‘I wish politicians had some sense of poetry’

Anagha Khare
Saturday, 19 January 2019

Bina Sarkar Ellias, who was in the city to launch her book, When Seeing Is Believing, says that if poetry comes into politics, maybe the world would be a better place to live in

She began writing at a very early age. Yet it took her many, many years — in Bina Sarkar Ellias’ words, till her ‘autumn’ years — to actually start publishing her work. Ellias, founder-editor of International Gallerie, the award-winning global arts and ideas journal, was in the city for the launch of her book, When Seeing Is Believing at Gyaan Adab on Friday. 

Settling down for a chat on her literary leanings, Ellias mentions that her book Fuse was translated into several languages, including Chinese. It was also taught for a semester in Towson University in Maryland, USA. They have it in their library now.  Did she wonder why it wasn’t included in the Indian syllabus? 

“Well, I wish it was, because it would have opened another world for the students. But I don’t know how to navigate these waters, the academic waters,” she says, adding, “I’m a late comer, in the sense that I’ve written poetry all my life but I got them published only in the last three or four years. The joy is in the writing.” 

Ellias’ writings were personal. The thought of sharing them with the world had never really occurred to her. It was not until she shared her work with a poet from Delhi that she actually considered publishing it. He urged Ellias to publish and also came out with a chapbook of poems without telling her. It was published in the UK. This was before Fuse. 

Ellias intends to pass on the entire proceeds from the sale of her new book, When Seeing Is Believing to Leena Kejriwal’s MISSING art project, a campaign that addresses issues pertaining to trafficking of young girls. 

Ask her why Kejriwal, and she’s quick to answer. “I have known Leena for a long time and have watched her grow from a photographer and an artist to this person she’s become today. I was in awe of what she was doing. As a young woman from a conventional Marwari family, she kind of came out of that and took on this huge mission,” Ellias says, her voice filled with pride and admiration. “I wanted to help her even if it’s a drop in the ocean,” she adds. 

Her new book is a conversation between senses. She says she’s proud to have had this opportunity to share her thoughts with people, since she believes that art speaks to you quietly in silence, and she responds with words. 

So has the literary scene evolved in the country? Ellias’s views are pretty clear on this. She explains, “It is an evolution. It’s very life-affirming when you watch the whole poetry scene in India, the way it is growing and blossoming. You cannot imagine the number of poets we have whose names one probably doesn’t know. But they are writing good stuff.” 

However, she agrees on the importance of having benchmarks in place to decide what’s good and what’s average. It’s important to have filters, especially at a time when so many poets are self-publishing. The poet is even planning to do an event in Mumbai called ‘World Without Walls’. “I’m inviting poets from different backgrounds to come and read in their languages because the sound — whether it’s Tamil or Marathi or Bengali — is beautiful. I want to bring all these people together and have a session. It’s an international poetry celebration,” she adds.

Although she’s relatively new to the scene, she has attended quite a few literary festivals. She liked the one in Macedonia and also those in Bengaluru, Kolkata and Jaipur. In an age where everything sells based on reviews, we wonder if book reviews are important to her. She replies almost instantaneously, “It depends on the reviewer you know. Though I hope my book gets reviewed because it helps in spreading the word.” 

So what’s the scope of poetry? Is it limited to art and dance and music? She has an interesting answer to that. “I wish poetry would come into politics. Politicians are so unimaginative. I wish they would have some sense of poetry. Maybe then, the world would be a better place to live in,” she says. 

Now that seems like a distant thought. What we do hope, however, is that her book does well and helps support the good cause. A better world for all is indeed what we need today.

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