3rd Vol ,No1 (January 2016)
A Dialogue on Poetry between eminent poet Prof. Smita Agarwal and Dhruva Harsh.
Babli Pandey says “I love you …” to Bittu Sonkar.
The campus is agog …
A high-caste girl, Brahmin at that,
Wanting to wed a Backward boy …
Babli’s brother, gets his act together.
He and his gang, with
And crowbars, beat
The hell out of Bittu,
Who, for a month, lies festering
In the town’s most
The Govt. Medical College.
Miraculously, Sonkar survives.
And, but naturally, after full
And final recovery, collects
All the Backward caste warlords
Of every out-house locality
And seeks vengeance.
Siege-like conditions prevail
Around the university’s SSL Hostel
Where Pandey and his chaps
Are holed-up …
Meanwhile, Babli, willingly
Abducted by the Sonkar gang,
Under the banner of the progressive
Arya Samaj, marries Bittu;
A scene-from-a-movie like exchange
Of garlands in the presence
Of the liberal intellectual, Prof. Das …
24×7, the mofussil town’s single tv channel
Blazes footage of Babli weds Bittu.
For the bristling brother and his goons
Attention is for the time being
Relocated from Bittu to Dr. Das.
Next morning, Dr. Das takes
An extra class on “Break, break, break …”
And discusses the forthcoming Freshers Function
In room # 8, where he shall encourage
Boys and girls of postgrad English
To dance to “Tera, tera, tera suroor”
And “Beedi Jalaile” …
Exhortations over for the day
Dr. Das leads the way
Down a flight of stairs
Where Birju Pandey
And his hoods waylay him …
Residual decency cannot make
Birju punch the don in his face.
So he pulls out a matchbox,
Strikes a match, waves the flaming
Stick, menacingly, three times,
Under the paralysed prof’s nose
And growl’s “Last chance, saar …”
Prof. Das clutches his heart and collapses.
The girls of the class let out a collective
Squeal and beg forgiveness for his lapses …
Tension is temporarily dissipated.
Mofussil India’s struggle
With modernity, abated.
The Babli Pandey, Bittu Sonkar
Saga, by these unforeseen
Circumstances aided and abetted,
Postponed for the next
Bright, new day …(Smita Agarwal,Mofussil Notebook, 2014).
Smita Agarwal (born 1958) is a poet and professor of English. She attended Loreto Convent in Delhi, before pursuing her higher studies in English Literature. Her PhD was on the American poet and writer Sylvia Plath. Agarwal has been teaching English Literature at Allahabad University, Uttar Pradesh, India, since 1983. In 1999, she was writer-in-residence at the universities of Stirling (Scotland) and Kent, U.K. She also is a Hindustani music vocalist and has performed on All-India Radio. Her poems have been widely anthologized and her critical work has been published in journals such as the Poetry Review (London) and the Journal of Commonwealth Literature (UK). Agarwal is also an editor and translator for Plath Profiles, the Sylvia Plath online journal, published by Indiana University, USA.
D.H. According to you, what is a poem?
S.A. A poem is a fine balance of technique and feeling; a poem looks at the world around us like everyone else, but describes it differently and uniquely.
D.H. Do you think a poet is prone to exist in time & space in a most vulnerable manner. Do you agree?
S.A. I guess, what you are trying to say is that a poet may live in the danger of inhabiting an imaginary world! This is an outdated Romantic notion not possible in contemporary times. Even virtual reality is grounded in hardware and software. Similarly, a poet’s imaginary world must be moored in real time reality and expressed in a language accessible to readers/listeners.
D.H. Ma’m, apart from a poet you are a wonderful classical singer also, so do you think poetry is close to the sensation of music?
S.A. In all cultures across the world, before the age of the printed text, most poetry was sung. The chanting of the Vedas, the troubadours, bards and balladeers … There is an intimate connection between poetry and music. Poetry rests on the Sheshnag of rhythmic sound. In all forms of verse, mantra, doha, stuti, nazm or free verse, rhyming words or phrases create the music of poetry. Poetry is music to the ears.
D.H. How do you conceive poetic thoughts? Do you find anything special that helps you to get into a frame of mind?
S.A. No, for me there is no such thing. If I wait for that special frame of mind, it’ll never happen. My domestic and professional demands will never grant me the time and space. I write poems like I did homework in school. I just sit me down at my desk and write and rework.
D.H. How do you see the role of a poet in today’s culture?
S.A. Not a sage or a seer. Just a witness.
D.H. Who are the poets you continually go back to?
S.A. Bhagwat Geeta, Ramayana, Kabir, Meera, Rumi, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Billy Collins, Munawar Rana …
D.H. Tell me the name of your favorite poets?
S.A. There are favourite poems, in Hindi, English and in English translation.
D.H. Say something about your passion for music because you are a wonderful classical singer as well.
S.A. I learnt to sing at a very early age because my mother had learned classical music and is a good singer. Quite unselfconsciously, her passion for music filtered into me. From a very early age I was giving public performances, not as a professional, but, in school, Army parties, middle – class social occasions. Quite organically, singing became a part of my personality. Later, while studying at the University of Allahabad, I was trained under the guru-shishya parampara by Pandit Ram Ashrey Jha and Shri Gauri Shankarji of All India Radio, Allahabad. For many years, I sang for the Radio and even gave performances on National Telivision. Now, I perform selectively as a professional and frequently at social gatherings. Samples of my singing are available on www.beatofindia.com and You Tube.
D.H. How do you manage time for pursuing your passion?
S.A. The answer is included in your question! You use the word “passion”. If you are passionate about something, you will make the time for it!
D.H. How do you feel to be associated with the department of English, University of Allahabad, one of the country’s leading educational institution which produced luminaries like Firaq Gorakhpuri, Harivansh Rai Bachchan and many more?
S.A. Privileged, indeed. And, I feel a heavy weight of tradition that I must equal and better. It is both pressure and confidence …
D.H. How does poetry come to you, is it a sickness or the outcome of spontaneity?
S.A. Yes, it is a compulsion born out of a love for reading and writing … I never wait for the moment to seize me. I seize the moment.
D.H. I have regular meetings with the young minds of the city and I find them very passionate about writing but they are burdened with a lot of social responsibilities that do not let them nurture their passion. As a result, their talent is neglected. What would you like to say on this?
S.A. Dear me! Everyone has social responsibilities and they increase, never decrease, with age. Just as you start to feel you’ve finished with most worldly responsibilities, have got your children married off and are now at peace, your parents age. You have to attend to their cataracts and kidneys and your grandchildren howl and wail all around you. No one has time. You have to make the time!
D.H. What are the sources to access your poems if anyone wants to read your work?
S.A. Wish-granting Words, Poems. New Delhi, Ravi Dayal Publisher, 2002.
Mofussil Notebook, Calcutta, Brown Critique/ Sampark, 2014.
Marginalized: Indian Poetry in English, ed. Smita Agarwal, New York & Amsterdam, Rodopi/Brill, 2014.
Best Poems Encyclopedia
Big Bridge Anthology
University of Stirling