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 K. Satchidanandan.

 

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 travelling 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?

I  write across genres: poetry, essay, drama, travelogue, adaptation  as also translation ( I consider translation writing too). I do not think there is one rule that governs all of them. I think of myself primarily as poet and, yes, I try as far as possible to remove everything that I do not consider poetry from my poems. I cannot and will not even try to define poetry; but I know that it expresses something that cannot be expressed in any other form of literature or art — say, fiction, essay, play, film, music…but can have  in it the elements that constitute all of them, say, narration, thought, drama, montage, tonality. I call this the ‘inevitability’ of poetry, its ‘uniqueness’ as a dense, intense,  unpredictable, playful, form of language use in which emotion, thought and word coalesce inseparably. I know any concept of poetry can be limiting as it is not a static art; it grows, evolves, changes and what was considered unpoetic in one age becomes poetic in another. The poetry of Nicanor Parra or Bertolt Brecht or Ko Un, for example, would not have been possible in the nineteenth century. It is often said of sculpture that you remove from the stone whatever is not the sculpture and there you have the sculpture; may be this is metaphorically true of poetry too: we remove from language whatever we consider not to be poetry. Other genres of writing may have different requirements, but yes, keeping certain things out, editing out the superfluous in the specific context and genre , is a universal rule for good writing.

 

Besides writing what would you most like to be known for?

Writers sometimes live under the pleasing illusion that they will be remembered for all time. This is a fragile dream for many reasons,: first, out of the crores of writers who have crossed our planet, only very few are remembered after their death and even fewer for at least a few centuries; second, we have no control over our life after death , third, even centuries are only moments in time’s eternity and fourth we are not sure even the human species will survive for long and it is already on a suicidal path; this may be true of the small planet where we live too. I have a short take on this in the poem’ Immortality’: “Thousands of poets wrote poetry /and were forgotten./ Only one was remembered./I would rather be forgotten/ with thousands of companions/ than be the lone immortal.” So what I care for is how I a perceived when I am alive and I would like to be seen not necessarily as a great writer,  and not certainly as a clever one which is the norm these days  but as a writer of integrity , refusing to compromise his ideals for small personal gains and ever honest to his experience, feeling and imagination even when his writing  may not qualify as being the best of the times.

 

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 travelling, but perhaps does not recognize the value of their domestic travels, mobility or even touristic acquisitions. How do you see or understand travelling? Do you think it is a necessary activity for a writer?

The writer is a traveller in more than one sense. Metaphorically all writing, creative writing in particular is travel as the writing is a travel  through imagination as well as language  and as such is an adventure too as it  has in it exploration, discovery, surprise, charm, return. Empirically, yes, all writers undertake short travels in their own villages or towns and within their state and longer travels into far corners of his/her country and of the world. All the epics of the world — Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavata, Odyssey, Iliad, Divine Comedy and great novels and plays including the plays of Shakespeare — have travels in them and sometimes travel is central to them as it is to Homer’s Odyssey, that gets internalised in Joyce’s Ulysses. Travel has inspired a lot of poetry; the issues of Coldnoon themselves stand testimony  to this. Kshemendra, the 12th century literary theorist in his Kavikantabharanam clearly advocates travel as essential for poets who he says should learn the shape of leaves, make people laugh in gatherings, grasp their true nature, understand how oceans and mountains, the Sun and the Moon  are in themselves, his mind should enter the seasons and he should travel in many lands, among diverse people and learn their languages. Travel broadens one’s mind, enriches one’s perception of life and things and relationships and stimulates creative imagination — this much I can say from my own limited experience of travel within the country and across continents and the several sequences of poems I have around my encounters in India and China, the two Americas and the various parts of Europe.

 

Your favorite or most striking lines by another author; or if you will, any composed by yourself?

This indeed is a hard question to answer. From the beginnings of many great novels to the ends of several great poems I have at least a hundred favourites. So I shall confine myself to a few ordinary-looking lines that carry the truth of poetry for me from Octavio Paz I often quote in my lectures: ‘I am history/ A memory inventing itself/ I am never alone/ I speak with you always/ You speak with me always/ I move in the dark/ I plant signs.”

 

Do respond to the following words: “

“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept. ― George Carlin

We speak to ourselves as part of our larger conversation that we have also with others, with nature and with the universe or God if you choose to call it so. And I know that even when I think I accept only  answers that come from myself, I know my self contains a multitude of universes.

 

What do you think of Coldnoon?

Coldnoon has been unique in many ways: one, that it focuses on the variations of a single theme: travel; two, that it has never disappointed a relatively discriminating  and responsible reader alike, which means it has seldom made compromises in terms of quality and three, a little magazine, that too with a single theme, is extremely hard to sustain and the way Coldnoon has sustained itself is nothing short of a small miracle.

 

K. Satchidanandan

K. Satchidanandan

Satchidanandan is an Indian poet, essayist and translator writing in Malayalam, the language of Kerala and a bilingual critic and editor. He has a doctorate in post-structuralist poetics and was Professor of English at Christ College, University of Calicut, Kerala, editor of Indian Literature, the journal of the Sahitya Akademi (The National Academy of Letters) and later the Chief Executive of the Akademi. He then worked as a Language Policy Consultant for the Government of India and has been associated, as editor, with Katha, Delhi and the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature. He edited the poetry quarterly Kerala Kavita in Malayalam and the series of translations from South Asian literature, The South Asian Library of Literature in English. He retired in 2011 as Director and Professor, School of Translation Studies and Training, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi. He was also on the Project Advisory Board of Indian Literature Abroad, and the National Executive of the National Translation Mission and has been on the Executive Board of Sahitya Akademi besides being on the academic/governing bodies of JNU, (Delhi), Ambedkar University(Delhi), Malayalam University(Kerala) and has been on the PhD. Board of four universities. Until recently he was a National Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.

Satchidanandan has 24 collections of poetry in Malayalam, 16 collections of world poetry in translation, four plays, three books of travel and 23 collections of critical essays and interviews besides four collections of essays in English. He has edited several anthologies of poetry and prose in Malayalam, English and Hindi. He has 27 collections of his poems in translation in 18 languages, including five collections in English, six in Hindi, four in Tamil and two in Kannada, two in Oriya, two in Assamese and one each in Irish, Arabic, Chinese, German, French, Italian Bengali, Telugu, Marathi and Gujarati. He has won 36 awards and honours for his literary contribution including Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad Award,( Kolkata) Gangadhar Meher Award( Orissa), Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award (5 times), Kumaran Asan Award ( Chennai), Bapureddy National Award, NTRamaRao award ( Hyderabad) Kuvempu Samman ( Karnataka), Kerala Varma Award, Ulloor Award, P. Kunhiraman Nair Award, Odakkuzhal Award, Vayalar Award, SBT Suvarna Mudra, Padmaprabha Puraskaram (Kerala), Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan Award, (Kuwait), Baharain Keraleeya Samajam Award ( Bahrain), Oman Kerala Cultural Centre Award ( Muscat), Kamala Surayya Award ( Dubai), Kusumagraj National Award  (Maharashtra), Sahitya Akademi Award for Malayalam and  Kala award for total contribution from London. His more recent awards include Poetry for Peace Award from the Govt of UAE, V. Aravindakshan Award, Kavyotsav Award, Hariyorma Award and Kamal Surayya Memorial award from Kerala. He has also won Green India Excellence Award for environmental writing besides Sahityasree from the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, Delhi, Senior Fellowship from the Department of Culture, Government of India, Sreekant Verma Fellowship from the Government of Madhya Pradesh and the K.K. Birla Fellowship for Comparative Literature. He is a Fellow of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi. Many of his books of poetry and criticism have been textbooks in Universities and there are several PhDs on his poetry. A film on him, Summer Rain was released in 2007. His name was in the list of first ten Nobel prize probables in 2011.

Satchidanandan has represented India in several international literary events like the international literary festivals in Sarajevo, Berlin, Montreal, Beijing, Moscow, Ivry-sur Seine, Rotterdam, Jaipur, Delhi, Hay Festival-Trivandrum, Medellin International Poetry Festival in Colombia, and book fairs at Delhi, Lahore, Kolkata, Abu Dhabi, Frankfurt, Leipzig, London, Paris and Moscow. He has also read and talked at Bonn, Rome, Verona, Ravenna, Leiden, New York, St. Petersburg, Damascus, Aberystwyth, Manchester, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Sharjah, Singapore, Colombia, Cuba, Peru, Venezuela etc. besides most of the cities in India. Satchidanandan has been honoured with Knighthood of the Order of Merit by the Government of Italy, with the Dante Medal by the Dante Institute, Ravenna and the India-Poland Friendship Medal by the Government of Poland. He has also been an activist for secularism, environment and human rights.

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