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Soft-spoken Orissa-born diplomat Arun Kumar Sahu is a poet at heart. His collection of poems “Iguana and Other Poems” was recently published. Sahu is currently posted as the High Commissioner of India to Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Dominica and Montserrat. A trained linguist and a JNU alumnus, Sahu joined the Indian Foreign Services (IFS) in 1996.
Avatans Kumar, a US-based columnist and Sahu’s long-time friend from their JNU days speaks to the Ambassador on his poetry and more.
Given the history of the Indian diaspora in the Caribbean, how similar and how independently evolved is it from India in language, culture, faith, etc?
There are some similarities and some differences. One can see the Indianness in their culture, faith and social existence, but many aspects are also Trinidadian. Over the last 175 years, Trinidadians of Indian origin have continued with some socio-cultural practices from India, but many others have also undergone substantial change. Many Indo-Trinis, especially the younger generation do not understand or speak Hindi or Bhojpuri, though most of them love Bollywood films and listen to Hindi songs.
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Some Hindu households still use pennants, locally called ‘jhandi’ in their yard (I have written about this in The Hindu, dated 30 August 2020 available at https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-caribbean-pennants/article32472565.ece ), worship many gods and goddesses and listen to Tulsidas’ Sri Ramcharit Manas and other Hindu texts. There are over 300 temples of different sizes all over Trinidad and Tobago. However, they are also intimately connected to life and society in North America and the UK. They speak English and creole, enjoy the soca, doubles, and cricket. Intercultural interaction is a fact of Trinidadian diversity. I have started writing a book about the India connection of Trinidad and Tobago. I am fascinated by the way the indentured laborers and their descendants have carried on their cultural uniqueness.
What is people’s attitude there in terms of Yoga, Ayurveda, Veganism (India’s perceived soft power), etc?
Yoga, Ayurveda, vegetarianism, and astrology are not new to the Trinidadians. Many of them practice them and also promote them. Their rituals of rites of passage are very elaborate. Some of them also believe in Panchang and practice fasting on certain days of a week. At the same time, many of them are also very western in their lifestyle and outlook.
Famous Hindi poet Mahadevi Verma once wrote – ‘viyogi hoga pahala kavi’ (bereaved/detatched will be the first poet). Are you a ‘viyogi’. What inspires you to write poetry?
Detachment is essential for creative output. A writer has to be a mute observer, a silent sufferer to create something that will touch the hearts of many. He is there in the process, but he is also not there. A writer does not write well when he is in a state of suffering or ecstasy. He writes well only when he has gone through the emotion and lived with it for a while.
To me, expressing emotion is not literature. Literature is a craft that expresses the essence of a writer’s feelings and links it to the existence of the wider world. It’s a mirror with multiple cracks. No image is perfect in this mirror.
I have defined it in my poem “MY POETRY” in the collection IGUANA and Other Poems. I have said,
It is a mirror of crushed sentiments
A reflection of the living and suffering
The invisible imprint of stillness of moments.
Read it once,
Read it again and again,
Smile, dance and cry with her
Take a deep breath and feel,
Surreptitiously and unwittingly
She will touch your heart.
I am not sure many folks know that you are a trained linguist and I have known you since our JNU days. You were always a graceful and helpful senior. I had a fantastic time working with you at the National Seminar on the 8th Schedule. That being said, has being a trained linguist helped you as poet? How?
Yes, it has. It has helped me to understand the power of language, words, and how to stitch words in a composition. Words, phonemes and morphemes are like pebbles in the seashore. Once you enjoy playing with them, you want to talk to the sea with their help. It has also helped me understand the nuances of a second or third language or a foreign language. Language is both a product and a reflection of history and society. Understanding a language is vital for a writer.
Interesting you talk about multilingualism. What language do you dream in?
Don’t know. As you know, an Indian child is born bilingual or trilingual – the mother tongue, which could be a local variety of the standard first language, a dominant second language, in my case English and Hindi because we all watch Bollywood films. Subsequently, one can learn some foreign languages too. I learned Mandarin Chinese. Sometimes, words of two or three languages come in a sentence. I suppose the dreams are all messed up.
Talking about dreams is making me drowsy already. Jokes apart, do you really get enough sleep? Being a diplomat, you must keep a busy schedule. When do you find time to write poetry?
I am a loner, mostly detached from many things that I do on a day to day basis. I do my job with the utmost care and dedication, acutely conscious of time. I do not waste my time in fruitless arguments and meaningless socialization. Once I finish my job, I return to my world of solitude and self-introspection.
Specific experiences leave a deep impression on me. I try to live with them for days, months, or maybe even for years. Then one day, they just come out and take a literary form. I wouldn’t say I like to write about raw emotions. I allow them to be ripe within me. I have no specific time to write. I write while traveling, in a hotel room, on a flight, after a diplomatic engagement, late at night. There is no specific routine. Sometimes, I do not write for days if I don’t feel like it.
What kinds of books do you read? Who are your favorite authors/poets?
I read all kinds, but books dealing with human characters appeal to me the most. I also like books on philosophy and history. I am not a voracious reader but a discerning one. If a book does not appeal to me, I don’t proceed with reading it even if its a best seller. I love listening to people.
There is not one favorite author, but many, in various languages such as Odia, Bangla, Hindi, English and of different geography, Russian, African, and Latin American. But two books in my young age attracted me to the world of literature: Paraja of Gopinath Mohanty in Odiya and The Old Man and the Sea of Earnest Hemmingway. In a sense, I didn’t read these books, they read me.
What is your idea of relaxation?
Don’t do anything—lounge around with a big cup of strong coffee with milk and extra sugar. Don’t talk to anybody—no mobile phone. Watch a movie. Listen to Indian classical music, thumri or ghazal, Salman Ali; country music, Frank Sinatra or John Lennon, watch a good movie or a stand-up comedy.
You also write short stories. Between poetry and prose, which one is your favorite, and why?
There is no favorite. I write all kinds of literature. For me, the art of writing is only a tool to express what I want to convey. The inherent urge to express a feeling, theme, or character decides the form of literature, whether a poem, a short story or a prose piece. What I have observed in me is that a feeling usually takes resort in a poem, a character in a short story, and a narrative in prose. The satisfaction is actually in playing with the words, phrases, and finally able to say what I wanted to say. I am comfortable in creating literature in all forms. Someday in future, I intend to write a novel too.
I will certainly look forward to that. Has poetry affected the way you approach diplomacy?
It’s a complementary relationship. Not only poetry but literature, in general, is the dissection of the society, the good, the bad, and the ugly. If a diplomat understands literature, he or she understands the mind of a community he lives in, which in return sharpens his insight in providing critical inputs for policymaking and statecraft. Diplomacy as a profession, on the other hand, exposes one to an unbelievable range of diversity and people.
(This interview has been published in reference to https://www.softpowermag.com/indian-temples-and-jhandis-in-the-caribbean-interview-with-hc-of-india-to-trinidad-and-tobago/)
Atop the Vindhyagiri hills in Karnataka, a 57-foot-tall statue stands. This is the statue of Lord Gomateshwara, or Bahubali, as he is known to the local patrons. The surrounding area is filled with temples where each of the many Jain Tirthankaras sits.
Sharavanabelagola is named after a pond that is located at the foothills. 'Bel' in Kannada means white, and 'kola' means pond. This is a sacred water body to the activities of the temples. It is a tourist attraction and a pilgrim destination located 85 kilometres from Mysore, and 145 kilometres from the capital, Bangalore.
The pond that Sharavanabelagola is named after Image source: wikimedia commons
Since the statue is placed at such a great height, pilgrims are made to make a journey to the top of the hill by foot. They are required to climb the stone steps barefoot as an act of piety and devotion. Palanquins are offered only to senior citizens who wish to worship at the temple.
In 3 B.C, when India was ruled by the Mauryan Dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya became a Jain monk and took up residence in the Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri hills. He is supposedly responsible for the establishment of the temple complex at Shravanabelagola, where he lived till he died. Later on, his grandson, Ashoka made some additional changes to the place.
A shop in the tourist section that sells handmade items Image source: wikimedia commons
Every twelve years, a Mahamastabhisheka is conducted, and Jains from every part congregate to witness it. The statue is washed with water, rice flour, sugarcane juice, saffrom, sandalwood paste, gold, and silver flowers, curd, ghee, milk, and turmeric, and all the monks offer special prayers. The surrounding temples and rocks are preserved as archaeological wonders owing to the 800 edicts and inscriptions found here which span 600 to 1830.
Keywords: Shravanabelagola, Jainism, Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, Karnataka
By Siddhi Jain
The author who named the book after her twin sons -- Puhor and Niyor -- is a parent who has seen and heard the tales of ridicule and discrimination suffered by many in India and beyond. She says the book is an artistic illustration for kids that details how different families can live and coexist. Whether it's children with two dads or two moms, children with a single dad or single mom, and even multiracial family units, Borthakur's book teaches love, understanding, and compassion towards unconventional families.
Beyond race, gender, color, and ethnicity which have formed the bases for discrimination since the beginning of time, this book aims to bring to light a largely ignored issue. For so long, single parents have been treated like a taboo without any attempt to understand their situations; no one really cares how or why one's marriage ended but just wants to treat single parents as villains simply for choosing happiness and loving their children.
Homosexual parents, a relatively new family system, is another form that has suffered hate and discrimination for many years. Pritisha emphasizes the need to understand that diversity in people and family is what makes the world beautiful and colourful. 'Puhor and Niyor's Mural of Family Stories' is a firm but compassionate statement against all forms of discrimination on the bases of sexual identity, gender, race, and even differences in background
'Puhor and Niyor's Mural of Family Stories' is a firm but compassionate statement against all forms of discrimination on the bases of sexual identity, gender, race and even differences in background. | Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash
Written for a global audience, the book is targeted at kids between the ages of five and 10, the reason it is embellished with colourful images of families of different types is to appeal to children's sense of sight and drive home the message at the same time. Borthakur believes children are the best place to start because the ages between five and 10 are the most formative, where little ones pick up habits, beliefs and perceptions.
The Guwahati-born author says, "With this book, I'm not trying to take away the job of parents in forming habits, I simply want to do my part as a parent. It is important that we impart the right values in our kids in a bid to build a better, more inclusive and tolerant global society that is fair to everyone." The author's first attempt at a book was an Assamese poetry 'Anubhav', published in 2010.
Set to be published under the label of Author's Channel, the book is like an adventure; a journey into uncharted territories, untouched subjects and matters long ignored. In her words. "The book takes a critical stand in defense of people in society who have had to undergo severe emotional torture for no cause of theirs. It is a terrible conception to think such people any less of a human just for being different," says publisher Aruna Naidu. By September 30, this title, priced at Rs 299, will be available online and in offline bookstores. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: Book, children, Guwahati, Puhor and Niyor's Mural of Family Stories, moral, story, kids, discrimination, equality
If you feel that clean and well-groomed hands are just an essential prerequisite for women, you might like to think twice. Men should equally pay attention to their hands because our hand houses 1,500 bacteria living on each square centimeter of its skin. You can easily assume what havoc it can create in our body because in India we have the culture of eating with our hands and spaces beneath nails can become breeding heaven for germs. Moreover, clean and maintained hands boost confidence in their daily life activities. Therefore, it's important to keep your hands clean irrespective of your gender by washing or sanitizing at regular intervals. And, to keep them groomed, you don't have to visit a salon.
Rajesh U Pandya, Managing Director, KAI India, gives easy and completely doable tips to follow at home:
* Refrain from harsh soaps: You should be mindful of the soap you are using to wash your hands. Your soap can have a moisturizing element in it like aloe vera or shea butter. Ensure that you're washing your hands with normal water as hot water can make your hand's skin dry and scaly.
You should be mindful of the soap you are using to wash your hands. | Photo by Aurélia Dubois on Unsplash
* Clip your nails regularly: Make use of your personal nail clipper to cut your nails. After cutting your nails at a comfortable length also file them using a nail filer. Never share your nail care clipper as the germs can get transferred to your loved ones. Also, don't forget to use grime remover to remove hidden germs in corners and beneath nails. Also, you may like to file your nails to have a smooth finish.
* Good quality Nail Clipper: Do not use a rusted or chromium coated nail clipper as it might be harmful to skin and might cause dangerous bacterial infections.
* Stop the habit of nail chewing: Sometimes anxiety or extreme boredom can lead to chewing of nails. This habit only makes your nails uneven and ugly. Sometimes, our unclean nail folds give rise to viral, bacterial or fungal infections, which in turn can make us sick if we chew our nails.
Make use of your personal nail clipper to cut your nails. | Pixabay
* Exfoliate your hands: Similar to the way you exfoliate your face; your hands also need it. It helps to keep the dry skin at bay and keep your hands soft. You can buy a scrub or make one at home using brown sugar and olive oil. After scrubbing, you need to massage your hands with moisturizer.
Similar to the way you exfoliate your face; your hands also need it. It helps to keep the dry skin at bay and keep your hands soft. | Wikipedia
* Don't use your nails as tools: Always keep in mind that your nails are like jewels. Never use them to pry things open such as pop cans, removing keys from the ring, opening letters, or scraping off labels. This results in unnecessary breakage of nails, making your hands look dirty.
Never use your nails to pry things open such as pop cans, removing keys from the ring, opening letters or scraping off labels. | Photo by Sammy Williams on Unsplash
* Be aware of nail or cuticle inflammation or redness: If there are any signs of infection, disinfect the skin as soon as possible with an anti-bacterial or anti-fungal ointment.
(Article originally written by N.Lothungbeni Humtsoe) (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: Nails, groom, hand, exfoliate, chew, nail clipper, bite, cuticle