anthology of poetry. Their aim is to inculcate a culture of poetry and reading among their followers and everyone who comes across their page.

You both are poets yourself, when you chose a poem to post on Irshaad, what makes you think that this is the one?

Whenever a poem makes us feel or think, we know it is right. Moreover, if it makes us wonder or question ourselves or the world, we know it’s the one.

It’s like what Emily Dickinson said: “If I physically feel like the top of my head has been taken off, then I know that it is poetry.”

Do you think poetry as an art form in India is transcending into becoming a means of performative activism?

We do not think so. We do believe that some of the space that poetry occupies as a form of protest has been appropriated for social media validation but poetry as a medium of protest will always persevere. And it has been so since times immemorial, whether it’s in wars for independence or rebellion against fascism, poetry always has been an expression of the society, and even if some people do partake in it as a means of performative activism, it doesn’t take away from its overall importance of the art form.

How do you think the accessibility of poems over the internet has affected their actual beauty? Is it more of a boon or a bane? Have the traditional poetry recitals taken a backseat in the status quo?

The internet and the issue of accessibility have been boons to poets and poetry lovers, we feel. Similar to how slam poetry as a movement sought to bring poetry to the masses, the internet and the variety of platforms have enabled a movement that is the poetic equivalent of globalization. Poets and readers from all over the world are able to connect and appreciate poetry together and that is beautiful.

While there may be some people who alter the terms of poetry and its beauty for social media validation, that is a con that is outweighed by the pros. Moreover, if a reader finds solidarity and beauty in a poem, the subjectivity of their opinions must be respected, as long as the poem in question isn’t disrespectful.

Traditional poetry recitals have certainly taken a backseat due to the status quo. However, efforts have been made to revive interest in them and the internet has been a great tool in this process. It’s been wonderful to witness, even though it is sad that such steps have to be taken.

Do you think the minorities are appropriately and sufficiently represented through art in our country?

The representation of minorities remains an issue that has to be addressed by the stakeholders of the artistic scene in India. While there are voices who represent their communities, these voices have not been able to find their way into the mainstream. Hence, their art and the representation they aim towards have not been paid proper attention to.

When we search for poetry to read and post, we struggle in finding poems by Dalit writers, or other minorities, and we are pretty sure the reason isn’t a lack of artistic expressions from the community.

These voices and their work should be highlighted and receive due attention. Until that happens, the minorities shall remain under-represented in our countries art.

If we map the trends in contemporary South Asian literature, perhaps the most noticeable feature would be the emergence of a huge number of women authors. How do you feel about women writers shattering the ‘home and hearth’ stereotype, and what do you think is the way forward?

It is not just about shattering the ‘home and hearth’ stereotype but also of developing a newer and more nuanced understanding of the stereotype.

We think that the way forward is for the greater emergence of these women writers and for their art, their voices, and their perspectives to receive the attention and appreciation that have been accorded to their male contemporaries.

Moreover, we also believe that there is no fair way forward without due representation to LGBTQ+ voices. It is only when people of all sexualities or no sexualities and people of all genders or no genders find their space in literature and other forms of art that these spaces would be considered an optimal representation of the people.

A poetry book that you would recommend to beginners so that they can understand the essence of poetry?

Raj- I mostly read poems in singularity but I do have a book of Emily Dickinson’s poems which I love and almost worship! Reading a poet’s anthology is like visiting parts of their lives on a special tour, it’s amazing.

Isha- It’s pretty much the same with me! However, there were books I wish I’d read when I’d started out Selected Poems by Kamala Das, 60 Indian Poets, Selected Poems, Gulzar, and the complete poems of Emily Dickinson.

How do you as poets come up with the theme of a poem? Is the process organic or is there a method/structural process you follow?

Raj- I do not follow any process or structure. Sometimes, a topic stirs me so much that I absolutely have to write about it. Other times, a line comes to me and I know that I have to try and build a poem around it.

Isha- Try as I might, I cannot write on cue. However, I’m always on the lookout for a word, or a sentence, which I might be able to turn into a metaphor. Once I find that I write the first sentence of the poem I’m writing- and let myself go wherever the words take me, for a couple of stanzas or so. That helps me realize the direction which I want to take with the poem, after which I’m able to write it further in a more structured manner. When I conclude my poems, I usually try to connect the metaphor I used in the first sentence, to the last sentence of the piece, so it might help make sense of the crazy. That’s pretty much it, haha!

Interview with Meghna Prakash

Meghna is a published poet who has been writing as a freelance journalist for various publications such as Swaddle, Indian Express, etc. She is the founder of Poetry Dialogue and an advocate for mental health.

What impetus made you come up with the name “trigger warning”?

I am a survivor. I find a lot of things in my world triggering; things that other people don’t put second thought into. So, I have written these poems from a really personal space of catharsis, of somewhat processing my trauma. That’s why I came up with the name trigger warning.

With this book it’s like you are entering into my world, you are going to see what triggers me, you are going to experience this roller coaster with me. So, that’s basically how the name came about. I am instinctive like that, and when the name happened, it just felt really right, like yes! – this is the book, this is me, I am navigating my journey with mental health through it, and this is my safe space of thoughts. But this book can be triggering for a lot of people because I am graphic in the way I write. So, it is also sort of a warning.

We’ve noticed that you’re a huge advocate for mental health, how do you think it correlates with your writing poetry since re-living certain experiences while transcending them into your art can act like a trigger itself?

Definitely. It can be very, very triggering, but I think people process trauma differently.

I have written a trauma guidebook very recently, with Kirthi Jayakumar of The Gender Security Project, we released it a few days ago. It’s a free guidebook, and it is going to be translated into different languages. So, I have interviewed multiple survivors to know their perspective, and what all triggers them, and to understand how they process trauma.

As for me, I have been writing poetry my whole life – since I was 4-5 years old. So, it comes to me very naturally. Also, at times to process some things, I write them. Then everything starts making sense because I realize how I feel about things. So, for me, it acts like a healing process.

I have also done poetry performances a lot of times, and people have cried, and they have told me that they relate to my experiences, and that means so much to me, because that’s the whole point of art, right? You can talk about difficult subjects, and you can connect with others while doing it.

One of the leaps in the poetry community in recent years has been of instrumentalizing trauma- Do you feel that there was ever a pressure to out your experiences of abuse or to inculcate them in your writings just because they would act like a relatability factor?

Yes! When I was younger, and the performance scheme had just started out, I had noticed that need for inculcating trauma and I did not want to fall into that trap.

For me it’s not about performances; I write for myself. Earlier, I also believed that I had to be sad to write, or I had to be in a bad mental state to write. But I realized that’s not it. You don’t have to be high; you don’t have to be drunk; you don’t even have to be in a bad mental space to create art. That’s a misconception, and that’s definitely not a healthy way to do it. At the end of the day, the more aware you are, the more energy you will have to put into your art and make it better – without having any feelings of self-doubt crush you.

I have also always personally felt that I write because I must write; there’s just no other way, and it makes me really happy. (And, to know that people like what I create means the world to me, but I won’t count on it.) I just want to create because I want to talk about things, because I feel strongly about a certain issue, and I want to create something that matters. I want my audience to engage with me; I want them to question me, or ask me why are your views this way on Kashmir. I want to have that conversation with them, and I think that it’s very important that we can open up for such conversations and debates. That’s what I like doing with my poems. I like inciting people. I like getting reactions out of them, but I don’t write my poems specifically for them.

What are your views on art as a political expression? Especially considering the recent cases of police brutality and minority suppression in both India and the west, do you think poetry as an art form has the power to cause material change?

I think if you go back and look into the history of poetry, it started as spoken word art before it became a written practice – at least in India. A lot of time it is seen as a way to create awareness around issues, we have always been doing that. It’s just that now when we are living in such difficult political times, where censorship of freedom of speech is at an all-time high.

We live in a democracy where poets are arrested for performing political poems. There’s definitely huge suppression right now, and I think this is a very important time for minority voices as well, to speak up. But at the same time, the majority also needs to talk about their issues, and other issues, because they have the advantage here. They should use this privilege to put their point across. It’s really important now, more than ever.

Your book is described to be confessional, personal, and deeply rooted in childhood trauma and abusive relationships. As a poet, how was the journey to find your own unique identity, accept your trauma and create art through those embellishments?

It is very interesting to put together a collection of poems. Through this book, I was also seeing how my trauma journey has been changing over a period of time. I was able to map how it is changing, and how I was processing the same trauma at the start, and compared how the process has changed by the end of the book.

Talking about poetry, I’ll say I live on poetry. Even with Poetry Dialogue, we curate poems for people daily; we create publishing opportunities for people, and I want to see so many people published. I want to see a lot of Indian names in international journals.

How has the journey of coming up with Poetry Dialogue been like?

It was a little scary initially because we didn’t know how to post; we didn’t know how to share people’s works in the right way. It took time to figure all of that out. But once Poetry Dialogue set into motion, it’s been growing since then.

I also did a little festival for everybody to come together. We had a great audience from all around India perform, and it’s been a phenomenal journey.

Language is extremely malleable and when writing about personal trauma, it’s imperative to weave your pieces in a sensitive, more careful manner- what tips would you like to give young poets who might be interested in writing about their own experiences?

I don’t think I want to give people tips for writing about their own experiences, because ultimately everybody has to find their own voice and their own style that works for them. Attheendoftheday, it’s just about being honest, reading a lot of poetry, and above all writing a lot of poetry. Other than that, there’s no magic; there’s nothing beyond that.

Other than this, I think it’s also very important to keep sending your poetry to journals. Like, my goal is 100 rejections a year, and when I get 100 rejections, I also get good acceptances. And, with every rejection I learn, I grow. I get to know that this poem is still a baby, and I need to nurture it more, solidify the particular poem. So, you either need to have a dialogue with yourself, or with a group of editors, because the idea is to work on the poem, and then send it to journals. That’s just how I look at my poetry, and so I don’t want to tell people how to write or how to craft their voice.

Lastly, we would like to know some of your favorite poems or poets who continue to inspire you.

I am currently obsessing about Anna Akhmatova, she’s a Russian revolutionary poet. I am also reading Arundhathi Subramaniam, Kamala Das, Mahmoud Darwish.

Interview with Rohini Kejriwal (The Alipore Post)

Rohini Kejriwal is a writer, poet, and curator based out of Bangalore. She is always up for a good story, travel, strong coffee, and the company of plants. She runs The Alipore Post, a curated newsletter and journal that promotes contemporary art, poetry, photography, music, and all things intriguing.

What impetus made you come up with the name ‘The Alipore post’

I’m a huge admirer of the India Post, I used to write letters as a child and Alipore was the place in West Bengal where we used to live. So it’s an amalgamation of the two.

Running an acclaimed literary and arts journal, you must’ve come across an age-sex demographic. Would you say that the current times are making way for young women to venture into the field of arts and humanities more than before? If so, who are some of your favorite young women writers?

There are a lot of Indian poets coming up, which is amazing, and what’s happening across the age groups. I am finding poetry podcasts by Sunil Bhandari, who is 59, as well as someone as young as Meghna Prakash, who is constantly doing fabulous work.

So, there are definitely many young women and male poets in the scene. I also feel that social media is allowing people to express themselves more freely, and there are actually people who want to read what is produced. It is not like the conventional publishing board, and it has its merits.

I feel like it is a very community-oriented kind of thing that is happening right now, with some structure of course, and it is really nice. So, everyone has their own aesthetic: someone is focusing on spoken word; people like me are working on art-lit poetry. So, it’s good, and it’s important to have such platforms which are helping in creating these particular niches for everyone.

We noticed on your personal doodling account that you love making ambiguous body figuratives- We are interested in understanding the creative aspect of it, where does the admiration for dandy and vague but equally human conception come from?

I have been on this trip of doing these- creative mornings virtual field trips. It’s the best thing that has happened to me during the lockdown. I even gave one of these workshops, it was super fun! There was someone who did this watercolor-meditation thing, and it was just like an art class with no judgment at all.

I think it’s just coming from this need to express, and playing with shapes – watching these forms emerge. There was one incident when I tried a still portrait, and I was really surprised by the effects. So, I am happy with it: Somewhere it’s instinctively there but it’s a matter of fine-tuning and sharpening that skill.

We noticed that TAP holds a strong substance over correlating poetry with art; We want to know that where does this inspiration for art come from? Were you always so artistic as a child, or is it something that developed as you grew older?

Not really. I think I was happier reading or playing games. However, I think over the last few years, I have been trying my hands at these inktober challenges. Even though it usually happens for like for a month, and then I forget about it, but then in that one month only I have 12-13 doodles ready, which I did.

I have had a linocut experimenting phase, where I just took a bunch of envelopes and made linocuts, but it’s just one stack now. But last year only, a friend got me an iPad and downloaded Procreate for me, and just like that experimenting with illustrations has changed my entire experience, as a personal experiment.

I like trying not to understand how a painting works, not the techniques, but the person behind it. I have always been fond of interviewing people myself, so there has been this need to pick someone’s brain, and question that why didn’t you put this here instead. So, I think I find the words in their artworks. That is how it basically correlates for me.

What are some of your favorite memories from The Alipore Post?

I think the events have been really fun.

Basically, the idea was to have a physical manifestation of this online space, and the main aim was to let learning be the main thing. The first one was just brilliant because I found this place called the Courtyard House, in Bangalore. It’s in the suburbs and is really just like a huge garden with an old structure of South Indian architecture in the middle. I wanted a trampoline to be there as well – for kids and adults, along with music, so that was a focus.

Even virtually there’ve been many special moments for me. The kind of people that I have met, have just generally opened me up to the world. I could’ve been a very limited person, but here it’s not even ambition exactly, but I just want to nurture this community, and it feels very natural now!

How did you come up with ‘Chitthi Exchange’? Was it because you wrote letters as a child, or did some particular exchange fuel the inception of this idea?
I went to a boarding school so I was introduced to the form of letter writing very early in life. In fact a lot of times, it was the only mode of keeping in touch. We had a few leaves in each semester when we could all go home, and folks were allowed to visit once a semester, but apart from that, it was just letters and one hour of emailing per week. So, the thought of someone writing back to me and keeping in touch inspired me to come up with Chitthi Exchange. Even The Alipore Post came partly from there – like a letter to the internet!

Do you think that art as an art form has the power to cause material change? Especially in the current scenario, considering the happenings that have been occurring in India, such as suppression of minorities.

Yes. As a form of expression and empowerment, it really encourages people to experiment with their zeal, which is actually easier for arts that you can share with others. It is not necessarily about going to a gallery, you can literally make a change on the street, just by holding a placard, saying what you want to say. It’s definitely like you are representing a part of who you are, what you stand for through your creation; It doesn’t have to be intended for that, but it always has to have that underlying message.

What are some future projects that you can tell us about?

I definitely want to create a pdf version of the website, or like a physical magazine, or maybe an e-magazine. I’d also love to pursue more collaborations and partnerships.

There are other future projects as well, like The Alipore Post library, but it will still take years to happen. In addition to this, I definitely want to release my merchandise, I am making a bunch of tote bags with my 3-year-old niece, where she gets to color over them, but I don’t exactly know what I will do with them.

There’s also this newsletter called ‘This is My Newsletter’ which has been initiated by me, but every Sunday ask a different person to curate a newsletter and send it across. Currently, we have around 500 subscribers for that which is really interesting, because honestly, I didn’t expect it to happen, because you don’t know who is going to write to you. So, through this, I have also observed that there are always people there to accept such ideas which you aren’t very sure about, but it’s also okay to take those chances and have fun with the process along the way!