In Conversation with Poet & Writer Sanam Sharma
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
Writing is cathartic as it is said and believed by many, it is also the same for poet Sanam who happens to capture all the things that he sees around him, the places that he visits and even the cycle of time to seasons, he finds poetry everywhere and portrays them through his musings and video recitations. I happenstance on Sanam Sharma’s poetry book “The Faint Trickle of the Sand Grains when I first heard his spoken poem ‘Rooms’ from the collection and was truly enticed by the way of his reciting it and soon found out about the book and bought it immediately. I have to admit it was a great reading experience for me this year as his poetry is fresh and unique at the same time. He has a different way of presenting the world that is flowing by, the mundane and even the nostalgia, that you would actually feel the words to be settling deep inside you and giving you a feeling of reading something truly intriguing and soulful both.
As with his constant struggle of living two identities in his adopted city Melbourne (Australia) and carrying the strongest essence of being a Punjabi boy within his soul he often fights this paradox and does justice to his feelings through poetry. He is seldom expressive of all the angst, pathos and even the social and political issues that are taking place in his birth country India and chooses to give them voice through his poems. As much this feeling of trying to be at peace with the present life in Melbourne and those moments of nostalgia from his childhood days spent in Punjab that takes over him more often, or perhaps it stays within him all the time inside his soul reminds me of this quote by Jhumpa Lahiri who is a migrant herself and has written about her similar feelings in her book “The Namesake”.
“They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
With two published poetry collection ‘Tamed Words’ and ‘The Faint Trickle of the Sand Grains’ poet Sanam is also a romantic at heart and has dedicated many of his poems and his most candid feelings towards his wife in both the books. Born and brought up in Amritsar (India), Sanam migrated to Melbourne, Australia in 1999. It is this dichotomy of being a migrant, where the writer emerges in Sanam, as he grapples with a sense of his identity across two cultures. Growing up, writing and poetry, started as a fanciful hobby for Sanam. He would often sneak into his dad’s library and stealthily feast on the works of many famous poets and writers. Published in 2016 “Tamed Words” (AuthorsPress, India), is Sanam’s first book where he takes the leap from being a writer who kept losing poetry written on stray pieces of paper, to a published poet. A regular blogger with SBS Radio Australia (https://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/person/sanam-sharma ), and HuffPost India (https://www.huffingtonpost.in/author/sanam-sharma/), Sanam passionately shares his opinions about politics, sports, and everything in between. In July 2018, Sanam’s poetic journey was featured by AMES Australia as one of the seven migrant stories to celebrate 70 years of migration in Australia (https://www.ames.net.au/australianmade/migrantstory-sanam-sharma-90s).
Plethora Blogazine thus takes this great opportunity to bring forth this exclusive interview of Sanam Sharma, revealing the real poet, his life story and more about him through his own words.
PB. You have mentioned in your Bio in your first poetry collection ‘Tamed Words’ that due to the dichotomy of being a migrant and somewhere coping with two identities you started writing poetry. What is it that makes you feel more at struggle the feeling of being a migrant or the feeling of leaving your birth place behind?
Sanam. I feel being a migrant is a bit schizophrenic and as time passes, instead of making peace with this dichotomy, I have felt, it starts weighing on you even more. The struggle is not about getting used to the new place – I guess in my case, home for me now is Melbourne and I feel it’s the best city in the world to live. The identity crisis is more a product of the geo-social world around us which is increasingly getting intolerant by the day. It doesn’t take much for someone in Australia to let me know that “I need to go back where I came from”, and on the other hand, many a time when I write about India in my write-ups, I have been advised by Indian residents to not bother about the politics and issues faced by them as they feel I no longer have a right to do so.
I am strong enough to hold my own opinions in all of this and through my writings I make sure I comment on anything that upsets me or bothers me from time to time – both about India or Australia. But the fact that people view you as a temporary citizen on both sides, bothers me. People affiliate loyalties with religions, politics, and geographies these days – the sense of community is diminishing. That’s the identity crisis. I feel more strongly about it for our kids who are growing up in migrant households. So my poetry is usually about things in the society that I feel need to be condemned from time to time.
PB. Your poems are mostly metaphorical and you make the seasons, the cycle of time, the mundane things from your life, your observation about the places you visit into poetry. How do you see the world, I mean do you think poets have a different way of seeing the things happening around them or is it words that start playing their magic in a poet’s heart?
Sanam. I don’t really consider myself a writer or a poet so I am not really equipped to comment on how poets would think. I usually write about anything that gets stuck in my head and compels me enough to write about it. I cannot (and I refuse to) write about breakups, heart-break, and like. I feel others do it better than me. My poetry is merely an attempt at trying to tell a thought that is stuck in my head and I have to get it out. Most of the things that influence me are thoughts that come to my mind when I am observing or experiencing anything – so usually I take a photo of that place or thing with my phone and then when I am sitting by myself later in the day I revisit it and try to write what I had felt about that place or that occurrence.
Like most of us, I am riddled with the question about our existence too – where have we come from and what’s the purpose of our lives – hence, I try to find those answers in dusks, dawns, nights, time, and all such things that we associate with lifetimes. Lately, I have started doing a series on my Facebook profile called “Postcards” – here I write about places we visit during our holidays.
PB. I have noticed in few of your poems you mention that dreadful time of 1984’s massacre. Does that incident have still impact on your mind and has it affected the life of you and other people back then in Punjab?
Sanam. I grew up in Punjab in the 1980s when it was riddled with unrest and terror. Growing up in a little village we were a minority Hindu family in a predominantly Sikh village – however, the brotherhood and care extended by our fellow villagers to ensure the welfare of our family in those days is the real essence of ‘Punjab’. Yet, the terror that ruled the nights of Punjab in those days was palpable and it has left a lasting impression on all of us who have endured it. I did not suffer any personal losses (touchwood) through that phase but the innocent lives lost through that entire phase (no matter which religion) remains a dark spot in Indian history.
I feel very strongly about the innocent Sikhs who were mercilessly butchered by mobs in Delhi – I try and contemplate how their kids, and families would have put their lives back together after those horrendous events and how they remain deprived of any justice – it is not just disappointing but infuriating. I will never shy away from expressing my disgust about the killings in Delhi in 1984 and how successive governments have failed to deliver justice to these people.
In Punjab we had grown up on horror stories from the days of Partition and then to have the entire saga of 1984 and the 1980s and early 1990s to contend with – that state and its people have suffered a lot.
PB. You call Melbourne (Australia) your present city of residence, your adopted home city. Why do you still feel a sense of not belonging to the city and what is it that you miss the most about your birth place?
Sanam. I am in love with Melbourne – it's my home. It is the place where my son is growing up. I feel totally at home in Melbourne. Every personal and professional accomplishment that I have managed in life, they have all happened in Melbourne – so I am forever indebted to Melbourne. Melbourne is my happy place.
That said, I guess you never outgrow the places where you spend your childhoods. I grew up in a village named Pakharpura in Punjab (and then in Amritsar) where life used to be quite simple in those days. My memories of growing up are made up of a rural lifestyle that was extremely uncomplicated, yet rich with culture and folk-lore – things that are fast becoming irrelevant – so all I try to do through my writings when I revisit those days is to chronicle those things that I feel are fading away from those societies and communities. Punjab has moved on since I left, and it should – countries, and societies must all evolve – however, our references for the places we have known in our lives come from the things, the rituals, the art, the literature, and the lifestyles that used to exist in those places when we were there. So in a way we all remain stagnant at some intrinsic level as we move through our lives, this stagnant bit is the childhood which tugs on you every now and then.
PB. I read in your Bio that your father is a published writer? What does he write? Would you like to tell us about some of his works?
Sanam. My dad is genuine authority on literature in my eyes. He spent his working life as an academician teaching English language and literature (he can teach entire Shakespeare in Punjabi for those who may not be well versed in English – such is his prowess). Dad can recite all the great English poets by heart.
However, he is equally good with Punjabi and Urdu literature. His maths teacher in the village school he studied in, was the legendary “Shiv Kumar Batalvi”. I grew up watching my dad writing pieces for newspapers. He used to read a lot too. In the 1990s he wrote three books in Punjabi – Two Poetry collections titled “Cheesaan Kaseesan Aunsian” and “Nazraya Dudh” and a collection of female centric stories titled “Aakhir Kad Tak”
He has taught himself to use Facebook and Social Media and is busy writing Haikus these days on various online groups and platforms.
PB. When you are not writing, what is it that you love to do most in your solace?
Sanam. I am a cricket tragic of the highest order – in Melbourne I can be found at the MCG whenever there is a cricket game on. I cannot play due to an injury so I went on and became a Cricket Umpire accredited by Cricket Australia and when in Melbourne I umpire district cricket games on Saturdays.
My son is 10 now and most of my time is spent with him. Together we do a lot of things but our favorite pastime is stargazing at night with our telescope. As a family, we like to travel so we try and take little breaks from our routines and go around as well. I am self-tutoring myself in photography as well these days.
PB. Which is the best book you have read so far by which author? Why did you like it?
Sanam. I am not much of a reader. In fact I don’t recall having read too many books. I just wait for the good ones to be turned into movies. Having said that, I have forced myself to read Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Arundhati Roy lately – not because I am an avid reader but I am trying to understand the art of writing prose and fiction. I really enjoyed “The Kite Runner” but overall I am very ill-read. I do read a lot of newspapers these days though, if that qualifies as reading.
PB. I read an article by you on your Facebook Page, where you have mentioned that you were a radio broadcaster for SBS Punjabi for 5-6 years. Which means you must be writing in Punjabi as well? What comes easy and you feel more expressive through, Punjabi or English?
Sanam: Yes, Radio happened to me in Melbourne and I used to present a bi-weekly Punjabi Radio program for about 5-6 years on SBS Radio, Australia. I can read and write Punjabi very fluently (same for Hindi). My spoken Punjabi is better than my written Punjabi – I guess that is because of my rural upbringing in Punjab. I do not write in Punjabi as I feel I don’t have the vocabulary to write effectively in Punjabi. Punjabi is a very nuanced language and to do justice to writing in Punjabi you have to know the language in great detail – which I lack. However, I am a good orator and I used to participate in debates and declamations contests in Punjabi, Hindi, and English back in college days.
English is an easier medium for me to write in and I feel in control when writing in English. I must say I am not a natural writer – I am forever working on my writing to hopefully better myself in times to come. However, every now and then I would try to get inspired by Gulzar and pen something down in hindi/urdu – usually translations of my English poems. But that’s more for fun than anything serious.
PB. During your childhood days in India, you have read some of the famous poets from your father’s library as you have mentioned in your first poetry book. Do you remember any of those books or any particular writer whose writing style had secretly settled within your soul and you feel inspired by his/ her book somewhere?
Sanam. I would usually read all the poetry books in my dad’s library. I read a lot of them – Byron, Yeats, Keats, Milton, William Blake, Tennyson, Shakespeare, Shelley, Wordsworth. I would try and steal couplets from poems to write them to the girls I tried to impress back in those days. Then one day I thought of writing my own couplets instead of plagiarizing, and so a hobby was born.
I was most impressed by John Keats. I really connected with his poems. I remember I read his poem “The Human Seasons” and then penned my own poetic response to his poem during college days. The poem was published in the college magazine and was quite appreciated but I have managed to lose it somewhere over the years.
PB. What are your future projects? Can we expect a fiction or a novella from Sanam may be in the years to come?
Sanam. I try to juggle writing with my professional career so I am not as disciplined as I should be as a writer. I aspire to write one ‘good/memorable’ book in my lifetime and that’s the pursuit. I am writing a collection of short stories for now – I have written a few but I am not satisfied with my story writing skills so far. So I will keep at it and hopefully my next book shall be a collection of short stories. That will be my natural evolution from poetry. I also harbour desires to write a full fledged novel some day. Far-fetched for now, but hey, never say never.
I try and write a short little poem every day. I need to do that for my own sanity. I find writing poetry very cathartic and healing. I share all my poems on my social media handles.
The above interview has been conducted by Editor Monalisa Joshi through online mode via emails and it's going to be part of the upcoming Coffee Table Book, Volume 1.