Being a descendant of legendary Raja Ravi Varma, have you ever thought of putting your thoughts on canvas, or, maybe try a graphic novel?
Yes, I have thought about it. Maybe, later when the writing assignments and deadlines ease up. Or to put it more realistically, when I feel I have the honest ability to transfer my vision onto canvas rather than the page. Till then, I doodle when the pleasure of art is in me. The graphic novel is a fascinating idea, and there are several people who are good at both writing and drawing who are making their mark. My son, Vinayak, who is a graphic designer as well as a writer, is contemplating one. As for me, that is beyond my capabilities. Anyway, a pet theory of mine is that art flows. It doesn’t necessarily have to restrict itself to one genre or field. One person can be a good artist, musician and poet.

You have written essays, stories, novels and plays. Which medium do you think suits you best?
It depends, finally, on the content, I think. Stories are limited in terms of what you can describe, but they are very challenging; you could encapsulate a lifetime or a history into them. Or you could stick to the thoughts and emotions of a moment. It is both elastic and concise. A novel lets you take your characters and your ideas into simultaneous modes. I think I’m most comfortable when working on a novel. Once, when I got stuck on a novel, I started writing a play. And that play became quite interesting for me, and later it was staged to inaugurate the 50th year of the Madras Players, India’s oldest English theatre group. And the novel came unstuck! Writing for children is another pleasure I discovered in the past two or three years. My novel Devil’s Garden came out in 2005, and now someone from Mumbai has expressed interest in filming it. Now I’m working on a fantasy for Penguin.

Have you published a book exclusively on poetry? Why not?
This remains a dream. Some years ago, when the British Council arranged a video-conference with a very famous publisher, I asked her why it was so difficult to find a publisher for poetry and plays, and she said that it was a world-wide phenomenon. I am waiting for the day someone offers to publish a book of my poems. It would also goad me into writing more poetry. Until then, I get published in anthologies and publications like A Hudson View.

What inspires you to write for children as well? Is it simply love for them, or a desired retreat to innocence?
The fact is, that innocence is mixed with a great innate wisdom. Children are at once sensitive, forthright and curious. They love fantasy and crazy take-offs, but they also have the ability to remain firmly rooted to reality. Being a teacher as well and, of course, having passed through that realm ages ago, I understand and remember the progress of childhood. It is varied and fascinating, you can’t pinpoint anything, but you can make universal sketches that will resonate, whoever or wherever your reader is. Another thing--- you can’t write down to them. You have to approach them at their level, and sometimes that is higher than your own! Because you tend to lose clarity and curiosity as you grow older. I thoroughly enjoy writing children’s stories. It’s as though your ship is running free for a blissful period of time, with no sign of an anchor!

Tell us something about your poem, Triumvirate?
Right! No one has ever asked me this before. I confess I have a weakness for the unpredictability of words. I first indulged in this in my novel Lament of Mohini, where I created a few new words by merging two different words, so that a contrasting or paradoxical sensibility emerged. Here in the poem you mention, when I say "mantranting", for instance, you get both mantra and ranting, and also get the feel of chanting. You get a new perception, especially as you pause to make sense of this strange new usage or word. That is something, I feel, that can do wonders for poetry. A poet like Hopkins could inject so much more into his writings because of his awareness of the sensuousness and inner life of words. As for the actual meaning of Triumvirate, I always leave that to the reader! I’ll just say that it’s got to do with the Hindu Trinity, rebirth, and the secret of life as taught to us through generations.

There is a very deep, rather abysmal suggestive quality in your poems. Images like "have you heard the moon laugh on a cloudy night", "in your mist-shrouded mount of passion", "waves devour oceans of sand" have this irresistible ability to captivate the reader’s mind, but are never in-your-face. They slide gently into your soul. Please tell us about how Nature plays a role in bringing out the poet in you?
I have this strange fascination for the sea. Perhaps, a Piscean has to live with this, I don’t know! But then mountains and raw greenery exert their own influence. And then, of course, the moon! All poets are probably a little mad, and you know how the moon is mythically and otherwise famous for bringing that on. I think my early poetry tended to dwell too much on the dark and the murky. One of those you mention—“mist-shrouded mount of passion” is an ode to a lover, who we come to know at the end, is death. Sometimes, the final effect or revelation happens when the darkness is engulfed by light.

Which Indian poet has inspired you the most? And why?
It’s a terrible thing, but I’m not a big reader of poetry myself! And when I teach, I try and let my students draw their own meaning from poems, perhaps guiding them along a bit. I like reading A. K. Ramanujan and people who tend to write about something of a traditional or esoteric nature, and also those who voice a struggle.

Books you can’t imagine not having read.
Most of the time, I read by accident. I love reading, but I don’t read as much as I used to. And there’s nothing I feel is universally necessary reading. A book usually finds its reader.

One book that has changed your notion about something.
Let’s see. Maybe a book, a long time ago, that had collected writings of Vivekananda. It changed my notion about something. It changed it so drastically that I now forget what that something was; I was changed, though.

A few words on Rhyme or Reason …
I like the way you have brought together poems and people. Kasid, for instance. You meet not only a poet but get into his world. And I like the slightly provocative questions that probe the mind of the poet. And I like your poetry. I was just going through Catharsis, and the procession of images. “heaven’s lovely; yet earth is where I long to be.” That epitomises the poet!

Thank you for your time and words.
I will repeat that back to you.

Devapriya Banerjee
oxfordbookstore.com
For the pleasure of art
Shreekumar Varma talks about loving Nature and switching genres