Yogesh Maitreya

Five Minutes With is a series of interviews with contemporary poets from India. 

Yogesh Maitreya is a translator, poet, short story writer, curator, publisher at Panther’s Paw Publication, and PhD scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He has been a contributor at Scroll.in, Buzzfeed, EPW, Roundtable India, TwoCircles.net, and The Baroda Pamphlet. At present, he regularly contributes for Firstpost and Indian Cultural Forum. He has published a poetry collection entitled The Bridge of Migration. He has translated renowned Dalit writers such as J.V. Pawar, Namdeo Dhasal, Arun Kale, Nagraj Manjule,  Pradnya Daya Pawar and Loknath Yashwant. For his Doctoral research, he is working on the role of music-songs in the making of anti-caste movement in India.

Photo of Yogesh Maitreya

What prompted your interest in poetry?
For centuries, my ex-untouchable community has been prohibited from reading and writing. There were harsh and inhumane punishments, such as molten lead being poured into the ears, if we could even mistakenly listen to the ‘sacred’ chants of brahmin’s Vedas and Smrutis. Yet, connection with poetry in Maharashtra is several centuries old that goes back to the time of Chokhamela, a Mahar saint poet from the thirteenth century. Owning this history, it was only after the arrival of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in social life, our community had acquired radical consciousness. Prohibited from reading, writing, and hearing, poetry thus became the most convenient literary form for us to express ourselves in a way we want to and we should. My everyday experiences under caste society prompts me to write poetry, so that I can explain to the world the subtleties of caste-oppression that governs myself even if I do not want to associate with it.

What are you reading?
At present, I am reading Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s Questions For Ada, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Umberto Eco’s Inventing The Enemy, Vachana poetry from Karnataka, Agha Shahid Ali’s The Country Without Post Office, and Collcted Poems Lal Singh Dil who is the brilliant dalit poet from Punjab.

How do you find inspiration?
I do not need to find inspiration to write poetry. For me, writing poetry is a task, an act within the larger Dalit movement against caste. I write poems because I can not help it given the brutal nature of experience under caste society which people like me and my community has to go through. Hence, writing poetry is not a choice. It is a practice for me so that I can narrate and document the personal and emotional history as being one of the representatives of my community. For me, writing poetry is also another form of writing history of myself, my generation and my community because our had been and is being distorted by upper-caste literary writers in their writings in India for centuries.

Where do you write?
I do not have any particular place to write. I write in my hostel room. I write while travelling in train and a thought of poem comes across my mind. I sometimes write while talking to people because I think people carry lots of poetry with themselves which I  sometime decipher and can not help but to put it in words.

Why do you write?
I write in order to be alive in history. I write so that I can tell the future generations the history of my emotions, people I connected with, people whom I loved and hated, and more importantly, how I lived being one of the members of their community. I write to be a reference for my future generation.

What is your advice for emerging poets?
Never disown people in your poems from whom you inherit the poetry. It is the labour of the people which provides space to the poet to write. But very often poets turn out to be ungrateful creatures and tread on the metaphysical and mystic path while writing the poems. Those poets are rare in whose poetry you can see the reflection of the society as well as insights that would guide your emotions in the present and future. Hence, never disown people in your poems from whom you inherit the poetry.

What is the role of poets in shaping the future?
Poets play different roles at different times and space. If I am writing today, and if my poems will not reveal the secret history, social and personal, of my time in the future, then my poems will face the doom. In this sense, a poet must contemplate on his present while writing poems so that it could guide the future generation of the poets to shape the course poetry and enhance it. When we talk about the future, and poetry, I think, poets play an important role in preserving the language which is on the verge of forgotten by making it sure that it exists in their poems. Since the future is not without the human-society, the role of a poet is to provide the most intimate emotional history of his time to the future generation. So that they can nourish and enhance the emotional state of the future society.

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