Born in Bikaner, India, on August 18th 1965, Vinita Agrawal did her schooling in Kalimpong and Kolkata and college from Baroda. She was is a Gold Medallist in M.A. Political Science from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and earned the UGC scholarship in College. She has worked freelance as a writer and researcher ever since but has remained a poet at heart. Her poetry has been published in print and online journals on countless different occasions so far, the prominent publications among them being Asiancha, Constellations, raedleafpoetry, The Fox Chase Review, Spark, The Taj Mahal Review, Open Road Review, CLRI, Kritya.org, Touch- The Journal of healing, Museindia, Everydaypoets.com, Mahmag World Literature, The Criterion, The Brown Critique, Twenty20journal.com, Sketchbook, Poetry 24, Mandala and others which include several international anthologies. Her poem was nominated for the Best of the Net Awards 2011 by CLRI. She received a prize from MuseIndia in 2010. Her poem Thoughts won a prize in the Wordweavers Contest 2013. Her debut collection of poems titled Words Not Spoken published by Sampark/Brown Critique was released in November 2013. http://www.vinitawords.com/
Interview with g emil reutter
GER: You are a writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. What draws you to each of these forms?
VA: I am first and foremost a writer of poetry. I write so much of it that sometimes I think it’s a malaise with me. It’s my first love across all genres of writing. I write fiction occasionally – because some ideas simply cannot be expressed as a poem. They need a longer narrative and only prose will suffice to portray them adequately. Compared to fiction, I enjoy writing non-fiction more. I enjoy writing about spirituality, culture and travel, enjoy researching my subject and creating something that throws more light on it. That gives me great satisfaction.
GER: How did you come to being a poet?
VA: I’ve been writing poems since I was very young – as far back as five. I think my dad has some of my childhood verses saved up somewhere. I was good at English literature in school and received awards regularly in the subject. I contributed to school and college journals and other in house publications. But most of the poetry that I wrote till my early twenties was an outpouring of the angst of growing up and about teenage crushes. It had no literary worth at all. I made a bonfire of those diaries when I re read them at a later stage in life and realized how atrocious they were.
Then there was a long phase of remaining a closet poet. I wrote regularly but what I considered as reasonably good poetry was rejected by editors as worthless. It was then I realized writing poetry was not merely the outpouring of emotions, rather it was a serious art of conveying the deepest meanings of life and portraying its most profound perspectives using the bare minimum of words. Because of this realization, I started reading poetry seriously. I concluded that if you didn’t know what the art was all about, how were you going to experiment with it?
I read the classical poets like Byron, Keats, Wordsworth, Whitman and Eliot. I read works of the newer poets like Neruda, Paz and contemporary Indian poets like Jayanta Mahapatra, Nissim Ezekiel and Kamala Das. I have to confess that Neruda and Mahapatra blew me away! ” God!,” I told myself, “That is how I want to write!” I was officially bitten by the bug; writing poetry became a compulsion, an obsession…a desperate need. For me personally, it took the lid off the pressures of existence.
GER: What poets have had an influence on your writing?
VA: As I mentioned in my previous reply, I’ve been majorly influenced by most great poets. There’s something to learn from each one of them. I learnt extravagance of imagery and emotions from Neruda, learnt pinpointed poignant succinctness from Mahapatra and the art of making guileless womanly confessions from Kamala Das. I’ve also been very inspired by the works of RUMI, Vikram Seth, Jane Hirshfield and Seamus Heaney.
I must also acknowledge the vast and varied influence that every good poet has on me. Sometimes I read a great piece of contemporary poetry and I don’t even know who’s written it but I want to treasure the experience of reading it.
Rather than a poet in totality, a poem per se has a greater impact on me. In that sense I get influenced by all good work. Reading a well written poem makes me write something worthwhile too. You could say that epiphany is my taskmaster!.
GER: Tell us about Words Not Spoken and how the collection came about?
VA: Words Not Spoken is my first collection of poems. It is published by Brown Critique/Sampark India and was released in November 2013.
The book is a potpourri of poems written over a considerable stretch of time. Some poems go back as far as 1997. I decided to include them in this collection because I could still relate to them emotionally. Besides, this being my first published collection, I did not want to miss any step of my poetic journey.
The poems represent my perceptions of life with all its highs and lows, troughs and crests… They trace experiences of loss and grief, pride and joy, betrayal and pain from a very personal perspective. Some poems express my awareness of the injustices I see around me but mostly they centre around the intensely peculiar dimensions of womanhood – its sentimental treasures and curious travails.
Over the years I have discovered that pain has a penumbra of numbness attached to it. And that sooner or later, we choose this numbness to the acuteness. It is this invisible fine shift towards a state of stillness that inspires me to write. Endurance, in any form, is at the core of my writing.
GER: Please tell us about your work as a freelance writer and researcher?
VA: Yes…I’ve changed many cities in the course of my life and therefore was unable to take up a regular job. So I decided to work freelance and work from home. Writing is a profession that allows you that freedom. I relish being able spend time at home and yet be fruitfully engaged with writing. It has its limitations of course but if you’re seeking to balance your personal and professional life than it really is the best option.
As freelance writer I’ve written development based articles, features on gender issues, penned middles for newspapers, written passionately about the Tibet issue, done interviews with prominent personalities in the spiritual/academic field like Robert Thurman, the Official Oracle of the Dalai Lama and even top Defence personnel! God knows how that happened!
As a researcher, I presented two papers on Buddhism at international conferences in Sri Lanka and Vaishali under the Sakyadhita Banner. I have karmic leanings towards the Buddha and his teachings and have taken up researching his life and thoughts independently but with expert guidance from Geshes and scholars. I have to confess though, that I’m very slow with all this work that I’m doing. It’s born out of passion and an academic thirst. It has no deadlines or consolidate demands for being in the market so I take things easy with this aspect of my work.
The good thing that I see in doing it at all, apart from the fact them I read voraciously because of it, is that it puts me in touch with wonderful people and brilliant scholars. I enjoy interacting with them a lot. Sometimes I get to visit awesome ancient places in the course of my self-sponsored research. Anuradhapura, Vaishali and Sarnath are two places that come to my mind in particular.
GER: What are the benefits of meditation to managing stress?
VA: Scientific case studies carried out at the Emory University, USA, indicate that compassionate meditation enhances our mental and physical well-being. It creates greater connectedness amongst members of the society and thereby reduces the stress levels. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership at the university when he was on a visit to Delhi. He pointed out that meditation is an antidote to stress. It does the exact opposite of what stress does to your body. Stress aggravates your adrenalin levels, meditation brings it down, stress shoots up your blood pressure, meditation controls it, stress stretches your nerves and meditation calms them.
Meditating on compassion that is, love for all, is enormously beneficial in fighting stress.
Indeed compassion is a basic human value and need not be practiced in the context of any particular religion. Meditation helps us to develop this positive emotion within ourselves
All these positive emotions, reared through regular meditation, have great beneficial impact on our health. Becoming kind from within changes our behavior towards others and this in turn makes others around us kinder in return.
GER: You wrote a piece, Women on the Path: The Transnational Sangha’, Awakening Buddhist Women, share with us your thoughts on the awakening? VA:
“Free am I, oh so free am I
By means of the three crooked things:
The mortar, pestle, and my crooked husband! “
This is one of the verses written by a female disciple of the Buddha more than 2500 years ago. The lines epitomize the sense of freedom which spiritual awakening brings into women’s lives who otherwise find themselves in the suffocating grind of domestic life 24×7. The message is as relevant today as it was all those years ago because basically, nothing has changed.
In the quest for enlightenment, men and women are equal. Emancipation is a matter of the heart—so why should it matter whether the individual who seeks it is a man or a woman? In reality however, women face many obstacles in their endeavors towards self-realization—more, perhaps, than in any other area of their lives.
My paper on Awakening Buddhist Women took an in-depth view of the worldwide efforts being made by women to seek a quality space for themselves. It included case studies of women on the spiritual path from different socio-economic, cultural and geographical backgrounds.
GER: Tell us about the poetry scene in your home town and in India at this point in time?
VA: Oh it’s rife with creativity and inspired writing! Of course you have the section of bad poets who write mediocre stuff and pass it off as art! But India does have its share of brilliant poets who’ve been published internationally, whose work has been evaluated by editors of world class journals accepted, published and occasionally even glorified.
That is very heartening to all aspiring and upcoming poets! It sets a benchmark of good writing standards and chisels ambitions to a fine tip.
Most cities organize poetry readings and literary festivals that provide a good platform for poetic interactions and also a good exposure for one’s writing. So many literary journals have mushroomed in the country! I just wish that the better ones amongst them continue to maintain a good standard of writing.
I must also mention here the amazing strength and depth of regional literature in India. My country has over 700 languages! So you can imagine the range of literature that sprouts from different corners of the country. It’s quite fascinating.
GER: Do you perform your poetry and if so what are the benefits to reading in front of a live audience?
VA: Yes I do. In fact I love doing live readings. It gives you an opportunity to connect with the pulse of your readers. Gives you instant feedback about your work and the joy of seeing your words settle in people’s hearts. The experience is quite matchless!
I’ve had youngsters approach me with endearing trepidation after my readings asking if they could keep in touch with me…I’ve had older, established poets come forth and comment on what they see as strengths in my poetry. These are all the delightful fall outs of live readings!
Also, when you read live, you portray not just your work but the entire ethos to which you belong. The way you dress, the way you carry yourself and the way you interact with fellow poets also helps to convey your sensibilities as a poet. It’s a wholesome experience that goes beyond the scope of mere words.
GER: What projects are you currently working on?
VA: As a poet, I have two manuscripts ready for publication. A couple of publishers have approached me but I am yet to make up my mind about how to go about it. I also want to bring out my collection of very short poems. You will probably see a lot of me in 2015 – I hope that’s a good thing!
I’m also helping one of my very dear colleagues to organize a top quality literary fest in the spring of 2015. Hopefully it will turn out to be one of its kind!
On the research front, I’m in the process of writing a book about Buddha’s journey from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath i.e. from his place of enlightenment to the place where he gave his very first sermon. The book is titled Two Full Moons. But it’s in its nascent stages as of now because it requires immense and intense research and my avenues are limited.
In general, poetry keeps me in its grip all the time. Like I said earlier, it’s a malaise…but with a sweet, dervish-like sting to it.
You can read the poetry of Vinita Agrawal in The Fox Chase Review at these links: http://www.foxchasereview.org/12AW/VinitaAgrawal.html http://www.thefoxchasereview.org/s14vagrawal.html
-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA) https://gereutter.wordpress.com/