Brimming with life

Shreekumar Varma's works are fascinating records of love, desire and loss

Shreekumar Varma's poems are like sandalwood sculptures. The delicate fragrance of emotions - of love, life, and relationships come wafting out from them and permeate our senses. His poems or rather songs are full of the accompanying fragility that living and loving have when they are born into everyday reality. Underlying emotions burst out of every line and surprise the reader. Behold the music in the air as he speaks...

Could you describe your writing schedule and process - how is your poetry born?
Right now I write through the night. Earlier I used to have a much more regimented method of day time working. My poetry begins with an image or idea. It flows as I sit down to write. Later, I get back to polish the word structures.
Quite A Man of Letters
Penguin India published his debut novel, Lament of Mohini, in June 2000. It has been in several lists of India's top ten books. Apart from having been published in daily newspapers and magazines, his works have also appeared in several anthologies including three books brought out by The Poetry Society of India, The British Council as well as the inaugural issue of The Delhi London Quarterly Journal of Poetry. He writes fortnightly columns in the Sunday magazine of the Deccan Herald - "All that glitters" - as well as The Indian Express - Wordplay. He is also an acclaimed playwright - his very first play, The Dark Lord, won the second prize at the British Council one act play competition.
Who or what have been your major influences as a writer?
The inspiration for my writing has been multifarious - R K Narayan for simplicity and humour, Arundhati Roy for richness of words and sharp association of ideas, Marquez for human drama, Vivekananda for forthrightness, Hopkins for word magic, Keats for enchantment. Their writing provoked me. Inspired me. Major influences, though, were the people I met, the sights I saw and the music I heard.
Every occupation has a challenge. What do you find the most challenging about writing?
"Keeping to deadlines" - he says with a straight face.
Shreekumar Varma's sense of the comic enables the reader to demystify Love from all its romantic trappings  you can see it tumbling around realities in his poem "Night at Marina". See the unassuming humour and quiet poignancy when he calls upon the ethereal bodies to witness the act.
He plucks a flower from her hair
Finds her soul embedded;
"I'd rather have a flat for us,
What will your father spare?"
The waters crunch into the night
Soaking up a tremble,
She takes his hand upon her cheek
"I haven't had a bite."
The stars are witness to the act
A brittle tune awakes
Amidst the ocean of the crowd
It's passion mixed with tact.

Shreekumar Varma says very little but so much lies beyond the word that it takes quite a while to permeate the outer layers and see the heart of every poem of his. His love songs are exquisitely lyrical - meditations on love, you can call them. The sense of the aesthetic is visible in the lines below; mixing love and longing with all the beauty of the English language:
When the sun dips as if forever,
When streaks of feeling
Silver the horizon's brow
and the waves start up in excitement,
frothing and insatiable,
My thoughts betray me
and I can barely feel the world...
Could you tell me more about your fascination with the sea?
It has provided me my most calming and most horrible moments. It inspires and fills me with awe.
Your latest writing project?
I'm writing a book on Chennai, a novel set in Kerala and a children's book for Puffin. I'm also polishing a play that is being considered for performance by a Chennai group. Otherwise, my two newspaper columns keep me busy.
Your poems are filled with a deep inner passion for the most ordinary things. Like the "Projector" etc, how does it happen?
If something fascinates or amuses me, I find ideas being projected by it for my benefit.
In "Projector", he assumes the fictional voice of a projector and gives it a character and emotional responsibility of its own!
In a hall where curtains crush the last sunrays,
They wait in semi-silent stupor-
Hundreds, facing a white bright screen;
kindred, as they share a dream.
No one notices me; the screen sparkles to life
And the story begins, spouting from my eye
Through a magic ray slicing the night-
image quickens and becomes life

Your lines depict images of growing up; loving, and travelling through emotional maturity - when did you start writing? What was your first poem?
I can't remember when my first poem was written but school and college magazines have published my stories and poetry. I started writing seriously when I was in college.
Do you feel any restraint while writing?
Yes, often. I find myself stuck with form when I should be focusing on content.
You are conducting creative writing programmes, do they help?
Always. A radiation of ideas helps immensely whether you realise it at the moment or not.
Writing has become a priority for you -- you are a novelist, poet, playwright and you compose music - there is an exquisite lyrical quality in everything you write. You are a gifted singer too

I have this idea that talent or creativity spreads itself. Soon everything you do absorbs colour. But it takes hard moments of preparation and frustration before you are finally ready to present your work. Praise and critical comments help you to steady yourself and see your work as others see it. By the way, so far I've only sung for myself.

Varma's writing is vital, inspiring and intriguing. His ease with a variety of literary forms - prose, poetry and drama belie his gentle appearance. Gently musical and exceptionally clear  his works are fascinating records of love, desire and loss. This is the voice of a writer who just might be ranked among our most valuable poets.
speaking at a Madras Book Club event
book discussion at the Madras Book Club