Gujarat based Vihang A. Naik is considered to be one of the prominent Indian contemporary poets writing in English. His poems have appeared in many literary journals and publications. He also translates Gujarati poetry into English. By profession a teacher, Vihang’s unique ( 7 blank page poem titled Self Portrait ) anthology “City Times and Other Poems” has been receiving rave reviews from critics and the book lovers across the country and overseas.
Recently Spectralhues got in touch with this author. Here are some excerpts from an interview Vihang A Naik gave to Susmita Bose.
Congratulations on the resounding feedback for the book “City Times and Other Poems”! Please tell us how it feels to be considered as noted Indian poet.
I feel that I have now enough copies as this poetry in English is, if you consider, chronology of my poetical works, is first. Of course, I burnt my first collection which was reviewed or then taken note of in Indian Express (Baroda edition , if I remember , Friday March 25 1994 ) by the then Baroda resident editor of Indian Express Shri. N. P. Krishna Kumar reviewing my work giving title of his article as “Portrait of the Poet as a Young Man” which covered the news. The then Prof. P. Lal was kind enough to bring out my maiden poetical from his Writers’ Workshop, Calcutta in 1993. It is modest traditional publishing house with traditional handmade Calcutta sari book jacket with minimum print out which soon ran out of print. The question was to republish and reaching wider circle of readers. Now that it is receiving good reviews I feel that the journey has begun.
Your book is an attempt to describe a man’s inner insecurity, sensitivity and despair through poetry. Please tell us more about this anthology?
“City Times and Other Poems” takes place at two levels. On one level, it is about a city and a very human story about the world. On another, it is a metaphysical journey and a tale of self-discovery. In a way it is a product of today’s society and with that I hope to awaken my readers to a new level of existence.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a published writer?
I was never aware that I was writer or to be precisely a published writer but whatever I wrote. Of course, mostly poetical works from, I think, 1990 onward, soon got published. I never got rejection slip or the editors I sent, published my works. I remember the then editor in chief Prof. Nissim Ezekiel at Indian P.E.N sent me back a poem ( through his secretary ) requesting my permission for some alternation of the poem titled “Are You Looking for That Poet ?” so that it could be included in leading poetry journal The Indian P.E.N which was brought out from the Theosophy Hall , Bombay . I found the edits in newer light, moreover, interesting. I permitted. The poem saw in print in the then leading poetry journal of India. The same poem was included in a syllabus of Shivaji University in India. I came to know when I received one complimentary copy of Bachelor of Arts course book which included the same poem.
When do you get time to write?
I have no fix time. But whenever, the muse prompts me I soon take up my pen and scribble it. It may come as a though or a feeling that I may have felt. Most of it is not direct writing. It needs to be worked and I often reworked. There is less of inspiration and more of hard workings and reworks. There is a craft involved. It is like a sculptor who chisels out his art from stone to make masterpiece.
What is your expectation from City Times and Other Poems?
The city includes everything. Human nature while living in a city, the way city creates underdogs as well as skyscrapers and the effect on human lives. It was market places and crowds. It was also love, memory, pain, exile and alienation, knowledge and wisdom. One would search for meaning or purpose in life while living in a city. Of course, behind everything it was ultimately, discovery of the self.”
Which one is your favorite poem in this anthology?
The anthology has definite structure. Though it came out naturally. It has inbuilt inner structure as well. I tried to City Times which includes seven poems or it is one long poem in seven parts where I did experiment with my poetical art. It is an experimental works with some typography involved. I like almost all my poems. But since you ask for specific poem, I would recommend last section with title
Although novels pull more money than poetry selling in India, but still we are seeing a new breed of Indian poets are coming out in the market, what motivates you all to continue despite lack of publishing support?
It is indeed a burning question. There is no more encouragement from book publishers. There are big publishing house out there with their agenda of making profit. There are many significant literary journals in India and abroad. But book industry has its own politics and economics. It is indeed a bigger question and require in-depth market analytics and research. I don’t know but there is something within me that tells me to continue. May be some day I may have scholarly reply to this question.
What is your opinion about the standard of current poetry writing in India? What can be done to popularize poetry in India?
This question should have been first. It is the best question of our contemporary society. With the advent of newer technologies and in the age electronics and internet still making inroads in India I feel poetry has much to offer. Contemporary Indian poetry writing is found at the best in some of the literary journals published from India. Of course, I get to read Indian poetry published from outside India as well. Good writings need encouragement form literary journals which are now there in India. Then it depends on editors to choose, edit and publish. As I said that some journals are doing well like Sahitya Akadmi bi-monthly Indian Literature, The Journal of the Poetry Society of India ( New Delhi ), Kavya Bharati and so on and so forth. But book publishing, one feels, still a thorough publishing house has to arrive in India dedicated to Indian poetry. It is then standard be recognized and branded. As to your second question we have see other nations they have National Poetry Week or Days or Day. There is underground poetry, in trains and metro stations. There are signboard which can reach masses. While talking of India the entire education system needs to change. Teachers need to sensitize towards poetry. So in return the pupils respond to poetry in true way. In a way we may see a new age of human being and coming of new psyche
Who are the notable authors who have influenced your writing?
I read a lot while as a child. I grew up in Gujarat. I came across experimental writing since my childhood of books written in English as well Gujarati. I read translations of Indian Literature into English as well but as human my literary taste change and changes, as a child I was exposed to book from Baroda Book exhibition and its reading culture. I read classics, modern and post-modern and critics call and now may add one more post to post modern in west. But I enjoyed what I read. I read literature from all over the world translated which came to me translated into English. Of course, I get influenced. One does not write in a vacuum. The writer is a product of its time.
Do you have any parting words for the aspiring poets?
“Parting is sweet sorrow, good bye till we meet tomorrow”
Thank You Mr. Naik! It was pleasure talking to you. On behalf of Spectralhues, I wish you glorious success and hope you would come up with many more remarkable books.City Times and Other Poems Vihang A Naik Vihang A Naik interview Vihang Naik