NILAVRONILL: Do you think literature or poetry is really essential in our life? If so why?
SUNIL KAUSHAL: The power of words is undeniable, be it to record the past, the present or conceive the future. They have the power to give form to ideas, to spark new ideas by allowing us to peep into the lives of those who walked this earth before us, for words outlive the lives of the speakers and writers. Literature and poetry are means of using words to describe what different people live through at different stages of our ever-growing cultures. They are a form of expression that reflects the author’s psyche. If anyone was ever awake to the joys of living it was minstrels and troubadours. Poets have been inspiring the public in times of war, calamities and sufferings by composing or singing songs that awaken patriotism and national pride. Social issues are highlighted by writers, awakening mass awareness, rekindling the fire for change and encouraging action to stem the rot. Confessional writing, both prose and poetry is a form of catharsis for the writer, acting as a stress buster. It is essential for a creative person to channelize his heightened sensibility in a way that is both pleasurable for him, and imparts joy or knowledge to others.
NILAVRONILL: How does it relate to the general history of mankind?
SUNIL KAUSHAL: If it was not for literature we would never know about the evolution of the human species. The Egyptians left behind records of their civilization through hieroglyphics and paintings. The Romans and Greeks had great accuracy in writing as did the Indians. But much of the Indian culture and folklore was lost or mutated, being handed down as oral history and now that it is documented, the written word makes it more authentic and easily accessible be it history, geography, arts, culture, politics, medicine, philosophy, religion or what have you. Digitalization has made matters easier still where a finger’s click opens myriads of vistas.
NILAVRONILL: Our readers would like to know your own personal experience regarding the importance of literature and poetry in your life.
SUNIL KAUSHAL: I was a very quiet and introverted child, given to daydreaming. I was also frail and sickly, so having to stay in bed often, books became my alternate world, I got hooked to reading at a very young age and was a diligent student also. I loved studies. My essays were circulated in the senior classes as well, which encouraged me to keep writing better. In college I wrote poetry and short stories for the college magazine. Later, as a medical practitioner, I saw the seamier side of life very intimately. Every patient who came to me carried stories of suffering. Most often stories of deprivation, abuse, crushed dreams, suppression of expression, barbaric oppression, and desperate living on the edge of a dark abyss, unfolded during the course of my patients’ interactions with me. Like an emotional sponge, my head and heart absorbed their stories and wove poetry around the spindle of their suffering. I lived their pain vicariously and many a patient and her family, found their way into the pages of my diaries or even scraps of paper, sometimes the narrow white margins of newspapers even. But I kept my writings hidden from other eyes, too shy to share with anyone. Once I showed my poems to a friend. She said my writings were too raw and disturbing for her. I never shared with anyone after that but continued writing; it relieved me of emotional baggage as well as channelized my creativity. Six years ago at age 70, I learnt to use a computer, its technical intricacies, and the different ways of using it for writing on Facebook. Initially, a writing group for amateur women writers, asked me to subscribe. My poems were appreciated and soon I was pleasantly surprised as I kept winning contests. That encouraged me a lot and in a chain reaction thing accelerated. The first short story that I wrote for an anthology on child abuse, published six years ago, received very good reviews. Soon my poems and short stories were published in several national and international anthologies, along with winning contests and being awarded by renowned national and international poetry groups. In 2019, my first solo flight with my memoirs, Gypsy Wanderings & Random Reflections, being published, fetched me the Nissim Award given by for ‘exquisite prose’ from the prestigious International group, The Significant League. Being a retired obstetrician-gynecologist, I have several stories to draw from the lives of my patients. Having lived seventy-five summers I have garnered experiences of every hue. Writing is my passion and full-time joy now. It has helped me reinvent my life at an age when most people feel life has abandoned them.
NILAVRONILL: Who were your favorite writers during the early period of your life? And how they have paved your early routes in literature?
SUNIL KAUSHAL: As a child my favourite authors were The Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Anderson, R. L. Stevenson, Enid Blyton. I read almost everything that I could lay my hands upon. I would carefully open paper bags in which household provisions came those days. The newspapers lining kitchen shelves or cupboards with a comic strip or a children’s story in a Sunday newspaper, were another source of reading for me. In my teens I was reading The Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Baroness Orczy and gradually my interest moved on to Ruskin Bond, R. K. Narayan. I mostly read classics. Thomas Hardy, Keats, Shelly, Wordsworth, the Russian writers like Gorky, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Boris Pasternak influenced me a lot. P G Wodehouse, Earle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie were for light reading. Among the Indian writers, Tagore, Mulk Raj Anand, Kamla Das, Anita Desai, besides several others. I read the Hindi writings of Prem Chand, Mahadevi Verma ji, Nirala ji, Sahir Ludhianvi, although I had a very rudimentary knowledge of Hindi. Shiv Batalvi , Amrita Pritam, Nanak Singh were my favourite Punjabi poets who also influenced my writing. I am self- taught in Punjabi, never having studied it, so passionate was I to read these writers. In my early writings Enid Blyton, Ruskin Bond, Kamala Das and R. K. Narayan influenced my style and thoughts.
NILAVRONILL: Now coming back to the present time, do you think people in general actually bother about literature in general? Do you think this consumerist world is turning the average man away from serious literature?
SUNIL KAUSHAL: What you say about the consumerist world turning the average man away from literature is to a great extent true. Today one is trapped in acquiring far more than one’s needs and for that the rat race has become faster than ever before. People neither spare time nor are interested in anything else. What does not translate into money is considered superfluous by them. Fortunately there are people who as intellectuals, creative artists, , philosophers, educationists of all types, or ordinary folks seeking entertainment or knowledge are interested in reading good literature.
NILAVRONILL: Now if we try to understand the tradition and modernism, do you think literature can play a pivotal role in it? If so, how?
SUNIL KAUSHAL: Traditional literature was handed down as an oral art and was limited to families or the Guru–Shishya tradition. It took the form of myths, fables, epics, ballads, legends, folk tales, folk rhymes and fairy tales. The narrator and performers were adept at weaving tales that held the community or village groups knitted together and served as a unifying and bonding force, irrespective of religion or class. Ram Lila performances are a perfect example, when Muslim artisans in Uttar Pradesh spend months making the effigies of Ravana and his two companions, for a Hindu festival. Different communities celebrate each other’s festivals jointly even today. Christmas celebrations and Halloween are for the whole world just as Diwali at Leicester, UK is one of the best in the world. The vehicle of this globalization is literature, the written word disseminating knowledge and spreading awareness. Traditional literature had certain fixed rules which influenced societal behavior and established traditions. Today when this chaotic world is a complicated place to live in, going back in time through literature will give us insights into old traditions and values which served humanity well. Literature is a reflection of humanity and a way for us to understand each other. In modern times the role of literature has become all the more important as society is becoming more and more detached. Unless we hear other voices we do not understand how another person thinks, stunting our growth. Some books mirror society and we learn more about the world we live in. In modern times these are big trendsetters.The human conflicts going on in the world are also highlighted through literature. Modern literature has more flexible rules and is often an innovation of different creative forms, influencing modern society in different ways by its multihued character.
NILAVRONILL: Again, how can an individual writer relates himself or herself with the tradition and modernism?
SUNIL KAUSHAL: I feel a writer should write because he wants to write and not think of it as modern or traditional. T. S. Eliot says tradition means a historical timelessness which is inclusive of the past, the present and envisages the future also somewhat. So whatever new is written by the modern writer, sooner or later becomes a part of the traditional. There is never a total breaking off of the two into two separate eras so the writer has to straddle both the traditional as the foundation on which he raises his/her modern edifice.
NILAVRONILL: Do you think society as a whole, is the key factor in shaping you up as a poet, or your poetry altogether?
SUNIL KAUSHAL: Yes, I have, like every other human being, been affected by society in making me who I am today. From childhood we learn about the rules and regulations governing society and are taught to live within those parameters although there were times when I rebelled against certain restrictions. At the core I am a free spirit and like to carve and walk my own path. In my world of words, I have created my own kingdom where my word rules. Family, school, siblings, peers, friends are all products of societal do’s and dont’s and this is the basic skeleton on which our SELF is moulded. Anything and everything that happened to me or around me affected my emotions which dictated what I wrote. Being a dreamer, my writing is also coloured by my fantasies which again are triggered by the stimuli my brain conjures up or receives. With age, seeking for spiritual paths out of life’s labyrinthine lanes, our ancient Indian wisdom and some help from different religions also influenced my writings. I am not a ritualistic practitioner of any religion- born a Sikh, I grew up in Roman Catholic Christian schools, attended an American Protestant college, married into a Hindu family, and growing up as a secular army officer’s daughter, I was exposed to many cultures and religions, and ended up believing in humanism!
NILAVRONILL: Coming to the present time, how does politics in general influence you in your writings?
SUNIL KAUSHAL: I am not inclined towards politics at all. In my early twenties I was very impressed by the persona of Indira Gandhi as an empowered woman. But politics is a fickle mistress, changing moods every moment and beyond my understanding. I do not buy a newspaper or listen to the news on TV for 15 years or more perhaps, as it is neither reliable nor palatable, nor can I make any contribution or changes. Yes, I do get disturbed by the condition of the world we live in today and write poems raising my voice loudly against social maladies. Some prize-winning poems of mine are about the marginalized. I have written about rape, domestic violence, against patriarchy and misogyny, Kashi widows, trans-genders, differently abled people, discrimination against different ‘categories’ of humans (based on caste, colour, creed, gender, age, social status) BUT when did all this give politicians nights of insomnia?? Finding solutions to these inhumanities does not fit into the nefarious schemes of our pot-bellied, greedy, corrupt leaders. They are busy brewing a witch’s brew to brain wash and suppress the public. So, I waste no time in listening to the news and bombarding my brain with negativity and fake news. Instead of whipping up anger against false narratives, I spend time bettering myself.
NILAVRONILL: Are you feminist? Can literature play any decisive role in feminism at all?
SUNIL KAUSHAL: Being a woman, I certainly am a feminist but let me clarify what feminism means to me. A feminist to me means being a woman or being feminine, a quality that allows me to believe in a world not as it is, but as it should be, just as a mother, nurtures her family with the same attitude towards each child. To me being a feminist does not in any way mean being anti-men as is interpreted by many. It is a belief in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes. Feminism in the early 1900’s became an organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. As always political interference and other vested parties sadly twisted it into a battle of the sexes. I am equally vocal and assertive in fighting in favour of women if it is another woman playing foul. As Lioness Club President in 1983, I did a lot of work for women’s rights for which I was awarded Best Lioness President Asia, Award. Literature and literacy are the best means of spreading awareness among women about their rights and what they can do to escape all the atrocities heaped upon women and even girls. An educated woman is empowered to fight back against injustice, to be financially independent, knows how to go about in the world carving a niche for herself. Poets and writers can spread the word that will reassure women in trouble, show them the path forwards and encourage them by reading about other women of grit, determination and courage. Through reading they can find similar examples of women fighting injustice even during times gone by.
NILAVRONILL: Do you believe that all writers are by and large the product of their nationality and is it an incentive or an obstacle for becoming a truly international writer?
SUNIL KAUSHAL: This may have been true for writers during ancient times when travel was limited, difficult, dangerous, and took years to reach another country. Exposure to the language, culture or history of other nations was little known or unknown to most, except a handful of scholars, mystics or philosophers who travelled afar to seek esoteric knowledge. Today when the world is considered one large village, travelling all over the world, having become a common thing, writers are exposed to and influenced by cultures of all types. For example, the writing style of English writing Indian authors like R.K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, Kamla Das, Anita Desai is very different from the Chetan Bhagats or Arundhati Roys of today who have a more global outlook. Nationality is no obstacle to becoming a truly international writer during these times.
NILAVRONILL: What role can literature play to make our lives better on a day to day basis?
SUNIL KAUSHAL: There is no limit to learning all one’s life. At every step one learns and betters the quality of life. What better way to learning than through books, whether physical or virtual. Literature is the magic wand that opens up the whole wide world to browse, study, travel and get entertained by, sitting in the comfort of one’s most comfortable chair or where you will. Thank you so much NilavroNill Shoovro for this wonderful opportunity to share about myself as a person and a writer-poet. This was a wonderful invigorating interview, making me pause to consider and answer some questions. It has been a total delight being interviewed by you.
Dr. SUNIL KAUSHAL studied in schools all over India, her father having been an army officer. Her nomadic life visiting and living in new towns every 2 years has been very interestingly chronicled in her debut book of memoirs, Gypsy Wanderings& Random Reflections. She attended college at one of the most prestigious colleges of Asia, Isabella Thoburn College, Lucknow, India, going on to doing medical studies at Govt. Medical college, Amritsar, India, followed by 40 years of practise in Obstetrics-Gynaecology at Jalandhar, Punjab, India. Although she has been writing sporadically since her childhood, her writings were carefully tucked away from the public eye. At age 70 she learnt to use a computer and started writing full time, sharing her poetry and prose online. She is pleasantly surprised to discover the poet/writer in herself being recognised, as she keeps winning contests and awards going on to judging contests on many platforms. This trilingual writer writes in English, Hindi and her mother tongue Punjabi which National and International anthologies and magazines, some of her poems have been translated into French, German and Greek. Off and on she dabbles in haiku, micro-poetry and limericks as well. Her writing is mostly woman-centric, man-woman relationships, romantic, sensuous, and about the marginalized. She also writes philosophical and spiritual poetry.
One thought on “TALKING WITH POET SUNIL KAUSHAL”
Such a joy reading your interview. Your journey is awe inspiring and your persona so sensitive and gracious. Being a great fan of your works, reading your views on literature and the world was really interesting for me. Looking forward to more of your engaging poems in the coming months.