Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Meeting Dogri’s First Poetess

Had an unusual experience a couple of days ago -- unusual in the context of my being a books journo who frequently meets authors -- and I wasn’t sure whether to blog about it, because there didn’t seem anything meaningful I could say. But then I reflected that of my previous posts, the ones that seem to attract the most attention are almost invariably the ones I didn’t think were substantial. So here goes...

Am working on a possible story about a literary fest being organised by the Sahitya Akademi - it doesn’t look too promising at this stage but perhaps a short could come out of it - and for this story I went across to the C R Park residence of Padma Sachdev, a poet who writes in the Dogri language. That’s the unusual part: the authors I’ve met before for profiles/interviews have all been English-language writers, and I always make it a point to read as much of their stuff as possible before the meeting (something I’m - infamously - proud of, given the general slumming that passes for lit journalism in most of our newspapers and magazines). But here was someone who has achieved recognition writing in a language that, too be honest, I’d only vaguely heard of before. And I hadn’t heard of Ms Sachdev herself before the appointment was fixed and I doubt I’ll ever read any of the English translations of her poems.

Which is why, as I mentioned before, I don’t have anything meaningful to say on this blog. Meaningful as in, no insights into her writing or even what kind of person she is. I spent an awkward 20 minutes with her (awkward not for want of hospitality on her part, but because I was self-conscious about being there with no prior knowledge of her or her work), got the predictable quotes about why this seminar was relevant (“Each language has a fragrance all its own, when you bring them together they make the most beautiful bouquet”) - and that’s about it.

I can tell you the other things - for instance, that the house had a definite ring of Punju-ness to it, from the querulous but vastly overfed pomeranian that made my mother’s dog seem like the Kate Moss of the animal world, to the way Mrs Sachdev reacted when she discovered I was Sikh (punching me on the shoulder, breaking out into bucolic Punjabi, introducing me to her Sikh husband with a “Dekhiye, yeh angrez ka aulaad sardar nikla!”) That she tried to be modest about being regarded the first poetess in the Dogri language (“I don’t agree with that, I have great respect for those who came before me”) but that the pride in her voice came through when she mentioned the Sahitya Akademi award given her in 1970. That one entire wall of her room was lined, from top to bottom, with books in languages other than English - what a start that gave me! That though she started by talking about the seminar, as per the brief I’d given her, she eventually lapsed into reminisces of her own work, the accolades she had got in the past, etc though she knew very well I wouldn’t be able to incorporate any of that in the story. That she told me she’d talk in Hindi because her English was no good, but a few seconds later mentioned that she’d translated poems from English to Dogri.

Does any of the above count? I have no idea.


  1. Little blossom, how does one react to a sentence like: "That one entire wall of her room was lined, from top to bottom, with books in languages other than English - what a start that gave me!" ? You don't have to get down from your ivory tower; just look down at the unwashed vernacular authors. Noblesse oblige, etc.
    And "poetess"? Next would be "editoress", "doctoress" (which I believe a few Punjus say).Also "filmmakeress"? And your junior school teachers?
    God (the English one of course, not the bloody native ones) save us if you really become a professional lit journo.

  2. Thanks for the comment, anonymous, but I thought the self-critical irony was evident in the tone of the blog. Clearly it wasn't, so much obliged (noblesse and otherwise) to you for explicating it the way you have.

  3. P.S. "poetess" is what Mrs Sachdev calls herself. I wouldn't want to edit the phraseology of a published writer.