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Published on Thu, Jun 23, 2009 at 11:53

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What moved you to leave the specific and defined world of journalism for something abstract like poetry?
To be a journalist has never been my ambition. It was by chance that I happened to dabble in it and the stint was very short. I went to Delhi seeking a job and the only job I was qualified for, having a postgraduate degree in English and a flair for writing, was journalism. But, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my nature didn’t synchronize with the demands of the job. So, I left it for an ordinary governmental position in my state in which I got more freedom and free time. All I wanted to be was a poet, a writer. Literature, particularly poetry, has been my all time passion.

What inspires you the most – the visual, aural, tactile or the reflective, contemplative?
I cannot tell apart which aspect leads me to a new word or image. Sometimes, a shadow lengthening in a deserted midnight street. Sometimes, the chirping of a bird, or a silent cry from behind a wall. Sometimes, the unexpected touch of someone dear to me when I am in distress. However, whatever be it, it is the reflective or the contemplative that finally leads me to a new experience or thought.  

What according to you constitutes the writerly angst that drives one to compose?
Fundamentally, it’s a feeling of incompleteness in one’s own life together with an irresistible discontent always growing within. All artistic creations, be it poetry, painting, or musical compositions, are attempts at overcoming the depressing human predicament and an enquiry into giving a meaning to life. Devoid of these, a work of art, even though it’s technically perfect, will be invariably soulless. 

You write both in Malayalam and English. Since language is the vehicle in conveying ideas, is there any difference in the creative processes involving bilingual creation?

In essence, I’m a Malayalam writer. At a certain stage, I realised that all that I wanted to write could not be expressed in my language, Malayalam. This is mainly because Malayalam, like any other regional language in India, owing to a variety of socio-political reasons, is not getting updated from within its genuine environment, and thus, is inadequate and incompetent to reflect contemporary realities. At the same time, writing in English has its own limitations and possibilities. The limitation is the writer’s challenge in translating home-grown experiences into a language the roots of which are alien. The possibility is the freedom one experiences in being free from literary traditions of the nation. However, a bilingual writer is an amphibian creature.

Lyric poetry has slowly given way to free verse – what according to you is the reason underlying the change?
Every poetic form is the product of a specific social order and a particular world view. This is not to attribute all that happen in the realm of culture to social, economic and political issues. At the same our thought process and imagination process are often get influenced by the period and time we live in. Lyric poetry, in that sense, evolved from a life situation which was feudalistic, basic to which was a notion that poetry was something to be sung, an elemental characteristic for its propagation among the people and through generations. This situation has changed with the advent of printing and popularization of prose. Added to this is the fact that much of the contemporary experiences do not yield to metrical compositions in poetry if a poet focuses on the clarity and exactness of expression. I always feel that I have to compromise on precision if I go by meter and conventional forms.  

How do you view the scenario of contemporary English poetry in India?
It’s pathetic. Indian English poetry has become a pastime of unemployed, educated house wives who view the world and life through the windows of multistoried apartments in metros. There’s no major innovation after AK Ramanujan, Kamala Das, Jayantha Mahapatra, etc. This might be the reason why excellent poets like Arun Kolatkar and Dileep Chitre gave up English and chose to write in their own language, Marathi. Compared to the achievements of the Indian language poets, Indian English poetry is still in its infancy.

The dust jackets of all your books are very symbolic, striking at times, do you contribute in their ideation?
Yes. I share with the designers my concept of the jacket. They put them into images and colours. I always want them to be simple but suggestive of the content. Fortunately, all the designers I work with find no difficulty listening to me.   

Writer’s autonomy versus the reader’s expectation. How delicately is the scale balanced in India?
I don’t think any genuine writer writes to fulfill the expectation of the readers. His or hers challenge is to initiate them into yet newer areas of experience and expression. Here, we have to make a clear distinction between what a writer wants to say and what a reader expects from a writer. This is one of the reasons why most of the Indian English writings disappoint me. Like in a movie, writers believe that there’s a set formula for box office success, let’s say an expatriate’s coming home or, recently, an IT hub rendezvous.  I always feel that with the exception of a few like Amitav Gosh, Vikram Seth, Arundathi Roy, and Manil Suri, almost all the Indian English writers cater to a reader constituency that has many things in common with the Bollybood viewers.

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on my first novel which is not titled yet. Its is about an onerous journey into the past undertaken by a crime investigator to uncover the mysteries shrouding the death of an innocent, young woman in a nondescript village in the state of Kerala, India in the late 1950s. Set in the period of the first democratically elected Communist Government, the novel portrays the transition of an Indian village from feudal system to modern democracy, unravels the nefarious nexus between the police, the criminal elements and the political establishment, and speaks of the women predicament that remains the same despite socio-political changes.

Three poets who have had a lasting impression on you and why?
Kumaranasan, an early twentieth century Malayalam poet, less known outside Kerala, William Blake and Wislawa Szymborska. Kumaranasan for the way how he addresses the metaphysical dilemma; Blake for his prophetic but simple articulation; and Szymborska for the dexterity with which she transforms a though into a poetic experience.        


Born in a rural hilly village, Paleri, in Kozhikode district, Kerala in south India, Thachom Poyil Rajeevan writes poetry and novels in English and Malayalam. Rajeevan’s poetry is represented in various anthologies in English and Malayalam, and is translated into Italian, Macedonian, Uzbek, Croatian, Hebrew, Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, and Marathi.

In English, Rajeevan has published a chapbook Kannaki (Crux Publishers, Vermont, USA, 2003) and a collection of poems, He Who was Gone Thus (Yeti Books, Calicut, India, 2004). He has also edited an anthology of poems Third Word: Post Socialist Poetry (Monsoon Editions, Calicut, 2007) with the Croatian poet Lana Derkac.

In Malayalam, he writes under the name T P Rajeevan and has published three collections of poems and a novel which has been made into a film.

Rajeevan has participated in many literary programmes which include the Struga Poetry Festival, Macedonia, Warsaw Poetry Festival, Poland, Zagreb Poetry Festival, Croatia, Sha’ar Festival, Israel, and the Iowa Writing Programme, USA. He was awarded the International Visiting Programme Fellowship by the US Department of States, in 2004.

He has also held a Ledig House International Writer-in-Residence Fellowship in 2008 at Hudson, New York.


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Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke of two classes of poets - the poets by education whom we respect, and poets by nature, whom we love. Click here for a very personal and introspective tryst with the ones who lace our lives with passion, beauty and hope.
Interviewed by Swagata Pal Designed by Subhadip Mukherjee