A way with words

Anupama Raju's poetry-photography project, in which she collaborated with French photographer Pascal Bernard will be presented at an exhibition that opens on May 3 in the city of La Rochelle, France

April 26, 2012 06:25 pm | Updated 06:29 pm IST

Poet and writer Anupama Raju

Poet and writer Anupama Raju

J ournalist and corporate trainer Anupama Raju's long-lasting affair with words eventually led her into the lyrical world of poetry. A linguist, Anupama has also been involved in translations. Last year, Anupama was involved in an interesting project in which she and French photographer Pascal Bernard set out to discover the city of Pondicherry through photography and poetry.

In the first week of May, Anupama will travel to France for the inauguration of the poetry-photography project that she has been working on for the last eight months. It will be presented at an exhibition in the city of La Rochelle, France. The exhibition opens on May 3, 2012 in France and will travel to India later this year. She will also be pursuing a writing residency for about a month in the same city where she will be working on her next poetry project…Excerpts from an interview .

Would you explain a little more about this interesting poetry-project that you have been involved in?

It all started in July last year when the Alliance Francaise de Pondicherry invited me for a writing project, as part of the cultural partnership between Pondicherry and the city of La Rochelle, France. The project, ‘One City, One Place, One Person', explores Pondichery through images and words – French photographer Pascal Bernard's photographs and my poems.

You did a project with Pascal in Pondicherry last year. Would you explain something about the project and the process involved?

The project ‘Une Ville, Un Lieu, Une Personne' conceived by Pascal is an unassuming way of discovering a city and its people. Pondicherry and Pondicherrians. We spent 10 days on a residency at the Alliance Francaise de Pondichery. Every morning Pascal and I would set out under the blazing Pondicherry sun to meet three to four people a day. From a retired judge to a conservator to a tender coconut seller and wayside tea vendor, these were people who were making a difference to the town in substantial ways.

Did the verses come first or the photographs? How difficult or easy was it to capture a place and its people through this process? Any memorable encounters or incidents during the project?

One such meeting I particularly treasure is the photo shoot with a senior civil servant and history lover who has made Pondicherry his home. The place he wanted to be photographed in was an old cemetery, since the idea was to photograph Pondicherrians in their favourite location in the city! Since most days were thus packed, it was the evenings when I would sit recalling the people and meetings and turning those recollections into bits of poetry. I wrote some of the initial drafts then. However, it was a continuous and constant evolution during which revisions and improvisations happened.

While the poems are inspired by the city, its people and Pascal's photographs, I have also tried to treat them independently with the objective of making the experiences evoked in them universal. At least that is my endeavour.

The poems are in English since I write in English, which I translated into French with the help of Pascal and some of my French friends. The poems also have a word or phrase in Tamil since the objective is to use the three languages of Pondicherry: French, Tamil and English. For me this has been a wonderful experience since Tamil is one of my languages, since I was born and raised in Chennai.

You will now be doing the same in La Rochelle, France. Will that be a multi-lingual project as well and would this follow the same process as the one in Pondicherry?

I am happy to have been invited by Le Centre Intermondes, the Alliance Francaise de Pondicherry's collaborating partner for this new project. This time, I will be writing the poems first and the photos would follow later as Pascal and I wanted to try the reverse order.

My project – ‘Depths and Surfaces' – is an attempt to delve into the depth of a city, into its heritage and culture. This project is also supported by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. My intent is to explore the depths through surfaces and in La Rochelle, just as in Pondicherry, the surface that fascinates and draws me is that of the sea. The sea has always been part of both the cities I have lived in – Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram.

Why not a city in Kerala, where the Alliance Francaisede Trivandrum has had a long presence?

This particular project is part of a partnership between La Rochelle and Alliance Francaise de Pondicherry. However, I am definitely keen on discovering any city in Kerala through my poetry. In fact, my new project will use the sea as a universal metaphor to unite different geographical locations – be it Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai, La Rochelle or Pondichery.

Your tryst with words and verse…

I started writing seriously in 2003, thanks to the encouragement I received from the late Ayyappa Paniker. My first published poem appeared in The Little Magazine . Prizes from the British Council and Unisun, the Prakriti Foundation, publication in several other anthologies and journals spurred me on. In the beginning, I used to write free verse and then moved on to experiment with traditional poetry genres like the ghazal, the triolet, the sestina, haiku, and so on. Indian Literature , the Sahitya Akademi journal, published my work. K. Satchidanandan was editing the journal and soon, he became my mentor as well.

Last year was a highlight when I was invited to read my poems at the Hay Festival, which was truly an extraordinary experience.

Over the last two years, I have also been translating Malayalam short fiction and I have really enjoyed translating master story teller Paul Zacharia's short stories into English.

I also try to ensure that my tryst with words continues in the organisation I work in, UST Global, where all employees are encouraged to practise an actively creative culture in all spheres of work.

I understand, your book of poems is being published. When is that and when can we read you in print?

My first book of poems should be out by late 2012 or early 2013. My work will also be featured in two important anthologies coming out in the next couple of months. The Harper Collins Book of English Poetry and The Yellow Nib Modern English Poetry by Indians , published by the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Queen's University, Belfast, Ireland. Another forthcoming anthology is Ten - New Indian Poets edited by renowned poet Jayanta Mahapatra.

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