She locks that door knob just in time,
To find herself safe and divine.
For all the demons and the devil can’t reach out to her,
Here, the door the locked,
And here, she is the crown and the queen. Here, she knows she is Henry’s Clare,
Waiting, yet content in her despair.
Sometimes, she changes her role and becomes Michael Blomkvist,
Witty as hell, sharp as a blade,
Moving around with all of his grace. Lisbeth appeals to her in the darkest of hour,
For she knows, she was never a vower.
All of this mayhem stays inside the door,
Cuz outside, she’ll be just another lonely soul. But she will rise, and rise above all.
She is the light and the illusion of cowl.
Let her rest, she needs to revive,
For when she wakes, she’ll be on the highs.
Geetika Jhais a poet and lives in Maharashtra, India. She has completed B.E in Electronics and telecommunication and dabbles with words as a creative activity.
The Quiet Letter is proud to nominate Indian poets for a poetry anthology. These poets were published in TQL’s editions in 2017. The poets are :
Sneha Dewani and Anushka Pandit.
This is an essay explaining the reason behind selecting them and their poems for the nomination process as Indian Poets writing in Indian English.
Sneha Dewani‘s poem Female Genital Mutilation, and Anushka Pandit’s The Question Before Arrival published in The Quiet Letter are nominated for the Bettering American Poetry as Indian Poets.
The poems selected here by TQL reflects thematic issues which concern the publishing guidelines of the editorial section headed by Pawan N Hira, founder and editor-in-chief at The Quiet Letter.
Coming back to Sneha Dewani’s poem, Female Genital Mutilation is a poem that speaks to many. It opens up the narrative of women and sexuality while the message of a haunting procedure crosses boundaries to touch the matter of prejudice and perversion of male gaze in the patriarchal world who want to achieve at any cost the deliberate silences of women and to play with sexuality is one such act that is beautifully penned with a beat-like pulse to it by Sneha Dewani, the young poet writing from Raipur, India who is also pursuing architecture degree currently.
This mutilation process of genitals is rooted in the practice of gender inequality and like common problems that are seen today of unequal pay between men and women, sexual and devious power politics in the name of fame by powerful males of such a system like the recent case of Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood which led to the rise of #MeToo campaign and which also picked a momentum later in the Berlinale 2018 where movies concerning the themes on the lines of the campaign issue were met with a mixed reaction in Germany along with issues of refugees and migration shown through movies. This clearly shows how convoluted social media campaign can become where participation on Internet does not result in actual solidarity with the campaign on real ground where gender inequality is practiced in day to day lives of women. The power play of fame and entertainment is a dynamic process where compromise is a given thing that leads to harassment and victimization, and this is obviously seen in two different thought streams, where one side supports the women who are coming from entertainment business and the other who reject the claim saying the picture is not one sided.
There is also harassment and consistent stereotypes of women as mere actors of home-chores to clean and dust each and every thing as if she were a machine multi-tasking and such a gaze is thrown at them consistently by the males who move outside in the world with buddies and plans. The poem, Female Genital Mutilation in such time is a reflection of the threat made to female sexuality which should be celebrated rather than to suffocate it and distort it through power dynamics of societal games because according to UNICEF in 2016 alone 200 million women living today in 30 countries—27 African countries, Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen—have undergone the procedures. It is typically carried out by a traditional circumciser using a blade, and FGM is conducted from days after birth to puberty and beyond. In half the countries for which national figures are available, most girls are cut before the age of five as per the UNICEF reports recorded on Wikipedia. The poem is shown here:
The poem equally speaks of the horror of revisiting such a crucial moment later in teenage years when the poetess opens up her mouth foaming with letters to describe it and reaffirm the haunting memory that was unleashed on her without her consent during her childhood. It clearly speaks how the scar remains ever because of the notion of purity against sexuality where the former is always a thought rooted in middle-ages while sexuality is ignored and seen as deviant force rather than liberating force for women. If the first statue of woman Venus of Willendorf depicts exaggerated form of female, a mother goddess of fertility and if the liberating chronicles of Kamasutra and archaeological sites in India with caves carved show sexuality of men and women in ancient heritage, then sexuality as a thought of emancipatory force to open men and women equally is shunned and the brunt of it is mostly faced by women who are subject to the perverse gaze of male patriarchal world of objectification. Female Genital Mutilation as a poem opens that thought and does justice to what women go through in their lives in India especially where women are subjugated in homes and offices.
To select her and her poem for Bettering American Poetry as an Indian Poet, TQL is proud to have selected her as one of the contenders for the award apart from Anushka Pandit. Sneha Dewani’s poems are upcoming further in TQL this year which explore themes similar to this and with an aggression of a woman exploring the darkness of dominance and oppression by men.
Our second nomination, Anushka Pandit
and her poem furthers our notion to publish voices which matter. Her poem, The Question Before Arrival published in our August edition 2017 reflects a meta poem concerning silences and as an Indian poet, Anushka provides a brief exposure to what it means to look for hope amid darkness and as such she opens up threads of burden which one has to carry in the face of darkness while looking for light to arrive. The poem reproduced below shows the questioning power of the poet who opens up psychological dimensions to ask in probabilities of “maybe” as an uncertain gesture to prod the phase of darkness while leaving us in the end with a haunting question as if even the arrival as a woman would not bring an easy clarity into the mirror of self like the poem, Love after Love of Derek Walcott which describes the elation after struggle to meet the stranger back in the mirror. The ending lines of her poem reads as:
Do I have to take more
Some more pain and fear
It is a question that the young poet is keen to observe while building up the courage to face anything that would arrive because somewhere the poem reflects the life of shades we have to move through now and then. TQL selected three of her poems and this one reflects an Indian poet to establish her point of view while asking the question of what it means to arrive as a person, a poet in the world.
As a writer from Udaipur, India, Anushka works as the Community Head at Kalaage, a global platform built for writers to come and write together on one platform while engaging publishers and writers of many kinds in one thread which is showing its result in India as of now to bring Indian writers on the forefront. Anushka also handles the unit of Social Media as a Head at Ink Drift, a magazine prominently publishing diverse voices. The Quiet Letter is equally proud to carry her poems and to nominate her and her poem, The Question Before Arrival for Bettering American Poetry.
Now, the nominations for the selected poems and their authors are for:
The Bettering American Poetryis an anthology based project which promotes writers and their craft while being keenly aware of contemporary world of arts and the practice of struggles that goes with it for voices which have a hard time to find a way in the mainstream locus of media arts. In their own words:
“The first Bettering American Poetry project was initiated by Amy King, who gathered together a group of poets with complementary yet distinct approaches to politics/poetics to serve as co-editors of the first anthology project. Bettering American Poetry 2015 was born out of both rage and hope, with an eye toward better publishing practices and the championing of vital artists. The three main curators of BAP are also connected in their individual capacity at Vida, women in literary arts, which is a non-profit feminist organization committed to creating transparency around the lack of gender parity in the literary landscape and to amplifying historically-marginalized voices, including people of color; writers with disabilities; and queer, trans and gender nonconforming individuals.”
What they have to say about the nomination process also exemplifies their commitment to support individual and institution when selecting their roles:
“The BAP Series and its publisher, Bettering Books, curated by Sarah Clark, Amy King, and Héctor Ramírez. As curators of the series, Sarah, Amy, and Héctor supplement the selections made by editors where and if necessary (for instance, in the event that one editor cannot fulfill their duties, or if we simply feel the need to bring more underrepresented voices in the room). However, it is ultimately the role of each anthology’s editorial team to take charge of the content, shape, direction, and aspirations of their project however they see fit, beyond the general mission of the Bettering American Poetry Series.”
The co-editors of the previous Bettering anthology were contemporary poets who have solidified their voices as unique while allowing us to see the emergence of colored poets like a new renaissance slowly developing in our digital world of poetics and seeing them in the process earlier makes TQL happy to nominate Sneha Dewani and Anushka Pandit. The co-editors were:
Pawan NH, Editor in Chief @ The Quiet Letter
Poet and Novelist working with Gujarati
and English equally. His poems have appeared in
Kitaab, Parentheses Journal and elsewhere. His
two novels are in limbic space looking for a home
as he starts to work on another.
The Interview was conducted through email via an interview booklet and it is known as Digital Interview. Digital Interview defines how we connect through gaps and pauses in our contemporary period of technological renaissance as resources open up and anxiety takes over in the world of gadgets. Now I had come across Robert and his poetry last year when I published his poems in our inaugural April edition, 2017. Eight months later I thought of connecting the authors and readers when the interview space came like a proper thing to know each other. The interview is divided in several sections like a symphony and the tragic part is, it starts with the letters exchanged between us after the interview was finished and I would like to open the interview from the event like an interlude before going towards a prelude with our android message greetings, then with a tempo (short video capture), and finally a lead (interview booklet) towards a conclusion at the end. The whole interview utilizes each medium of our contemporary period, from text to image to audio to visual and hence with our inaugural session for interviews this year, we place before you our first interview from The Quiet Letter with Robert Okaji.
I. The Interlude in Past
My apologies for taking so long with this. My father died several weeks ago, and I’ve been busy with family affairs. I’ve attached the interview and an MP3 of a poem. Would you like a printed version of the poem too? I don’t have any photos in landscape mode, and have attached a few in standard format that might be of interest. If these won’t work, let me know and I’ll try to get something to you as soon as possibly. Again, my apologies for the delay.
Sent from my iPad
Pawan N Hira:
Dear Robert, It is okay. I hope you are doing fine. There is no need of apologies for being late, you are going through a familial problem and my deepest condolences are with you and your family. I wish and hope everything is fine by your side. There is no need for any extra thing. I will inform you soon about the interview. Hugs and Warmth, Pawan
Sent from my Superphone
RO:Thank you, Pawan. Yes, I’m doing fine. Dad was in poor health for the past three years, and this latest illness was the tipping point. We’re just relieved that he is no longer suffering. Best, RO.
PNH:It is good to hear so, that things are fine. I hope you will be able to overcome it through a gradual process. Your dad must have been aged, I hope he did not suffer much in those years. Was it serious? If you don’t mind my asking.
RO:He lived six days past his 89th birthday, and had suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, diminished kidney function and heart disease. The toll on his body was great, as you might imagine, and anytime he caught even a minor cold, it was potentially deadly. In short, he was old and his body simply broke down.
PNH:That is sad to hear, too many to bear. It is okay to move through grief, it is a potent force of life. Were their any medical help, was he insured? I can understand a bit because my mother too suffers from diabetes and has to go through pain. Yet he lived for 89 years, he must have been strong and solid once. Reading your interview I came across a Robert who had struggled a lot and I knew somewhere reading those poems of yours, that you are a great poet and the interview was one thing which allowed me to know you among few others who are working at their craft diligently. You have faced a lot in life, Robert. I wish I knew you much and could put more light into what struggles you have had and how America has been for you in the interview but I don’t know if it would be appropriate now at this time. If you think so then you can surely write back to me with anything. I will look into it and allow the poet in you to shine up.
RO:Thank you for your kind words. Yes, he had excellent insurance and medical coverage. To be honest, my life has been relatively easy, almost charmed, you might say, as I’ve been able to attain many personal goals and have been blessed with the good fortune to work at various passions through most of my adult life. How many people can say that? My parents, on the other hand, faced many challenges, and fought hard to rise above them. I would like to let this interview stand as it is, if that meets your approval. Thanks very much for thinking of me. I truly appreciate your support and warm thoughts.
II. Prelude (Smartphone Message)
Hello Robert. How are you?
I am fine. And you?
I am fine. How is the weather?
At the moment it’s dry and cool. But this is Texas,
and things can quickly change.
Okay. What time is it?
Are you busy with something?
I’m currently revising a manuscript,
in hopes of getting it in shape
to submit to publishers. It’s going slowly.
III. Tempo (Short Video Capture)
Pawan NHira:We shall start our interview with you, Robert. As you know it is a digital interview through Internet and also that it is narrative induced, opinionated, and interactive space where each has a separate role in forwarding the tone and the substance of our digital connection while allowing each other an open area of negotiation to place an emphasis on certain questions, while slightly neglecting others, and in overall manner, putting forward our best for the readers. Okay. Before that I would like to say your office is looking great. The books are lovely. Thank you for connecting through us via Zoom (Group Messaging and Cloud Mobile Meetings), we will send you the booklet which you can fill and duly give it back in three weeks or a month perhaps.
Robert Okaji:Thank you. It’s a small, but comfortable space dedicated to writing.
PNH:That is indeed great. Now we will start with the question zero and after which you can simply write down answers for the questions in the booklet as the video interview ends here now with this question.
PNH:Robert, what colour is your mental shelf?
RO:My mental shelf is like a lake – the color changes with the sky – shifting from bright blue to grey to midnight black depending upon life’s circumstances, mostly pertaining to what I’ve been reading (currently Turkish Poetry Today 2017), the background music (today, traditional shakuhachi tunes), and of course daily interaction with people.
IV. Lead (Interview Booklet)
PNH:That is what makes you a Poet, Robert, but tell us what does it mean to be called as a poet when the term itself is excruciatingly understood by the writers themselves who are different from other types of artists? Why is it hard to understand poets?
RO:Yes, the term carries a lot of baggage with it, and I don’t concern myself much with which connotations others want to attach to it. I take “poet” at face value – one who writes poems. As for understanding poets, I believe that people often err in attempting to “understand” poetry and poets. It might be easier and more productive to ask how the poem makes you feel rather than what it means. The next question is, of course, why does this particular arrangement of words push those particular emotional buttons. Answering those questions might allow the reader to discover a personal meaning, which, to me, is much more important than what the poet intended.
PNH:You are right and I would like to say it is the reader who sifts through them to find an urgent meaning to his or her life. Now coming back to the process of writing, we would like to know how you write poems from Texas, United States. Is weather an amicable requirement for arrival of certain poems from the deep recess of your mind? We would like to know how a poem arrives, how it breathes, how it is seen at first sight, and how and why it is changed later?
RO: Pawan, weather isn’t a requirement, but it certainly plays a role in much of what I write. In general, I sit down with absolutely no idea of what I’m going to write about. The weather occasionally frames the words – the way wind bends trees, or the sound of rain striking my shack’s metal roof. Of course I could say that about any external influence. My poems generally begin with a word or brief phrase, perhaps an image or simply a vague feeling. I jot down the word or phrase, or attempt to unearth the image or feeling. In other words, I seldom sit down with a preconceived notion of what will be written. It unfolds before me a word or phrase at a time. Sometimes the poems flow easily, sometimes they struggle to emerge. I don’t question the process, but just follow along. I revise as I write, but also like to let the poems lie fallow for a while, to “marinate.” The marination process may last a few days or even months, but when I look at the poems again, the errors or changes that need to be made are clear. This may be a matter of craft – line breaks, unintended repetitions, or form. Or it may seem that a certain portion is superfluous and needs to be deleted. This isn’t a quick process, but it works for me.
Yes, it is the marination process which takes time and allow a poet to reconsider elements of language with a preciseness like a doctor of language, but your process is similar to what being a poet means even for me as a new poet because I have yet to take the test of marinating poems while they keep assembling themselves like a growth of wine on an electrical pole lying away on the roadside where I live, overlooking a farm and surrounded by orchards of genealogical inheritance of those who seem to like seeing the barbed-wires to not allow anyone to enter except women and men coming from marginal castes still have to find their way, wobbling themselves inside to pick a shade to rest for awhile, or to look at coconuts or mangoes as per the season. I have seen the fall of their kitsch sarees stuck in barbed-wires and I almost feel at times to run and wobble myself too to see what pleasure is it to take on the pain from centuries like an outsider. I want to hug them and I do so when my eyes meet theirs at times when I pass them but we have no language except brief chance dialogue. This could be the reason why I do not like to follow marination process for poems and prose in entirety except I believe in performing at once in a certain weather even if it brings along with it few errors of language because now after years of writing poems in my diary, meaning is becoming more important than syntactical or decorative aesthetic. If it is long then so it be with a deeper breathe that I take and if it is short then so be it like a gentle kiss on the lips of my beloved who lies in distance away from me. I suppose that is what makes each poet a different person in showing us the world as it is and I am glad you write from that distance as I write from here but let us not go there except it is a part of my process because I too have been working on novels which deal with certain thematic issues like I have discussed here, but that allows me to open our interview space more and that is why, Robert, when I tell you that you are the son of an immigrant to the United States, what do you think because I would like to know what does this mean to you and how does your poetry reflect this? Tell us about it.
RO:Pawan, I have always carried a sense of otherness, of being different and perhaps never quite belonging. This manifests in my interests: in place, in ritual, in borders and gray areas, in the mundane and seldom noticed, and how one accommodates oneself — spiritually, physically, culturally, mentally, politically — in a climate that is not always welcoming to outsiders.
PNH:Thank you for the preciseness over my digression. I too have been an outsider in this society where my identity has been crumbled, distorted and misplaced by categorical infusion of caste and tribe while the issue of class keeps adding more problems for me and I can empathize with you. It allows me to see how education and its liberal culture has been always in the centre of urban spaces. Considering this, tell us about Poetry and Art scene in Texas. Do you go to poetry readings or seminars at public institutions? If so, what kind of experience you have had?
RO:Yes, now I haven’t experienced the Poetry and Art scenes in all of Texas, but from observation I’d say they’re most vibrant in larger urban areas, and almost non-existent in lower populated rural areas, with a few notable exceptions. I attend on occasion readings at public institutions and venues. They’ve almost always been enjoyable experiences, but I often get the feeling that some of the attendees and/or participants are there primarily to be seen, to become “known.” I must say that I prefer smaller, more intimate gatherings, perhaps a salon-type atmosphere at someone’s home, at which the audience is truly there to listen and participate. Those gatherings are, to me, much more genuine, more rewarding.
PNH:Yes it is so because such an intimate gathering always helps in being connected to the normal routine of life with other poets and readers. I think your experiences reverberate here too where divisions of urban and rural seems to have defined what a space of reading and engagement means and with what kind of education one arrives and how it is complemented in the real world, hence I would like to know, whether you are working currently on any poetry book project. I would also like you to briefly share with us, your education and life experiences.
RO:That is a good thing to say. As I mentioned earlier, I’m revising a full-length manuscript, but also have several completed chapbooks in the pipeline, searching for publishers, and am slowly writing a series of letter poems to various friends and writer acquaintances. Other than that, I try to write daily. My education is rather pedestrian: I hold an undergraduate degree in history and have never attended graduate school. But I’m curious and read a lot, and have been known to ask professor-poets for their syllabi or reading lists. My work life has varied over the decades – I served in the U.S. Navy for a short while, owned and managed a bookstore, and was an administrator at a university. All in all, I don’t possess the typical poet’s resume or credentials.
PNH:That means you have followed a non-traditional route towards educating yourself and I can relate to it as many of our readers will be able to relate to our contempoary period where digital publishing platforms like WordPress, Blogger, and Social Media Networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are useful platforms for a person to explore anything that is creative while not worrying about institutional support. The syllabus of highest order can be found through internet archives thanks to Aaron Schwartz. Yet there is a dilemma, because certain prominent publishing platforms such as magazines specify clearly that they do not want to entertain any piece of work that has been published before on blogs or other such services. A certain reality can be that they are unable to understand how such a medium is the only medium of learning for many and how they do not have wider readerships except fellow learners with them. How do you see such things when you submit your work to other magazines?
RO:I believe many newer poets are impatient and push out their work before it’s ready for publication. They’ve not read enough, haven’t put a sufficient amount of time and effort into the work, and the writing reflects that. But they submit, and then get depressed about rejection. This is part of the learning process, but frankly poets who are early in the process might think twice about submitting poetry to publications that publish well known poets. There’s a reason those poets are represented, and newer poets, who simply haven’t written enough, are seldom ready to compete at that level. Also, there’s a difference between posting a piece on one’s own blog and submitting a poem to a publication where an editor chooses what will be published. I don’t consider blog posts to be equivalent to or synonymous with publication, but some do. In my mind, publication requires an editorial hand, even if it is only to say no. Or perhaps especially to say no. Quite a few publications accept pieces from personal blogs, or even previously published work, so I don’t worry about whether something I post on the blog will ever be published. Either it will or it won’t. I know that by posting a poem I’m limiting the possibilities, but there are still many other opportunities out there.
PNH:Yes and that is why seeing you as an example by putting faith in such mediums allows me another question because you have published several chapbooks of poetry through traditional small publication press. Would you care to tell us how you went on to build a credible list with such marginal platforms while informing us about the readership that you get through these channels, the nature of such platforms who have been diligently helping new authors in their individual capacity with limited finances, the sign of personal growth as a poet, and lastly how you see the future of publishing in our contemporary digital world?
RO:I believe the publishing world as we know it is becoming more and more symbiotic. Publishers rely, at least in part, on their authors having already established audiences for their work. A publisher once told me that if he was considering two manuscripts of equal quality, and one had a vibrant online presence, he’d choose the writer with the online presence, because they’d be more likely to sell books. The blogo-sphere and social networking are crucial to this.
To be truthful, I’ve been methodical about publication. I asked myself what would enhance my chances, and came up with this brief list: a) write better poetry, b) find or create a readership/community, c) get individual poems published in as many journals as possible. To reach these goals, I attended a few workshops (helpful, but not essential), created my blog, “O at the Edges,” and began targeting publications, i.e. matching poems I’d written to publications that published the type of poetry I wrote (or thought I wrote). This all took time (nothing happened overnight), but it was time well spent.
My publishers are able to tap into an established readership based largely on my blog, and I, in turn, am able to distribute my poetry through the publisher’s channels – via the printed books being made available for sale, through their assistance in marketing and spreading the word to strangers, and with their personal and publishing contacts.
I like to think that the future of publishing is bright – that technology and art can and will combine forces to continue moving forward. When I first started writing, everything was done via snail mail. The internet didn’t exist, smartphones were only a dream. There was no digital world. Writers now have more publication opportunities and options than ever before, with more on the way.
PNH:The technology, art and commerce can go hand in hand except there is a long way to see the future as bright and it should be bright in these times of chaotic network of information on the web. Now pausing here, I would like to take you to another space by evoking memories of my own experiences while trying to chart out a relation here. In Tokyo Story, Yasujiro shows contemporary Japan after the second world war with a subtle hint towards generational differences between young and old while exploring the meaning of warmth. kindness, loneliness, and aloofness through different characters as he does it with most of his movies which are different from his earlier work. He presents a humbled Japan trying to look at modernity while holding traditional beliefs which are rooted in natural world. In your poem, “Cutting Down the Anniversary Pine,” we could sense how spring, summer, winter, and autumn plays an important life and your poem resembles an earthy connection with earth while allowing a reader to experience sorrow. What led you to such a beautiful poem? Will you tell us how it germinated from a seed and expanded on to leave a meaning of time?
RO:The genesis of this poem (and the others you published) is a bit unusual, in that they were drafted during a fund-raiser for Tupelo Press, in which 8 other poets and I were charged with raising funds by writing 30 poems in 30 days. One of the incentives I offered people, in hopes of enticing them to donate to the press, was to write poems to their titles. This particular title was sponsored by my brother-in-law, and I knew the story of the anniversary tree and have had a 30+ year relationship with him, so tapping into those histories established the poem’s parameters. The passage of time is of course crucial to the piece, as it is in many of my poems. We are such finite beings!
PNH:We are indeed but what about memory like this when you say, “If memory could speak, what would it not say? / Who else has rubbed this dust across his skin?” In this poem, Memory and Closets published in our inaugural April Edition in 2017, you unearth a picturesque memorabilia evoking objects that are lost and found again, which are of little importance except they last forever with us in our memories as writers, as poets. How did the poem arrive? What is memory for you Robert and how it is important for a poet to situate their being and contextualize life with larger ancestral and immediate societal environment in a constant flux?
RO:“Memory and Closets” was another sponsored poem, with the original title of “Cleaning Out Closets in Anticipation of Moving Closer to Children.” I chose an eclectic group of objects, some of which could be found in my house, others from imagination, with the hope of allowing readers to capture the sponsor’s intent and piece together their own stories from this grouping.
Poets have different focuses and means of extracting poems, so I can’t answer your question except from a personal angle: I can’t escape who and what I am, where I live, the various cultures and landscapes I’ve observed or participated in, the books I’ve read, the people encountered, the music and food sampled throughout a lifetime. They all contribute to whatever I produce, even if only in little nudges or micro-currents within larger pieces. I think it is important for poets to take notice of the world outside, to look beyond their personal lives. What they do with that is their choice.
PNH:We would like to hear a poem recited by you which is closer to your heart? (audio file)
RO:“A Word Bathing in Moonlight,” was published in Eclectica in summer 2017. The recording appears on my blog. The poem is:
A Word Bathing in Moonlight
You understand solitude,
the function of water,
how stones breathe
and the unbearable weight
of love. Give up, the voice says. Trust only yourself.
Wrapped in light, you
turn outward. Burst forth.
PNH:That is a wonderful rendition, Robert and we thank you for providing it. This poem is a beautiful thought depicting forces of struggle and light. I like the texture it provides with the notion of solitude, water, and stone before opening the weight to say those words, Trust only yourself. Yet trust is what moves us as humans to belive in each other. Now moving over to the final two questions, we would like to know first, what is Education?
RO:Education is more than instruction, more than the accumulation of facts, skills and credentials. It is not simply memorization. It is a means by which we learn to analyze data, to draw together pieces of information, and reach theories or conclusions or suppositions. It is not black and white. It is not either/or. It is a constant state of learning, of seeking to learn. Education provides context, helps us frame questions. We should never stop questioning.
PNH:Thank you. Final question. What magical thing can you do for another person that would take no more than one minute of your life and which would change something in both for a lifetime to see?
RO:Sometimes a simple smile or greeting, an acknowledgment of another person’s humanity, can go a long way towards moving mountains.
PNH:Thank you. Have a great day.
RO:Thank you, you too have a great day.
Robert Okaji’s work appears in Boston Review, Vox Populi, Posit, Silver Birch Press, Panoply and elsewhere. You can find chapbooks from Robert Okaji here:
The city is evolving every day. It is as new to the digital revolution as the revolution itself. Nevertheless, what used to be mere imagination in olden days has become the reality that creates the cushion for imaginations for the next step of evolution. The beauty of the city lies in its ability to manage both imagination and reality. It has adjusted itself to the ever-changing nuances of the digital realm. The massive organism that the city is, it makes it intriguing to observe the minute details of the digital revolution breathing inside its system. This paper is an effort to decode the processes that are operating in the city as a part of the digital realm and also making conspicuous changes to the cityscape and its working.
Key Words/Terms: City, Cityscape, digital revolution, digital realm, imagination, reality
The Raw City
Urban Spaces have been the new cradles of economic growth and cultural intermixing for a considerably long time now. The cities across the globe have evolved through a variety of stages, although not necessarily the same ones. The first cities represented settlement units of hitherto unprecedented size (Childe, 1950). This, however, does not imply that they stood anywhere in comparison to the twenty first century cities in terms of population as well as complexity of processes at work.
The simultaneous processes of urbanisation, globalisation and industrialisation have reinvented the idea of a city in the contemporary times. However, it is widely understood that even though there has been a change in the character of the city, its raw nature remains the same. Cities are regarded as the powerhouses of economic growth, a melting pot for various cultures, the hubs of innovation and imagination, the carriers of a million dreams, and the leaders of the global settlements. Gordon Childe in The Urban Revolution pointed out ten characteristics that he deemed to be integral to almost all cities of the world. His paper included population, diversification of economic activities, standardisation of weights and measures, presence of infrastructure, trade and commerce as some of the ten characteristics. The contemporary city, however has grown beyond these basic ideas. However, it would be safe to assume that a huge number of the cities as they appear today do have the building blocks based on the ten characteristics referred to earlier.
The Intercultural City
The city has become increasingly intercultural in nature owing to the fast paced churning of ideas and the availability of right tools to turn them into reality. The city in the contemporary world is a portal into ‘realised imaginations’. Everyday hundreds of thousands of people enter the city to make something out of themselves, to prove themselves and to create an association with the idea of the city. The city has come to be associated with success, growth, positivity, and opportunities, all of which are the attention-seekers for those deprived of them. It is also made apparent that the city hardly disallows entities to become a part of it. The intercultural city that lives with diversity is different from places that channel people into one worldview (Wood & Landry, 2008).
However, the image of the city as talked about above has also been emphatically pronounced due to a bigger reason. The advent of digital technology has secured a sure shot place in the life of the city. It can also be said that the intercultural city became so because of the digital revolution.
Imagination in the City: The Digital Way
As said earlier, the city has long been the hotbed of imagination and hope. Imagination, however, has made a great deal of changes in the way the city functions and views the future. The digital technology has changed the face of the city. It has affected its daily life and also the way it carries itself. Over the last few years, we have seen a huge variety of familiar objects and surfaces – from televisions to bus shelters – transform into networked sensors that gather, process, store and display information (Anderson, 2012).
From dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn the city makes its way through the mesh of digital technologies to make life easier for its inhabitants. There is an alarm on the smartphone to wake it up, milk delivered to the doorsteps through a digitally placed order, cab aggregator service to book a cab in a few moments, navigation to help it steer through the large network of roads and lanes, real time traffic information to keep it punctual, online music to listen to on a smartphone while travelling, social networks like Facebook and twitter to post about how the start of the day has been wonderful, pictures to take from a camera installed on the smartphone and so on. The city deals with its finances sitting on a laptop. The digital revolution has set in motion forces that have so much to do with bridging of distances, simplification of problems, and reduction in troubles.
Browsing one minute, searching the next, we move seamlessly from private to shared information environments, offering insight into packages of urban experience (Anderson, 2012). In order to understand the level of impact, one needs to consider an errand as small as ironing of clothes. With the digital prowess, it is perfectly possible to “get the inside track on where to get shirts ironed fast and cheaply” (Anderson, 2012). The growing dependence on digital media can be seen in the growth patterns of the city too. The coming decades are being called the decades of the ‘digital city’. There are townships being established that are integrated internally through networks of information which is available for all their residents to use. The hi-tech planned cities coming up across the globe are looking towards digital media to try and create a perfect example of place branding and city imaging. The concepts are not as new as the context. It is in context of the digital world growing together with the urban world that these concepts have broken their boundaries.
The city’s daily life is being constructed everyday with the help of the digital revolution. The kind of fairs it will attend, the concerts that are going to be a hit, the street food festivals consisting of cuisines from unknown lands are all the examples of the dynamic characters of the city. The fact that the city entertains this amount of information and action made available to it by the digital technologies is in itself enough to understand their impact on its daily life.
The question of inclusiveness is the next when it comes to creating a future of imagination for the city. Is the imagination class-sensitive? Does it take into account the gender gap which still exists in the city? Does the digital advancement decrease the stereotyping the city tolerates every day by the means of its constituents?
It will be difficult to assume that digital technology has brought about a massive change in the inclusiveness in the city. However, it is visible that the diversity of the city has been regarded much more because of digital technology on one hand and discarded on the other. The latter is so because of the exclusion of many of the city’s constituents in understanding the ‘digital’ side of the city. The digital itself is being made into an exclusive object for the use of a handful of people. If this is not looked into, the exclusiveness will increase thereby defeating the purpose of intermixing of cultures and people in the city.
The imagination of mankind is brought to match with the reality in the city. The reality, in turn, creates a platform for more imagination to crop up and help the city rediscover itself. Imagine an arrow that appears on the pavement or on your sunglasses to tell you which way to go, or even a docking station that unfolds as you approach to lock up your bike (Anderson, 2012). The cities are brimming with quests and explorations for the future. This is why this paper has been titled From Imagination to Reality to Imagination, because the cycle goes on and helps the city establish new landmarks.
From reality to imagination goes the path to the city’s conversation with digital technology. The speed with which the city has been accepting the conversion to the digital media is unprecedented. It is an indispensable part of the social as well as the economic fabric of the city today. The digital realm has brought the city together like never before. In creating realities out of imaginations, the city has done itself a tremendous service.
The digital makeover of cities across the globe has resulted in a lasting impact on the daily life of the city. From running basic errands to getting factories set up, the tasks have been getting easier and the system more efficient. Not just this, the advent of social media has made the city more accessible and informative. Where there was nothing some years ago, the city finds information on its own history and geography today. From struggling to pay bills to booking travel plans on the internet, the city sure has come a long way in organising its everyday life.
The Day Off: College, Hostel, Observation and a Dream
Observation is a unique act of looking at Nature’s creation. Our surrounding is stuffed with a variety of things. Sometimes few things present in our surrounding amaze us. We get awestruck by the fact of their presence, creation, look etc. No matter how simple or ordinary those things may appear, they are the powerhouses of uniqueness in the sense that nothing can replace another thing in any way. The same thought can be applied to each human being as one individual should not be compared with others which can lead to the destruction of mental peace. From observation comes motivation. Motivation is the driving factor behind any task.
Morning hour motivation comes to me through observing the components of nature. Nature has got vivid imageries and when you start to spend time with nature, you’ll certainly get mesmerized by the way things have been put in their places. Their places are too perfect in a broad sense. Likewise, we all have been assigned with a certain task to complete in our lives which we regard as the call of destiny and the set of challenges that obstruct our paths have been put according to our ability to overcome them.
It feels great in the act of chasing those white doves with the stealth footsteps, which seem to have descended down from heaven to quench their parched throats from a limited reservoir leaked from the water tank over the terrace. Now I realize why those birds have been tagged as the symbol of peace and serenity. It’s even their slight glimpse that brings peace. They are the vehicles of the air; flying high to touch the limitless sky. Then a flock of birds in the sky draws my attention. On close observation, that flock seems to have led by a bird-might be more experienced in comparison to the other in the group. There are several patterns that they create while traversing that azure land.
My day starts with taking a walk over the terrace. What can be a better idea to observe things in the vicinity of a higher place other than terrace? The terrace has always been among my favorite spots at the hostel to hang out with myself. I get to witness a hell lot amount of things from a different perspective which compels me to dress those experiences into words. Adding to this divine view is the prevalence peace and serenity! I observed something today which is worth mentioning. As I looked down from one side of the terrace, I found that a barren piece of land lying adjacent to the periphery of my hostel’s boundary had got beautifully transformed into a cultivated land, producing crops and cereals. The meticulous division of the land for the purpose of growing different crops looked no different from the political maps representing demarcations of different regions in geography books. The putting up of scarecrows (artificial human beings) dressed up in today’s fashionable attire (for protection of the crop from birds and animals) added an extra delight to the sight. I recalled those days I visited my village a few years back and such scenes were quite less in number, even though the frequency had reduced to a great extent due to the effect of urbanization and modernization. The architects of that field lived happily near it in a temporary settlement reminding me of another one which was once existent in another side of the hostel.
I reflected for a moment that whatever I was witnessing then, was the result of the relentless toil of those people. They took every care to convert a barren land into a productive one. I could relate that land to our minds and the crops to the countless thoughts which are required to be cultivated with utmost caution. Our thoughts make us who we are. In fact, we are the portraits of our own thoughts. All our emotions like pain, suffering, joy, sorrow are deeply connected with our thinking process. That’s why someone has very well remarked that “We suffer more in our thoughts than in reality”. We become happy or sad because we revise the thoughts of our past. Thoughts keep on creating utopian environments continuously in our minds. They have enormous power to transform us into anything.
You never can tell what a thought will do
In bringing you hate or love-
For thoughts are things and their airy wings
Are swifter than carrier doves.
They follow the law of the universe-
Each thing creates its kind,
And they speed O’er the track to bring you back
Whatever went out of your mind.
Looking at the importance of thoughts, I remembered Napolean Hill had once advised everyone to devote some time for analyzing one’s own thought pattern because of our mental processes each destructive thought the same way as in case of a constructive one. Both problems and solutions are present in our mind according to a saying there are no limitations to the mind except those we acknowledge. Quoting the author’s statement from the novel ‘Think and grow rich’, “We are what we are because of the vibrations of the thought we pick up and register, through the stimuli of our daily environment.
“If you think you are beaten, you are,
If you think you dare not, you don’t
If you like to win, but you think you can’t
It is almost certain you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you are lost,
For out of the world we find,
Success begins with fellow’s will-
It’s all in the state of mind.
If you think you are outclassed, you are,
You’ve got to think high to rise,
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life’s battle don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man
But soon or later the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.”
Taking care of your thoughts is as important as taking care of your body. Amidst these train of thoughts, I forget that the day has started to lose its brightness gradually.
Being a daydreamer, the terrace provides me enough elements to dream about. My restless mind would run in all directions just like my vision. The vision of mine which used to get confined within the four walls of the room has now been liberated, extending its reach to infinity, boundless possibilities. My mind picks up the subject of dream whenever my eyes get transfixed at any point. Then I would start to weave dreams about it and these hypothetical connections to the things present in my vicinity would break all differences between reality and imagination already existing inside my mind. I get amazed by the inflow of powerful thoughts and start to pen them down. Countless articles have got their birth from here only. Sometimes, I’m with academic study material other times I’m with a non-academic book. When there are no friends with me to accompany, those little birds start to play around me and I somehow start to enjoy their friendship. That’s when I realized friendship is not just an emotion bound to human beings, it’s something which can get developed as an intrinsic interest in non-living things. The surrounding is so lively that I get instant motivation from it. The courses which always appeared burden to me melt down into their easy form. I don’t know how. Is that the magnetic effect of the place?
The sunset view is breathtaking. The fierce hot burning yellow colored cosmic body, Sun turns orange, pink then gets absorbed amidst the vast stretch of clouds. The clouds, fundamentally, the agglomeration of numerous tiny water droplets, bear the shades of a color pallet at different instances. On closely observing, I find a resemblance of those yellow and peach colored clouds with those of the cream over an ice cream cone. The sky radiates the colors of a painter’s brush or I’m watching a creation of the greatest painter, the almighty, I just can’t differentiate. The commotion on the other side of the boundary of the hostel drags me close to the boundary of the terrace. When my steps take me there to have a glance, I find a bunch of toddlers playing with clay- in the lap of nature. Neither the darkness of the surrounding nor the responsibilities of the life scare them off. They are like free birds flying carelessly with the passage of time. The cold blowing breeze makes me light and I let myself get blown with watching the activities of those notorious kids. It makes me realized how quickly my childhood days have passed and the days of adulthood that I imagined as a child are not that amusing. The floating of cotton with the breeze in the atmosphere creates the scene picturesque. It seems as if there is a unique combination of summer and winter as the spread of cotton in ground resembles snow.
The darkness of the sky is now accompanied by a silver-colored celestial body shining prominently with other numerous tiny stars. On observing the moon closely, I find many unidentified scars over it which reminds me of a tale that my grandma used to narrate in my childhood days. The gist is- Once a hare visited the moon and it got lost there. That’s why the shape of that lost hare is still visible. There was no congruency of that tale with the reality but we as children were fascinated by it. As the night grows thick, the flickering radiance from the other side of the river resembles little candles spreading the light amidst the ever-growing darkness. A thick layer of grey colored fume ejected out from the chimneys of the industries diffuse in the tar-colored background in the backdrop of many colored lights of the structures turning on and off synchronously. Now, the tall structure of the transmission tower stands still in front of my eyes. I recognize it to be off suspension type with few discs hanging down. I wonder how it is different from the famous Eiffel tower! I mean, that ordinary tower can be analogous to the famous Eiffel tower. The road, on the other side of the view, seems to be invisible except the tiny moving vehicles. Their positions can be traced by the light emanating from them which looks like a video game being played in front of me and yes I’m the spectator and the player is omniscient, omnipotent and invisible, needless to say, that the world is the big screen of the video game, visualize the hugeness of this screen for once! My vision can chase few moving lights performing rectilinear motion and then disappear. Sometimes, it seems as if a competition is going on when a vehicle overtakes another. Everything seems magical and the air takes me to a completely different realm of imagination.
I’ve not been able to resist myself from spending my evening time over the terrace, gazing that distant view of mountains and river at my favorite spot over the terrace and simultaneously appreciating the splendor of each component that I visualize and perceive. The scene is breathtakingly beautiful as it reminds me of the paintings drawn in the fantasy story books of childhood days that my father purchased. As a child, my innocent mind would always question whether such places really existed or will it be ever possible for me to witness this sight in my lifetime. After so many years, I now have the answers to all those unanswered questions that once used to get built up inside my mind. It’s perhaps this place, the place where I’m right now present. The small lighted houses at the opposite bank of the river seem to be no different from the demonstration of any mysterious fairyland as if those have been constructed with the help of small and delicate matchsticks – a unique masterpiece!! Simply wonderful and amazing!! The glow of faint light resembles the ray of light emanating from burning candles spreading the light as far as possible and destroying the darkness. The red colored flag at the apex of the Lord Shiva’s temple shines in the dark background of the sky jeweled with tiny sparkling stars. And, now the atmospheric air transports the sound of evening prayer to my ears- so divine and peaceful, and few lines of songs of childhood days running inside my mind-
All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all…
The Lord God made them all (Chorus).
Everything around us has got so much to give. It seems as if the inanimate things want to convey us a message of eternity and peace. What is required is to lend an ear to their unspoken or a keen observation.
Swati Sarangi is currently pursuing Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering. She completed B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from Indira Gandhi Institute of Technology, Sarang, Odisha. She writes on two blogs along with her sister Sweta, Creative Constellation and Words To World on different blogging platforms. Her poems have been published in The Stage, The Seasons, Bibliograph, Agnishatdal and Writer’s Ezine.
Today you kissed me with an old man’s mouth
Dry lips puckered against my cheek
The grey stubble of your chin bruising mine
Your hand fumbled and felt beneath the bedsheet
As you heaved your body over mine
Pinning me down
Arms spread-eagled and crucified
I lay absolutely still
I felt my insides shutting down
The breast. The liver. The heart. The feather-thin bone
Sighing to a pause
Your rasping breath turned fevered and hot
While I quietly slipped away
2. Mother’s Love I & II Reshma Ruia
I It is at night I hear you
A single cell you grow noisily
Now a limb. An eye. A throat
Just don’t ask me to feel love
For you as yet
To shut my eyes and breathe your name loud
It’s too early to feel tender towards
This accident of cells
There are no grudges against you
Just this need persists
To make you understand
This body and mind
Dozing clumsy through the hours
Does not mean there won’t be far-off battles
Still waiting to be won
Urgent footsteps shouting to run
This blood will still growl
Though now it whimpers low
You won’t fell me down
With your heart or your blows
II Suddenly the hours. The vacant hours come rushing in
The children all grown up and gone
Busy feathering their own nests
The husband hiding somewhere out of reach
Tripping over shadows that he conceals
She looks at her hands
Lying in her lap
And can’t quite understand
How and why a life crammed so full of loving and living
Became so stripped of meaning
Like an empty milk bottle
Left out on the doorstep
3. Love in the East Reshma Ruia
To Bangkok and Pattaya
The old men come
In neon-lit cocktail bars with come-hither pouts
Their Hawaiian shirt-a blaring klaxon
They barter their varicose-veins and wheezing voices
For caresses and promising smiles
I saw one of their tribe
Bending expectant over his gin and lime
Bright-splashed shorts holding afloat
Sunburnt tyres of flesh
A hero he was
Fleeing pin-striped suits
Fast food counters and the odour of the rush hour tubes
His kids grown up and gone, his wife addicted to Corrie
And she…dark-eyed and easy grace
No less a heroine
A heroine fleeing the bare-foot walk to the well
The grudging kick of boiled rice in belly
The dripping palm-leafed roof
Leaning pensive against pictures of Hollywood hunks
She dreams of young firm men with blond haired arms
They come together the hero and the heroine
Pantomiming the motions of love
Biting their feet is the sea
With its blue wrinkled mouth
There are yellow flowers in her hair, seashells on her throat
The taste of his stale beer dances inside her mouth
He pries open her legs and keeping time
Together they abuse
The Christ who refused to resurrect
The Buddha who failed to reincarnate
Inside the hunger of their embrace
Reshma Ruia is a writer based in England. She has written two novels, ‘Something Black in the Lentil Soup,’ and ‘A Mouthful of Silence.’ Her poetry and short stories have appeared in international journals and anthologies and also commissioned for BBC Radio4. She is also a co-founder of The Whole Kahani, a collective of British writers of South Asian origin.Save