Poet Anju Makhija reflects on poetry's impact on her life and her latest collection Pickling Time.
She was a child of eight when poetry found her and although Anju Makhija is now comfortable with any form of the word including prose, drama and even translation, verse is her place of sanctuary. While in Chennai to participate in the ‘Poetry with Prakriti' festival, Anju Makhija spoke about her relationship with the medium and the role it has played in her relationships with people, cultures and time:
Would you consider relationships to be a prominent motif in your poetry?
Yes. Even though I tend to be a loner one does develop several relationships, as is apparent in my poetry. Many of my poems are based on my daughter's growing up of, then there are relationships with partners, with friends and perhaps the deepest relationships can also be with strangers.
At one of the readings this time, there was a question regarding the presence of a whole series of poems in my collection View from the Web (Har Anand, 1995) on children whom I don't know but often encounter on trains vending their goods. This is a relationship born of empathy. When I write poems to describe the hard lives they lead, I find the need to be more experimental in style to avoid making the words sound sentimental.
Why did you begin publishing only several years after poetry came in search of you?
Starting at the age of eight, I allowed myself to write, write and write and now I've literally got drawers full of poems, which I can keep digging out from at will. It just depends on what you're busy doing at a point in time. I got busy in a different career but continued writing without worrying about what I would do with the material. And that spontaneity is an important part of how and why I write. So, despite entering the publishing world late, people tell me I've been prolific.
Lately you have been working a lot more with Sindhi literature, there was Freedom and Fissures (Sahitya Akademi, 1998), an anthology of Sindhi Partition poetry, as well as, Seeking the Beloved (Katha, 2005), the Sufi poetry of Shah Abdul Latif. Do you find yourself discovering your own roots in this process?
Yes, totally. My greatest influence has been my grandmother, who was brought up in Pakistan, Sindh. I watched my grandfather gradually lose his sanity as he went from being a self-made businessman, who had photographs taken with Nehru, to one who lost everything post-Partition. So we grew up knowing we were all immigrants and always there was this feeling: who is a Sindhi? Is it the person who talks with that funny accent in Hindi films and is always running after money? What does it mean to be a Sindhi?
Now, after Shah Latif's translated works have been published for the first time in English, many young Sindhis come up to me saying this work makes them proud of their heritage. So I think my purpose there has been fulfilled in that it not only brought me to my roots but the younger generation as well. It is a journey I should have begun earlier, but you know the convent education, the foreign education and the career…but at least I've done something and I hope others will follow.
How important a role does time play in your work, especially in your soon-to-be-released collection, Pickling Season?
Actually, it's funny when I think of time and Pickling Season because that particular poem, from which the book gets its title, was written under a very, very old tree, whose trunk was completely hollow from inside but at the time I wasn't thinking of how nature too gets old.
Time plays two extreme roles in this collection; on the one hand there are poems celebrating the growth of my daughter, while on the other there is the painful witnessing of both my parents battling Alzheimer's.
Time as we conventionally know it is birth, youth, middle age and death. But as you get older what happens to time? I now find myself beginning to feel the continuity of life. There is no longer that fear of death, of time running out on you. Time contracts and expands according to your mind and further if you can forget your mind and go deeper then time stays still. And this stillness does come when I write poetry, which in a way is why one writes.