Writer, poet, journalist, dreamer, and achiever — Tishani Doshi is all that and a bit more. Recipient of Eric Gregory Award for Poetry, winner of Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2006 for her first book Countries of the Body, Tishani has already put her name on the international literature scene.
This writer from Madras caught hold of her passion quite early in life; “I must have been 8 or 9 when I wrote a poem about the house my family lived in on Shafee Mohammed Road in Madras.”
We speak to her about this passion, and her relatively newfound love for dance.
Tishani’s first poem was published in the school magazine. Talking about the poem, she says, “I still dream of that house. We left when I was 14, so it remains the house of my childhood, filled with a kind of imaginative potency. I wrote about that house in The Pleasure Seekers, and the novel I’m writing now also has a lot to do with houses. So it’s quite fitting that my first poem was about my first house.”
Just with everything else, art too evolves with time and we saw the growth of literature last year when music legend Bob Dylan won a Nobel for Literature. Tishani comments on the event saying,
“I think they were trying to signal a more inclusive idea of literature—and it feels true—the directions of how texts are being translated and read. The democracy of the internet has ensured that movement is happening in so many ways.”
Creativity was challenged, argued, but most importantly discussed amongst people. Just for a bit, amidst the constant news of war, discrimination, and cruelty, we saw a glimpse of conversation that revolved around words and what those meant to people. We asked Tishani how freedom of thoughts and actions foster creativity?
“There’s an argument that clamping down on freedoms, and upping war, discrimination, cruelty—makes for excellent art. I don’t like the idea of suffering as a prerequisite to creation though and I certainly don’t dream of making a new world. In pure abstract fantasy though, I often wonder what kind of evolutions we’d have if what we valued most was not money.”
…and how much of a role does culture and surroundings play a role in writing? She put it simply like this: “Place certainly feeds into writing, but again, there’s a kind of mythology in places—one can sometimes write best about a place when one is furthest from it. If I had to pick, I’d say memory and imagination are the two great forces in a writer’s life.”
Think of Wole Soyinka writing notes and poems on pieces of toilet paper and discarded cigarette packages in prison
Tishani also recently ventured into dancing, rather serendipitously, in her words. She says, “I think of it now as the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me. Dance brought me to understand my body, which has been integral to writing. But it also brought me to Chandralekha, who was such a beautiful creature of this world.”
Tishani met the legendary choreographer Chandrelekha when she was 26 years old. Her interest and performance in dance grew so much so that by 2001, she was leading the Chandralekha Troupe and performing in various cities around the world.
Book recommended to a 16 year old, 25 year old, and 35 year old: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina
What is the one thing you would want a younger self to know?: The things that burn you today will touch you differently in the future—stop snivelling and get on with it.
Tishani has a new book of poems forthcoming called Girls are Coming Out of the Woods, and she is also currently working on a new novel.