New | Poets Nabina Das, Lina Krishnan, and Smeetha Bhoumik on writing, rebellion and rejection | A discussion

Poets Nabina Das and Smeetha Bhoumik

On Sunday, November 6, 2022, under the aegis of poetry forum Women Empowered (WE), Smeetha Bhoumik, founder of WE, curated an evening of poetry and conversation. Over the years, WE has grown into a vibrant community of eclectic voices exploring new forms in poetry and expression. On this evening, poets Nabina Das and Lina Krishnan met online and talked of work, fun, dreams, personal and professional dilemmas and more in their creative journeys. Some edited excerpts:


Nabina: Such a pleasure to be back on WE. When it began, it was like a poetry carnival, a dialogue. But Smeetha, you have sustained this. Drop by drop makes an ocean.

 Smeetha: One needs a great start, and then you keep rolling!

 Lina: Every single meeting like this, to put (it) together; it’s a lot of detail. 

 Nabina: The posters, (and) everything! It’s not a joke. I would give an award. What WE has done, it deserves a lot more recognition.

 Lina: You know, Smeetha and I met at the Hundred Thousand Poets event in Bombay (Mumbai), with Menka Shivdasani, (where) Smeetha was curating the segment: Language, WE Converge. I found it very interesting, because we were all reading in different languages. Vinita reading in Urdu, Jayashree in Marathi and German, I think I was reading Tagore in part Bangla, part English translation (mine). The whole WE world is like a leheriya; so many different poets come into it.. Poets come in with their own colours, their rhythms, their varied backgrounds which in turn are informing their work. But somewhere, it’s all happening, they’re converging and creating that rainbow existence.

 Nabina: The colours! Jo rangrez karta hai. The symbol of Bhakti literature. Not everybody has this (experience). We are lucky to have this!

 Smeetha: What wonderful words: Rangrez and Leheriya, to describe this! Thank you for reminding us of that wonderful session, when so many poets came together.


On being a woman and a writer with strong views

Nabina: As an individual and a woman in this fraught democracy, how do you extricate yourself from all the negativity? I went to watch a play after work. Everyone was with somebody, I was with nobody. I felt that the attention was on me: Woman. Alone. Drinking tea. How long will she stay here? (That is a difficult space but)… there are others who have it worse. We have bullet trains but little girls are still scavenging garbage; what is their childhood compared to boys? As a writer, I have to keep that focus; I can only deal with it by writing. Writing is my tool, my implement, my artist’s brush, my song.

Smeetha: And that’s the only way to put all the things out there so that it’s not normalised. In your writing, in your work. That’s the only way.

 Nabina: You are driving WE to different goals. It is that anxiety, that restlessness. Restless women are not appreciated. They are called out. They’re seen as disruptive. So many women and other marginalised people. So, we must write. Where I come from, writing is not only leisure and pleasure. It’s a continuous movement to address issues.

Smeetha: I like what you’re saying, that creative anxiety is actually a spur, and used well, it’s actually a motivating force, to use if you want.

 Lina: It’s also nice to have this supportive poetry world where people are actually rooting for each other; I feel happy, Smeetha, when I see the paintings you’ve made. I feel really kicked that Nabina’s done this Bangladeshi book. And now Anima’s coming out, and its always exciting (to read Nabina) because she’s got such a crazy mind. It’s always nice to meet a fellow pagal and she’s totally pagal.

 Nabina: Deewanapan! I think all women should be deewanis; just do what you have to do. And Smeetha is one deewani who’s followed her passion.


Lina Krishnan


On Recent work

Anima Writes a Letter Home

I, Anima, stand bewildered in the midst of a midnight’s jowl.

Why is it that for many there’s no home? Although it is chaand raat, the night of the moon? And a childs tearful whisper: take me to Eid tomorrow, Ma, take me to Eid. I, Anima, ask you to wait for me to find the answer out when I carry the grasshopper home. I, Anima, stand bewildered in the midst of a midnight’s jowl. What is it, why is it that for many there’s no home? Although it is chaand raat, the night of the moon? And a child’s tearful whisper: take me to Eid tomorrow, Ma, take me to Eid. I, Anima, ask you to wait for me to find the answer out when I carry the grasshopper home.

 [Excerpt from Nabina’s poem from her book Anima & the Narrative Limits, Yoda Press, Delhi, 2022]

Nabina: Anima has been in the making for the last five years. And there’s a bit of my art here. It’s a germinating seedling, that I was teaching my daughter about. It’s the woman’s perspective, looking at the world.

 Lina: This poem is a knockout; like a lot of your work, Nabina, very disturbing.

 Smeetha: Your recent essay in Himal Southasian on 1984. I read that and I wanted to ask you, Lina, what guides your choice of subject matter?

 Lina: I was thinking about the roots of communalism. People don’t hate each other, they’re made to hate each other. These are disturbing thoughts that were on my mind. At the same time, there was this happy space as a child. We were brought up in such a multi-cultural atmosphere of ados-pados, all kinds of communities living around you and we didn’t know who we were. I felt a need to write about that time (as a Tamilian growing up in Delhi). I wrote the first paragraph a few years ago and didn’t proceed. It’s only now, after years, that I’ve managed to put it down and get it published, thanks to Himal!


Only a diminutive granthi was present, fanning a very large book, covered with a gorgeous bit of brocade, with a peacock feather. He did not seem put out to see a bunch of tousled kids troop in, and merely smiled and said in a gentle voice in English, Bachhe (children), cover your heads and come,” pointing to a boxful of scarves kept near the entrance.


[An excerpt  from Tamil Sikh, A Fragment of Memory, From 1984, Lina Krishnans memoir essay in Himal Southasian, June 2022, https://www.himalmag.com/tamil-sikh-fragments-of-memory-2022 ]


Smeetha: It’s such a beautiful essay, especially the childhood parts. There’s a lot of simplicity and the innocence of that era coming through.

 Nabina: I also loved that work. It just shows, (what are) the cultural layers that shape the writer. Here you have written it with so much empathy and love and a little bit of child-like tone.

 Lina: I’m not being naive, I hope, but I’d like to believe that the innocence is still there somewhere, not all gone. Delhi is a city of extremely rich and entitled people, that Delhi does exist, but at another level, Delhi is also a city of workers, all doing fundamentally crucial jobs. They’re all migrants, but somehow, they’ve managed to create that space where during the day, they’re doing their work, doing it very sincerely, and you’ve got to appreciate that. They’re really the salt of the earth, even the much maligned auto-wallahs!

 Nabina: I think Lina should read a poem now. I like that poem of hers; can’t remember the title…

 Lina: Let me read an old favourite.

All afternoon we read poems 

Outside, a bleak sky 

Looks as though

It would like

To come in, and read a bit 


All afternoon, we read poems

And drink tea. After a month

Steeped in Shahid's heartbreaking verse 

I need the peace of Qabbani's rose 


Words flow between us

Like swirls from a thousand continents 

Saturdays should be like this. 


[Excerpt from Lina Krishnan’s All Afternoon We Read Poems, from Love Is So Short, an anthology of female love poetry, Blank Rune Press, Melbourne, 2017]

 On the creative form in poetry

Smeetha: In 2017, in the Global Poetry Writing Month, it was you, Nabina, who introduced us to the sestina. And I was captivated! I wrote a sestina to the six words you had given, and that remains my favourite sestina.


In search of a golden glow half imagined, is there a cess

on it? The forest is all dark and thunder rolls, an old trick

to frighten even the bold, the darkness is a blindfold really,

you walk on, trembling, hanging on by a thought so dulcet

so dear, that maybe you then shed your fear, and are mixing

visions of utopia with whatever is at hand, before it can clot.


[Excerpt from Glow, Smeetha Bhoumik's verse (a sestina with the six words - cess, trick, really, dulcet, mixing, clot), in Witness, The Red River Book of Poetry of Dissent, Red River, Delhi, 2021]


Smeetha: You started us off, showing us the importance of voice and re-writing women’s stories. And since the conversation is going from women being disruptive to women questioning, Nabina's sestina says:

 Just to assure Im no believer in idée fixe, I again rallied my sentences home:

Its actually funny to hear I look like a Mexican or one of those folks who regularly climb/over the fences…'

 [Excerpt from Nabina Dass poem When identity and Epistemology Hit One Hard from Anima & the Narrative Limits, Yoda Press, Delhi, 2022]

On the Writing Life

Nabina: The writing life is full of rejections, but I won’t call them downs, it’s a journey. At times, one feels, “Am I writing enough, or being heard enough?” ; that anxiety is also creative and that should be there. But as a writer and poet, I’ve only looked for that happiness, that ecstasy…a little self-centred need to be recognised.

 Smeetha: It’s a huge accomplishment to do the 50 Bangladeshi poets. Not only the appreciation, but it’s work done. You have to actually sit and translate it.

 Nabina: I should mention that it needs some rigour, and I am a person given to sudden flights of “Oh let’s just do something else”. I’m not very disciplined, but I did it in a fortnight. That gave me happiness. Not just that I achieved a book. The 50 Bangladeshi poets; such a range of diverse voices. We don’t see them as Bangladeshi; the stories from my parents and older people of the Partition era, you know, that’s what kept playing in my head. It was possible because of the way the poets drew me in, and how they’ve resolved their issues. Perhaps we should also have a version of that.

Smeetha: Lina, what inspires you most, poetry or prose? Or is it realism or fantasy?

 Lina: Prose and poetry, I feel totally at home with both. It’s really about what I’m interested in at that moment and what comes into my head. Poetry is not very planned, it just appears and I don’t feel any ownership of that. I feel happy when it happens; I wrote a poem yesterday. Every time I write, I’m surprised that I’m still writing. The last few years have been quite tough. But despite all that, the minute one is writing, you have a world, you create your own silence. Poetry takes you away, art even more.  Art is much more peace-giving; poetry forces me to confront certain issues because it’s words and thoughts. In art, yes, the same thoughts and complexities are there, but art is more healing.


(Lina reads her poem Sangat from the book Witness, edited by Nabina Das. An excerpt:)


I recall my mother’s favourite

Kanjeevaram in mango. A green border

As vivid as her occasional smile


And then there was Ghalib, afraid

Its succulent season would pass

While he remained in debtor’s prison


Imbibing tea with a contemplative friend

Silences more than speech would be

The mellow cups as companions


Beauty in a strand

Kashmiri crocus, saffron

That most precious spice


The Buddha’s embrace

Of the bhagwa of renunciation

Enabled the Sangha to grow


The lotus outside , reluctant at daybreak

Its petals half asleep. The still pond, waiting

For the miracle of opening



Nabina: And then, the everyday pleasures, I was telling my kid, look at the sunset. Take pleasure in the pink and orange. The other source of encouragement is friends like you who are always up to something. The pandemic years were really tough, but most of us kept in touch and stayed with poetry. And when someone reads us, then it is like the laya of dhrupad; you go through rigour to ecstasy. At the end of all the hard work, one feels a sense of celebration. Like this evening, its also a celebration!


Bio Notes:


Nabina Das is a poet and writer from Assam, now based in Hyderabad. Her new poetry collection Anima and the Narrative Limits is just out from Yoda Press. Her other collections are Sanskarnama, Into the Migrant City, and Blue Vessel. Her debut book was Footprints in the Bajra, a novel; and her short fiction volume is titled The House of Twining Roses: Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped. Her first book of translations Arise out of the Lock: 50 Bangladeshi Women Poets in English appeared in early 2022 from Balestier Press, UK.


Smeetha Bhoumik is a poet, artist, editor. Founder of the WE Literary Community, she is also the editor of the Yugen Quest Review and author of two poetry collections. She has been instrumental in establishing poetry awards like the WE Kamala Das Poetry Award and WE Eunice de Souza Poetry Award among others.


Lina Krishnan is a poet, writer and abstract artist. Small Places, Open Spaces, her chapbook of nature verse, was published by the Blank Rune Press, Melbourne in 2018. Her paintings, poems, and non-fiction writing have found a place in literary journals and arts magazines such as the Shot Glass Journal, Husk,RIC Journal,YAWP and in twelve published/forthcoming anthologies of poetry.


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