The Blue Note, Srividya Sivakumar’s first solo book of verse

“She was a gangly child with a runny nose. But she wrote poetry,” remembers poet and Air Commodore Minoo Vania of Srividya Sivakumar. Seven hundred poems, a doctorate and several rejection slips later, Srividya’s first solo book of verse, The Blue Note (published by Writers Workshop), was launched at Whispering Stones recently.

“She was the girl always surrounded by little bits of paper with poetry on them,” says Srividya’s sister Shantini Diaz. “I still write that way and hence the ‘Note’ half of the title,” says Srividya. ‘Blue’, however, is both the ‘colour of sorrow’ as well as the ‘happiness of a blue sky or a bright ocean’ and this collection of 40 poems straddles both spectrums. “I’ve an unfair reputation of dwelling on the sad, but there are happier poems in this collection! But I still need to be in a sad space to write them,” says Srividya.

The Blue Note opens with ‘someday’, the story of an alcoholic killing himself by the bottle, moves onto ‘the widow’, and is followed by musings of an unregretful adulteress (‘sudden’). The themes range from the profoundly erotic to abused or sick children, drug overdoses and the mundane. Recurrent though, is her perspective on being a woman. “That’s something that has never changed over the years,” says Srividya to poet and moderator for the evening, Shobana Kumar. For instance, the ‘widow’ series was inspired by the media’s preoccupation with the censorship of Deepa Mehta’s Water. “No one then was talking about the widows themselves, who were the subject of the film,” says Srividya.

“As urban women, we are clothed in modern disguises but are expected to be traditional too,” says Srividya. Her women are often blatant about their sexuality and as G.S.P. Rao, managing editor of Muse India, notes in his foreword to the collection, she “dexterously handles the emotions with rare candour.” At public readings, Srividya often felt apologetic about her writing, but says her poetry was a space of honesty. “Eventually I realised, as Salman Rushdie says, the best way to not be offended by a book is to close it.”

Inspiration everywhere

Anything could trigger poetry says Srividya. For instance, ‘paired’ was inspired by the order of forks and spoons in her air force home, and ‘lullaby’ was written after a drive through night-time Coimbatore. As a teacher of English, Srividya is most comfortable in her world of words and other writer’s words often inspire her own. ‘auden’, for example, begins with W.H. Auden’s ‘private faces in public places’. “A poem could grow into something entirely different from what started it,” says Srividya. “But I scribble it down as it comes to me and rarely dwell on it or edit it later,” she adds.

As a child, Srividya’s conception of poetry was quintessentially rhyming verse: “My uncle is thin/ and looks like a pin/ he has a moustache/ that looks like a sash.” The years have honed her sense of rhyme and ‘The Blue Note’ hence contains poems such as ‘lullaby’ and ‘paired’ that drive a rhythm when read aloud. All her works are also in lower case and devoid of punctuation but for rare full stops. “It’s that way so that readers can bring their own interpretation to the poem,” says Srividya.

The evening of poetry reading and conversation concluded with president of the Coimbatore Book Club, Captain Sagar Gulati, gifting Srividya a citation from the club. Air Commodore Vania added a quick anecdote on the poet’s younger days when she loved making puri and aloo at cook-outs. “I’m glad she chose the poetry over her cooking!”

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