In this interview series we ask questions to people who are making a difference in our society, it can be big, it can be small, it doesn’t matter, what matters is their contribution. 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.
Born and raised in Mumbai, India, Sunayna Pal happily resides in Maryland, USA, with her husband, children, plants and an invincible goldfish. She enjoys working as the Director of The Poetry Academy. Holding degrees from XLRI and Annamalai University, Sunayna’s poetry is published extensively in international journals and anthologies, with recent credits in Subterranean Blue Poetry, Cecile’s Writers, and Poetry Super Highway. Sunayna is also devoted to the practice of Heartfulness meditation. Find more on her at sunaynapal.com.
Following are her response to our questions
- Please tell us something about yourself?
I was born to Sindhi middle-class parents. I love reading. But my parents didn’t let me buy books. I think I was eight or nine years old when I learned about library membership. I remember throwing a tantrum that I really wanted books, and my mother allowed me to get a membership.
I have always felt the need to document my life. Ever since I was 5 or 6 years old. I remember this vividly. It was summer vacation. I had requested my father to give me a diary. He gave me his old diary. I didn’t want to write with a pencil, but no one gave me a pen. I found a refill of a pen somewhere and used it to write, “got up from a nap. Will eat snacks or read books.”
- Why did you choose to write on the partition?
I watched a movie about Kashmir where the main lead of the movie, after taking refuge in India, returns to his ancestral home. Something stirred in my heart. I have always thought I would visit Sindh one day and visit the home my ancestors stayed in. I wish to sit under the same tree that my grandfather and my dad’s brother played under. But there is no one left who can tell me where to go anymore. My eldest chacha was 13 years old when he left Sindh on a ship. He took care of me while my parents went to the office. I think he had left seeds in my imagination that got triggered after the movie. Poems kept pouring out of me. Before this, I haven’t written any poem on Sindh. I have been publishing my work since 2013, and most poems are about motherhood or nature, or life. This was different for me to write. I kept writing whatever came.
- How are you connected to your Sindhi roots and traditions, given the fact that you have never set foot in Sindh? (I am assuming in this question that you haven’t visited Pakistan)
You are absolutely right in your assumption.
I don’t know how connected I am. I can’t speak the language and get a lot of flak for it. On top of it, I have married a Bengali. I don’t have anyone to practice Sindhi in the USA. But I know I am still a Sindhi. Even if I can’t speak it fluently, I will always be a Sindhi.
Both my parents were born after the partition. My paternal grandfather died before I was born, and my grandmother died when I was a year old. I wasn’t lucky enough to spend time with my maternal grandparents either, as they stayed far. Technology didn’t allow frequent calls in the 1980s like it does now.
My only link was my eldest chacha. He used to tell me stories about Sindh and his life. He would talk about the abundance of sand every time my mom complained of dust in our Mumbai home. Every time I applied mehendi on my hands, he would describe the ladies at that time who would take leaves of henna and rub it in and on their hands.
- How can we as a society better help refugees across the world in your opinion?
I feel everyone knows what the right thing to do is. We are all very aware beings. I pray we all get the courage to do the things our Heart is guiding us to.
- What is your view on ways of overcoming traumatic experiences such as war, forced migration, loss, etc.?
Even if someone isn’t a refugee, everyone is fighting some battle. If the world could just become kinder, it would be such a better place for all.
- What other interests do you have besides writing?
I love gardening. I have two kids, ages 6 and 1.5. They take up most of my time but luckily, both like watering the plants with me, and I love spending time with them.
I love baking in the winter with my two helpers, too, and as a family, we love walking in nature. We try to spend every other weekend in the woods. Luckily, the place I stay has a lot of beautiful trails.
- What would be your advice for upcoming authors?
I don’t know if I am eligible to give any advice. This is what I keep telling myself – Don’t give up. Even If I have one hour when my little one naps and the older one is in school, I use it to edit a draft of a poem or write something. Anything to move an inch forward. I know I have a long way to go and the only way to reach is an inch at a time. I avoid going on social media and scrolling uselessly though it is fun, and I enjoy it too, it is also a waste of time with little ROI.
- What is your message to our readers?
Keep reading. Keep smiling. Keep growing, and keep loving.