Our mental landscapes are perpetually populated by ideas running asunder, skirting, brushing past each other or colliding with each other. When two or more ideas ram into each other a supernova effect is created that causes our mind to light up in patterns that cause human emotions to pulsate. It is the brilliance of the supernona that sparks the embers of poetry.
In this interview, poet Tabish Khair responds to seemingly unconnected ideas that come together and reveal their coincidential correspondence to his life and work. He speaks of breaking out of the stricture of how language is taught in schools, experiencing latent, unexplored, sometimes irrational and abusurd commonalities in that what seems "several lights years apart", creating a kind of song of serendipity.
Language and school days: If your language survives your school days, well, then you are probably well on your way to becoming a poet. In a different context, I also recall the great subterranean tussle, in those days, between Hindi, which was taught in my convent school, and Urdu, which was pointedly not taught in my school but spoken by my family. But in real life the contradictions between these two languages were obvious only to their purists – and people like me were not pure speakers of either Hindi or Urdu. This did not seem to matter to my Hindi teachers, who pointedly crossed out any ‘Urdu’ word or construction that they saw in my school essays. I think it was this casual murder of Hindustani that sealed my fate as an Indian writer of English. After all, English was neutral territory.
Rhyme schemes and constellations: They work by making the surface of their similarities hide the depth of their differences. The stars you see in a constellation can be millions of light years apart from one another. Similarly, the rhymes you hear, for them to be more than trashy jingles, need to trick your ears into hearing similarities which alert your mind to hidden differences. Or vice versa, to be honest.
Mythology and inspiration: Mythology is largely a collection of stories sanctioned and celebrated by a society. Inspiration lies in not just repeating what these stories are said to say but in exploring what they have passed over in silence.
Music and word limits: Music is not limited by reason and time as much as words are, but this also means that words can be used to explore the limits of reason and time much more than music can be.
Creativity and borders: Creativity is a method of transgressing borders on purpose. But for that you need to recognize and even respect borders. The two go together: you cannot cross borders unless you know where they lie, and there is no point to transgression unless there are borders.
Coincidence and poetry: Poetry contains coincidence that is inevitable. To state the inevitable is to state the obvious and the unnecessary, but to state the coincidental as sheer accident is to state the uninteresting and cursory. In poetry, or in creative literature in general, one has to state what is neither obvious not uninteresting and incidental. The coincidence of a good poem is always momentous.
Death and alliteration: Both are inevitable, and hence highly overrated. They happen.
As told to Manjari Kaul, an actor and arts writer based in Delhi.
Born (1966) and educated mostly in Bihar, India, Tabish Khair is a scholar, novelist and poet. He has published two anthologies of poems titled Where Parallel Lines Meet and Man of Glass. His prose writing includes The Bus Stopped, Filming: A Love Story, The Thing about Thugs and How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position.
We coincide with people and events all the time--wonder at its impossibility, marvel at its luck or blame it intelligent design--but it is when we bump into ourselves, some previous character or moment that wisps by us like a hand on a street or a fleck of dust, that we stop. We stop to remember, before it rolls away. We hold our breath because, not knowing what it is made of, we don't want it to set sail again, just yet. Human life is made up of a series of these encounters, what Rushdie calls, in A Ground Beneath Her Feet, a "bouncey-castle sequence of bumpings-into and tumbling apart".Read More
By Manjari Kaul, Issue 22, Coincidence: Fortune's Strange Math.