TSC Interviews | Debarshi Mitra

Chandramohan Sathyanathan: Congratulations on winning the Srinivas Rayaparol Poetry Prize 2017. How does it feel?

Debarshi Mitra: I'm delighted of course to have won the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize 2017. Perhaps the greatest reward was to be adjudged as being worthy of the prize by eminent poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. I've long been an admirer of his work.

CS: Could you briefly spell out your literary evolution until now?

DM: I began writing quite a few years back. I was writing back then what I thought were poems. Those poems embarrass me now. I was introduced to literature early in my life. I was an avid reader by fourth grade or so. I read extensively and widely but my perception of poetry changed after reading the Indian  English poets. Poets like Nissim Ezekiel, Adil Jussawala, and Arun Kolatkar instilled in me the belief that even the everyday is not unworthy of poetic attention. My first collection of poems was published by Writers Workshop. When I read it now, it seems to me that the book required stringent editing. There are poems there that I'm not proud of. But there are also poems there that I still like.

Looking back, stylistically my poems have changed so much. I will never be able to write like that again.

CS: Do you write in the vernacular too? Do you perceive Indian English poetry as having a sensibility that panders to the politically pasteurized urban, 'upper'-class and caste?

DM: I don't write in the vernacular. Recently, however, I have developed a keen interest in reading contemporary Bengali poetry. I've been reading poets like  Bhaskar  Chakraborty, Utpal Kumar Basu, Falguni Ray, Mandakranta Sen. It has opened up a hitherto undiscovered world for me. It has been immensely rewarding.

About Indian English poetry catering only to the upper classes, I think poetry has traditionally been the preserve of only a select few. This is because few people have had the privilege of introspection. However there are Indian English poets such as yourself, Meena Kandaswamy and others who have challenged the status quo, have tried to forge a new language from the debris of years of caste and class oppression. So I wouldn't say that it only panders to the privileged. Having said that I believe poetic sensibilities vary.  While there are poets who address historical wrongdoings and rebel through their works, there are also wonderful poets whose works do not quite reflect their social concerns. The presence of these diverse voices are instrumental to the growth of Indian English Poetry in general.

CS: Recently there has been an upsurge in the number of English poets from India and online literary platforms.  In your opinion has this abundance of literary platforms helped the cause of English Poetry from India?

DM: With the upsurge of online literary journals, Indian English poetry I believe is a much more democratised space now than it was a few years back. Newer avenues have presented opportunities to poets belonging to different communities.

CS: Do you think Prizes such as this significantly alter our perception of what is good?

DM: I do not think prizes alter our perception of what good poetry is.  Prizes are important for recognition and motivation. Writing poetry, I'm sure you'll agree, often is a very lonely pursuit with little or no encouragement.


Poetry | Poornima Laxmeshwar

    Chronicles of an obligatory cook

You were a man of procedures
To win your heart I had to unravel the enigma
of flavours that made you, of jackfruit curry that
could linger on your fingertips, of fried bhindis
that could appeal your appetite
of vegetables alone as they stood unforbidden
I had to undo my years at hostel
where all I ever learnt was
how to make Maggi
And the only lesson I drew from it was
it never happens in two minutes

You are a man of precision
Can tell a burnt mustard from a finely roasted one
twitch the nose at the smell of a single clove
of garlic in a bowl of dal, know the sweetness of the
Payasam by the mere fragrance of it
As I deal with the leftovers
convince them to taste good
every noon while you eat away your lunch I pack
in the morning

Amma was worried
she knew I didn’t know the art of making
Idlis tender as jasmine and Dosas crisp as Appa’s opinion
on gold shopping, so she wasn’t sure about how to praise
my cooking skill the first time you visited us to see me
So she smiled and smiled some more
until we were left alone to discuss other priorities
Her only relief that evening was
that we didn’t talk about herbs and spices
but instead spoke about careers and long-term life plans

Jowar rotis are the toughest if you ever ask me
They need knack, love and stamina in equal proportions
No, don’t get ideas
You knead the flour in hot water, on and on
Wait for it to be mushy like a romantic Bollywood duet
Then you spread it on the floor and go thap-thap-thap
in between you shouldn’t forget to rotate it
and again thap-thap-thap till it looks
like a parched moon, you pick it gently
as your lover’s letter while the tawa stares at you
with the worldly sarcasm

But you must like cooking they insist

At the dining table you throw a list
of observations and feedback that sounds like a
title of a spoken word piece
Ten ways to improvise your cooking skill
While I collect them with caution
store it in the Bharani, ajji gifted
awaiting the pickles and your words
to marinate, settle quietly
with time


Poetry | Debarshi Mitra | Part 1

PC: allposters.com

Found Prayer

Let my name 
fade away
but these words
let them rise as if
out of nothing 
but thin air 
and parched land.
Let them speak 
as the sky speaks
only in the dialect of light,
let nothing remain 
but these
let them be.


You undress
bit by bit
and night descends
I lie here staring
at the ceiling,
outside the pigeons
flutter their wings,
you undress
bit by bit,
the bones shiver,
you say something
I don’t catch
instead I think of
a blood stained knife
and smile and
say nothing.


Outside, the sky
in so many shades 
of pink.

Here, a crow 
pecking at  
the unrelenting window.

* Debarshi Mitra is the winner of The Srinivas Rayaprol Prize, 2017


TSC interviews | Mercy Margaret | C. Satyanathan

Mercy Margaret

Chandramohan S.:  Congratulations on winning the Young Writer award. You  write  poetry in Telugu but you converse with your colleagues mostly in English? What does your language mean to you?

Mercy: Thank you so much for your greetings. Yes, I write poems in Telugu. Telugu is my mother tongue. I feel human sentiments are often best expressed in the mother tongue. English is a link language to connect with people from different parts of the country and world.  For me, language is not at all a tool of communication; it is more than that.In one of my poems, I have written that  language to me is a medicine which heals people.  Language is a thread which brings humans together. And I love my mother tongue. As in, these days everyone is running after English. Yes, of course it is good to know English and communicate in it so that we can exchange our grief, ideas and cultural heritage. But we should never forget our mother tongue too. Because those who are good at their mother tongue can learn  other languages  better.

Chandramohan S.: You speak about using social media effectively. Could you elaborate? Why do you think social media has been so pivotal in Dalit Bahujan activism?

Mercy : Yes. I am very active on Social Media. Facebook has become a medium for me to express my views in the form of poetry and stories. This is the generation of Information Technology.  In a click,  everybody is connecting to each other.  Social media has become a very powerful tool to express every body’s feelings.

I started writing in Facebook.  My poems got shared and I started receiving Likes. I connected with many poets in Facebook and learned from them, asked them which book should I read and which books I have to refer.

I Am a Christian. A Dalit Christian. I was brought up in an orthodox way.  I do not hail from a literary family and my parents know nothing about literature. Being religious, I thought I should not write poetry since by doing that I may rob the glory of God; I thought I should use all my talents only for God. Many misconceptions were around at that time in my mind. But social media helped me to see the world in different way. It has become a platform for my thoughts . There were people in the initial stage who didn't accept me as  my name reveals my identity and community. Slowly,  they started accepting me by reading my poems.

When it comes to Dalit Bahujan activism, social media is playing a vital role. Many mainstream papers have no space for Dalit Bahujan issues. They will not provide a place to express our views. But through Facebook, blogs  etc.  our literature is reaching many.

Chandramohan S. : Could you briefly present a snapshot of your literary evolution? You have overcome twin disadvantages of being a woman and a Dalit. Do you wish to place yourself in the tradition of Swaroopa Rani or Gogu Shyamala?

Mercy: As I earlier stated, I am from a Dalit Christian community. I should confess here that the Dalits discriminate against those who have converted to Christianity. We are not treated equally.

In the initial days, I wrote poetry  of a romantic nature. But slowly, I started to study the society.  Many of my personal experiences have taught me about Dalit issues and Dalit activism. Being born and brought up in a city like Hyderabad and educated in a Christian school, I never faced any kind of discrimination and I never knew about Dalit activism. But many incidents helped me to understand the situation.

I can't say that I will be continuing  the tradition of Swaroopa Rani or Gogu Shyamala. I write poetry when ever I feel my voice is required to help the suppressed whoever it is. And I write poetry to vent about the  pressure of  my surroundings, society, inequalities etc.

Chandramohan S.: Do you consider yourself a Dalit writer? What are the specifics of the subjectivity of  a "Dalit Writer" in your perspective?  In addition to your Christian background?

Mercy: I am not a Dalit Writer. I am a writer who is Dalit. ( This thought or stand may change according to time or may not, it all depends on time and situations )  I speak where ever my voice is required to address issues where justice has failed. I do not want to limit myself by saying this. I am not under-valuing the issue of Dalits. I belong to Dalit community and I will be the voice of my community in the crucial times.

In my view, those who are called "Dalit writers" are sacrificing a lot.They are sacrificing  their pleasures and due praises for the community’s sake. Yes, it is true if they remove that tag of Dalit writers they would  also become great laureates. As everyone  knows, their voices were suppressed due to literary politics.

It’s true that Dalit Christians are treated with less priority compared to the normal Dalits. They are not given  equal rights as Dalits get. Many Dalit Christians are undergoing persecution. But these deaths and harassment are not getting recorded. I found there is very little literature  produced on us. Our lives should get recorded. Alone, I  can’t do this. Many more should come forward.

Chandramohan S: You are the second "Yuva Puraskar " winner I am interviewing in the last two years who hails from a Dalit background. Does this reflect a larger shift in mainstreaming the voices of the margin in Telugu literature?

Mercy: Yes, of course. I feel  this Award has given strength to our voice; people who didn't listen to us will try to listen now. Many young Dalits are getting inspired.


Prose | Address following Sahitya Academy Award by Mercy Margaret

It began like a small drop of water, with one small step. Today, the journey has brought me to stand before such an august gathering of people in this city. It´s like a movie reel running before my eyes. 

To stand in front of you today, with a heart filled with immense pleasure, is the result of several sleepless nights of effort and sacrifice.

First of all, let me extend my most humble greetings to all those who are present here. I also extend my heartfelt gratitude to the jury of the Kendra Sahitya Academy for honouring me with this award and for encouraging several poets like me.

Although it has been about six months since this award was announced I still keep receiving congratulations and words of appreciation. People often ask how I feel about the award. When they inquire about these things, I notice an enormous love in their eyes. I even notice that they search for happiness in my eyes. Almost for a week after the announcement was made, there was a flood of phone calls and messages on Facebook and Whatsapp leaving me almost breathless with happiness.

The fact that I had earned so many well-wishers made me feel happier than the award itself. In fact, it's the poetry that has endeared me to all. This award brought me even closer to them more than ever.

That´s indeed showering with love, the love which made most of them feel as if they had won this award themselves. What can I give them back in exchange except love? I am indebted to God for having brought me onto this earth with a purpose. I am indebted to my parents who made me kneel down and pray for my books and education when I was small. There have been several people who have instilled in me a sense of determination and values to uphold in life. I don´t really know how to express my gratitude to them. My gratitude to my teachers who put up with my naughtiness affectionately and filled my hands with well-lit burning words.  To Mark Zuckerberg for offering a wonderful platform like Facebook.  My heartfelt gratitude to my companion, friend and husband who is there in every step I take as my first critic and guide always encouraging me to produce quality writing. It´s my duty to thank everybody that has been a source of encouragement and inspiration in my life.

Having been born in a Christian family with no background of any literary discourse at home this comes as a surprise even to me. It´s not to say that I have made a great achievement, nor does this award will change anything in my attitude towards life. I consider it as an acknowledgement for planting another sapling in my literary garden.  It has only a humbling effect on me. Undoubtedly, it´s an important literary break for me. It has become an obligation now to learn more and more. To have more caring people around.

Nowadays, it´s difficult to find love and affection among people. Nobody seems to have time to listen to the other. There used to be a sort of companionship once. All human relations have become commercial today. Instead of coming closer to one another we are drifting apart. Distances between people have become longer and words have become scarce.

A Marxist will wage a long-time revolution. A middle-class girl after concluding two major journeys of her life –one before marriage and the other after marriage, will embark upon an eternal journey of companionship and turbulence. A sailor will embark upon his prolonged journey towards an unseen edge of the water. A scientist convinced that life is an endless evolution will drown himself in an interminable search. One defines life as a struggle, another as survival and yet another as a journey or an eternal quest, but everyone will keep moving. But they come back as if they have been reminded of something.

The pleasure of reaching the goal together, in one single leap, laying hands on one another´s shoulder or running over the puddles amidst peels and laughter, a childhood we left behind, a life, a language, a feeling –they all transform into a nostalgia.

In childhood, the puddles formed by the first showers of rain on the muddy streets used to greet us warmly as if they were meeting us after a long gap. We used to look at ourselves in the same puddles wondering how we looked when we laughed. It was great fun.

Haven´t we laid roads with coal-tar topping to run our cars? Where can you find those puddles now? 

Where are the puddles that remind us today how we looked like when we laughed at our own reflections in them? Where are the puddles that remind us with a heap of words that we are human beings?

What we left behind while walking is our own life, our own language. It´s the word that tells us that a human being is still alive. So long as the words flow like a stream, we remain alive. But we are abandoning the words. We are losing people. 

The society has grown. Humanity has entered into our melancholy. From the larval stage, our ideas and thoughts have undergone a metamorphosis. We wanted to fly. Without even knowing where we were taking off, we traversed almost an infinity. But did we ever stop to observe there was not one puddle to be seen on this journey? We have left the very human element of observation in our lives. When machine becomes a man and man becomes a machine, language slips into oblivion. When language becomes oblivious, feelings become obsolete. We have no time to lay hands on one another´s shoulders and leap together. Today, there are no puddles where words ooze eternally, words of warmth that existed among friends. 

If we combine several brief journeys it becomes one long journey. An odyssey. Every small trip is a turning. Every turning is a lesson in life.

Modern life has conspired to wipe us out physically, psychologically and politically. If we are not alert, we can disappear from the crowd, from the context or even from our very own self. That´s why when we see the burning lives of people, ever vanishing human element, when we see the resources for building this world draining out rapidly when we see human strife and tragedy the pressure on our heart mounts. Pen and paper become our companions to help us combat this pressure, to relieve us from its clutches. In times of crisis, of desperation and of lifelessness, poetry pats you on your back to bring you back to life.

Nowadays, people live for themselves. “Me and my family”. The society is a conglomeration of many such families. We know everything. We know how to maneuver on the thin line between good and bad. When I stumble on that line, the poet in me wakes up. It´s not to scribble something to change the society. I walk with many such “Me and Mine-s” in the society with shades of victory and with the shrieks of a wounded heart imprinted on the palm of my hand. That´s what is reflected in my poetry. You will see many such instances taking poetic form in my forthcoming collection too.

Initially, there used to be an enclosure around me. I saw people being apprehensive of touching my writings and thoughts. I was then a plant called ´Touch Her Not´. There were people who were skeptical about reading my words, my writings. My name reveals my identity. It reveals my community. Therefore, they were far from being receptive. It took a lot of time for a lot of people to accept me as a poet.

Although I started to write when I was in the Intermediate second year, I wasn´t really sure, whether it was poetry or not. With the restrictions of having been born in a Christian family and with no literary background, I had no idea what to read. Then, when I was in degree the second year –that was in 2002, I won a prize in an essay-writing contest organized by Vishalandhra Publications, a prestigious Telugu language publishing house. I was given books worth three thousand rupees. By then, Sri Sri, Dr.C.Narayana Reddy and Tilak were already part of my syllabus. I ordered their books and read them. A little later, Facebook became a platform for me. I opened my Facebook account in 2009. I began to post whatever I thought was good to post there. Surprisingly, I received a great deal of response there. I met several poets on Facebook. I sought their recommendations about books related to poetry and read. That urge to read poetry finally brought me here. Slowly, my poems have been translated into English, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Odiya and Kannada languages and published. I have been accorded the opportunity of reading my poetry at various state, national and international poetry conclaves. I recited my poetry at Festival of Letters –New Harvest of Young Writers´ Meet organized by the Kendra Sahitya Academy. At the South India Writers´ Meet, I not only recited my poetry but presented a paper too. I started ´Poetry Hall´ on Facebook. I organize poetry workshops at Ravindra Bharathi in Hyderabad and train enthusiastic students in writing poetry. It has been one journey so far. A kind of transit. Now it´s time to discover new horizons. To begin a new journey.

This award is certainly a source of encouragement to continue my literary career. I hope this will turn out to be a Guru who will pat on my back and remind me constantly to write with responsibility.

My heartfelt gratitude to all of you.