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Interview with Ameya Bondre

Ameya's writing has been featured in the Bombay Review, Cafe Dissensus, Visual Verse, and several other platforms. He has authored Afsaane, a collection of short stories on relationships, hope, conflict, and acceptance, and Rippling Waters of Solitude, a collection of poems. 

He shuttles between Mumbai, Bhopal, and Bengaluru, and he is working on his next book, a novel. He is also a trained physician (KEM Hospital, Mumbai) and a healthcare researcher with honors from Johns Hopkins University (alumnus), MIT, and TEDx.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I think a lot, observe people and pick things. I study… I love making new friends, and I can be reckless at that at times! I am impatient, very impatient. I get stressed out quickly. I try to do too much or fit too much into a format, which is a problem. And then I break my own rules in order to break free (else I won’t write fiction!).

Q.2 When should we expect your next book? What will it be about?
My next book is a novel (finally), and it’s a mix of crime and drama, more of the latter. It also has a reckless man, now that I think of it, but he manages to commit a delicate, precise act of crime. 

I submitted the first draft to the editor in July, and she got back with (thankfully) encouraging feedback, but a lot of feedback! I should be able to revise, rework, edit, and send a final draft to an agent sometime in mid-2023, and the book should be out thereafter or hopefully in early 2024.

Q.3 When did you decide to write Rippling Waters of Solitude? What sparked your initial love of poetry?
Rippling Waters of Solitude wasn’t written in one go. Several of these poems were the results of scattered writing days and evenings during the last few months of 2020. I can say that the pandemic or its after-effects helped the process, but it’s not strictly a ‘pandemic book.’ Once I felt I had a critical number of poems, I showed them to a few readers, and when they liked them, I put them together into a collection. When they were strung together… a few underlying themes began to emerge, which I didn’t see earlier.

Not sure what sparked my love for poetry. I guess reading some poets did. Reading Emily Dickinson did. Her fearlessness. Her complete disregard for structure, at least as I initially saw it. Her raw take on emotions. Her ways of saying things as they stood. Her erratic punctuation style… just about everything she thought and everything she tried! At least, it made me wonder that there is more freedom in poetry than even in story-telling.

Q.4 How do you develop your poems? Please guide us through the stages of it.
I try to come closer to the thought I want to capture. If it’s painful, I let it be - I don’t want to comfort it in any way. It has to be untouched. If it’s a visual description, I take myself back to the place, the scene, and the setting and start jotting it down. If it’s a memory, I put it out as it had happened. 

There is no method to this except being honest enough that you want to write what you want to capture and what you intended to! As such, there are no stages... I don't have formal expertise in terms of rhyme, rhythm, meter, or structure. I find ways to find words that fit the emotion, but the thought comes first. It must.

Q.5 What is the current state of contemporary poetry in India?
It’s in a coma. I guess people have stopped reading poems, but then, the good numbers of poetry lovers on ‘bookstagram’ beg to differ! So, there is an audience, but untapped. Films have remained the only outlets, and often the poems out there… are limited by the plots and, worse, the production values. 

If you visit a bookstore and check out the bestselling poetry collections, if they exist, they would belong to the veterans of poetry, and these veterans wrote decades and decades ago. I don’t know where the modern and impactful Indian non-film poets are!

Q.6 What do you see as the poet's role in modern-day society?
A poet is probably the most freedom-enjoying writer of all writers. Even the bravest novelist will be constrained by the flaws and weaknesses of their protagonist, but a poet can always break the rules. Therefore, a poet can comment, critique, satirize, laugh, and ridicule so much more to practically create and change the dialogue on any modern-day societal issues.

Q.7 How does one even begin to judge poetry? Are there some yardsticks that help you define a “good” poem from a not-so-great one?
This relates to the earlier response on capturing the exact, precise thought, or as it happened - within you, before you, with you. Being incredibly conscious of not diluting the germ. All ‘good’ poems do that or somehow get to that. The others try harder. And for someone like me, it’s a constantly shifting process - one wants to and tries to capture the exactness of thought without trying harder, but that is easier said than done. And easier said than done, consistently.

Q.8 Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?
Not at all, not for poetry. It cannot happen. Themes may emerge along the way, as happened with Rippling Waters of Solitude, but at least I cannot predict the themes. So, it would be hard to define an audience. I don’t know what’s lurking inside and what’s joining the several seemingly disconnected times, occasions, moods, pages, and MS Word screens, which hold the lines and stanzas of several poems, later held together by the book.

But for a novel or a short story collection, yes, I try to define an audience. Not an ideal reader, but I guess the audience that would like to read contemporary fiction (my first book) or contemporary crime fiction (my current work-in-progress).

Q.9 What is your stand on translating poetry? Can a translated work genuinely do justice to the original poem?
It’s more of a ‘No,’ but not entirely. Language embodies the culture, the humor, and the aesthetic of a community, and translating into another language, even a closely related one, is poking that fabric. But when we have such great examples of beautifully translated works, including the Bhagavad Geeta, then what can I say!

Q.10 In what fundamental ways does poetry differ from fiction?
It has no obligation towards a structure. It can mix and match several thoughts in fewer words. It can use metaphors tirelessly. It recognizes that dead letters, by themselves, do have a sound. And one chooses words of specific sounds to suit certain lines. It’s bizarre! I am not sure, but it’s unlike a river that knows its course. It’s raging and happy.

Q.11 What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
Far too many. I have had a lot of temporary, short-lived ‘mentors,’ or people who took on such roles for a while and somehow came up with the best nuggets of wisdom, craft, and experience!

In terms of writers, I like Neil Gaiman’s advice on ‘confluence’ - to think of two utterly different themes, plot points, people, or outcomes and mix them up! That would generate an ‘idea’ for a story. But then, I also like Margaret Atwood’s advice for a writer who wants to write 'good stuff.' She says there is no particular technique really, just - “hold my attention.”

Q.12 What role should a title play in a poem? For beginning writers, what’s important to consider when titling a poem?
I prefer single words. I prefer words that contain commonly understood emotions - regardless of how the poem is treating them or bending them into something else altogether. I like simple titles that can draw attention to the seemingly obvious. I guess the first few lines of a poem are more critical than even the title.

Q.13 Has your idea of what poetry changed since you began writing poems?
Surely - I give less importance to rhymes; I don’t worry about how it’s moving… so long as the primary emotion is intact or I am able to hold it. I don’t care for its length. I don’t care if it sounds casual or flippant or whatever, so long as it has a hidden or a not-so-hidden feeling. You can say that, mainly from a structural standpoint, the idea of poetry has changed a lot since I started writing poems.

Q.14 Can you work anywhere, or is there a specific space and stillness required to write?
My workplaces, studying places, home environments, living communities, and cafes… have had noise, or at least voices, creeping into my so-called writing space. So, I have adjusted and adapted. I can write practically anywhere, but I prefer to write in my room or a cafe because I need a desk-like place. 

I don’t need stillness. I just need to know what I am going to write about. Yes, I do my jotting and a lot of prior note-making and all of that extensively, which sort of becomes my source of confidence to write the first draft. And then it’s less related to the background noise or the level of sublime stillness!

Q.15 How do your family/friends feel about your book or writing venture in general?
My family is surprised and supportive. My friends are super encouraging, and my reader-friends are the best sounding boards. And my special someone is a raging reader, so it works well!

Q.16 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good and bad ones?
I read each and every book review, and consciously or unconsciously, I am picking the learnings - but not sure how much I let them influence my next project! I haven’t really gotten terrible reviews so far (fingers crossed), and by that, I mean the two stars and the one-star. But the ones with three stars are interesting - there is a lot to learn from, some nuance, and a lot of space to rethink and reflect on a different perspective.

Q.17 Can you give any advice to someone wanting to write and publish poetry?
Do not think that there is a ‘style’ out there that you have to borrow or a style that ‘works’ or ‘sells.’ You would then end up not writing a poem or not writing your poem. On another note, it’s worth taking creative/poetry writing courses/classes, but again, not to marry yourself to the so-called ‘technique.’ Instead, you pick up the essential tools of framing a poetic composition so you feel that you have got some level of theoretical expertise.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
I want to meet Ruskin Bond in Mussoorie, to seriously learn something from his insane writing persistence and yet keeping and owning such a calm presence.

Q.19 What books or poets have most influenced your life?
Books: The Catcher in the Rye, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sakharam Binder (play by Vijay Tendulkar), Macbeth, books by Murakami, Ian McEwan, Ruskin Bond, Kafka, Orwell, stories by Manto and Ismat, and it can go on!

Poets: Emily Dickinson, Gulzar, Faiz, and so many more!

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
This would be a terribly long answer, but it somehow started from a short story, sketchily written for a college magazine in 2005; then a shelved novel; another short story was written under a severe word limit of 1000 to find its way into a competition and being loved. 

A blog that brought some confidence or writing discipline; then a creative writing class that threw light on building a character for telling a story and the value of dialogue to build that character… and finally, a couple of books that I could author and publish, build an alternate life that I don’t want to ever disconnect with.

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1 comment:

  1. It is a little difficult in today's era to prove yourself in different roles. But a good writer does this very well, creating a world of his own, creating characters and through them he plays these roles well. He is also doing this in real life as well, as a doctor, a researcher and a writer. Best wishes for the next novel!!