Person of The Week: Sukrita Paul Kumar

Dear Readers,

In this interview series where we ask questions to people who are making a difference, it can be big, it can be small, it doesn’t matter, what matters is their contribution to our society. It can be anyone from any walk of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.

 

Sukrita Paul Kumar, born and brought up in Kenya, is a well-known poet and critic. Aruna Asaf Ali Chair, Delhi University, she was formerly, a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and an Honorary Fellow of the International Writing Programme, University of Iowa (USA). She has been a recipient of many prestigious fellowships and residencies. Her books of poems include Dream Catcher, Poems Come Home (with translations by Gulzar), Without Margins and Folds of Silence. Amongst others, Sukrita’s critical works are Narrating Partition and The New Story.

Tell us something about yourself?

What can I tell you about myself? Why should the biography of the poet matter anyway! Also what I tell you about myself may have nothing to do with what my poetry is. Isn’t poetry all about self-effacement? And to know a poet at the level of being, her poems need to be read closely.

But then, just to respond to you, let me tell you something about my beginnings. I was born and brought up in Kenya by parents who constantly seemed to be preparing to leave Kenya… to come back to what my father called his homeland, India. For me, India remained for those 14 years of my early life an “imaginary homeland”. Finally, when we did come to India, it took a long time for us to settle in the totally different culture, geography and situation. Though several decades later, now when India is very much my homeland, I still carry my Africa within myself.

What’s the motivating factor behind your writings and what motivated you to pursue this career?

Perhaps I should be linking my answer to what I mentioned above…I think the motivating factor behind my writing poetry is the deep desire to explore myself in relation to whatever new experience I go through. Writing poetry takes me into different kinds of alleys, dark and bright, that sometimes make me see more and at times lead me to blind paths, dead ends and deep waters. All in all, it brings excitement to an otherwise rather mundane life I suppose…

When it comes to literary works in Hindi and other regional languages, they don’t seem to enjoy the popularity and readership as compared to the ones in English; is there a cultural gap to fill here and what can be done to address this issue?

No, I don’t think so…literary works in Hindi do enjoy popularity. There is a large readership for literature in Hindi in India and in fact also abroad. Perhaps generally the English speaking miniscule population in our country tends to remain locked smugly in a cocoon; the media hype, the combination of the literati with glitterati disconnects this world from the larger reality of India. Bridges have to be built through translations and the gaps of communication must be filled. Channels of communication between the two worlds will emerge more effectively only if the question of language hierarchies is addressed and regional languages are invited to walk shoulder to shoulder with English. The richness of the literatures of regional languages has to be savoured, understood and respected.

What are some of the difficulties that young writers face in publishing their work and what would be your advice to them?

Indeed, new writers have a lot of difficulties in finding publishers. But then, there is also a telling impatience on the part of young writers to publish. I believe writers need to be more self-reflexive and critical in putting out a manuscript for publication. Having said that, we cannot ignore the fact that even a sometimes excellent manuscript gets rejected only because it is created by an unknown writer. We can only appeal to the publishers repeatedly to give a fair reading to the manuscripts they receive. Young writers on the other hand should exercise all care that their manuscript deserves attention…maybe they should have it read by several kinds of readers before they send it in to the publishers. A lot of patience, conviction and faith in one’s work are crucially required for a writer to come into her own.

Do you think banning a book with a provocative content is a good idea?

Banning a book in itself is provocative! It gets the book greater attention…No, I don’t believe in banning books.

As a writer, as a citizen, what are some of the social ills that bother you most and how do you want to tackle those issues?

Inequalities and disparities of all kinds….gender, caste, class… and then, what bothers me very much is that while we hold seminars and conferences on these issues and have even cultivated a language to articulate our “concerns”, in actual practice we continue to be the same. We need to arouse much greater humanity from within ourselves…may be reading, teaching and creating more literature can help!

The Indian youth today pursues Science, Technology & business degrees in record numbers and enrollment into arts, history and other social sciences subjects have declined in general, should there be a cause of concern or is it just a trend?

Greater stress on humanities is required urgently. We do need technocrats and managers in the society but they need to be more human rather than robotic!

Besides the income gap in our country between the rich and poor, there is also an education gap in terms of access to good education and facilities, how do we fix this disparity?

Pay greater heed to the quality of education in government schools; greater training of the teachers and more incentives for good teaching and learning. Also, imparting value- education in private schools where arrogance and smugness of the rich can become a menace. Some schools which have addressed these issues effectively must be showcased and made visible by the media…

What are your ideas on reforming colleges and universities of our country?

This question actually merits a full paper. I believe we need to totally revamp our education and make learning a matter of joy rather than a burden and stress. The audio visual tools that technology provides us with, should be creatively used to make learning more experiential. The connect between knowledge and life has to be established and kept alive; and every student, as also a teacher, needs to understand the rationale for engaging with a subject in the classroom. The disconnect between the learner and what he/she learns has to be bridged. Education has to become more meaningful to the individual who is engaged with it…

Your message for our readers?

Read more poetry…submit to it…and feel it.

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