Monday, January 13, 2014

LIFE OF A POET - ANAND S. UNNI

Kids, fly away with me! You know how much this armchair traveler loves exploring other places, other lives. So this week we are going to visit Anand Unni, in Kerala, India. This is, Anand tells us, the southernmost tip of India. Anand, who is still a student,  writes wonderfully at  Chimes of a Forgotten Melody. He lives in a place of stunning beauty and tranquility. Hop aboard my magic carpet! We are going to have the best time!


P.U.:  Anand, so nice to be visiting with you! Would you like to give us a little snapshot of your life in India? Where you live, your family, what fills your days? Anything to give us a sense of the poet behind the poetry?


Anand:  I hail from the southernmost tip of India, from the state of Kerala. To be more precise, from the district of Kannur, also known as the land of Looms and Lore mainly because of its handloom industries and ritualistic folklore. Part of the folklore is the very colourful ritual worship called ‘Theyyam’ which is one of the oldest forms of rituals in the world. I would be delighted if you include a photograph of ‘Theyyam,’ because every person in Kannur holds a deep personal pride when talking about the ritual.

Theyyam - one of the oldest rituals in India

P.U.: I googled this ancient ritual, and found the most wonderful video. Hop aboard the pedal rickshaw, kids! Let's take a quick side-trip to witness this wonderful tradition, and enjoy the color and beauty of Anand's home.



Wasn't that heart-stirring? I feel as if I was standing right there, exchanging smiles of delight.
Anand: I could go on talking about Kannur and its buzzing life, but for now, let me get into other details. So, first of all, I must say I am still a student of Mechanical Engineering, in fact I’ve still got one and a half years left for finishing the 4 year course. I am pursuing the course from Vimal Jyothi Engineering College which is situated at a place called Chemperi.
And, currently, I stay with my grandmother at a small village called Chavassery, which is a beautiful and an amazingly silent place to be if you are a writer. The place is simply lovely.
Where I stay now, with my grandmother

P.U.: It is so tranquil-looking. I can well imagine being inspired to write in that setting.

Anand: And the poet behind the poetry is a simple guy who cherishes in the minute miracles of life. But I am someone who thinks deeply on things; most of my friends complain to me for being lost in thoughts for the simplest of things, and it is something I can’t help.
And maybe the only person who could completely comprehend me is just me, mainly because I tend to keep certain things to myself.
P.U.: Tell us a little about your childhood, Anand.
Anand:  Well, I had an amazing childhood lived at 3 different places. One of them being Cochin, a.k.a the Queen of Arabian Sea, and the other 2 within Kannur at Tellicherry and Chavassery. Tellicherry (Thalassery) is actually where my parents settled down eventually, and still live now. And, when thinking about childhood, Tellicherry is the one place that gives me the most memories.

Tellicherry - the place has been a center of trade in the past
with both Portugese and English sailors,
arriving here for spices

Tellicherry is a rural place, though now, you would think there is nothing rural about it because of rapid development. But during my childhood, I had lots of fun running around paddy fields and climbing on random trees. I remember chasing buffaloes and cows, collecting their dung to use as manure and even being chased back by quite a few. Those days would be very long, acres of paddy fields were just behind our house and me, my brother and other friends, after leaving really early in the morning, would return only to take lunch and would go back again for more till evening. Got to say, I really miss those days, today in place of the fields a school stands and the gang of friends I had have split apart into their respective lives.

An old family picture- on my mom's lap is my brother
My childhood at Chavassery (the place where I live now) was a connection with nature. We have a pond right in front of my grandmother’s house and when our cousins gather during vacations, all our time was spent in the pond. The place is situated on top of a hill with dense forests that surround, and in the evening a group of monkeys would come to drink water from the ponds.  I remember us making faces and throwing food for them. It was all fun. The forest also shelters Peacocks, wild boars, a wide variety of snakes and lots more animals. We used to see snakes every other day, either inside the house or outside, which was at first met with fear and later turned into a certain intimacy, to see them in motion.
Overall, I would sum it up by an old saying, ‘You could never expect to be old and wise, if you were never young and crazy.’
The pond in front of Chavassery


P.U.: It sounds idyllic, Anand. Was there one person who believed in you as a child, who you think perhaps had an influence on your becoming a poet? Or, an influence on who you are today?

Anand:  I have had many influences in life to be who I am today. You can say I am partly influenced by people and partly by certain ideals. I am someone who takes pride in saying that my religion is ‘Humanism’. I have stopped going to temples and have removed all tags of Hinduism from myself, to be completely following what my heart says is right. It is not completely atheism, but believing that God is one, which is the love in our hearts.
A very old photo of me playing with my mom

And my greatest influence has come from my mother. She is a post-graduate in Malayalam (language spoken in Kerala) and is herself a spectacular writer. My yearning to read was first planted in me by my mother. She had this great collection of both Malayalam and English books which later became my first toys.  I remember the first books that she bought for me were ‘Aesop’s Fables’ and ‘Panchathanthra’. The moral message that those works carry still influence my writing. She also says that she used to recite Malayalam poetry as a lullaby when I was a baby. Maybe all those made me who I am today.
P.U.: I am certain that is true. When did you first begin writing poetry? What made you choose poetry as your means of creative expression? What do you love about it?


Anand:  Writing was always a part of my life since  age 10 (I think). I had a teacher in English during my 7th standard who should be mentioned in the context. Her name was Rajisha, and she was perhaps the first person who personally said to me that I have serious writing talent.
Poetry is something that could be used to express my sudden thoughts; that versatility is perhaps the one thing that I truly love about poetry. Though many of the poems I write could hardly be called as poetry, it is still a powerful and an only expression of my thoughts.
Poetry, though, is not the only thing I am onto. It is just a part of my writing that I wish to exhibit.
P.U.: Who is the published poet who first awakened your interest in poetry, the poem that first opened the doorway to the world of poetry? Is he or she still a favourite?


Anand: To be frank, I can’t really think of the name of a single poet. A lot of Malayalam and English poets come into my mind. Though, one poem that I really love and still continue to inspire me is  ‘Invictus’ written by William Ernest Henley.
In case of other forms of writing, I was first drawn into Charles Dickens’ novels as a child, but now Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Orhan Pamuk are personal favourites. Both their works possess a certain exquisite charm.
P.U.: Great choices, Anand. What form of poetry do you favour, and why? Are there any forms you avoid, or are not drawn to?
Anand: Well, I used to be rhythmic in the beginning, but now it has changed into a more free type of poetry, because when I use rhymes, it sort of contains what I want to express and my mind just searches for rhymes. Many of my poems could be classified either as prose poetry or narrative poetry. I have also tried some fantasy poems. But honestly, all my poems are just a flow of my thoughts. Many of them are not curtailed. I write what I think, and would not care to edit it, partly because I hate editing and also because it removes my exact thoughts.
And because of that reason, I believe you could call my works either poetry or just prose.
P.U.: I was most impressed by your poem The Partition, about the partition of India in 1947. A powerful poem.  You acknowledge your brotherhood with Pakistanis in that poem. How have you managed to rise above imposed sanctions and the resulting  divisiveness,  to achieve a humanitarian perspective? 
 
The sea bridge at Tellicherry,
constructed by the British East India Company-
I hang out here often
Anand: Well, right from the day an average Indian reaches mental development, he would surely know about Pakistan and India’s painful story of enmity. It is something that we pass from generation to generation, nobody cares to think that we were the people of a single country who lived in peace and struggled together to obtain our freedom from the British. We share the same culture and same history, and if you look closely we live under quite similar circumstances too.
It is difficult to force people to think otherwise. I have shared the poem with Pakistanis and Indians alike, and the most hostile comments I received were from Indians, because of the same reason.
The thing that I have decided after those incidents are that, at some point of my life, maybe if I could get these poems published, I would venture more deeply into the issue, because it is something that is deeply troubling for me to witness. But for now, all I could do is wait.
And yes, let us include that poem; it is something that I want the whole world to discuss upon.

The Partition
I dedicate this poem to all Pakistanis. You are all as much a kin to me as Indians.

The second column of Muslims passed,
Not a soul in our side had the strength,
To shower them with our words; cursed,
Along they passed as silent as us,
Drifting with the hot and wild wind,
That very often burns our face,
As we cut through this desert; wretched.

O lovely dawn of freedom,
while you showered purple and gold,
half of us never knew what future held,
Singing and dancing beneath the relentless sun,
we hugged and kissed the conspirator's arms.

The line drawn that sliced Punjab,
The surgical tool that dissected Bengal,
Never seemed more poignant,
Till it ripped us apart from Lahore,
And made us to savor this journey.

Guided by a false pretense of safety,
Moving onto a false notion of liberty,
Living on the narrow verge of insanity,
A humanity was displaced into sheer poverty.

O, the world we left behind,
The luxury and beauty of Lahore,
The exotic parlors, the crimson sunsets,
And vast field of wheat that stretched on and on,
All of it replaced now by the creeping bareness,
Of the Thar.

All my journey was guided by two eyes,
Eyes of a child, barely ten,
That never showed a tinge of skepticism,
While we were in spells of rue,
His eyes were curious for more.

The child's father died last night,
Another victim in this great fight,
The column never stopped,
The child with eyes that moved me,
Were left behind all alone,
Everyone were fighting their own war.

There were no time to turn back,
The column should move on,
Cause terror echoed with the fresh gust,
The desert shall turn into a tomb of dust,
And somewhere along we will face,
The men armed with guns and swords.

A plane dropped of some food today,
One slice of bread for each stomach,
In the desert it were a piece of gold,
And in the pain it gives us hope,
Away form The Promised Land we move,
Onto an India away from us,
Mentally and physically.

The third column of Muslims passed,
They pitied us and our flight,
A word of caution and inspiration,
Someone even gave us a bottle of water,
The thought of it makes me proud,
We are brothers after all,
We will remain so forever and ever.

Nearing an India we never saw,
What we left behind could never be sought,
And what we want can never be bought,
Memories of Lahore still burns,
As we enter into a land of ruins.

God bless India, God save Pakistan,
And I even pray for that man who gave us water,
When shall the countries give each other the same?

Many of us are settled, many of us died,
Those who lived on still muse over the world,
What insanity?! What torture?!
To have brothers ripping each other apart,
And eating on the others' heart.

Many still pray for the countries,
True we are brothers,
We are seeds that sprouted in the same field,
Yet overgrown and often alone.


Footnote


A poem I wrote some time back. Though not even my parents were alive during the 1947 partition of India, I gathered all the info though books, mainly The Great Partition by Yasmin Khan and Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. I also thank an aged friend of mine, who helped in narrating what he witnessed during those troublesome years. For any more info on the partition, here is what wiki has to say : Partition of India


P.U.: A remarkable poem, my friend. Perhaps you will one day write the book or treatise that will open peoples' hearts on this topic. Is there a poem you are especially pleased with, that we might also include here?
Anand: Perhaps, ‘A Poem Colored Red’ mainly because it is an expression of my ideals. But if it is too long, consider this short poem that I wrote 2 years before, which I believe marked my transformation:
“So it happens that I am alive,
Even after I claimed
God is dead!

He was killed brutally,
Or considered suicide.”

P.U.: Wow, Anand, succinct and powerful! Where do you find your inspiration?
Anand: I find inspiration in life. Everything around forces me to think, and when I think, it normally flows out into the page.


P.U.: Do you have some causes that are dear to your heart?
Anand: I am someone who believes in Humanism and Communism more than everything. Though I have not ventured into social service, it is something that I am certainly planning to do after my studies. I am a blood donor, and have pledged to donate my organs after death. I also live by the personal promise that I would not spend a single day without lending my help to at least one person or animal. Though many days pass without fulfilling the promise, I try to apply it as much as I can. 

I am also deeply drawn into child labour and proper schooling of children. India is a country that still faces the demon of child labour. I also write for UNESCO’s Indian site sometimes on the same topic, and have once contacted the child helpline center because I happened to witness child labour right under my nose. Again, these maybe simple things, but I believe that when you add up these simple things, you get something big enough to smile about when you die.

Photo taken inside my class. You can see me
in front, on the floor, the third from the right



P.U.: Well, Anand, those "simple" ways of helping are very big things to those whom you help. Way to be! Who are your heroes?
Anand: Heroes are many. But people who inspire me every single day are Mother Teresa, Ernesto Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.
P.U.: Me, too! Do you write prose as well? I believe I’ve seen references to a novel you have “locked in your attic”. Might you write it one of these days?
Anand: Well, that is indeed where all roads are leading to. I have begun novels a couple of times but ended up discarding them myself. For now, I have a genuine story to be told, and have started on its work. Just hoping that it would not suffer the same fate as others.

P.U.: Keep at it, Anand. From this interview, alone, I can sense that bigger story needing to be told. What other activities might we find you engaged in, when you are not writing?


Anand: I am an avid reader. I read all sorts of books. It has always been my greatest hobby.
I also love travelling. I have been spending a lot of my free time travelling alone and noting down all my thoughts and moments on a small pocket diary which I always carry wherever I go.
I also teach on a part-time basis, and have taught for people ranging from 11 years of age to 49 years of age.
I was also an amateur cricket player and also played for a local cricket club, though stopped that for now.
I am also into photography these days. I love capturing moments into my camera. It has become a third eye of sorts.

Kannur - the land of lumes and lore

My free time is also spent on watching movies, from a variety of languages. My favourites being ‘Life is Beautiful (Italian)’, ‘The Motorcycle Diaries (Spanish)’, ‘The Shawshank Redemption (English)’ and ‘Left Right Left (Malayalam)’. Of which the Malayalam movie inspired me to write the poem ‘Revolution is Home Made’
And I am a total addict to music. I make a 1 hour travel to and back from my college and you would see me listening to music on my iPod all throughout the travel. My favourite band is the ‘Pink Floyd’. I have written the poem ‘Breath of Life’ as a dedication to them.
I am also someone who observes politics earnestly, and is a full time follower of the Communist Party of India, though they hardly follow Communism these days!
I also reserve a part of my free time for the children of a nearby orphanage.
Amidst all these, I find time to hang out with my friends too.  My best friends are those I found when I was young, and those friendships still last because of our constant meetings. In fact you would see me roaming around even now with a friend named Arjun whom I met from kindergarten.


P.U.: You are living a remarkable life, Anand. I love it that you devote some time to orphans. You will give them hope by your very presence, and your caring. Is there anything else you’d like to say to Poets United?
Anand: What should I say about Poets United? Hmm.. Well, I first became aware of this site because of Carrie Burt; to start off I’ve got to extend my sincere thanks to her for introducing me to such an amazing community of Poets.
I have made some new friends, met people and more importantly met all their ideas through PU.
I don’t get time to visit PU or the blogs of my fellow poets as often as I would like to, but even then the support I got have been tremendous.
I’ve got to extend my apologies to those whom I may have ignored because of my lack of time, and sincere gratitude to the ones who keep supporting me. It has been an amazing 5 months for me here.
It is with your inks of appreciation that my poems are born.
At this instant I would also love to mention a few names, people who kept posting comments even before I would share the posts on PU. They are Brian Miller, Mary, Vandana, Natasa Dolenc and Himani. Well Himani turned out to be a really close friend, and got to say, after proof reading her first novel, she certainly has big things up her sleeve. Anyways, love you guys!
And the community is stunning. Kudos to the people who work behind the scenes. The prompts from Kim Nelson, the interviews that you do, Rosemary’s posts of poems from great poets and Mary’s Sunday photographs, all have left a really powerful impact on my life.
And I would like to thank you again, for giving me this opportunity to open up. Got to say, I’ve never opened myself up to this extent before due to my introvert attitude. Things are surely changing, thanks to PU.!!

P.U.: That's Poets United - just plunge in, don't be shy, the water's fine! Thank you, Anand, for such a generous look into your life. We shall picture you, when we read your poems, sitting beside the pond at Chevassery, penning your lines.

A lovely visit to such a scenic and (to we North Americans) exotic locale. Sigh. I wish Poets United could actually send me on these interviews. Wouldn't that be something? But this is surely the next best thing! Such rich glimpses of other places, other lives. Come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

25 comments:

  1. Anand, I love the honesty in your words above and also the honesty and humility in your poetry. I greatly appreciate your poetry. It is so nice to have you as part of Poets United.

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    1. Thank you Mary, and I love being a part of PU. :)

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  2. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us, Anand! I enjoyed reading about how your mom made you love words and reading.
    I was glad to read Partition again, which I think is a great poem.
    Thank you Sherry for yet another great interview!

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    1. Thank you Gabriella, thanks for all the support. :)

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  3. Anand, I have so enjoyed visiting with you in your beautiful country, which I would so love to visit. But I feel like I have visited, in meeting with you. I, too, so appreciate your participation at Poets United and always look forward to your poetry. Keep shining, kiddo!

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    1. Thanks a lot Sherry. And by the way, I believe you have slightly miss-spelt my name there at the beginning. Anyways, I loved reading it, thanks for your effort. :)

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    2. All fixed, Anand and I am sorry not to have noticed it sooner. My deepest apologies.

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  4. Anand, thank you for sharing a part of your world..I enjoyed reading about your story. I wish you the best in your studies and I hope the poet in you always hears the call.

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  5. Thank you Sherry, what a lovely interview.

    Anand, wonderful interview, absolutely loved it! Well, I still remember the first time I read your poetry, and I remember thinking, 'beautiful command over emotions- transformed perfectly into words'. So keep them coming, you have the heart and you have the soul, just keep them coming.

    Happy Writing!

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    1. I don't think there is a need for thanks between us, anyways, thanks for the wishes. :)

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  6. A versatile person you are Anand. Not many kids of your age think or do things the way you do. Really nice to know about you and the beautiful place you live. The natural surroundings are just awesome. Best wishes for your future.

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  7. Thank you Sherry for this wonderful presentation.....and Anand , what a beautiful world you live in and you create with your words....my best wishes are with you..hope
    you can live your dream....

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  8. gracias, Sherry, for this and gracias Anand for sharing

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  9. Hi Anand,

    glad to know you.
    we shared some same heroes : Che and Pink Floyd! :)

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  10. Sherry, thanks for this interview which introduces Anand beyond his poetry.

    Anand, You have an impressive amount of energy for living, and that shows up in your heartfelt poems. I find them sharp, no holds barred, and yearning at the same time. I love that you reminded us of ‘Invictus’ and some revolutionaries and also that small acts of kindness shape our spirits as we give and take in life. I am most happy to meet this land I've never seen before, its rituals, and your super mom. Thank you.

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  11. Dear anand..feeling so proud as being ur teacher...ur simply superb man
    .go ahead

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  12. Hi Anand,

    Glad to know about you and your poetry. I'm from Kolkata ( West Bengal ) . I went for a visit to South India with my family two years ago and was enchanted by the beauty of Kerala , we know it as God's own country. I even wrote about it on my blog.

    regarding your poems , can relate with them completely. Thanks P.U. for featuring him .

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  13. I enjoyed this interview very much. Anand is such an interesting writer and lives in such a beautiful area . His Grandma's house looks very conducive to writing and any creative outlet that requires peace and reflection but oh... I don't envy him the mosquitoes:)

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  14. Lovely interview sherry.

    Nice to know you Anand beyond your beautiful poetry... :) Thank you for sharing.

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  15. Beautiful interview Sherry and Anand. Thank you so much! Such wonderful images and poetry!

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  17. so nice to know a little more where Anand's poems come from :)

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