Sarabjeet Garcha

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

Sarabjeet Garcha is a widely published bilingual poet and an editor, translator, and publisher. He is the author of A Clock in the Far Past, among other books of poems,besides a volume each of translated poetry and translated prose. He received a fellowship in Hindi literature (2013-14) from the Ministry of Culture of India. He has translated many American poets into Hindi, including W.S. Merwin and John Haines, and many Indian poets into English, including Mangalesh Dabral and Leeladhar Jagoori. Sarabjeet also co-founded and directs Copper Coin, a multilingual publishing enterprise, and lives with his family in Delhi NCR

 

Photo of Sarabjeet Garcha standing in front of bookshelves

What prompted your interest in poetry?

One day, on an otherwise uneventful morning in 1999, a book in a stack placed on a table outside the street-facing hall rented by the public library of Nasik, Maharashtra, to travelling booksellers caught my eye. I pulled it out. The name of the author seemed familiar, although I had never read him before: Pablo Neruda. It was a used bilingual (Spanish–English) edition of Residence on Earth on sale for only twenty rupees. I had read quite a bit of poetry before that, but nothing matched the raw vigour of this book. I read it hungrily, over and over again, and got hooked to poetry for life.

What are you reading?

I am reading Drysalter and Mancunia by Michael Symmons Roberts, Falling Awake by Alice Oswald, The Fact of a Doorframe by Adrienne Rich, The Notebooks of David Ignatow and Days When I Hide My Corpse in a Cardboard Box: Selected Poetry of Lok Fung translated by Eleanor Goodman. Also, Arun Kolatkar’s Bhijki Vahi (The Tear-Stained Notebook) in Marathi, and Viren Dangwal’s collected poems, Kavita Viren, in Hindi. Last year, I bought a book of poems online on an impulse: The Floating Man by Katharine Towers. It’s one of the most memorable books I’ve read in a long time. I find myself returning to it again and again.

How do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration when I am not consciously seeking it. Anything can trigger it, be it a friend’s SMS, a doodle in my children’s notebook, a long-forgotten event that flashes in the mind in vivid detail, or the sadness seeping out of the face of a stranger sitting opposite me on the train. When I find myself falling short of it, I begin translating. That’s my way of keeping close to the Muses even if they tire of me. And when even translation doesn’t work, I reread the authors who have never failed me.

Where do you write?

Mostly at home, although I’ve also written while on the train. Quite a bit of my writing happens when I am not at my desk. That way, the desk exists mostly for transcription. I’ve long considered the cell phone a nuisance, but it comes handy for taking notes. When I get bored with the keyboard, I write in longhand.

Why do you write?

All of us lead an inner life which barely resembles the life the world sees us live. A keen desire to express the space, place, seasons, topography, joys, wonders, undulations, and constant malleability of this shielded life is what compels me to write. All artists have their preoccupations and obsessions, which point them to subjects that demand to be written about. So do I. I write to remain alert enough to the lessons that life sends my way in various forms. Writing is a constant search for something unknown. It brings me closer to the clues leading to the treasure I have been after. It doesn’t matter who finds it first, but every new clue to it reaffirms the belief that there’s much more to this beautiful life than what our senses make of it collectively.

What is your advice for emerging poets?

Craft is most important in poetry, as it also is in other genres of writing, and one must keep honing it. Creation demands space, and one must not let this space be violated by any kinds of pressure. Devotion to solitude is essential, so is honesty. The rewards of artifice might seem tempting, but artifice can never replace art. There is no one way to discover the path that’s right for you, so be ready to walk many paths. Above all, be yourself, enjoy the journey, and always respect your co-passengers. And, if possible, make them feel loved.

What is the role of poets in shaping the future?

The best that poets can do is shape themselves. They should be concerned with personal growth in times that favour cruelty over kindness, hatred over love, stinginess over generosity. After all, it’s the personal that becomes universal, and clarity begins at home.

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