I May Feel At Home Anywhere or Nowhere: Goutam Karmakar In Conversation With Adil Jussawalla
PhD Research Scholar
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
National Institute of Technology Durgapur, India
Another Parsi voice and the missing person of Indian poetry written in English, Adil Jussawalla was born in Bombay in 1940. He has done his primary education from the Cathedral and John Connon School in 1956. Between 1957 and 1970 he has spent most of his years in London where he wrote plays, studied to become an architect, completed graduation and masters and taught English at a language school. From 1957-1958 he has attended the Architectural Association School of Architecture for this purpose. After that he has done his graduation and then masters from the University of Oxford in 1964. For the Greater London Council he has worked as a substitute teacher and after that till1969 he has worked as a language teacher at the EF International Language Centre. After returning to India in 1970, he has started to teach at various schools. Before turning to journalism in between 1972 and 1975 he has taught English language and literature at St. Xavier’s College. He has actively participated in many international festivals and conferences. He was not only an Honorary Fellow of the International Writing Program at the University of Lowa in 1976 but also a member of this program till 1977. From 1980-81 he has been worked as the book review editor at The Indian Express. He has been served as a literary editor at several magazines and newspapers and notable among those are The Express Magazine (from 1980-82) and Debonair (1987), a magazine which has been originally modeled after Playboy Magazine. In 1974 he has edited an anthology New Writing in India and in 1977 another one namely Statements with Eunice de Souza. Till now he has written four books on poetry namely Land’s End in 1962, Missing Person in 1976, Trying to Say Goodbye in 2012 and Gulestan (mainly chapbook) in 2017.For Trying to Say Goodbye he has won India’s Sahitya Academi Award in 2014. He has also written two collections, mainly of non-fiction namely Maps for a Mortal Moon: Essays and Entertainments, edited by Jerry Pinto in 2014 and I Dreamt a Horse Fell from the Sky in 2015. Apart from all these, he has actively engaged himself in translation and with Gieve Patel, Arun Kolatkar and Arbind Krishna Mehrotra he has translated several works of Gulam Mohammed Sheikh.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Thank you very much for your long-awaited consent for this series of conversation out of your busy schedule! Let’s start our conversation on Adil Jussawala as a poet in making. What is poetry to you? And how far do the life and surrounding influence your art of poesy?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: Poetry for me is a way of enhancing the vision and music of words in a way that enhances the vision and music of the world around me. The song I make a tree I see sing is returned to me as the tree's song. I give it voice and the voice now is the trees. That means quite obviously that life in general and my surroundings, in particular, do influence my poetry, as they do every poet I know.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Although, poetry muses in the heart of its true lover; yet, let us know about the X-factor in Jussawalla being a student of Architecture picks up his Graphos to express his bad heart of alienation. Kindly share your concept of ‘Home’ in your poems.
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: I have a poor concept of home. I may feel at home anywhere or nowhere. The place itself doesn't seem to matter. But homes as individual buildings or rooms – other people – their windows, their balustrades, their roofs – fascinate me. I was a student of Architecture for just a year, but my interest in buildings continues.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: You usually appear with your anthologies taking a long gap in between. Your first poetry volume Land’s End came out in 1962. You have given us Missing Person in 1976 and Trying to Say Goodbye in 2011. Can you tell us why you have taken such a long time to publish? In which among your four poetry volumes do you find your best creative offspring and why?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: I don't think I'll ever really know why there's such a long gap between my books, particularly between Missing Person and Trying to Say Goodbye. And I have no favorites among them.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: K.N.Kutty on Land’s End told that “the book captured the artificiality and vulgarity of this age, the paradoxical nature of our emotions and desires, the unbridgeable gulf between you and I, between dream and reality and the beauty and ugliness of love”. Do you agree with it? Kindly justify this comment.
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: Yes, I agree. K.N.Kutty said this in a review of the book. Kutty was a lecturer in English at a college in Bombay during the 60s. Getting a review like this, felt good. I thought he saw what the poems were about; he didn't look for the 'roots' stuff, the national, in them.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Your poems seem a lifelong quest for identity as you have felt apartheid both in abroad and in India. So how have you tried to place the missing person in the mainstream of life? And as a Parsi what are the difficulties you have faced while living in India?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: I wouldn't describe what I've experienced in India and abroad as apartheid. That's too strong a word. Quite early in life I had to deal with a sense of isolation, learn to speak from the margins or be silent in them. It was part of my education, my personality. As for mainstream, I don’t know what that is, neither in India nor in any other part of the world. And if I knew I wouldn't want to be part of it. That's for sure.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: While R. Parthasarathy tries to establish his identity by returning to his Tamil background, you make an attempt to involve yourself with the progressive forces of historical development. Do you agree with me and can you tell us in which way you differ from Parthasarathy?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: Our two involvements – Parthasarathy’s and mine – aren't mutually exclusive. Parthasarathy may well be involved in the kind of activism that is aligned to what you call 'progressive forces'. I don't know. And the option he chose is open to most Indian poets who seek to return to what they regard as a suppressed linguistic identity. It's just that that option doesn't attract me. I read poetry in translation but am not drawn to translating it myself.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: It seems that the missing person is neither an anti-hero nor a hero. He fails to assert his identity and accepts the suffering. So tell us what does your The Missing Person present? And what are the measures a writer can take in times of crisis?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: The poem 'Missing Person', especially the first part, is mock-heroic, and its protagonist hardly a person. Social, political, historical forces, mostly internalized, have practically wiped him out. Knowing this, and the rage and frustration this leads to, could have turned him into an active terrorist; instead, he's a faux-monster, a clown, 'a footnote to an unknown history'. Neither he and certainly not I can confidently say what measures a writer can take in times of crisis. In an earlier interview which appeared shortly after the Emergency, I implied that we live in a state of perpetual emergency. So what fresh crisis are we talking about? I still believe that.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: In The Missing Person there are many voices; and, the readers may not identify which one is the poet’s own? So can we call it an authorless volume? And tell your readers how these voices make an attempt to show both chaos and political consciousness?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: The poem 'Missing Person' is not authorless. One author has given voice to many like he gives the tree in an earlier answer. These voices belong to real people but imagined to fit a context. I can't say more than that.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: How far do you consider yourself as a confessional poet who writes about the spiritually sterile and dehumanized landscapes coupled with contradiction, non-linear and fragmented passages? And kindly confess whether you have taken India as your home now or still feel alienated?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: I don't see myself as a confessional poet, even though, as some readers have pointed out, much of my work is intensely personal. Often, the 'confessions' in my poems aren't mine but are spoken by various personae.
As for considering India as 'home'… Of course and of course not – in equal measure; the reason being what I said about 'home' in an earlier answer.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Your poems center on the life-in-death impulses where the destruction of nature on one part paves the way for the recreation of nature on another part as title poem Lands End shows it. So how you have described nature and human-nature relation in your works? Apart from this, you have shown the disillusionment and wastefulness of modern life and then juxtaposed it with Christianity. Is it an attempt of you to place Christianity over the ongoing culture?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: I find these questions difficult to answer. What you call 'nature' is a force my poems often contend with. They have to, since this contention is linked to my own growth, my own destruction. Biblical images and metaphors perhaps appear more often in my poems than those from other religious books but that doesn't mean I place Christianity above any other religion. Christian thought, not only the Bible, has given me a lot, but so have thoughts from other religions.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Do you believe that colonialism still exists inside the natives and the natives should try to free themselves? And regarding colonialism and the problems faced by a poet writing in English mainly in India, how are you going to place the English language here- colonial language or another language exist in India?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: Yes, I believe our colonial experience has to a large extent got internalized and can't be got rid of easily. The mind alone can't decolonize itself – there have to be external factors – broad cultural movements, legal and social actions – to help it do that. The English language in India, though it began as a colonizer's language, is well-equipped to move us far out of its original colonial territory into other areas. You don’t need to define English as an Indian language for it to do that. It's a country by itself, both inside and outside India. Indians who write in it can be its slaves or its masters (or its princes, as Derek Walcott prefers to call the language's poets)
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: How have you conducted the process of remembering and the subsequent discovery in Vacant Possession from Trying to Say Goodbye? And can you please share with your readers how you have tried to give meaning and shape to our everyday life through memory and perception in the second part The Web of Human Things from this same volume?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: Quite frankly I don't know what I tried to do or how I did it. I find both your questions impossible to answer. Certain tricks of the trade, the process of writing itself…that's all I can say.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: What does conflict mean for you now in its explosion worldwide? And how have you made a balance between your internal conflicts arising in you with the external conflicts you have faced?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: We can't avoid the explosions of worldwide conflict and the pain of others, even the suffering of those far away. They come to us all the time through the media, both print and electronic. What this means to me, what I must do to not allow them to throw me off-balance is to give this pain, this conflict form. Naturally, doing so may raise my own internal conflicts to a dangerous level. But it's the process of finding a form for those conflicts, external and internal, that contains them – forming a poem, fixing it.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Can you tell a bit about your “I Dreamt a Horse Fell from the Sky”? In this connection, I want to know do you think differently about poetry now and has it shifted its place in your life?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: Many Indian poets have written a fair amount of prose, sometimes fiction, sometimes non-fiction, sometimes both. Our publishers have missed the opportunity of bringing out selections of their prose and poetry in one volume. The poet, Rohan Chhetri, an editor at Hachette India, gave me the chance to put together such a volume. Jerry Pinto selected and introduced some of my non-fiction earlier (Maps for a Mortal Moon, Aleph Book Company, 2011). “I Dreamt a Horse Fell from the Sky” was a follow-up that broadened the field.
The value I give poetry hasn't changed. In fact, I write little prose now, more poetry.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Before the conclusion can you discuss with your readers about your future projects? And what will be your advice to all the emerging poets and the humanity in general?
ADIL JUSSAWALLA: My future projects involve writing more poems – I have two incomplete manuscripts with me. A poem of mine, 'Gulestan', recently brought out as a chapbook by Poetrywala, will be part of one of the manuscripts.
As for advising emerging poets and humanity in general, I'm bad at that, can't think of anything to say. Yes, we/humanity, suffer, but what can I tell it/us? 'To thine own self-be true'? But for that, we have to know ourselves, a most difficult thing. And to emerging poets perhaps I can only say – borrowing and slightly altering James Baldwin's words – “Try to be an honest person and to be good at your work.”