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Life in words... on the run

SUCHITRA BEHAL gets across to Choman Hardi, a Kurdish poet, who writes of displacement, exile, refugees. And a lot more.

THERE ARE mixed memories. War and displacement. Laughter and tears. Both abounded as they shifted from one country to another. Finally there was a scattering . Yet the roots were intact and strong enough not to let a sense of betrayal creep in. For Kurdish poet, Choman Hardi, the migrant diaspora, flung all over the world, specially Europe, shares the same concerns and she believes that in her poetry she is touching on a universal chord. Hardi has published two collections of her work, "Return with No Memory" and "Light and the Shadows".

Born into a literary family, her father is a well-known Kurdish poet and her two brothers also write, Hardi said that poetry happened much later. "As a child I painted and was sure that I would be an artist." But love turned that around and at the age of 21, "when I fell in love there was a sudden rush through me and poetry just seemed to flow.'' In New Delhi recently to attend the UK-South Asian Women Writers' Conference-2003, Hardi, currently a member of Exiled Writers' Ink, which represents over 300 refugee writers from across the world, tells what it means to be a refugee and why she has stopped writing in her own language.

Q.When did you switch to writing in English?

A. I only started writing in English about three years ago. There are many reasons for that. First of all I failed in translating my poetry. Maybe I wasn't experienced enough. Secondly although I was highly acclaimed for my poetry, there was censorship within my community. Everytime I read at a poetry forum later I would hear awful stories. "Oh! She must be looking for a husband''. People would say, "Oh! a young girl writing about love, about sex she must be looking for a husband". I laugh a lot about it now but I was actually very hurt by these remarks. I felt very alienated and decided not to read any poetry for a period of two years. At this time I joined the university in England. Because I was reading and writing in English and spoke it with my colleagues, it naturally, very slowly became the language of communication. It is also a way to claim wider readership and find a form that is less censored. I do feel guilty now and again and, yes, I think in a way it is a shame to lose that language (Kurdish) but I do believe that it is not permanent. I will make ties with it again. I need to go back to my country to be able to be there physically to get into that mode again.

Q. This moving away from your roots... does it give rise to another identity? That of the refugee?

A. I have addressed the question of displacement but much of my writing is informed by my own emotions and my own history. In doing so, I think I am touching a lot of people who have had similar experiences. So although I may talk about the dispersal of my own family it could apply to any of the migrant families in Britain. You're on your own with your culture whether you want to practice it or not.

Q. What are the aspirations of the Kurdish people?

A. There is a big community now. Unfortunately many of the young people arriving are a disillusioned lot. We have lived through a century of oppression and this generation does not believe that people really care. They want stable lives, jobs and a family. It is the earlier generations that have links with people back home. It is this living between two worlds that can be enriching for a writer. I have been very much inspired by this whole concept of silence and oppression.

Q. Is there a common question that refugee writing addresses?

A. Absolutely. When I was in Iraq I had known Arabs only as oppressors. In England I see many Arabic people in the same situation as me. It makes you get in touch with your own humanity.

Q. What is the main concern of the refugee writer?

A. Many people think that refugee writing must deal with only these issues. Actually it does not have to be about exile. Part of the writing is coloured by the sense of loss and then there are concerns about the other life- the new life. For instance I am concerned about my home, my children, how much of my culture will be transported back to them? So it is all these feelings of the past, the present and the future that makes up the writing.

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