Sujata Chaudhry on why poetry and bureaucracy need not be mutually exclusive

A minor literary trend of the poet-bureaucrat can now be discerned in India. Joining Abhay K., author of Candling the Light, and K.K. Srivastava, author of Shadows of the Real, is Sujata Chaudhry, a General Manager with the Department of Posts, Government of India.

A bilingual poet writing in Oriya and English, Sujata writes primarily on weekends. “I go to the India Habitat Centre library every weekend and write there. On weekdays, when I go for walks, if I get any ideas I write them down in my diary,” she says.

Given this division of labour, one wonders whether she feels stifled by the trappings of bureaucracy. It isn’t a balancing act, however. While poetry is an inheritance from her grandfather, service was destiny, she says.

There is a lot of common ground between poetry and bureaucracy, Sujata suggests. “The creativity and thoughtfulness that poetry demands are required in my job too. A similar process is at work in both the areas. As part of my work, I have to identify problems and propose solutions. I try to do the same in my poems. It is a rational device after all,” she says.

Her chief concerns follow from the view of poetry she has just outlined. “When I started writing, I focused on international issues such as the world wars, the cold war, and divide between the global North and South.” Her first poem was written at the age of 13 and considered Indira Gandhi as the Joan of Arc.

The concerns may have changed, but the approach hasn’t. One of her recent interests is the problem faced by the girl-child in India, and was articulated most strongly in the book Malika, published in Oriya in 2005. The book consists of a character named Malika who notices the problems faced by women and reacts to them. But it is the poet who speaks through her.

A peculiar logic was at work in this act of ventriloquism. “Malika was the name given to me by my father and it was my name from birth till the age of 13. I changed my name afterwards because I didn’t like it. But later on, I decided to remember my father by using the name as a character in my poems.”

Sujata also insists on writing about the ordinary. “Our lives are filled with ordinary moments. Extraordinary moments are few and far between. I write on what I see.”

But the recognition she has got doesn’t have anything of the ordinary. She represented India in the World Poetry Festival in Malaysia in August 2004 and was felicitated by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam earlier that year.

Having authored eight books thus far, Sujata is going to take a break now. Responsibilities have increased, she says. But poetry will remain inalienable.

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