I am currently writing to you from Bombay, India. My family and I are here visiting my auntie and cousins, which led me to the idea of interviewing a couple of family members here who have really created a life they love from their passion. In my last interview was Indian guitarist Ehsaan Noorani. This week’s interview is with my auntie – Jane Bhandari, mother-in-law to Ehsaan and a poet known throughout Bombay.
Jane has written and published three poetry books and is currently writing her fourth.
What inspired you to become a poet?
I’ve written poetry since I was in college. I was once told that my poems are like a painting and that’s because I was in-fact making notes either about paintings or about beautiful things I see. For example I might talk about the orange glow rippling along the surface of the golden water, visually descriptive notes. It was after a few people voiced the same observation about my notes that I really realised I was a poet.
You’ve written three poetry books, can you tell us more about that?
I’d written a few children’s books prior to my poetry books, there was always an under current of creativity. However I really became a writer when my first husband Arun passed away. It was such a shock and I found comfort in writing. My first poems were about losing Arun and having to deal with that. Writing poems allowed me to learn a lot about myself. You’ve got to work tragedy out of your system somehow and essentially I was my own therapist.
My first book Single Bed begins with Arun’s death, transitioning through despair and numbness, moving through this and coming out on the other side with the promise of looking at a different future.
My second book Aquarius was about moving back to Bombay and living by the sea. When I lived in Pune prior to Arun’s death I missed the sea and I started writing poems about it. Ironically though, when I moved back to Bombay I started writing about dry land.
My third and most recent book is Eucalyptus Sextet. When someone you love passes away you always feel like you’ll never forget the detail; events and the things you did together. I even talk about remembering him in his blue denim shirt. Eventually you push the detail out of the way because continually remembering what happened interferes with the ability to move on. So the last poem in the first section is about acceptance that I might forget the detail.
I’d always been surrounded by others. I grew up in a big family of 8 children. I met my boyfriend while I was in college, which transitioned to getting married. We had our own family and then the kids grew up and left home. For 6 months it was just us on our own with the kids dropping in occasionally before my in-laws came to live with us. Then both my father-in-law and Arun died one after the other and my mother-in-law left to live with her other son. I’d truly never been on my own before and then all of a sudden there I was alone, living in Pune.
In some of my poems I write about feeling lost, feeling like I had nobody and that I needed to look for somebody. For a couple of years I tried dating and it just didn’t work, so I decided to just let it happen naturally.
In what way has your poetry helped other people too?
My first book, Single Bed, was published when I returned to Bombay from Pune after losing Arun. The first two people I met were a Psychiatrist and a Counsellor and I gave them each a copy. I was incredibly grateful to hear that they were using the book everyday with patients to inspire them to move through grief and heal.
My most recent book Eucalyptus is a collection of erotic verse that I put together over a period of 8 or 9 years. I have recently heard that it’s being used to help people on the other side of grief who are ready to fall in love.
I believe that poetry needs a very delicate touch.”
I actually met my now husband Kamlesh through poetry too. Kamlesh’s wife had passed away some time prior to us meeting, he was feeling lost and alone and spent a lot of time at home. Someone gave him the number of my poetry group and he rang me up and joined the group. We spent a lot of time together through the poetry group and our relationship developed over time and subsequently we married.
What does success mean to you?
Success is a very relative thing. I am a successful poet but it took a long time to win that status, mainly because although I know my worth and can validate myself, I’ve always held this belief that success is in the eyes of other people.
I’ve always known that I’m a good writer, but when it began to be recognised and I heard the words “you are one of our best senior poets” I truly felt successful.
Do you ever get writers block and how do you push past that?
I find that I tend to get writers block if there’s too much going on in my life. Meditation is something that allows me to clear my mind and is something I’ve done for a long time, it’s always possible to find 10 minutes here or there throughout the day.
I carry a note book with me everywhere, or I jot things down in the note section of my phone. I tend to write from the heart, and inspiration can come to me at any time. My poetry rarely rhymes.
What would you say to someone with a dream of becoming a writer who isn’t sure how to start?
The only way that you can become a writer is to simply start writing. Stephen King wrote a very good book on writing called ‘On Writing’. I often buy copies for friends.
A good place to start is to write a daily page. It can be about anything you like, fantasy or fact, emotion, an event. Just one page. I found that often my daily page was the prelude to a poem, the crystallisation of the thought in that page, so you never know where it might take you.
What advice would you give to a person moving through grief?
Keep busy with things that interest you and surround yourself with friends who love and uplift you. It takes time to get over anything that involves grief, be patient and ride with it. Write your thoughts and emotions down, I did this frequently at the beginning and after some time I found that I stopped writing about me and moved on to other things. Helping others is also an amazing way to fill your life with purpose. What ever you do, move with the grief rather than fighting it so that you give yourself the opportunity to heal.
Jane kindly shares some of her beautiful writing to finish our interview;
When I was ten years old I dreamed of being a writer.
When I was fifteen I thought I'd be a painter, famous, of course.
In actual fact I became a writer in my fifties, after long years of being an art teacher I think I am a better writer than I am a painter. It happened this way: writing found me, not the other way around.
Why do I write? Because I can't help it. Because if I don't I'll explode, but also out of a conviction that I have something to say about being a woman, in an age where many women have only just got out of the closet, and some never will. My grandmother taught in a school in the East London slums. She was also a suffragette, of which I am immensely proud. She believed so strongly that women should have the vote, should be recognised as individuals and not chattels, should have the right to her own property after marriage (at the time what was hers automatically became her husband's!) - that she was prepared to go to prison for her beliefs, marched in processions, and chained herself to railings in protest.
Some of this protest may not be very obvious in my writing, but it is nevertheless there as an undercurrent. Behind my writing stand the icons of my existence, the women I admire because they are funny, adamant, persistent, supportive, tireless in pursuit of their rights - how then could I not use my best gift after being tutored by such an exemplar as my grandmother, who was all of these things?
Men and women of all ages write, read, and comment. That's a good sounding board for ideas and words. It's a good place to be.
~ Jane Bhandari
Jane thank you so much for sharing your journey to becoming a writer with us. Thank you for encouraging anyone moving through grief to stay strong and anyone with a dream of writing to just start.
Emily-Rose Braithwaite ~ Life Coach