NABINA DAS

Nabina Das is an Indian poet, novelist and columnist. She is the author of a short fiction collection, The House of Twining Roses: Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped, a novel, Footprints in the Bajra, and two poetry collections, Blue Vessel, and Into the Migrant City





"It is with poetry today we shall be winning our battle against fascism and hatred "


What is your earliest reading memory?
As early as I can recall. At home books sprouted from desks chairs beds and even shoe racks. I understood we didn't have much money to show but enough books. My parents even gave books as wedding gifts to friends and family members. From picture books, to children's stories to poetry, and the epics, the earliest reading memory is that of long hours of smelling books while reading them. Besides, there was always storytelling -- from my grandma, and my parents. A book that I remember leaving a lasting impression in my head was War and Peace, a gift on my 13th birthday. Couldn't really read it cover to cover right then, but read it as much as a teenager could to keep the stunning passages ringing in her head.


Has writing been a conscious choice or a natural thing for you?

Probably as natural as knowing who I am (ah that fickle self)! Or as conscious a choice as my many choices -- loves, peeves, places I go, and the people I keep in my life. I float between both. Writing is also a political choice for me. It reflects me and my convictions.


Do you have any special habits or rituals when you write?

Almost none. I simply prefer a corner to write, wherever I'm in the world, whether at home or in an airport. Growing up in the '70s and the 80s we didn't have a gadget-oriented existence. Books were rituals as well as habits.






Do you choose your stories/poems or do the stories/poems choose you?

Sometimes it's both ways. I begin a line and then another line takes over. It's a constant sailing. The boat is rocked from within and without. Politics, the arts, stories, loves, and travails all affect me. But I'm rarely a poet of occasions. Rarely have I written a birthday, anniversary or a mourning poem -- almost none. Also, stories or poems have their own minds. At times, when I'm not even contemplating writing, poems have come to me. We have entrapped each other as though in sudden lovers' encounters.


What books/authors do you enjoy re-reading and why?

I'm an Indian poet and writer who's grown up on literature of my own country as well from around the world. The Russian masters alongside William Shakespeare, Rabindranath Tagore, Guy de Maupassant, James Baldwin, Prem Chand, Sharatchandra Chattopadhyay, Sa'adat Hasan Manto, Marquez , Toni Morrison, Kafka, and many more constituted my early reading. There are no strict favorites. The list expands as I read more contemporary authors.

Let me mention my poetry loyalties here: Gwendolyn Brooks, Pablo Neruda, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Wislawa Szymborska, Duo Duo, Ko Un, Cszelaw Milosz, Cesar Pavese, CP Cavafy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Simic, Robert Hass, Kay Ryan, Martin Espada, among the world pantheon. From the Subcontinent, I love to read AK Ramanujan, Hoshang Merchant, Adil Jussawalla, K Satchidanandan, Mangalesh Dabral, Eunice D'Souza, Gopal Honnalgere, Kamala Das. I have learned to read Namdeo Dhasal much later, and re-discovered Sananta Tanty, and these are only some names that I can think of. The subcontinent also has a rich tradition of Sufi, Bhakti and classical poetry. Then there are a number of younger poets who are doing excellent work. Apart from English, I also read in Assamese, Bengali and Hindi.



What is so important about fiction/poetry?

You cannot perhaps pay bills with poetry or fiction, but you can definitely impact the course of society with poetry, or stop a regime from turning into a beast. Poetry can shake the establishment. It is with poetry today we shall be winning our battle against fascism and hatred. In India, poetry will defeat the Hindutva anarchy. Poetry will wipe away caste segregation. That is why, from where I come, it is a responsibility to be a poet/writer, and writers must keep writing. This is my conviction.





Flaubert says he was physically sick when he wrote Emma Bovary’s death. Are you empathetic with your characters?

I'm a fiction writer when I let poetry do its own flaneur-ship. Yes, I have felt empathetic with my characters, one or two. In writing the rage and passion of my protagonist Muskaan in my novel "Footprints in the Bajra", I have experienced the same tumult in myself. Even while fashioning an oddball such as Mr. Abbas in a story from my short fiction collection "The House of Twining Roses", I was mercurial and morose till the time the story was finished.


Can you cry writing your own poem?

I don't think poets need necessarily cry over their own poems! While writing an elegy, I do relish the sombre mood, as much as I feel ebullient in writing a love poem.




 Who is your ideal reader?

Someone who'd read me repeatedly and even reach out with some feedback, perhaps? Contrarily, the ideal reader would be someone who can use the poem as an argument, as a protest, as a hammer, or even as a prescription for sleeplessness.

Should writers be embraced by society or should they be exiled?

I won't mind being exiled periodically! Something about the humdrum always makes me want to get away every now and then. Maybe society should embrace this notion and encourage it!


Is there a God or are there gods for writers?

God is what we create in our deepest fears. Ironically, we also create gods to instill fear in others' minds. If as a poet I were to have gods, it'd be only ideas that are open to changes.






What makes a writer a writer?

Perhaps the patience to learn, from anyone and everyone. Personally, I feel that I am a writer just because often I'm just a learner, and quite often an anti-writer.


Tell us about your fiction/poetry.

"Blue Vessel" and "Into the Migrant City" are my two poetry collections. I have a short fiction collection titled "The House of Twining Roses". My first book is a novel -- "Footprints in the Bajra". My poetry is what makes me charged up about the world. In writing fiction, I'm often just a restless inquirer. I also translate a little, and write essays and reports, mostly on literary topics these days.



How do you really feel about recognition and fame? Are you a satisfied mind or always craving for more?

Fame is a such a short-lived concept. Most poets and writers write not to get famous, but because they are restless and seeking answers. Having been the Commonwealth Writers correspondent 2016, the Charles Wallace creative writing fellow 2012, Sangam House fiction fellow 2012, and Wesleyan Writers conference fiction fellow and Julio Lobo fiction fellow at Lesley University in 2007 and then the winner of some noted poetry prizes, etc., I've only mustered courage to stick to my pursuit -- a solitary one. I'm grateful for the little benedictions, but these do not make me famous.

As far as satisfaction is concerned, there's not enough of it in a writing life. Craving is there as long as creative urges are there. There's this Hindi-Urdu term we use -- awaargi -- to indicate restless detachment. I consider myself a literary vagabond of sorts.

Comments

  1. I reviewed Blue Vessel for Brown Critique and this is what I put there. Nabina is a poet I admire.

    "Nabina Das is a poet of the Immediate with an intense liking for the things around her – animate and inanimate. If I were a blind man reading the world through Braille, it would be easier to feel the throbbing life in these poems on my fingertips. These are poems to be touched, probed and felt. Not to be read. May be they are not words but their shadows as sharp as the trees in a clear afternoon sun. Words stand here aloof, in total disdain of the meaning conventionally assigned to them for they exist only in relation to the spaces dividing them from the body of other words. You touch them and they ring."

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  2. I enjoyed reading Nabina Das's novel, "Footprints In The Bajra". This is a very nice interview. I love Nabina's concept of "awaargi".

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  3. Outstanding Interview.Yes, Poetry is our own weapon to combat fascism and hate-culture.I enjoyed Nabina Das's poetry collection "Blue Vessel" very much.

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  4. Lovable interview, clear thoughts,humility in expressions,I hope Nabina Das will never get overawed by fame and remain grounded to always write better and for humanity!

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  5. Nabina das is a fine writer and her words remain long afterwards as they resonate deeply .. I've always enjoyed her writing very much ... She is passionate about everything occurring around her immediate environs and doesn't shy away from challenges ... more power to her mighty pen xo

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  6. What I really liked in the interview is Nabina'a association with 'awargi'. Who needs morally cultivated people when awargi could seamlessly inspire to write such beautiful poems and stories. This is an excellent interview, clear in thoughts and informative for young writers. I have always found Nabina a very humble person, and hope to see her writing more good works👍

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  7. Loved it Nabina, such clarity in vision... I totally relate to this that God is what we create in our fears and also to instil fears, can't agree more...

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  8. Great interview . I found this relatable that 'stories and poems also have a mind of their own .'
    She is absolutely right in saying that poetry is a weapon to combat the rising Hindutva in our society at present .Wish to read more from her pen ~the literary vagabond ,aptly said .

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  9. What I admire most about Nabina Das as a writer/poet is her social engagement. Poets tend to lead insular lives, in a bid to write poetry that transcends space and time. I should know. But not Nabina. She is acutely aware of political going-ons around her and is willing to engage with them — as a voice of dissent, as a voice of protest (or like the child laughing that the emperor has no clothes). This is a poet’s role in society and Nabina plays it inexhaustibly, almost enviably.

    So I agree when she says, “Writing is also a political choice for me. It reflects me and my convictions.” And also this: “In India, poetry will defeat the Hindutva anarchy. Poetry will wipe away caste segregation. That is why, from where I come, it is a responsibility to be a poet/writer, and writers must keep writing. This is my conviction.”

    What bothers me the most is how her novel, ‘Footprints in the Bajra’ did not receive as much attention as it deserved. It is one of the finest examples of ‘feminist fiction’ (if we can use the term) to come out of India in recent times. Perhaps the issues she tackles in the book, the village/city divide, women subverting patriarchy, personal and political inequality, militancy, all of it became too much for traditional readers of Indian English fiction. I don’t know! But I am certain adventurous readers who pick up the book will find much to admire here.

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  10. It was great to know more about Nabina through this interview. Some really strong and thought provoking emotions are brought out here. My take home is that how strongly she believes that poetry will fight against the fascism and hatred prevailing in India and the world. How simply yet strongly she has described the creation of God and Howe it's related to fear. Thanks for publishing this interview.

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