“I don’t want to be a river; I am the sea, and I am a woman,” says Kannada poet Mamta Sagar, pointing out that many metaphors in poetry are deeply patriarchal, including this one: a large silent sea, inevitably male, meeting the bubbly, uncontrolled river, usually seen as female. “The conventional mode of the craft of poetry is understood in the male perspective and gazes,” says Sagar, whose work has often sought to break these gendered metaphors.
The Bengaluru-based Sagar, who was part of the recent Bengaluru Poetry Festival 2022 and wears many hats—poet, academic, playwright, activist, performer and translator – confesses that she usually writes at night. “I am an owl, a ghost. I usually write late evening, often till midnight or early morning at my house. I need a lot of privacy to write,” says Sagar.
In an interview with Lounge, she speaks about the house that all her writing springs from, the subject of her poem In This House.
“I’m in this house; the
house is within me – one
into the other
no stop, no barrier,” she writes before concluding that “the zest for life shows
like this--- traversing
this day to the next.”
Edited extracts of an interview
Can you describe your workplace?
I have a study space that I never use. There was a time when I used to sit and write there, but I ditched it. (smiles) It is a square space with a writing table, a place to sit and lots of books. It is a beautiful space where I often go to pick up books and keep books back. I visit it three-four times for the books, but I do not sit there. Instead, I put myself in the living room, on a jhoola or in one of the guest bedrooms. Or sometimes the studio space where my husband, an artist, works. I prefer silence and quiet when I work. I need to listen to silence: you hear so many things. Actually, silence speaks!
Can you talk about how your writing space has evolved over the years?
I designed that study space. I used to have a desktop there. It was covered with three walls, not completely enclosed, with a table running from one end to the other so that I could roll my chair and go wherever I wanted. Then, I wanted more space for my books, so I pulled down the table and brought in a book rack that filled up that space. Now there is just one table, not embedded in the wall, which I don’t use.
How would you develop your daily relationships with your space?
I always want to come back to my house. I teach in Yelahanka, and people constantly tell me that I should move there. But I love my house and always need to come back here. The highlights of all my work happen here.
Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.
During CAA times, when we were all actively protesting, I translated Hum Dekhenge into Kannada on the jhoola in the living room. It happened sometime at night. Then I called two musicians, M.D.Pallavi and Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy, and I told them about it. We brought it to Town Hall (in Bengaluru), and it went viral.
If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?
Nowhere. I don’t have another place like this. This place gels with me and allows me to think and break barriers. It allows me to be active, humble and resist.
What is the one thing that has been there?
Though the house remains unchanged physically, it constantly keeps changing throughout the day, revealing new forms of itself. It has diverse faces which constantly open up. Light enters this house from above. Many skylights keep the house lit up till late evening. Moonlit nights have this soft light seeping into the house. One can see a star-studded sky and the moon hiding amidst floating clouds. This house transforms into the light that enters it.
The first writer who changed your world
Usually, literary history introduces male poets as the most important, and you grow up believing it. That way, my icon was Gopalaksrishna Adiga. As a craftsman, he is a genius, and I learned a lot from him. But it also taught me how not to write. His poems did not talk about me, my body. It was ridiculing it, in fact. I didn’t like that, so gradually, I learnt by unlearning him.
Can you talk about your evolution as a writer?
I have been part of the women’s moment in the 80s, and that is a huge influence. That helped me gain new perspectives in understanding socio-political realms. I am an activist-poet and have been responding to various things through poetry since then. I strongly believe poetry is a language, tool and strength that directs lives. It helps to survive and document our times in this vast big world filled with hurdles.
Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.