In September-October, 2017, Coldnoon celebrated six years of publishing, and travelling with you. To mark our anniversary, we got together with writers, intellectuals and stalwarts of the art of thinking (and travelling). Here is an interview with Priya Sarukkai Chabria.
We believe, in making travel arrangements, we subconsciously tend to eliminate possibilities which we deem unfit to perceived etiquette, or norms or occasions. Our understanding of travel is based on premises that define what traveling is not. Is writing for you a similar activity, where you are conscious of what writing is not? If so, what according to you is not writing?
Rather a sweeping statement, yours! Nor one I agree with. Preparing for travel and writing are antithetical. When writing one doesn’t know where one is going beforehand, when the journey will end, even what one seeks – except like distant sunlight through mist. Each word falls on un-trodden ground.
I prefer to begin with the pause and sway of writing and travelling reflecting each rather than a clutter of negations. (Apart from the Upanishadic inclusivity of the sacred: neti, neti — not only this, not only that. )
I’m conscious of what writing is whether writing or reading.
What both are not: cages that trap one into an easy or single identity.
Besides writing what would you most like to be known for?
Wishful thinking. To be true to my full name Priyadarsini which means to look upon everyone with love — and, possibly harder, to be looked upon by everyone with love.
In 1794, the French author, Xavier de Maistre, wrote the renowned book, Voyage Around my Room, during a month and a half of solitary confinement, in consequence of a duel. Besides being a satire on the contemporary literary culture of voyages and adventures of colonial sailors to prospective new worlds, the book proved to be a demonstration of how an individual is almost always traveling, but perhaps does not recognize the value of their domestic travels, mobility or even touristic acquisitions. How do you see or understand traveling? Do you think it is a necessary activity for a writer?
Movement through time, space and spirituality is essential for the writer.
19th century French wit, aesthete and novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans wrote À rebours (Against Nature) in which his protagonist became an armchair traveler par excellence; his imagined journey and exhaustion at the end of it was as vital as those somatically experienced.
Let’s now move to a Chinese concept dear to me: zhaoyin. This means either to call one to reclusion or to invite a hermit — in our case, a writer — out of reclusion into court — or the world beyond her shining work tablet. Both ways, the summoning is an ineluctable call that cuts to the heart. This ebb and flow is inevitable as the tide.
Your favorite or most striking lines by another author; or if you will, any composed by yourself?
Among the ‘travel’ quotes that make me ache:
“I am a traveller in need of a little rest…” Frankenstein to De Lancey in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
and this by 9th century Tamil girl-mystic Andal, that I translated. It was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. She wants to be transported to the blue god Krishna’s sacred land.
Dear mothers, can’t you see I quiver when you say ‘Madhava’? I’m cut bowstring vibrating
for his touch. Your counsel’s incomprehensible like the deaf talking to the dumb.
His mother he left to be reared by another. Will he recognize me? Will his love hold fast?
Confusion wrings me. In Mathura he killed mighty wrestlers; I crave his
I implore: take me to his holy city.” (Andal The Autobiography of a Goddess translated by Priya Sarukkai Chabria and Ravi Shankar, Zubaan (2015); University of Chicago Press (2016))
Here’s a poem I wrote on The Silk Route that suggests another view.
This is a door handle. Push to enter.
the dromedaries’ hard breathing
the small plane drone overhead
large-grain sand scrunching underfoot your stilled breath ‘cause you think
you’re where time stretches to a stop
but it’s just you on a camel trudging
on in a space where sky and earth carve
Memories, like photographs, live
in the continuous present though
their grains alter each time you enter.
Make yourself into a memory.
Do respond to the following words
“‘Dear God,’ she prayed, ‘let me be something every minute of every hour of my life.'”—Betty Smith
To be vitally alive with every in breath and every out breath is a shared dream.
What do you think of Coldnoon?
I’m writing for Coldnoon, aren’t I? I enjoy the mingling of passion, poetics and politics.