Poetry is the new bridge between India and Ireland
Multiple threads tie India and Ireland together. The two national flags are alike, and the people have a similar fondness for music, dance and revelry. But not many know that poets from the two countries have quietly yet consistently been blurring demographic lines.
Take the case of Dublin-based Indian poet Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe, who split her middle name Zachariah, inspired by a Czeslaw Milosz poem that says “the purpose of poetry is to remind us / how difficult it is to remain just one person”. She has a spiritual connection with India and her upcoming poetry collection draws inspiration from Kāma, the Hindu god of love and desire.
“In contrast to Western poetic traditions celebrating the illusionary ideal of romantic love, my poems seek to invert this notion by addressing the devastating effects of it,” Eipe tells BLink. The first half of her upcoming collection in English has five sections that follow the trajectory of the five arrows of Kāma, who like Cupid, the Roman god of love, also wields a bow and a quiver of arrows wreathed in flowers. Each arrow wounds, leaving a particular effect on the body: Stambhana (stunning), śośana (withering), sanmohana(bewildering), unmādana (intoxicating), and mārana (destroying).
The second half is a long, narrative poem that follows a family of refugees who have fled to the West from conflict in an unspecified West Asian country.
“I started working on this collection during my MFA at University College Dublin in early 2019. I’ve always been interested in languages as a medium of expression. Studying Sanskrit as an elective subject in a school in Mumbai, which was steeped in Hindu culture and rituals, awoke an interest in mythology,” Eipe says. She is currently working on a portfolio of poems which draws inspiration from the Natyashastra, exploring the concepts of eight rasas or aesthetic essences.
Awarded the inaugural Ireland Chair of Poetry Student Prize, Eipe’s work has generated much interest and appreciation from the Irish literary community. Her debut poetry collection will be launched by publishing house Faber and Faber in the middle of 2021.
The integration of languages in poetry as a vehicle of authenticity has been aptly used by poet Fiona Bolger, who divides her year between Ireland and India. Her first collection, A compound of words, was published by Delhi-based Yoda Press last December. As the collection’s title elucidates, within English verses are a liberal sprinkling of words in Indian regional languages, mainly Tamil, since she lived in Chennai for eight years, but also Hindi, Kannada and Urdu.
The associations are honest and relatable for anybody who calls India their home. For instance, her poem titled Words to a New Wife Entering her Kitchen refers to Indian kitchen ingredients: “manjal will fight off all sickness, even lust / … / saunf’s sweet taste helps digest disappointment”.
“My usage of local regional words in my collection is because, in my mind, it’s a natural association. I learnt to make Indian cuisines from women who referred to turmeric as ‘manjal’,” Bolger says. Her debut collection reflects many crucial issues plaguing India, including gender discrimination and Kashmir’s missing men, which she wrote in a style inspired by ghazals. Her poetic exploration of these topics are intimate and gentle and yet tinged with sorrow.
“I believe some topics are universal and not country-specific. At some level, corruption and gender issues are a problem in both countries. India is a part of me and made me into the person I am today, which makes it a complicated relationship. The country taught me what a truly inclusive culture could be, and what’s happening in India today breaks my heart,” Bolger, 49, says.
Bolger, whose work has been published in renowned literary magazines, is all set to release her second collection with the leading Irish publishing house Salmon Poetry, in 2021.
Culture is an important pillar in forming one’s identity and for Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan, it is an important dialogue. Born in New Delhi, Narayanan-Mohan is the granddaughter of India’s 10th president, KR Narayanan. Due to her mother’s job as a diplomat, she was an early globetrotter who went on to study and work in the UK and Ireland.
When she moved to Dublin eight years ago, she went to a storytelling event, which gave her the first exposure to participating in stage performances. “Ireland has a very active and vibrant literary community. All of it fuelled my interest in pursuing performance, writing, and poetry,” says the 32-year-old poet who is also a spoken word performer working for an Irish theatre company.
“I often write about the immigrant experience — where I am and the different places I’ve been to rather than one geographical location. Children of parents who moved cities or countries are rarely acknowledged and are known as third-culture kids because our cultural identities are an amalgamation of all the places we’ve lived in. The idea of home is more complicated than for those rooted in a single culture. I’ve had to make a ‘home’ over and over again,” she says. Her poems, published in an anthology called Writing Home: The ‘New Irish’ Poets, won two prizes as part of the 2020 Fingal Poetry Prize.
India has seeped into the Irish literary community through language and mythology, generating a deeper understanding of the two cultures. As they say, poetry isn’t an island, it is a bridge.
Sree Sen is an independent writer based in Dublin
Originally published by The Hindu BusinessLine here on October 9, 2020