In conversation with Sukrita Paul Kumar, a writer and poet from Delhi
She has been recipient of several national and international grants and fellowships and has lectured at Cambridge University, SOAS (London University) and several Canadian and American Universities on Indian literature.
She has published four collections of poems in English, Oscillations, Apurna, Folds of Silence and Without Margins (2005). They also include sketches done by her. Her poems have been published in In Their Own Voice, the Penguin collection of Indian women poets, and journals such as ARIEL (Canada), Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi), The Journal of the Poetry Society (Delhi). Her major publications include her books, Narrating Partition, Conversations on Modernism, The New Story, Breakthrough (ed.), and Man, Woman and Androgyny.
She has also been Director of Katha’s Project on “Translating Short Fiction”. Her volume, Ismat, Her Life, Her Times was published by Katha in 2000. Another translation work on Partition novel, Sleepwalkers was published by Katha.
As Director of a UNESCO project on “The Culture of Peace”, she edited a volume of Urdu short stories from India and Pakistan, Mapping Memories.
She has also been involved in projects in Women’s Studies and has co-edited a volume on Women’s Studies in India: Contours of Change published by IIAS in 2002.
The National Book Trust of India published her book of translations, Stories of Joginder Paul in 2003. while her translation of She is the chief editor of the anthology prescribed by University of Delhi on “Cultural Diversity and Literary Traditions in India” published by Macmillan India in 2005. Also, Pearson Longman has just published Interpreting Homes in South Asian Literature, co-edited by her. Her recent works include Rowing Together (a bi-lingual book of poems), Speaking for Myself: An Anthology of Asian Women’s Writings (Penguin. Co-edited ) and Crossing Over (Partition narratives) for the University of Hawaii.
Sukrita was invited to participate in the three-month-long ‘International Writing Programme (2002)’, held at Iowa, USA. In 2004, she was invited by the Hong Kong Baptist University for a month-long residency. She has been a recipient of several grants and fellowships including a translation grant from ‘International Centre for Writing and Translation, University of California at Irvine (2004)’, ‘Rockefeller grant’ for a seminar on Women’s Literature held at New York State University, the ‘British Council Visitorship and Charles Wallace’ sponsorship for a seminar in Cambridge University. She is also an awardee of the ‘Shastri Indo-Canadian Research Fellowship’. She has lectured at Cambridge University, SOAS (London University) and several Canadian and American Universities on Indian literature. Recently in September 2005, she was invited to give a plenary talk at the Durrell School of Corfu, Greece, at a roundtable on “Borders and Borderlands” while in 2004, she visited the South Asia Institute at Heidelberg, Germany, to talk on Partition Narratives. She was invited to give readings of her poems and lectures on South Asian Literature in universities in Hong Kong and South Korea. She has given readings of her poems on invitation from ICCR, Sahitya Akademi, Gyanpeeth, The Poetry Society of India and various universities and institutions abroad. She has been on the jury of several literary awards for Sahitya Akademi, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, Crossword, Katha and others.
Committed to serving social causes, in November 2002 she set up a ‘shelter for the homeless’. The poems that came out of her experiences with the homeless were presented, in June 2004, at the Nehru Centre at London on the occasion of a Seminar on “Narratives of Home” at SOAS, University of London.
She has conducted a number of workshops and other activities for Women’s Studies and Development Centre, University of Delhi, on gender sensitisation and women’s issues, in different colleges, slum areas and schools.
Sukrita has held a solo exhibition of her paintings at AIFACS in New Delhi.
Address: 204, Mandakini Enclave,
New Delhi 110019
Q What has been your inspiration to become a writer?
I would rather call myself a poet rather than a writer. My inspiration has come from the environment I grew up in. My parents have a major role to play in creating sensitivity in me. My Father Joginder Paul is a renowned writer, and my mother is a professor of English. This created in me from the very beginning an orientation towards reading. I was brought up in Kenya that happened to be a colonial country at the time when my father was writing. His writings were pro-African, and this instilled in me great sensitivity towards human values.
However, often the fact that my father was a story writer, made me resistant towards story writing. As I wanted to be different from my father. So I took to writing poetry.
Q That is interesting. But, why poetry as a mode of expression? How do you feel after you have written a poetry?
Poetry because, poetry is the coming together of metaphors. Truth is very evasive, also very abtract. Through poetry truth can be captured better than prose. Poetry gives multi-dimensions to truth, and contradictions can come together.
The completion of one poem leads me with the idea of in completion, as if I had more to say. This made me write “Apurva”, a book of poems.
Q You have diversified roles, you are a teacher, a poet, a writer, translator, and also a painter which of these roles is most dear to you?
I love anything I do, whatever I do. At first place I don’t take to anything that I cannot totally engage myself with. For instance when I did “Mapping Memories” (short stories from India and Pakistan) at that time I became those stories.
What I mean to say is, its not different things that I have done, there is a deep connection between all the things that I have done. Like, I start painting when I don’t find appropriate words. I have not compartmentalized myself, instead all my works are in synergy. The submission of the self is very important, in order to internalize the work.
Q You have also been a Professor of English at Delhi university. How has been your experience?
I feel teaching is an art. It is a challenge for the teacher to make herself/himself intelligible to the entire class. Every student in the classroom is efficient and I never create a hierarchy in the classroom based on intelligence, infact the person who is unable to understand poses a greater challenge to the teacher, and should be taken in good spirit. It’s a learning process for both the teacher and the student.
Q What would you like to say about the accepted notion in today’s world that Hindi and Urdu belong to two separate communities?
The separation has a lot to do with politics. Its not the people who bifurcated it at the first place. In pre-colonial times, both the languages were flowing together. And it had nothing to do with religious identities.
I think 1803 was really damaging, the british policy in Fort William college that stated that Hindi would be written in Devanagri while Urdu in the Persian script can be seen as the first point of divergence. Gradually, this linguistic divide entered into the cultural and political domain, and by 20th century Urdu came to be perceived as the language of Muslims while Hindi as the language of Hindus.
In the India-Pakistan divide Urdu was exiled to the frontiers. While the people of Pakistan wanted Punjabi as their language, and it was in India that there were more Urdu speaking population. Despite this killing of Urdu, it has survived in contemporary memories. Ghalib and Iqbal are still living, due to the deep rooted oral tradition. Even Hindi movies cannot do without Urdu.
Infact Hindi and Urdu are again coming together. Younger generation are learning Urdu, Urdu is read id Devnagri script. And I believe in less than ten years Urdu will be entrenching itself into many more states and get its recognition.
Q In reference to the recent cultural exchange program’s between India and Pakistan, how far can culture surpass political boundaries? What has been your experience?
Culture has the capacity to surpass politics. Though, we cannot deny the power of politics. As politics often tears culture. There is politics as to why we are the way we are- the language we speak, the behavior that we indulge in etc.
This can be checked by greater awareness among people that strengthens culture. And this can be done through education. If we as people become conscious of politics that is not being conducive to our conditions, we can rise against it.
That is to say, lack of knowledge and ignorance is going to accentuate the political hegemony.
Q To what extent is a translator successful in communicating to the reader the actual ideas and emotions of a writer?
There is no simple way to answer this. A translator is inevitably a living entity, and so is going to receive a certain text in his/her own terms, wherein the subjectivity of the person cannot be ruled out. The reception theory becomes operative there. But these differences should ideally try to match the spirit of the text rather than the letter. However, if the translator wants to have a different take on the subject content, he should acknowledge it.
Q Being an exponent in women studies, what is your take on the peripheralization of gender studies in our educational studies? In fact, it so happens that even if it is taught in universities its a completely segregated course on gender, should they not form a part of every course structure?
Yes, this is very true. And that is why we have not evolved as a society in terms of gender consciousness, and it is reflective in the crimes committed against women- feticide, rape, dowry etc… somewhere we have not internalized the question of gender equality. And it cannot happen overnight, it has to be an evolutionary process, and this obviously ties up with the kind of education we have. Gender should form an integral part of our education, irrespective of the stream.
Q I think gender sensitivity should be taught from a very nascent stage.
Of course. Gender sensitization should begin at home. Parents should remain sensitive on the issues on gender through language, toys etc… to incorporate right behavior towards women.
Q Do you think literature should necessarily be a reflection of society?
This is quite subjective. On one hand it might reflect on the society, while on the other he also has the capacity to modify the society. True literature to me is resistant to norms and existing order of thing, it thinks differently from the general league.
So in a sense it is reflecting and in other sense its not reflecting because a poet sees things from a different horizon. Percerption of reality is very evasive.
Q What do you think is the reason that poetry is unable to get a wider audience, like prose? As a kid, poems always attracted me. Do you think child is more responsive to poetry?
Somewhere I have always tried to articulate this. I think innocence; a certain kind of wonder-ness is important to appreciate poetry. Poem is articulation of a sense of wonder, that is filled in the mind of child.
Q Talking about Cultural diversity, you have edited “Cultural Diversity and Literary Traditions in India” that is a textbook for Delhi University students. What has been your experience dealing with the topic?
In the last few years I have been very keenly researching the domain of cultural diversity witnessed in our subcontinent. While we have been happily raising slogans about “unity in diversity” and venerating linguistic plurality in India, I believe, there hasn’t been an adequate intellectual engagement in exploring and understanding what has gone into the making of our cultural diversity.
It is heartening to see how through this course a large number of students and teachers are now engaged with this kind of study material. Hopefully this will open up a good number of new and relevant research areas for students of literature, culture and languages.