‘My Sensibility Has Always Been
and Will Always Be Poetic’
An Interview with Meera Nair
Aswin Prasanth and Augustine George
Meera Nair is a multitalented individual who is known for her work as a poet, dancer, actor, writer, and media person. She has performed readings of her poems at literary events across India, such as the Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters, Kritya Festival, Kolkata Literary Festival, and Ethos Literature Fest. In the field of film and television, Meera is gaining recognition as an actress. Her poems have also been featured in anthologies such as Singing in the Dark (Penguin), Witness: The Red River Book of the Poetry of Dissent, and The Shape of a Poem: The Red River Book of Contemporary Erotic Poetry.
See the end of the interview for four of Meera Nair’s poems: “Weaning Away,” “Shopping Mall,” “Kamala” and “Flame of the Forest” (each used by permission).
The first volume of your poems Grey was awarded second place at the Muse India Young Writers Award in 2015. Could you tell us about the award and your work?
The collection of 50 poems, titled Grey: Born When Black Invaded White, was published by AuthorsPress publishing house in Delhi. The majority of the poems in the collection explore the theme of love. The judges’ panel of the Muse India Young Writers Award, 2015 praised the poems for their “beauty, irony, intensity, and the spirit of combat.”
As a multifaceted artist, how do you rank poetry among your creative ventures?
I place poetry at the top of my list of artistic pursuits because it comes to me naturally. My sensibility has always been and will always be poetic. Even if I were to stop writing poetry, I would still consider myself a poet. Poetry has always sparked my creativity and inspired me to pursue other art forms and literary genres.
Your second collection of poems Poetry Vending Machine was published in 2016. The title is a meta-pun on the idea of the source of poetry. Could you talk about this collection with reference to the title?
The collection, published by AuthorsPress, is titled after one of the poems in the volume. The title is a sarcastic reference to the poet, who sees herself as a machine that constantly produces poetry in response to intellectual, creative, and philosophical prompts. In the poem, I (the poet) refer to myself as “it,” neither male nor female, but rather a machine that continuously creates poetry.
As an Indian English poet, who are your inspirations in terms of style and thematic concerns?
I have not studied English literature and do not have a strong academic understanding of it. Of the poets that I have read, I have found Kamala Das to be an inspiring poet. As a Malayali and a prominent figure in Indian English poetry, her works on femininity and female sexuality are notable for their boldness and honesty. I relate to her and appreciate her vulnerability in her writing.
You were part of an Indo-French poetic collaboration organized by Alliance Francais and the Embassy of France in India. Tell us about your linguistic/cultural/personal impressions on this experience.
Working with an international team was a big experience for me, as it was the first time I had done so. The team consisted of a poet and a juggler from France, and a music band from Kerala. The juggler performed a traditional art form of Kerala. The artists from the other countries did not have a deeper understanding of our culture. This experience also highlighted the colonial residue that still exists in our culture.
Your third collection of poetry is titled En Body. Could you tell us about the significance of the title?
In En Body, the argument is made that the unit of measurement “en” is half the size of an “em” dash. This symbolizes the way that women are seen as half of men in a patriarchal society. The poems in the collection often use satire to critique the unequal power dynamics in this type of society.
Your poem “Woman” was adapted for the theatre and performed at JG College of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad. What are your views on adapting poetry into other media?
In the interpretation of the poem, classical forms were utilized. The poem centres around a woman and critiques patriarchy. The dancers performed exceptionally well. In terms of adaptation, I believe that poetry is not a widely consumed medium. Therefore, when adapting it to other forms such as dance or drama, the potential audience increases. It is important to ensure that the essence of the poem is not lost during the adaptation or translation process.
Tell us about your creative role as an actor in film and television.
I started my acting career late in life, and it was not something I had originally planned for. However, I have found the creative process of acting to be very enjoyable. My first film was the Sathyan Anthikad movie Njan Prakashan, and since then I have appeared in more than ten movies. I also had a lead role in the television show Manam Pole Mangalyam, which helped me improve my acting skills and build my confidence.
I am not particularly ambitious when it comes to my acting career. There is no set routine in this field, and that makes it fun and exciting. My most recent movie was Kunjeldho and I have finished filming Puliyattam and Njanum Pinneoru Njanum. Overall, I am enjoying my acting career and the opportunities it has brought me.
Your poems have been part of ‘Crossing Boundaries,’ the International Art Exhibition in Sweden. How does it feel to be contributing towards a transnational ethos in poetry?
I felt proud to be part of the exhibition in Sweden, alongside artist Gopakumar, a Malayali based in Bahrain who creates digital art. Gopakumar created digital art to accompany my poems, which were showcased at the exhibition. It was a special experience, as the curator took care to understand and appreciate each piece of work and bring together the right group of people. It was also an honour to represent my country.
Could you talk about your upcoming projects in poetry and performing arts?
I am excited to announce that my fourth collection of poems is set to be published. This collection features a total of 40 poems, and I have received permission to use a painting by veteran artist Manu Parekh as the cover image. I have also requested a foreword and blurb from two people whose opinions I greatly respect. I am aiming to launch the book in January.
In addition to my work as a writer, I also enjoy performing in dancing events. I will be dancing in a couple of upcoming events, and I am looking forward to showcasing my talents on stage.
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Aswin Prasanth holds a PhD in English Language and Literature from School of Arts, Humanities and Commerce, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (Kochi Campus), India. He is the Academic Essay Editor of Panorama: The Journal of Travel, Place, and Nature and an Editor at Twelve Winters Journal. His articles, book chapters, columns, reviews, and interviews have appeared in The Routledge Companion to Caste and Cinema in India, Studies in European Cinema (Routledge), Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics (Routledge), Quarterly Review of Film and Video (Routledge),The Poet, The Cue, Rain Taxi, Asian Lite International, Everybody’s Reviewing, Mathrubhumi, The New Indian Express, and others.
Augustine George is an Assistant Professor of English at Sacred Heart College (East Campus), Thevara, India. He holds a PhD in English Language and Literature from School of Arts, Humanities and Commerce, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (Kochi Campus), India. His interviews have been published in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics (Routledge), Quarterly Review of Film and Video (Routledge), Twelve Winters Journal and Rain Taxi.
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Poems by Meera Nair
He fights through the stink and the stench
Of the gooey mess that you smear on yourself
He makes way to your nipples
You spend your nights
In other rooms
And sob yourself to sleep
As he learns to stand on his feet
He walks away
And you smile
As you long for the tug at your breasts
Once I flocked to shopping malls,
hopped on to escalators
and lost count of floors.
Mannequins stared into space,
ice creams became softies,
women became brands,
and promotions overtook displays.
Money was plastic,
bowling alleys had shutters;
one could get on a speeding bike
and not move an inch;
cheese popcorn stuck to your tooth
and movie halls had cushions.
Once I flocked to shopping malls
but not any longer
for I have discovered
the raging ocean,
the endless sky,
and flowering trees
lotus in eternal bloom,
you stole words from my mouth
and made them yours
long before I was born.
As I turn your pages,
we laugh together
at all those
who read us wrong.
Flame of the Forest
I wore you
Like the flame of the forest
I wore you
On my forehead
On the parting
That for you
I still pick up a pinch of red
When I cling on
To the myth of sacredness
In moments of despair
To adorn myself
When the red goes
With the garb I choose to wear