Bina Sarkar Ellias

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

Bina Sarkar Ellias is a poet, founder-editor, designer and publisher of International Gallerie, an award-winning global arts and ideas journal encouraging understanding of cultural diversity. She is also an art curator and fiction writer. Her book of poems Fuse has a Chinese edition and selected poems have been translated into Arabic, Urdu, French,and Greek. Her recently launched book When Seeing Is Believing is a selection of ekphrastic poems responding to art and photographic images. She received a Fellowship from the Asia Leadership Fellow Program 2007, the Times Group Yami Women Achievers’ Award in 2008, and the FICCI/FLO, India 2013 Award for Excellence in her work.

Photo of Bina Sarkar

What prompted your interest in poetry?
Poetry has always been an irresistible compulsion. Delighted as I was with the infinite possibilities in imagery, with the rhythm and cadence of words, most of my childhood and early youth included scribbles on random scraps of paper. While I wrote through my life, I remained a closet poet until a poet friend discovered them and surprised me by having a chapbook of some of my poems published. The sharing of thoughts opened new windows of learning. While it is a solitary practice, its engagement with diverse readers lends a joy and an energy that is not quantifiable. Poetry wires me to the universe in a contemplative sense.

What are you reading?
Between punctuations of the all-consuming editing, designing and publishing of International Gallerie, I re-savour passages in old favourite books and journey into new ones. These are books of poems, fiction, non-fiction. From Allen Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda, Derek Walcott, Ramanujan & Agha Shahid Ali, to Lewis Carroll, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gunter Grass, John Berger, Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchens and Edward Said.

How do you find inspiration?
Inspiration appears unannounced, when least expected. It could be from a monsoon cloud, a newspaper report, or a child on the street. It could be a response to political crises. Or a work of art. It could be a crack on the wall or a sublime sunset. It could be the seed of a thought that fast-forwards uncontrollably into a poem. They are like waves that wash onto the shores of my mind.

Where do you write?
No particular location. Often during travels. At airports, in trains, in distant lands. Often in the middle of the night when I wake up with a thought. Since technology offered its practical and charming use of the phone for notes, much of my current meanderings are in that tiny silo called the iPhone.

Why do you write?
There is no reason. It is a force within. An irrepressible need to unleash one’s hidden thoughts. But perils of mediocrity nudge me to doubt myself all the time. Therefore, one hones and polishes the contours of a thought, sometimes stretching the process to its optimum; yet, I also feel a simple but eloquent thought can perhaps resonate with the reader more serendipitously.

What is your advice for emerging poets?
I’m not really qualified to advise emerging poets. As I feel I am one and shall always be…emerging!

What is the role of poets in shaping the future?
Poets are often unaware of their strength. Words can be powerful tools for reaching people, disseminating ideas, building bridges across oceans…I believe it is culture that ultimately humanises. We need to open up the minds of children with poems that are not just playful or lyrical but poems that encourage enquiry, poems that discourage war and violence (not celebrate them), poems of peace, the joys of co-existence and compassion. For instance, Tennyson’s iconic poem Charge of the Light Brigade that we grew up with, glorifies the soldier and the army even as it reflects upon death and destruction; the one line that appears twice in his verses, “All the world wondered” stayed with me since early years. That line highlighted for me, the futility of hate, war and violence on this brief and often unmapped journey called Life.

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