Sohail: I thought I would take this opportunity to talk to you about both
your literary and personal lives and ask you a few questions. Let me start
by sharing my impression of your creative life that I have developed in the
last few years I have known you. I think you go through two distinct phases:
an active phase when you have an outburst of creative energy and you write a
lot for a few weeks and a dry phase when you don't write anything at all.
This dry or slow phase might last for a few weeks or months. Do you think my
impression is correct?
This is absolutely true. There have been several distinct periods
when I have written a lot. The poems included in my volume of verses "Dairay"
were essentially composed over a period of two years (1977-78). In late
1970s I was going through a transitional phase in my life and had lots of
time to myself. Then again, I was very prolific during 1984-86. This was
after my move to Paris. The periods when I am especially active often
coincide with the absence of my family on extended vacations.
Sohail: Did you have a burst of creative energy when you first came to Paris?
Abrar: No, not immediately. It was after a few months following a period of
adjustment to the new environment.
You also mentioned that you did a lot of creative writing when your
family was away and you were living by yourself. Do you see any association
between the two?
Abrar: A very definite association. I am more productive when I am by
myself. It gives me time to reflect intensively and without interruption. A
reasonably long period of being alone is very important. And I have not had
this now for some time. I am also very stimulated when I travel alone.
Sohail: Does that mean that in your routine day to day life when you are
working and spending time with your family, you are quite distant from your
Abrar: That's right, on the average.
How do you feel when you aren't able to devote time to your writing
for several weeks?
Well, recently it is more like several years! However, during this
period my professional work, which is research oriented and quite demanding,
has absorbed much of my after-work energies. So, I do not feel constipated.
In literary writing I do not like to force the pace. And, by nature, I am
more interested in quality than the sheer number of pieces I turn out. I am
reminded of what a Professor at the University of Chicago, a Nobel Laureate,
used to tell us. A friend of his wanted to shame him by pointing out that a
particular former student of his had written five times as many articles as
the Professor. He replied, "Yes, it is true; but you see, mine are all
The last poem I wrote was five years ago. Since then I feel that I
have left my mind as fallow land ... in a state of apparent inactivity while
rejuvenating its creative potential, keeping my mind wide open in a state of
perpetual bewilderment. I think in due course poems will flow again. The
long period of hibernation is partly because of the fact that in Paris I am
cut off from Urdu literary circles. Also, when I returned from my trip to
Pakistan and India in early 1987 I was somewhat turned off. I met many
genuine literary personalities, but
among the majority I found genuine interest in literature lacking, and too
thickly overlaid by pointless group rivalries. It took me some time to get
over this unpleasant taste.
How would you summarize your creative experience?
In light of what I have just said, my comment would have to be
somewhat dated, based on recall. Several common features or patterns are
apparent. First of all, the act of actual writing for me is an experience of
intense unification of the whole being, in a way that one becomes oblivious
of one's surroundings and the passage of time. It is both mental and
physical to the point of being physically exhausting. The only close
parallel I can draw is with sexual activity, at its peak, except that the
latter is short-lived and more physical in comparison.
The build-up though, is over a much longer time span -- it's hard to
tell when it begins. For me, its roots are in conflicts of one sort or
another. Typically, this has occurred in the form of collision of my
inherited value structure with what I came across as I read more widely and
especially as I came to Canada. I could not simply live with an opposing set
of presuppositions and value structures ... the conflicts were just too
great. My disposition is such that to be meaningful to me I must understand
things at an intellectual level. In practical day to day life I can go on
living with contradictions, and accepting them, as long as I am able to
understand and resolve them mentally. The day to day conflicts to me are
specific examples of broader life examples. Whenever I have found some ray
of light in resolving these broader conflicts it has almost always resulted
in my creating poetry. As if, in the process of creating poetry I was
travelling from the mental to the emotional plane assimilating my ideas.
So, I would say that conflicts of one sort or another and their
possible resolution have been an integral part of my creative process.
The conflicts have most often surfaced during prolonged periods of
loneliness. After all, loneliness is the essence of the human experience.
The other period of a burst of creative activity was during the period of my
romantic experience. Most of my ghazals are a product of this time, which
were written in the late seventies.
When did you visit India and Pakistan?
In January 1987. When I came back from that trip I wrote a number of
poems and by my standards good ones too. I found things disintegrating
inside me so I wrote a poem named "Mohenjodaro". The main theme
was that the "Khandarat" the ruins of `Mohenjodaro' are there for
all to see. But we are also living in times when everything is
disintegrating around us and that is a living `Mohenjodaro' ... all around
us but invisible.
That is a powerful theme.
Let me come back to your lifestyle in Paris. Do you think it is
significantly different than it was in Ottawa?
Living in Paris has its positive and negative sides. The positive
side is that living in a different society is a unique experience. The new
people I meet and the beauty of Paris are so stimulating. A new job also
gives me a sense of self-fulfilment. That has released a bit of energy in
The negative side is that I don't have a Urdu literary atmosphere
around me and I have difficulties going out and creating one for myself.
The other thing that has limited me recently is my preoccupation with
writing prose. I had some ideas that needed to be expressed in prose but
they did not materialize. Rather I was involved with an English magazine
named "Frank" and translated a few of my poems in English. I have
also been wondering how far writing in Urdu would take me. The people who
saw my translations were reasonably supportive and I wondered why I
shouldn't try that medium of expression. So I composed a few poems in
English but for some reason I have never finished them, leaving them
During that period I also made contact with writers who wrote in
So you have been contemplating writing in English from the very
beginning rather than writing in Urdu and translating in English.
I have been thinking about it.
Would that be poetry or prose or both?
Didn't you start your literary journey by writing prose? I can
remember reading some of your short stories in one of the leading magazines
Yes, they were short stories; impressions with rather ironic twists,
written in semi-poetic style. I still regard them as some of my best
writing. A selection was published in Afkar, Karachi and in Ahang, India.
Then how did you switch to poetry?
In my teenage years I used to compose poetry both in English and in
Urdu. I was an Art student at the university and I particularly enjoyed
English literature. I was very fond of the Romantic Poets and had memorized
a lot of their works. I even translated some of their poems and the first
act of Macbeth into Urdu. But when I started writing seriously, I began with
prose. However, it was prose with a poetic flow to it ... something on the
For how long did you spend writing prose seriously?
It was again a burst of creative energy. I wrote about twenty short
stories in three months.
And then what happened? Did you decide one day that you were not
going to write prose?
No. It was not a conscious decision. There were informal mushairas
held at people's homes to which I had been invited. So I started composing
What year was that?
You were in Ottawa at that time.
So it was in Ottawa that you wrote poetry seriously.
And for how long were you in Ottawa?
Till October 1983.
You were mentioning earlier that in the beginning you wrote ghazals.
Yes. It was also 1975 when I met Roohi which coincided with my
writing ghazals. Later on I switched to nazms. Actually there was a poet in
Ottawa who wrote nazms. I used to wonder why I didn't write nazms. So one
day I consciously decided that I should be writing nazms. Afterward, I felt
the medium of nazms suited me better.
What attracted you towards the form of nazms compared to ghazals?
I was impressed by a poet named Majeed Amjad. I got hold of his book
"Shab-e-Rafta" and read it thoroughly. In fact, my first nazm was
very consciously and deliberately patterned like one of his nazms ... as a
sort of tribute to him.
Whenever I read your nazms I always found them closer to my mind than
to my heart. They were always full of philosophical themes. Was that a
conscious plan on your part of just a natural reflection of your
It was just natural I think. Those were the questions that were
bothering me. I would be thinking about an issue for days on end, the
existence of God for example, and suddenly I would understand a tiny part of
something. So that part expressed itself in a nazm, like a ray of light was
somehow captured and became part of me.
I understand that during your stay in Ottawa your collection of nazms
"Dairay" was published.
How did that come about?
I started writing nazms in early 1977. "Dairay" was a
collection of forty of them, all written during 1977 and 1978. The
publication of the book was brought about my a friend of mine who kept
pushing me and suggesting that he could help me get a grant. So he looked
after the application and I finally got financial help to publish the
When was it published?
It was ready in 1979 but saw the light of day in 1981.
Did you feel that publishing your book in Canada kept you at a
distance from the Urdu community in India and Pakistan?
I was writing entirely as an outsider, cut off from the Urdu creative
currents flowing at the time, whether in Pakistan, India or Britain. This I
regard as fortunate ... I was expressing what was me, the subject-matter was
very markedly individual, and in a style which was all mine. Soon, however,
I began examining contemporary writing in earnest. Thanks to Messrs. Shaheen
and Ashfaq Hussain I developed many contacts with Urdu literary circles. I
would like to emphasize the contribution of Urdu International in this
After the book was published, did you get any formal feedback from
literary circles in North America, India or Pakistan?
Yes, the feedback came from many quarters. The book was introduced at
a ceremony presided by Jaggannath Azad. Articles were read by Messrs.
Mohammed Ali, Shaheen, Farooq Hassan and Ashfaque Hussain. I was pleasantly
surprised by the appreciative comments from people like Professor Mohammed
Hasan, Ali Sardar Jafri, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, and a number from the younger
breed. Whenever I submitted poems to various literary magazines they were
accepted for publication so I assumed that they were of a certain standard.
Occasionally, I would hear from total strangers. For example, a San
Francisco resident was much taken by my poem "Talaash" which
appeared in Funoon, among other journals.
Alongside the compliments, there was the common complaint that my
poems were dry and difficult. I accept that. It is partly due to the subject
matter and partly to a lack of command over expression. In my later writings
I have made an effort for greater lucidity and flow. I have some seventy-odd
nazms which I have not yet published. They have been ready for some five
years now. I have collected them under the title Naqsh Bar Aab. One of these
days when I have the opportunity I hope to publish them.
The preface to your collection of verses, "Dairay", gives
details of what has motivated your poems. In concluding the preface you said
that your audience will be duly informed should your thinking make further
progress. Has it progressed since "Dairay", and if so, how would
you characterise this development?
It has, indeed. Put very simply, "Dairay" reflected the
destructive phase ... I was engaged in destroying the old superstructure of
my thought-world and was experiencing all the attendant wrenching feelings.
What I am launched on since then is to construct an edifice of thought with
which I can be reasonably satisfied ... I would like to underscore the word
"reasonably" because the process is an unending one. In the
classic lines of Matthew Arnold, in "Dairay" I was "caught
between two worlds. One dead, the other powerless to be born. I now have the
glimmering of a new commitment.
I might explain this with reference to some statements (or
assertions) I have made in he preface to "Dairay". If you permit
me this indulgence, I would like to recall three statements that I made:
(i) all assumptions that underlie a system of thought, values and
institutions are created by human beings; (ii) the formation and choice of
these values is the single most important responsibility of an individual;
and (iii) there is a battlefield of ideas, as ferocious as other
battlefields we know, where ideas clash with each other, are destroyed or
These assertions are the cornerstone of a new commitment. The post-Dairay
process has been one of deepening rather than widening. It has taken a more
qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, direction. During the Dairay period
I had perceived these ideas as a first ray of light; now they are
increasingly a part of my thinking; and this is a continuous process of
Take the fundamental issue of revelation versus historical experience
as providing the appropriate basis of knowledge-formation. In "Dairay"
I asserted that all values and institutions are man-made. I have refined
that a little bit now. I look upon religious thought as providing a set of
underlying assumptions to support a set of implications. They are what I
like to describe as "if ... then" models. If abc then xyz. The
change in my thinking is the following. I am no longer very excited about
the "if" part ... for example, the nature and source of
revelation, or what God is or is not like. Choose whatever "ifs"
you like. My concern is with the "then" part. In other words, what
are the implications of the underlying ifs about human values, institutions
and behaviour? Do they stand up to scrutiny?
On what basis should they be scrutinised though?
My belief - and it is nothing more than an assertion - is that the
full spectrum of the human experience, taken as a unity, including the
dictates of rationality and rules of evidence, provides a basis for this
scrutiny. I am persuaded to regard all human experience as one whole, and
leading to a unified set of codes for evaluation. Some very simple dictates
should suffice - an enormous body of legalistic literature is not needed to
tell me that if racism is bad, it is bad everywhere ... not "more"
bad in South Africa and "less" so in Pakistan. If trampling upon
human rights is undesirable, it is equally undesirable whether it applies to
men, women or children. There is little to choose between holocausts which
affect different people. So, choose whatever ifs you like, the implications
they have for human values are certainly open to scrutiny on the basis of
the human experience. This is now a positive faith for me ... wherever it
The word doubt pervades my poems included in "Dairay". But,
as I said in the preface, doubt nulifies action. Action demands something
positive, a faith, if you like. I have used the word commitment for it:
perhaps Iqbal's use of the word "Ishq" is in the same vein. And
this commitment need not wait for the day when a whole body of thought and
values, free of internal contradictions, is in place. That may never be. All
that is needed is a commitment to the next signpost. Around late 1986 I
wrote a poem entitled "Commitment". It portrays in symbolic terms
why slogan-mongering or paying lip service to bid adieu to the dead world is
insufficient. The poem reflects the importance of desiring something with
one's whole being.
Similarly, my perception about the ruthlessness of the battle of
ideas was rather vague in the Dairay period. I now appreciate better the
universality of this battle and how gory it can be. There is no mistake
about it. The "bloodiness" arises because a system of ideas and
institutions are supported by a web of vested interests ... in economists'
language I would call that a monopoly position (and attendant profits). In
battle it is rare that one column or one weapon or any one factor alone is
that decisive. In the same way I think it is the systems of ideas that
collide. What wins out is not one idea, but a collection of ideas. What this
means is that among the victors are some "good" and some
"bad" ideas; as also among the vanquished which should provide
pause for some thought. The point is that it is a continuous process of
weeding and re-shaping. And the process is painful and not achieved without
a fight. No room for armchair romanticism here!
Do you feel that since the publication of your book there is any
significant change in your poetry either in expression or in content?
There are some noteworthy changes in both the style and the content.
My style has assumed greater simplicity and makes less use of persianised
words. Without being immodest, I think I can say that the artistic
expression has improved significantly. The change in the content is equally
marked. It seems as if, after having explored the inner world of conflicts
and ideas, I have begun to peer at the surrounding environment. Poems
written about Paris, its parks, about France's southern coast are
symptomatic. The canvas has widened in another direction ... I have treated
some political themes more explicitly. Poems about Israel, South Africa,
Islamabad, the bloodletting in Karachi are some examples. I have also
written about individuals who have had a impact on me.
What are your observations about the state of contemporary Urdu
I have not been doing much reading for the last three or four years;
however, there are clear signals that a great deal of experimentation is
going on from Nasri Nazms, Inshaiias, collages to short-short stories and
the like. On a per-capita basis, with respect to Urdu literature, there are
a large percentage of Urdu readers who engage in creative writing. Getting
one's word printed is perhaps easier now that it has ever been. A more
important development is that the writers come from a very diverse set of
lands, ranging from Scandinavia to South Africa and from North America to
the eastern recesses of Asia. Inevitably, along with the varied social and
cultural landscape, the personal experiences these writers can draw upon is
very rich and varied.
I believe it was Napoleon who said that he found the Emperor's crown
in the street and simply picked it up. The crown of Urdu literature, I
think, is lying in the street, and the street extends over many a continent.
The person who is likely to pick this crown up is unlikely to emerge from
old established Gahwaras whose literature is unfortunately stagnant, in that
its sources of inspiration cover a rather limited range of experiences.
The trouble with contemporary Urdu literature is that those who have
mastered the techniques of expression appear to lack the breadth of
experience, and those who have a wider range of ideas and experiences to
share are lacking in the mastery of expression. The sum total is a lot of
experimentation but of diluted literary quality. This is inevitable ... as
the circle of writers expands, there necessarily would be some watering down
of quality. I do not see this as inherently bad, or something to sneer at.
It is the hallmark of a transition phase. The question is how quickly will
we get out of it to produce high quality literature.
The one thing that could help is a healthy tradition of literary
criticism. And that is a dismal scene at best. Unless improved, criticism is
likely to retard Urdu's progress. Another major problem is Urdu's limited
readership. A vast majority of readers are interested in journals of the
Digest variety not of the journals that carry the more creative types of
works. Urdu creative writing is almost entirely read by other Urdu writers
themselves. This fosters in-breeding and a tendency to form mutual
admiration societies. In the absence of independent critical assessments,
this tendency could be very damaging.
When you wrote about politics, was it related to your trip to
Political issues relating to the Third world have never been far away
from my mind. The trip to Pakistan probably activated some dull roots.
I always wondered where you got your keen interest for serious
matters in life. Was your family interested in philosophical subjects?
Let me give you a bit of background. I left my parents and parental
home in 1952, at the age of ten, to migrate to Pakistan. This was to join my
eldest brother, Mr. Ibnul Hasan. I grew up under his tutelage till I was
about 18. My brother is a liberal thinker with a philosophical bend of mind,
and an accomplished poet. His poetical works include Joo-e-Tashna and
Aabgeena. His volume of essays are entitled Shama Aur Dareecha, and
Jaam-e-Sifal. Thus, from very early childhood there was a strong literary
tradition around me.
Another significant thing was that my migration was in a large way a
result of my insistence. My brother who had been in Pakistan since 1947 was
visiting us in India. I made a big fuss that I wanted to join him on his
return to Pakistan.
I am getting curious now. What kind of lifestyle did you have that
you wanted to leave your parents at the age of ten?
On looking back I myself wonder about my sense of adventure. In part
this must have come about from the excitement attached to the creation of
Pakistan, which was very much in the air. This after all was the promised
land for Indian Muslims. It was only a matter of time when the whole family
would be migrating. There was a general atmosphere of fear among Muslims in
Bihar. The memories of recent riots were very fresh. We had lost relatives
in the fray. Moreover the prospects of proper schooling were also in
jeopardy. My father was in the educational service and he was frequently
transferred on duty. Often during transitional periods it was deemed safer
for my mother and younger children to stay at the ancestral home. My early
schooling was entirely through tutors at home. But at about age ten I was
ready to be enroled for formal schooling.
How many brothers and sisters did you have?
We were, including my younger sister who died at seven, four brothers
and three sisters.
And what number were you?
I was the second youngest.
So for the first few years of your life you didn't have a normal type
of schooling. Do you think that affected your socialization?
Very much so. I missed the regular socialization that happens at
school. The first few months in Pakistan were a period of total alienation
and it left an indelible mark on me. You can imagine that I had travelled
across hundreds of miles. The host culture, language, manners were all very
foreign. I was desperately missing my parents and friends I had left behind.
I was alone with my brother who was away during office hours and often
during evenings with friends. Our servant sustained me with some
companionship. During this period I made very good use of the library my
brother had built up at home. Poetry was my favourite. I memorised good
portions of Iqbal and Faiz.
So you did not make very many friends at that age.
Not very many initially. We lived in the Cantonment area, where
houses were well separated from each other and there were not many friends
of my age to be found nearby. When I did join regular school after about six
months things began to change but cultural barriers were there. Moreover,
there were breaks caused by summer vacations when I would go back to India
for long periods, sometimes six months.
After you finished your matriculation what kind of ambitions and
dreams did you have?
Right from the very beginning it was very apparent that I was not
going to take science subjects partly because my brother was an artsy type.
When I entered college I took economics. I had dreamed of writing a book
like "Das Kapital" one day.
How did you get introduced to Marx?
From reading the kind of books my brother had.
Did your brother have long philosophical discussions with you?
No. Not with me but I would listen to the discussions he had with his
friends. I also used to go with him to the various libraries and borrow
Then what happened? Did you do your B.A.?
Yes. I studied two years in Pindi and two years in Lahore and finally
graduated from Pindi.
What direction did you choose after that?
Then I chose to do my Masters in Economics.
What was the university life like for you?
It was very enjoyable. I made close friends and we had great fun. I
was among the leaders of a group of students who were serious about studies
as well as took part in student activities. There was active and genuinely
friendly competition among us, and I was usually helping out others. More
importantly, I had a first taste of a real crush. There was this co-ed I had
a crush on and quite inadvertently slid into writing poems. The medium was
Did you send them to her?
No, back then you didn't do those things. She was my study partner
but on a very formal and correct basis. The infatuation was entirely on my
part. When she did get some hints indirectly the relationship became even
more formal but never snapped. But certainly I never verbalised my
infatuation to her.
Did you write when you were infatuated or when you were
Both, but mostly in the later period.
Did you publish those poems?
No, not myself but one of my friends had one of them published in his
name (with my permission). Personally, I didn't think they were very mature.
They were very much in the style of the late English romanticists,
especially Robert Browning.
You were mentioning earlier that you had a sense of intense
loneliness as a child. Did you get over that when you entered the
Yes, I did. When I was broken-hearted, I had the support of a good
group of close friends. I used to have a following at that time. They were
How did you come to leave Pakistan?
Again it was very symbolic. I just wanted to get out. After finishing
my Masters in economics I took up teaching in the University's Commerce
College. Then I applied to different universities and the very first
scholarship I got from abroad was from a university in Canada and I took it.
The University of British Columbia.
What kind of memories do you have of your earlier days in British
That's when alienation overpowered me rather strongly. For the first
few weeks it was exhilarating. Everything was so new and exciting. Walking
on the western most coast of Canada was a thrill in itself! But then a
feeling of "me" and "them" developed. The "me"
being the fifteen Pakistani students: the "them" being the other
sixteen thousand students. What seems so childish now, was that there was
such a rivalry with the Indian students who far out-numbered us. The
Indo-Pakistani war of 1965 did not help matters either. The one island of
comfort was the International House ... there everyone smiled a benign
patronising smile all the time.
When did you move to Ottawa?
I was in B.C. for two and a half years and in the summer of 1966 I
moved to Ottawa.
What were you studying in B.C.?
I was doing my Ph.D. but when I visited Ottawa, I had an offer for a
permanent job and gladly accepted it; I welcomed a change, and a break from
You've shared the experience of being broken-hearted when you were a
student at the university. Do you think it was just a passing phase or did
it affect your decision to get married?
I think it must have affected me. It was not a passing thing. It is
probable that I became wary of close personal relationships. It might
explain my focus on understanding issues at the intellectual rather than the
emotional level. However, things changed rather dramatically around mid
1970s when a real romantic involvement took hold of me, and I got married.
How do children affect you?
They are a great pleasure and a source of utter joy. I have often
felt that if I have experienced God it is in the sharing of tender loving
relationships with my family. This transmittal of love binds one to an
unbroken chain of the hereafter. I have learnt a lot from observing my
children grow and develop. The importance of the uninhibited need to make
mistakes in the process of learning, is a case in point. I have observed how
an infant attempts to gauge heights or distances by dropping his/her toys or
spoon from a high position numerous times. This is but one among countless
examples. I cite this because I use to be literally horrified at the
prospect of making mistakes, and yet it turns out to be an essential element
in the learning process - the reasonable freedom to make reasonable mistakes
a reasonable number of times.
Did you ever think of writing your experiences with your family and
You mean an autobiography.
Autobiography or in fiction or in poetry.
I always wanted to write about my children, and have some half
finished poems. I very much liked Ashfaq Hussain's poem "A Love Poem
For My Son" which portrays some of my experiences as well.
I feel that anyone who meets you will consider you a successful
person. You have your Ph.D. in Economics, a prestigious job and a nice
family. I sometimes wonder whether you consider yourself a successful
As a person yes. More recently I have had a major development in my
professional career which has been very gratifying.
At the same time, there is another side to the story which is in
relation to what I expect of myself; with respect to this, there has been
one major failure. I have this gnawing feeling that I have not been
assertive enough in expressing my ideas, that I have not rebelled enough,
that I have not smashed the idols that have lost their meaningfulness. This
is a matter of degree of course; for examples, my preface to "Dairay"
is clear to some, while others may need to read between the lines. I feel
that I should not have minced my words, but made myself more clear.
Earlier, I alluded to the cut and thrust of the battle of ideas. It
is perhaps this element of violence that I have felt at the most elemental
level and have not coped with it. This is a failure, in my opinion. On an
even more personal level I feel that I have this image of being a nice guy.
Deep down I feel there is a rebellious, even somewhat ferocious, spirit in
me, but the age old superstructure of my inherited culture values has imbued
me with such a strong sense of what is "appropriate behaviour"
that much of my energy is spent in simply taming the wild spirit inside me.
As an illustration of this, I tend to look for converging ideas rather than
divergent ones, to similarities rather than differences. I now feel there is
enough of that. This is my new commitment:
to break down the idols. Perhaps in the year 1992 I will begin to
call a spade a spade more often and be mean and nasty if necessary.
That has been my impression too. I have always enjoyed your poetry
because of its ideas and philosophy but whenever I read your poems I feel as
if I am shaking hands with you while you are wearing gloves. I embrace you
but you are wearing an overcoat. That's why I sometimes wish for more direct
contact. I feel that all your emotions whether they are feelings of
frustration, anger or affection, go through a lengthy process before they
are expressed. They are not expressed directly. They are quite sophisticated
but there seems to be some intellectualization. Your feelings don't seem to
come directly from the heart. However, I do feel that in the last few years
there is a significant change in your poems. You are becoming more direct
but overall in your life I feel you have always avoided emotional closeness.
Sometimes I wonder whether the fact that you do no permanently locate in one
place is also an expression of the same attitude. Perhaps that's the way you
deal with your life.
These are very interesting observations. You are making two distinct
points: one that a process of
intellectualization exists, and the second point relates to its causes.
I do like to perceive issues at the intellectual level, yet I am
unsure as to whether you can label it "intellectualization". The
term seems to have pejorative connotations, implying a prescription about
how issues ought to be perceived. I would question that.
As to why my personality places such a high priority on comprehending
the reality at an intellectual rather than at the emotional level, I think
the rough sketch of background I have given you may hold some clues.
Migration certainly has a role to play.
Talking to a psychiatrist like you I am on perilous grounds, but you
can forgive my amateurishness. I consider the guilt of one sort or another
has lurked not too far in the background. It has found expression in a
number of poems. I have tried to understand this feeling and there may be
several possible explanations, all equally speculative and, it is fun to
speculate on these things. On occasion, I have asked myself the question:
what makes me deserve this gift of life I have received? And there is the
corollary burden that goes with it; I must take appropriate action to
justify my existence by recompensing the benefactor. Now, why would any sane
person ask questions like these? One possibility is that I was deeply
affected by the death at an early age (five years) of my younger sister. As
is quite normal, she was eulogised and praises were heaped on her in death.
I, in my small way, concluded that death should have spared such a nice
person, and taken me instead who, in comparison, was apparently less
Do you sometimes wish to have more intimate friends?
Of course I do. You are the one friend with whom I can talk openly
and freely. Your friendship reminds me of my close friendships of my student
What do you foresee for yourself in the next few years?
Let me recall another statement in the preface of Dairay. I said that
a reasonable degree of harmony between the internal and external worlds
which an individual cohabits is essential for charting out a new identity. I
have begun to have some thoughts about that statement now. I feel that at
the dawn of 1992, many years after the 1977-79 period when Dairay was put
together, I am one "whole", at peace with myself, more so than
ever before. What I had described inarticulately and imprecisely as the
internal and the external worlds of an individual, are in harmony for me as
never before. They are pulling in the same direction; and yet, being at
peace with myself has not yielded a harvest of poems in recent years. The
last little composition I did was some five years ago, and that too was done
grudgingly. A certain creative tension is missing.
However, the new found harmony may provide fertile soil for creative
activity in a different medium; perhaps I will produce more substantive
works in prose. Clearly, that remains to be seen!
I have mentioned to you how I have defined commitment for myself ...
it is to seek and demolish outworn idols. Over the next few years I would
like to pick up portions of this vague exercise and give it some concrete
shape. In terms of creative work outside of my professional activities, I
would like to spend some time understanding the economic and political
significance of the rise of sub-regionalism and the waning of the concept of
the nation state.
I also came to know that you have some interest in painting and
I took a few music lessons in Ottawa and then I taught myself to play
the Harmonium. Recently I have been practising every day and that's a
substitute for writing. I have some books on classical music and have tried
to understand the ragas system.
I also see some of your paintings hanging on the walls.
I did some painting in school and when I was in Ottawa I used to draw
and sketch portraits. I was involved in that for about a year. I designed
the cover of my book as well.
Do you think you will come back to Canada one day?
I think so. I am planning my return to the university to teach. I
taught for a couple of years and enjoyed it but then I went into Public
Service and left the university atmosphere. I hope that I can return to
Do you think we could end the interview here? I would like to hear
some of your poems.
Let me find them.