Interview with Vihang Naik
Vihang A. Naik is a contemporary Indian poet, writing for more than two decades now, who writes in English and Gujarati. His recent collections, Making a Poem and Poetry Manifesto have established him with the popular Indian faces in English poetry. Born and raised in Gujarat, Vihang Naik is a professor of English Literature. You can know more about him on his official website – http://www.vihang.org/
Alok Mishra: Namaskar, Vihang! It’s a pleasure getting this opportunity to talk to you in length about poetry, your and the universal, and so many other things!
Vihang Naik: My pleasure, Alok! It’s indeed great feeling!
Alok Mishra: How and when did you start writing poetry, Vihang?
Vihang Naik: It was during my teens that Muse caught me. Though it is difficult to locate the origin or time exactly when I began poetry writing. If I recollect… it was somewhere around my ninth grade that I wrote my first lines, to my utter surprise it was my first verse. To be more precise, I used to take morning walks at Maharishi Arvind Garden, Fatehgunj, Baroda. We lived very near to this garden. I believe that a garden is not a precondition of writing poetry but you see, the environment and the times and historical, personal and social conditions must have caused me to take up the pen. I used to scribble verses during my morning walks in Garden. Then often reworked them to ignite aesthetic quality when reading out to friends and at poetry circle.
Alok Mishra: Please tell me something more about your childhood, studies and early years.
Vihang Naik: I was born to Gujarati Parents in Surat, Gujarat. After my birth, my parents left the city, where I was born, Surat. They soon left the city to arrive at Baroda. My primary schooling was at Navrachana School, Baroda. I shifted often from Baroda to Ahmedabad. Changed cities and schools. Now it is the journey that remains with me as my memory. I used to scribble verses during later part of my schooling. Of course, after school, I then entered the portals of The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. By this time I burnt one collection of poetry written in English by me during my early period of the writing. I don’t know, but this personal event of my burning my collection was published in a local newspaper when at twenty-four, my published book of poetry was on stand in 1993. Here I was introduced to Philosophy and Dr G. N. Devy at MSU who encouraged me to read out from my published first collection at Commonwealth Meet-Up organized by him where he released my City Times & Other Poems. I had just completed my Undergraduate Programme in Philosophy and English Literature then. It was just then after participating in National Seminar on Teaching Creative Writing: A Creative Approach conducted by Clark Blaise from Iowa at M. S. University of Baroda my ideas on poetry were formulated and later Prof. P. C. Kar who was there for my Post Graduate Programme called me to present my views on poetry at his recently founded Forum On Contemporary Theory. As a participant, I presented my Poetry Manifesto ( an essay) propounding views on poetry and arts. Along with my postgraduate programme, I tried to establish poetry circle at MSU where practising poets would come and read out from any languages including English. It did survive as long as I was there. From South Gujarat via Ahmedabad and Prantij (the place I used to commute for teaching assignment while staying in Ahmedabad during 1995 – 06). Now I am at Ambaji in North Gujarat teaching at Shree Ambaji Arts College since last fifteen years or so.
AM: What are your concerns as a poet, Vihang?
VN: Initially the concerns of my poetry was city life in contemporary times. It kept changing. Then it was poetry. Poetry, on the art of writing poetry. That is on poetry on the writing process with my personal aesthetics. To me, poetry is more of a craft. To create an oeuvre text there is much of a hard labour and little amount of inspiration. Of course, without intuition, a poet cannot do anything. Intuition plays a vital role in poetry writing. I do not encourage command poetry. On the contrary, one can try with experiments in poetry with the faculty of intuition. Of course, I do translate Gujarati poetry into English besides writing in English.
AM: What perceptible influences are there on your poetry?
VN: One cannot write in the vacuum. Though as a child I was introduced in Schools in Romantic, Modern and Metaphysical Poets in English and Gujarati. Bhakti poets of India are recited in schools. A poet is born out of influences. Though there is something like healthy influence where a poet carries on a load of cultural memory and tradition and yet being one’s own voice if you call it original or individual. Find out ways to play with language. Cause system of literary language, conventions, codes and rules of combination gets precipitate into a particular poem or text.
AM: Do you feel social consciousness or ideological approach are necessary for a poet? Could you please elaborate?
VN: I do not believe poetry is a handmaid of any ideology. But, you see, social consciousness is one significant element which no poet or writer can escape. It will come out in one form or the other. Or, even personal history of a writer could crop up. Some would like to call it confessional poetry. But what a significant writer does is that of trying to objectifying personal experience into myths and persona. Rather than propagating ideology one should seek to reveal which is not seen. To go beyond that which is seen. Some call it metaphysics. Like metaphysical poets, we had Bhakti poets in India. Experiment with poetry would be my first love.
AM: As a poet what is your view of the prevailing scenario, Vihang?
VN: Indian poets need poetry of its own, even though the language is English. What is needed is make poetry local without being conscious of putting efforts on making it global. The Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi is doing significant text by encouraging regional literary texts getting translated and making it available in the English language. The act of translation activity gets encouraged by getting it published in Indian Literature or in book form.
AM: Could you sum up your views on your poetry, please?
VN: Poetry is a fusion of thought and feeling. Moreover, a poem should be compact and chiselled to a fine work of art. It is an outcome of intuition, the faculty we don’t find in machines. A good poem does not dictate one fixed meaning with too many direct statements but is indicative and suggestive in diction and tone leading to multiple meanings which ignites a poetic experience for a reader. After all, it is a reader who breathes life into a poem. This can be achieved in poet’s private workshop.
AM: Many thanks for this meaningful dialogue, Vihang! Looking forward to many other interactions with you in the near future and all the best for your poetic journey ahead!
VN: My pleasure, Alok! It was all wonderful and thanks for your wishes!