NILAVRONILL: Do you think literature or poetry is really essential in our life? If so why? And how does it relate to the general history of mankind?

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA: Literature has allowed us to step outside our sentiments, release our minds, and move in the expansive world created by words. The history of mankind becomes alive only when looked at through the prism of a poem, a song, a dogma of our tenderness, otherwise it is just a ruthless story of selfish conquests and destruction of the vanquished.

NILAVRONILL: Our readers would like to know your own personal experience regarding the importance of literature and poetry in your life. Why literature or poetry in specific interests you so much? Who were your favourite writers during the early period of your life? And how they have paved your early routes in literature?

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA: One of my earliest influences was my mother’s voice, her singing of songs of Kabir, Mira Bai and Surdas early in the morning. Mira’s love for Krishna, Surdas’s cravings to have a face to face encounter with Krishna and Kabir’s spirituality inspired me to reflect on what it means to be human and how to relish the beauty and meaning of their words. More I immersed in it, more it changed me. I was influenced also by a rich tradition of epic poetry of Homer, Virgil, Milton and Longfellow among others. John The last line of the poem “On His Blindness” by John Milton made a lasting impression on me as he reflects that he has a place in God’s world despite his disability by declaring “they also serve who stand and wait”. It made me think of blind poet Surdas and my mother’s singing with devotion, his poem “Darshan do Ghanshyam Nath mori ankhiya pyasi re”- an intense craving of a blind poet to see God.

NILAVRONILL: Do you think society as a whole, is the key factor in shaping you up as a poet, or your poetry altogether?

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA:  On the surface it may appear that a poet and his poetry is shaped by the society he lives in but deep down he may be trying to survive his own reality of thoughts or dreams and not to die of the truth. Sometimes you just need to stand up for yourself. Other than society, it’s the nature that shapes the inner and outer landscape of our minds as well as influences of science, decency, compassion and trust. Often my poetry is about friendship, humanity and the possibility of dreams coming true. I believe everything cross-pollinates and inspires us at an individual and collective level. I am inspired by the individuality of people and the vibrancy of cultures and traditions they follow and how cultures and traditions give shape and form to feelings, emotions and sentiments. Also writing down and expressing my own truth and thoughts is important to me. I write to share my emotions, dreams and images to help readers to reflect, relate and fill in the landscape with their own memories and regrets.

NILAVRONILL: 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?

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA: Its people who chose the kind of literature they want to read – oral, erudite or simplistic, not the consumerism. Historically literature has molded civilizations, triggered political changes and exposed injustice. It has inspired empathy and given people a new perspective on their lives and the lives of others. Whereas Consumerism has focused on the ways in which businesses can improve their relationships with customers as well as analyze and influence purchasing behavior. I am not sure how or if changes in purchasing behavior can affect the quality of literature created by writers and poets. In my heart I think it cannot.

NILAVRONILL: How do you relate your own self existence with your literary life in one hand, and the present time and the socio-political space around you, in the other.

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA: Life is struggle from which, through poetry and literature, we seek diversion. Many of the thinkers from Buddha and Lao Tzu to Aristotle and Montaigne have tried to philosophize their way to tranquility, without complete success. Poets like others have engaged in a lifelong struggle for happiness and love by seeking diversion from the misery of being while ignoring the sensation of life itself. We have to live in harmony with socio-political space around us. We don’t need to invent a way of life that would have everything. Just be it. In words of Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am” – as a poet, I may be surrounded by uncertainty and doubts but because I am, I must continue to exert myself. A concerted effort is needed to bridge literary life and socio-political surroundings.

NILAVRONILL: Please give us some idea about your own views on the contemporary Indian literature written in English.

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA: India has a unique literary history and tradition that extends back over 3,000 years. Indian English literature may have a relatively shorter history, but is nonetheless rich. The works of Indian authors writing in English are often to be found on the best-seller list. Modern Indian literature mirrors the diversity and vibrancy of today’s India. Indian fiction and poetry has offered an imaginative commentary on India’s socio-political realities in the context of its traditional cultures and spirituality. In the post-independence era poets like Nissim Ezekiel, Arun Kolatkar, and Jayanta Mahapatra have produced remarkable poetry in English.  From the 1970s onward, activist and feminist women writers have become major voices in Indian fiction.

NILAVRONILL:  Do you think in this age of information and technology the dimensions of literature have largely been extended beyond our preconceived ideas about literature in general? Now, in this changing scenario we would like to know from your own life experiences as a poet, writer and a creative soul; how do you respond to this present time?

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA: In this age of information and technology the dimensions that is emerging is focused on the ideas of bringing languages, cultures, arts and communities together with shared experiences through online social media and digital platforms. Live streaming has become a go-to tool for communicating during the pandemic.  Whether it’s a poetry recital, a live performance, or workshop, live streams are being used by individuals, and organizations large and small. In my experience this trend has helped poets move from periphery to the center stage. At this critical juncture, poets need to pause and reflect on how in the era of information, poetry can sustain us while recognizing an opportunity within our reach to influence and be influenced by others.

NILAVRONILL:  Do you believe all writers are by and large the product of their nationality? And what are the factors which pay dividends and which become obstacles for your ultimate growth as an international writer even beyond your time?

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA: With emerging technologies, the narrow confines of belonging to a specific nationality are becoming irrelevant. We must remember that the factors which will overcome obstacles and pay dividends are: the beauty of our hearts, depth of our souls, kindness of our actions, our capacity to love, ability to forgive, and knack to appreciate, absorb, and express. These factors will make us a good poet and others will recognize that even when we stay silent. I create things every day but it’s not about everything having to be a product or for somebody else’s expectations. I believe that my inner life is a spectrum of progressive transformations and experiments, rather than overly transactional. For me, creating is sustaining a private space where I allow myself to rest, to read, to cook, to play music, and nourish my callings of new imagery without knowing if that is wrong or right.

NILAVRONILL: Humanity has suffered immensely in the past, is still suffering around the world. We all know it well. But are you hopeful about our future? How do you react when innocent peoples suffer immensely in Gaza or in Iraq, Syria Afghanistan or elsewhere? Whether it is state sponsored terrorism or sponsored by individual terrorist groups. Innocent peoples are the first victims. Your response.

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA: If we watch news, we will know Gaza is gasping for breath, Iraq is bleeding, Syria is hurting and Afghanistan is trying to free herself from the outside tyranny. They are facing unrelenting challenges as to how to restore normalcy to live a peaceful life. There is an African proverb, “when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” When super powers, ideologies or religions fight it is the innocent people who suffer. People can get along, care for each other and share without any outside interference. The biggest challenge of our times is to control self-appointed promoters of obscure causes and vigilante who take law into their own hands.

NILAVRONILL: We all believe in individual liberty and human rights, yet these two are the constant targets of attacks from various quarter of power, even in India. How you would like to respond to this situation?

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA: For creativity to flow unhindered, diversity of opinions, is crucial.  It’s not enough to say that our constitution guarantees freedom of expression and fundamental human rights. It must be practiced and protected. Unfortunately, currently the authorities in India continue to use laws on sedition, defamation, and counterterrorism to crack down on personal freedoms and human rights. We need to have a strong and responsible opposition to remedy the situation. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “we need poets to change the world”. Poets simply can’t live in a void. They have to get involved and become effective agents of change in the society.

NILAVRONILL: Dear poet tell us; do you believe one day may be in the distant future this world will be a safer place for every new born? When we will see each other as an equal in dignity and embrace everybody as human being overcoming all the differences of ethnicity, religion, nationality, racism? Bringing the world altogether?

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA: Rabindranath Tagore once said, “every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.” I believe in our collective ability as human race to survive and flourish in any situation. It may sound like a utopia but we must strive for an inclusive society where we become ‘one’ despite our differences of beliefs, races, nationalities and color of our skins. We all know how challenging 2020 has been and continues to be. It ​has caged ​us ​within ​the constraints of ​our ​own boundaries, the confines of our own houses and the limits of our own borders. The pandemic has locked us down in a way never before conceivable. We are expected to be resilient, strong and to just carry on with the situation we are in but being normal in these abnormal times certainly is a difficult challenge. Lockdowns or voluntary isolation have exacerbated what is already a tough year for many, seemingly endless natural calamities and man-made catastrophes. However, it has also provided moments of hope and inspiration as frontline workers, donors, volunteers and neighbors have come together and made a difference.

NILAVRONILL:  Many thanks for spending such a wonderful time with us, we would like to conclude this interview with a personal note, are you satisfied about your own achievements in your life?  What are your plans for future? And how do you evaluate your contemporaries and what are your aspirations from the younger generation?

ASHOK K. BHARGAVA: I have had a very successful career. I am proud to have established myself commendably in a different culture and society than where I was born. I have a great many friends to get together from time to time and to travel. In that sense, I have a satisfactory and full life. My passion for poetry has allowed me to express myself without fear and have liberated me through the process of expressing myself. Once my son said to me, “Dad your poetry is good but don’t quit your day job” and I took it literally. I compose poetry without any expectation of monetary payback. The gift of poetry as a medium has helped me constantly to recreate myself. The idea of what is a poem, changes for me all the times and the only constant is, “I am a poem and I create it.” In short, I can summarize my life as:

I am the fire

I am the moth

drawing to myself

flapping my wings

to flames of love

I plan to publish my next poetry book in 2021 and continue to pursue poetry and spirituality. Spirituality to me is opening up our minds and souls to the beauty of nature and the dominions of humanity and the animal kingdom in love, peace and respect. Only when we accept and love ourselves, will the world around us accept and love us back too.

In a world where there is so much pain and hatred amidst hope, love and goodness, being spiritual is choosing love over hate, hope over despair and practicing acceptance and tolerance.

ASHOK BHARGAVA is a poet, essayist, writer, public speaker and a community activist. Writing in English and Hindi, he has published several collections of his poems. He is a founding-president of WIN: Writers International Network and GOPI: Group of Poets International.

He has been an honored guest to literary conferences in Turkey, Italy, South Korea and the Philippines. He is recipient of Poets without Borders Peace Award, Washington USA, Nehru Humanitarian Award, University of BC Canada, Poet Laureate, Axlepin, Philippines and Uluslararsi Sair Award, Istanbul, Turkey.


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