Following is an interview conducted by Superstition Review‘s Poetry Editor, Erin Peters.
Usha Kishore is an Indian born British poet, and translator, resident on the Isle of Man, UK. Usha is currently a Research Scholar in Postcolonial Poetry at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. She has been anthologised by Macmillan, Hodder Wayland, Oxford University Press and Harper Collins among others. Her work has appeared in international journals like Asia Literary Review, Index on Censorship, Indian Literature, Pirene’s Fountain, Poetry Salzburg Review, South Asian Ensemble, South Asian Review, The Stinging Fly and The Warwick Review.
Usha’s poetry has won prizes in UK competitions, is part of international projects and features in the British Primary and Secondary syllabi and Indian Middle School and Undergraduate syllabi. Winner of an Isle of Man Arts Council Award and two Culture Vannin Awards, she is the author of three poetry collections and a book of translation from the Sanskrit. Her latest collection, ‘Immigrant’ was published in 2018 by Eyewear Publishing London.
“Drug Mule” by Usha Kishore:
She embroiders time under an alien sky:
chikankari on handkerchiefs, kutchi work
on cushion covers, kashmiri couching
on bedspreads. Draping a pristine white sari
over her wasted life, she clicks crochet needles
in the hollowed air of betrayal. Her seventy-five
years, spanning the length and breadth of India,
now cocooned in an English prison.
Here, she is everybody’s Ma – mother,
the word means the same in any culture.
She does not want to learn the sahib’s tongue;
she is content to live in the silence
of another language that mutters apologies
for her predicament. She has no visitors.
she is a drug mule, carrying a toxic crime;
a contraband for an air-ticket to see
her beloved grandchild. She shows me
smudged photographs of her great grandchildren
she has never seen, chanting their names
as if in a litany. Her frail voice wraps me
in dialect Hindi, as she searches my face
with faded kajal eyes. It is all His will,
she points to some sovereign of the skies,
summoned in reluctant cloud that peers
through the watery eye of the ceiling.
She does not dream of redemption, she does
not envisage freedom. She has nowhere to go.
Every morning, she mumbles a wounded prayer
to the miniature Ganesh, poised on a makeshift altar
in the corner of her cell. She measures her days
with skeins of crewel threads, snipping them
at pre-destined length, with tiny sewing scissors.
She sieves afternoon light in grams of flour,
translating it into her recipe of onion bhajis.
Counting the stars trapped in a weathered rosary
of tulsi beads, she falls back into her reverie:
cross stitch, chain stitch, smyrna, herringbone;
each stitch knotting an unheaved sigh.
Interview With Usha:
In a previous exchange, you had mentioned that this piece is particularly close to your heart. Could you speak more to that statement?
‘Drug Mule’ is based on drug trafficking and the use of women as drug carriers. The poem is close to my heart as I am committed to gender equality and I feel that the vulnerability of women is being exploited. According to BBC statistics (2005), 18% of the UK’s female prison population are foreigners and are imprisoned for drug related offences. It is also a painful fact that older South Asian women are being used as drug mules. It makes you wonder if these women are criminals or victims.
How do you incorporate social justice in your poetry?
Many of my poems are themed on social justice, especially on race and gender equality. As a member of an ethnic minority community in the UK, I am very much aware of differences and my poems highlight the need for more integration. My third collection, Immigrant (Eyewear Publishing, London, 2018) highlights the politics of being an immigrant professional interacting with discrimination and reflects on the binary perspectives of assimilation and marginalisation.
My second collection, Night Sky Between the Stars (Cyberwit India, 2015) reflects my pre-occupation with Indian womanhood and articulates concerns of a marginalised gendered identity. The poems in this collection draw heavily from Indian myth, rendering voices to female mythical characters and projects Indian womanhood in a different light.
You have written three books of poetry as well as a book of translation from Sanskrit. How has your work in translation influenced your more personal writing projects?
My translations from the Sanskrit certainly influence my poetry in the form of thematic concerns and uniquely Sanskrit literary devices such as vyatireka (comparative excellence), dṛṣṭānta (a figurative device that can be described as ‘simile-like’ or parallel) and vakrokti (creative twist).
How has the global pandemic affected your writing process?
I am an English teacher in a secondary school on the Isle of Man, where thankfully, the effect of the pandemic has not been that severe. So, the schools are open and functioning (we were only briefly shut in Spring. We re-opened in Summer). I usually have to find time to write, amidst a busy schedule. I am currently a PhD scholar in Postcolonial Poetry with Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. So, in the last two years, my writing has been put on the back burner.
The global pandemic has brought a creative surge, especially in poetry, signifying that the human spirit rises above global challenges. At this difficult time, a considerable number of poetry anthologies, themed issues of journals and discussions on poetry have all come to the forefront. Poetry is a healer!
Some editor friends have been keeping my work alive by soliciting submissions and giving me opportunities to participate in poetry webinars. Coincidentally, a friend of mine alerted me to your call for submissions on Social Justice. My writing has certainly picked up again.
What is the most important piece of advice you have received as a writer?
It’s not over yet!
It was a real struggle to get my first collection into print, despite being published internationally. I was about to quit. The above advice, ‘it’s not over yet,’ was given to me by the founder-member of the Isle of Man Poetry Society, the late Jeff Garland. Soon after this conversation with Jeff, I received Arts Council and Culture Vannin grants and my first collection, On Manannan’s Isle was published on island in 2014. I have not looked back hence.
What are your upcoming projects?
As mentioned earlier, currently my research takes priority.
However – Translation wise, I have completed the translation of the Sanskrit epyllion, Ṛtusaṃhāram by the legendary Kalidasa. I am seeking a publisher for this project.
I am also translating Jaisankar Prasad’s Hindi epic, Kamayani (1936) that falls under the Chhayavaadi school of Hindi Poetry. Chhayavaad has been interpreted as Neo-Romanticism, I would call it Romantic mysticism. Kamayani addresses human emotions in pathetic fallacy, personification, and mythological metaphors. This has been a slow process as I would like to do justice to this epic, amidst time constraints. I have found this translation extremely challenging, but highly inspiring and enlightening.
The poetry goes on! I don’t think I am ready for another collection yet. But recently, I have started submitting to journals like Superstition Review! Thank you very much for accepting my work for your blog on social justice.