Mumbai-based poetess Rochelle Potkar smells rain, earth, river in Odia literature

Bhubaneswar: “I do not understand Odia, but its translations appear rich with the smell of rain, earth, and river. A curation of the nature that surrounds it, the heartbeats of the poet gauges it, captures a pulse on it,” said the author of ‘The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories’ and ‘Four Degrees of Separation’, Rochelle Potkar.

She was in Odisha capital, her maiden visit to the state, recently for a literary festival. Odisha Sun Times caught up with her as she spoke about her love for poetry and experience in Odisha. Excerpts:

Q. How does it feel being in Odisha?
Any place away from Mumbai appears gorgeous, and there is beauty in listening to enriching perspectives at a literature festival, the thrill of meeting new people. I like it, even more, when perspectives outweigh and challenge each other, presenting a yang to a yin.

Picture Courtesy: Rochelle Potkar

Q. Tell us about the festival you attended here.
A festival high on quality of content, concept, debate, discussions, it also saw presentations of Odia and English poetry from different parts of India. What I found unique is the featuring of Mizo poetry and music. Rarely does one get to see that!

Q. Have you ever written about Odisha?
A. No, but I might very soon. I am going sight-seeing here. I met Odia people and bought a Sambalpuri saree and engaged in Odia poetry. I searched through the dusty bylanes of old-world Cuttack the house of Jayanta Mohapatra. He handed me some Chandrabhaga print issues, which I will take to Mumbai. He also entrusted 10 handpicked poetry books released in the last two years for me to write a review on, in his act of reviving Chandrabhaga. I was told not to mince words in my review. Do you know how dangerous an advice that is?

Picture Courtesy: Rochelle Potkar

Q. How did poetry happen to you?
A. Accidentally, like a lightning bolt. It was an excess of the characterization in a short story, a residue of a story’s extra dimension, that could not/should not be wasted and was tucked away into a lyrical line saved as an ‘Untitled’ file. Then a poet-friend mentioned that this was poetry and when I read them I was a poet and had an audience and reactions and conversations. Any expression to become art needs engagement with a discerning and intelligent audience.

Q. In line with the generation today, how is poetry evolving?
. Poetry was always a telegraphic form owing to its size: 40 to 60 lines on an average. It has now, become a social movement of urgent expression, also an atmosphere to date and find love, and kinship – similarity of thinking: a kundli match of emotive expressions.
I feel the current generation needs to invest in craft, read good poetry and labour on saying each line to say it uniquely – in a way that no other can say it, also succinctly.

Picture Courtesy: YouTube

Q. What are your first impressions about Odisha and Odias? 
A. The people of Odisha are intriguing. The few that I have met are very intellectual yet down-to-earth. There is an earnest earthiness in the way they face challenges and are honest about it – be it in how to run a magnificent bookstore or in making a new festival relevant to the Odia youth.

Q. Share some of your best memories about Odisha.
A. Skirting the labyrinths of Cuttack to find Jayanta Mahapatra and sharing a lazy-leafy noon lunch with him, at his home. Meeting and seeing the passion of Manu Dash and understanding his vision for Odisha art and literature.

Her next book of prose-poetry, ‘Paper Asylum’, will be out soon.

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