Poetic muse spins magic
Abha Iyengar is an award winning, internationally published poet, author, essayist and a British Council certified creative writing mentor. Her story, The High Stool, was nominated for the Story South Million Writers Award. She has received the Lavanya Sankaran Writing Fellowship for 2009-2010. Her short fiction, The Marshlands, was shortlisted in the DNA-Out of Print short story contest 2015. Her poem-film, Parwaaz, has won a Special Jury prize in Patras, Greece. Abha holds creative writing workshops and edits fiction manuscripts. Her published works include Yearnings, Flash Bites, Shrayan, Many Fish to Fry and The Gourd Seller and Other Stories
Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Abha. What triggered your romance with poetry?
Abha Iyengar: I wake up in the morning humming a song. I sleep at night with a few lines of a poem in my head, waiting to be written, and I must jot them down or lose them forever. This is how the Muse visits me. Poetry will move me like no story can. I write poetry in English and Hindi. I think if words move you, then the lines of a poem will move you even more. There is romance in poetry, and we humans survive due to romance in our lives. Without that, there is nothing.
Vinita Kinra: You have dabbled with many genres in your writing journey so far. Do you have a preference?
Abha Iyengar: I am a poet at heart. So from this poetic frame of mind springs my writing. I prefer to write flash fiction, where brevity and poetry can co-exist and a story be told. Creative non-fiction is also something that comes naturally to me because I narrate from real life experiences. I also enjoy writing speculative fiction. So really, there is a wide spectrum, as you can see. I would make it easy by saying that I like to take the jump into writing whatever takes my fancy, usually an idea or topic or thought that interests me. What form it takes is very much how the Muse guides me at that time. Women-centric issues are important to me. Memory and identity are important.
Vinita Kinra: Talk to us about your fascination with screenplays. How did Parwaaz come about?
Abha Iyengar: Parwaaz sought me out. I had no idea or intention to write screenplays or do a film. What began as a poem-film to be made in English for international audiences, ended in being one in Urdu, with subtitles in English. Parwaaz has worked very well and gained worldwide appreciation and applause. I have written some more screenplays, but primarily, my focus has been on writing the narrative form.
Vinita Kinra: As a girl, did you envision yourself becoming a prolific writer?
Abha Iyengar: Do we ever become what we envision ourselves to become? I was a prolific reader as a child. One book a day at night, sometimes read with a torch under the bedsheet for there was school the next day and we had to sleep early. The rules for children are different now, and the distractions many. The thought of being a writer never crossed my mind, though like many a teenager, I wrote lovelorn poems on scattered sheets of paper. The love of the word was always present. To become a writer was a conscious decision made much later in life when I sought to make a difference to my life and that of others. I chose the path of writing.
Vinita Kinra: What is the one most important ingredient needed to succeed as a writer and why?
Abha Iyengar: Thick-skinned persistence. Don’t let the naysayers get to you, because there will be many. But also don’t think you can become a writer overnight. Writing needs talent and hard work. And focus.
Vinita Kinra: What has been your greatest challenge in scaling the height of your career, and how did you overcome it?
Abha Iyengar: The demands on a woman are so many, especially in India. She is supposed to be there for everyone but herself. You need time at your disposal to write, and that has always been scarce. I had to fight for my time and my worth as a writer. Not many people understand this because it is not a regular job. Tell people you are a writer, and they still say, “But what do you do?” A long time ago, I wrote about this in a story titled My Song.
Vinita Kinra: What does writing do for you on a personal level?
Abha Iyengar: It gives me a sense of self-worth, of accomplishment, and it also gives me a high. It makes my heart sing. The day I don’t write, I feel a sense of loss, like a bird who wants to sing everyday but has kept quiet that day for some reason.
Vinita Kinra: Do you feel satiated by your life journey so far, or are there more milestones to achieve in your personal context?
Abha Iyengar: Satiation? Never. I think I’ll die with a pen in my hand and a paper to scribble on. So many thoughts and ideas are there to be expressed and shared. So many writing journeys yet to be undertaken.
Vinita Kinra: How important is the commercial side of writing and promoting your book as opposed to the sheer joy of the creative art of expression?
Abha Iyengar: It has become very important, especially now, that everyone thinks s/he is a writer. They pour out their stories any which way and say making the language work is the editor’s task! I know this because I edit manuscripts. The editor is there to polish your story, not rewrite it. Having said that, I just write, and let my books find their way into the hands of readers who enjoy reading my work and connect with it.
The joy, as you rightly said, is in the writing. There is a lot of labour too. Book promotion should be done by the publishers, but that rarely happens. Nowadays, publishers expect you to be actively involved in the marketing aspect of your book. it’s become part of the deal of being a writer. Sadly so, for writers need all the time at their disposal to write. And to read.
Vinita Kinra: Tell us about your publishing journey. Was it smooth or bumpy?
Abha Iyengar: The internet has been a boon. I managed to get published, and win contests, right from the word go, in international journals and literary magazines. These were articles, essays, stories and poems. This bolstered my spirit and I never looked back.
My writing is edgy, visceral, different, and not soppy. It needs a certain kind of publisher. Mainly, international independent publishers take interest in and have published my work. With everyone wanting to be a writer today, traditional publishers are inundated with manuscripts. Self-publishing is a way out, and an author can definitely make his/her book available for readers faster through this. I think the main issue everywhere is of distribution. The books have to be visible at bookstores to be picked up. However, more people are buying books online and as e-books. The future seems bright to me.
Vinita Kinra: What are your future projects?
Abha Iyengar: A collection of my Hindi poems is in the works, my first collection. I write short, four line poems in Hindi, and plan to translate them into English on the opposite page. I am looking for a publisher for these. I am putting together a second collection of English poems and working on a second collection of short stories. A creative non-fiction work is in the making, though that will take a while to appear. I plan to write my next screenplay. I participate in and hold writing workshops and retreats, and also mentor individuals in creative writing. I intend taking this further.
Vinita Kinra: What is your life philosophy?
Abha Iyengar: Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Don’t let others get you down. Everyone needs to develop a thick skin, especially women, to move forward. You don’t need to be a pack wolf. If your work is good, it will find it’s place in the world.
About the interviewer:
Vinita Kinra, featured among 150 most remarkable Canadians, is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.