Centre for Stories

Jane Bhandari

"My father wrote letters to the editor. I write poems. I hope they have influenced people for the better."

is a series of interviews with contemporary poets from India. Jane Bhandari was born in Edinburgh in 1944 and has lived in India for over fifty years. Her poems have appeared in Rattapallax, Fulcrum, The Little Magazine, and on websites such as HOW2, Talking Poetry (Open Space), and Softblow. It has also been anthologised in Both Sides of the Sky, To Catch a Poem, and Sixty Indian Poets. Jane’s work engages with daily life, relationships, and languageWhat prompted your interest in poetry?
I have written poetry since I was a student but it was sporadic because I was at art college. Instead of doing on the spot sketches, I wrote brief notes on colour and form, and sometimes a thumbnail sketch of the scene. I think my poems arise from this. I continued to write on and off after marriage. The notebooks are somewhere around. None of those early poems are published as yet. However, I really started writing after my first husband died. I found that I could express my feelings through poetry.

What are you reading?
A mixture. Arundhathi Subramaniam’s recent collection, Adil Jussawalla’s collected poems, John Updike, Priya Chabria, a recent collection by an Israeli poet, and at night, a murder mystery by J K Rowling. I rarely read a book of poems in one sitting, but dip in and out, sometimes looking up another poet that resonates with the first.

How do you find inspiration?
That’s hard to say. Something I see promotes a phrase, and the poem grows out of that. I never sit down to consciously write a poem. I find commissioned work hard to do until I can find a peg. The same with reviews. A notebook is a must, because you may think, oh that’s a good idea! And by the time you get home or finish your meal it has evaporated. Your phone can act as a notebook too.

Where do you write?
Anywhere, in a car, in my study, on planes…I carry a tiny notebook. At the end of the day or perhaps the next day I review the notes and work on them. We recently visited Ooty for five days and I was able to work early morning or in the afternoon because I had so much free time. Otherwise, a housewife fits her writing in between chores. You learn to snatch those free moments when raising a family!

Why do you write?
One of my poems explains this. It’s an itch that will not be scratched. I have to write. If I don’t, I get fidgety. Having said that, I do sometimes have spells when I’m not writing new poems but editing older work. As now: I’m putting together a collection of city poems. Not doing a lot of other writing because so many need editing. Almost all my poems undergo extensive pruning and rearranging. There are a few that have never been changed, but they are very few. Occasionally a poem writes itself so felicitously that you dare not tinker with it. But I keep all the edited versions and the original in case I change my mind.

What is your advice for emerging poets?
Keep writing! Don’t allow the lack of inspiration to stop you. Keep a notebook, and you will have plenty of ideas to dip into when you think there is nothing to write about. Photos, headlines, they are all triggers.

What is the role of poets in shaping the future?
I think we are all in a way activists whether it’s for gender equality, gay rights, or the environment, anything that stirs the emotions. Bullying is one. The right to live together without marrying. That’s still a taboo in many places. My father wrote letters to the editor. I write poems. I hope they have influenced people for the better.