Madhubala in 1949 film, Mahal.
FG: How were you introduced to poetry?
DK: That's quite hard to explain. I think poetry came to me naturally. I enjoyed reading poetry very much as a child. Bhopal has a very beautiful lake. I remember thinking as a second grader that all poems looked like a ripple in the water. And it is not difficult, in my opinion, to find poetry around us. It lives in the way we walk, in the clicks and hisses of the words we mumble, in the haze of streetlights.
It was my first creative writing teacher though, Mr. David Benedictus, who brought poetry to life for me. Before I met him, I never thought I would depend so much on poetry for my survival. He means all the poetry in the world to me, if I may say so. I think we are poems for ourselves and each other. Sometimes we don't even need the right words.
FG: What has influenced your writing? Who inspires you?
DK: I remember a line from one of my poems: "This is the Hindi I don't speak." I think my relationship with language is changing, and that has greatly influenced my recent work. I write poems about the words I want to learn, about the silences I keep, about answers I want to have. There is a part of me that yearns, that is small and afraid, that leaves words half-spoken. That's the part of me that speaks when I write. I am influenced by little things, by the small and intimate spaces where I can just be.
The adhan flowed from the nearby mosque, the lilts of the muezzin's voice flickered, Urdu sang of its body. Today, a young girl stood in the middle of a field, looking at her palms. I thought she was praying, but I didn't hear her say a word. I talked to Trivarna Hariharan, my Rumi, telling her again that I, her Tabrizi, don't know what love is. I cried because I miss Mr. David Benedictus. My parents and I had a laugh over dinner. For me, this is inspiration. There is enough light in this.
FG: You've authored two books, Welcome to Hilltop High and Co:ma,to'se, and you're also involved in multiple literary journals, including your own, Inklette. How did building a foundation of published work lead you to environments that help others do the same? And how do you balance the workload of your position at Inklette and other magazines with your own production of poetry and prose?
DK: That's a really great question. You know what, I allow myself to be guided by
intuition. Publishing my work got me local recognition, certainly. But I am not sure
if it allowed me to be a part of environments or communities of writers and artists.
I would definitely say though that programs like the Iowa Young Writers' Studio and
the University of Virginia's Young Writers Workshop truly taught me what a family,
or a tribe of dynamic and artistic people can stand for. And I did feel like I had
somewhere to belong there. I got in touch with a lot of young writers through these
programs and also, by starting and working for Inklette.
I have never had a problem when it comes to balancing workload. But let me qualify
that statement. I have never focused much on school and this saves a LOT of time,
haha. Typically, I come back home, and have a list of all the work (creative and fun,
of course) that I must get done. I am truly passionate about Inklette. Trivarna and I
started it with great belief. And I have never worked for more than two or three
magazines at one time. I find that much work manageable. Plus, the magazines
I have worked for or currently work for are so honest, and dedicated that one feels
all the more motivated to work harder and give back something worthwhile.
I write a few lines each day, but I don't sweat it. I love to take things easy. I try to get
as much work done as I possibly can, but if I don't, I smile and don't care about it. I
want each day to be more than a checklist. I am reckless, I don't think much or work
as much, but I know what I want and what I love.
FG: Do you have any other passions? Any projects you’re working on?
DK: More recently, I have started writing restaurant reviews (I have no idea why!).
But, let's not go there. Anyway, I love watching Bollywood movies. I am head over
heels for Madhubala. I love listening to Urdu and Hindi poetry being read out loud.
I used to do Kathak, but I would love to start again once I am done with high school.
Dance feels like poetry to me, and I owe the little sense of rhythm that I have to it.
I love painting my nails, buying stuff from FabIndia. I go out for coffee with my mom
every evening. I love collecting books, reading them, decorating and re-decorating
my bookshelf, organizing my closet. Haha. I don't think anyone wants more
information on how weird I can be.
I am currently working on a chapbook. I hope it turns out nice. Each poem will be
accompanied by an illustration, actually. The same pattern I followed for Co:ma,to'se.
And the illustrator is going to be my 'Illustrator-for-keeps,' Ashwin Pandya. He's on the
job since Welcome to Hilltop High. I'n fact, I'd love to have the chapbook reviewed
by Sugar Rascals!!
FG: Kathak is an Indian, classical dance that is used as a method for storytelling, correct? Since dance and poetry seem to be so closely related, did it influence your work in any way? Or vice versa?
DK: Yes, 'katha' means 'story' in Hindi, so 'Kathak' means 'to tell a story.' I started learning Kathak when I was five years old, but left it when I turned ten. I hadn't really started reading or writing poetry then. I did read a lot of stories at that time, which is why Kathak appealed to me in the first place.
Kathak introduced me and helped me experience the rhythm and the very life of my body at a young age. Leaving Kathak satisfied my want for an unfinished story, a wordless poem.When one comes too close to anything, I think, it estranges you. I've only been maintaining a safe distance from poetry. Maybe just to have it by my side always, to have it fill me with enough rhythm.
FG: If you could travel back in time to any age, what would you tell your past self?
DK: I would tell my past self to never grow up (in some ways!). My father has been reminding me to 'grow younger' since the past couple of years as well. When I was younger, I never cared about perfection or being on top of everything. I could easily laugh. It's getting difficult for me to be vulnerable, and be myself in front of everyone, or even trust people. It's a dangerous place to be in, sometimes.
FG: What have you been reading or listening to lately? Your favourite tv shows? Are there any lesser-known books, shows or albums that you’d recommend?
DK: I hate television. I don't watch it, except to catch a movie or a documentary
(very rarely). However, I love watching MasterChef Austalia, especially the
Marco Pierre White week!
Abida Parveen is one of my favourite singers. I always cry when I listen to her
voice. David Bowie, is also an all-time favourite. Love watching Zakir Hussain
play the tabla. And I have 'Sylvia's Mother' by Dr. Hook, 'Cheers Darlin' by
Damien Rice,' and 'Stand Up' by Hindi Zahra on loop today. I have far too many
classic Bollywood favourites, most of which are from the era of black and white
movies! (One can see me smile cheekily when I am listening to those!)
I read a lot of Anglophone Indian poetry. The list is extensive. Indian poets are
not read on a wide scale. As a matter of fact, I believe labels like 'Poets of Color'
or 'marginalized communities' are over-used and are usually not considered
in their entirety. In fact, I find most discourses about poetry are from a very
America-centric view, ignoring the contemporary literary scenes that exist
elsewhere. Read the works of Adil Jussawalla, Ranjit Hoskote, Dom Moraes,
Eunice De Souza, Vivek Narayanan, Jayanta Mahapatra. Daljit Nagra, A.K.
Ramanujan, Arundhati Subramaniam, Manohar Shetty, Keki Daruwalla, Vijay
Nambisan, Mamang Dai and so, so many more.
FG: Lastly, to stay true to our name, do you like sweet or sour food better?
DK: I am in for good food; I don't care if it's sweet or sour. Haha, just give me food!
Welcome to this month's Sweet Talk, a series in which we Rascals chat with cool and creative teenagers. Today, I’ll be talking to Devanshi Khetarpal, an author, poet, and Editor-in-Chief of Inklette. You can read her official bio below:
Devanshi Khetarpal's poems have been published or are forthcoming in Vayavya, Indian Literature, Souvenir, and Drunk in A Midnight Choir, among others. She is the author of Welcome to Hilltop High (Indra, 2012) and Co:ma,to'se (Partridge, 2014). Devanshi is an alumna of the Iowa Young Writers' Studio 2015 and the University of Virginia's Young Writers Workshop 2016. Her work has been recognized by Columbia College Chicago and Hollins University. Khetarpal currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Inklette, a Managing Editor for Sprout Magazine and a Poetry Reader for The Blueshift Journal. She lives in Bhopal, India, where she is usually spotted reading chapbooks in shady cafes.
Farah Ghafoor is a sixteen-year-old poet and editor-in-chief at Sugar Rascals. Her work is published or forthcoming in Ninth Letter, alien mouth, and Big Lucks among other places, and has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Farah is the recipient of the 2016 Alexandria Quarterly Emerging Artists and Writers Award. She believes that she deserves a cat. Find her online at fghafoor.tumblr.com.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Devanshi! We’ll be looking into all these album and book recommendations, and we encourage all of you Rascals to check out Devanshi's books and other work online as well.
Staff applications and submissions for Issue Two are now open, so submit and apply soon for a chance to be part of the Sugar Rascals family! Remember to sign up for our newsletter and follow/like our Facebook and Tumblr accounts to stay updated.