Elizabeth was born and brought up in Hyderabad, India. She had her education in Rosary Convent School and later in Nizam College. She worked with the Reserve Bank of India in Hyderabad and Mumbai.She writes poetry in English, Hindi and Urudu. Her ‘takhallus’ or pen name is ‘Mona’ for the ‘ghazal’ genre. She also translates poetry from Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, Marathi and Telugu into English. Her poems/translations have been published in many magazines and anthologies and also appear on the internet.
J T Jayasingh : Please tell me something about your origin and of course the shared heritage between Kerala and Hyderabad.
Elizabeth Mona: I belong to the category of “Marunaadan Malayali” or NRM (Non Resident Malayali ) . My parents who hailed from Kottayam district of Kerala, settled down in Hyderabad, where I was born. I studied here in Rosary Convent where Hindi and Telugu too were subjects. My mother taught me to read and write Malayalam at home. We used to go to Kerala during holidays. I found both places pleasant; being South Indian states, the culture was similar. Of course there were differences in food, language and topography, but that made them more interesting–something like having the best of both the worlds.
J T: Fine. Can you indicate anything as major influences in the making of the poet Elizabeth Mona?
Mona: I started writing poetry from my school days – I really don’t know why, got published in school and College magazines as Elizabeth Mathan.
My father used to hum Malayalam poetry .Two lines which still linger in my mind are Karayelle makkale , kalpichhu thampuraan..(Cry not, my children, the master has ordered..) and Ee paschaathapame prayaschittham.. (This repentance itself is your atonement…)
Though Daddy was not a poet, maybe his instinct for the love of poetry passed on to me.
Now coming to the poet Mona, the story is a bit longer. After college, I got a job in Reserve Bank of India, Hyderabad. My poems appeared in the bank’s house journal “Without Reserve”. Hindi Diwas used to be celebrated by organizing Kavi sammelans and inviting eminent poets of the city. Though Hindi had been a subject in school, I had not written any poems in that language till then. I tried my hand at Hindi poetry for these occasions and was encouraged by the senior poets. Hyderabad is rich in literary activities and I joined such groups where poets, seasoned and amateur, had a common platform. This also included Urdu poets who generally recited ghazals.
Ghazals are poems comprising couplets (sher) which are independent and mini poems in themselves, generally numbering five to nine or more where the common factor is the rhyme(qafiya), refrain (radeef) and metre (beher). The last couplet generally includes the pen name or takhallus of the poet. I was fascinated by the ghazal genre the beauty of which lies in the brevity, terseness, depth of feelings, poetic language and symbolism. I started to write ghazals under the guidance of Dr. Kamal Prasad Kamal of Hyderabad and R.P.Sharma Mehrish of Mumbai. I shortened my Malayali pet name Omana to create my pen name Mona, more suited to Urdu /Hindi ghazals. I also wrote a few English ghazals too.
J T: It’s great, I heard from your poet friend Annie that you took voluntary retirement because of your passion for poetry. How far is it true?
Mona: Sounds romantic and poetic but that’s a misunderstanding. The prosaic truth is that RBI gave a one-time offer for early retirement in 2003, call it a silver handshake, which many accepted, including myself who was then posted in Mumbai. Having taken voluntary retirement, it is true that I got more time to pursue my passion for poetry.
J T: But it is a sweet misunderstanding of Annie, a fine poet friend of you and me from Kottayam. Your new poetry collection Beyond Images is a perfect blend of ‘poetry art’ and ‘art poetry’ (poetry and illustrations) and can you brief how could you associate with the Nepali artist Sushil Thapa and how far it enriched your experience in book making?
Mona: It was good luck or call it destiny that Sushil Thapa, living in Kathmandu, Nepal happened to read my poem “Smriti” that appeared in the Hindi magazine Kadambini many years ago. Along with the many appreciation letters I received, one was from him. I kept up correspondence with a few of these well wishers, including Sushil Thapa, a commercial artist attached to an NGO called Centre for victims of torture (CVICT). I sent him some of my English poems too .He used to send me his art works, which was mainly related to pen and ink sketches of tribal natives of Nepal. Those were the days of snail mail and a reply could be expected in a month or so from Nepal. He wrote in one letter that whenever I publish my book of poems, he would do the sketches. Frankly speaking, I thought the sketches would be sketchy. But when he started sending them one by one from Nepal, I was mesmerized by not only the quality of his pen and ink sketches, but by the way he was able to bring out the soul of the poems. I also rewrote some of my poems to match his excellence. I think the book is unique due to these poetic sketches.
Padmasree Jagdish Mittal, who is both a great artist and writer seemed the perfect person to write the foreword for this book which has both poetry and art. Prof. S S Prabhakar Rao has also given an analytical introduction.
It seems easier to write poetry than to get it published as a book. But with the co operation and encouragement of all concerned, Beyond Images has finally seen the light of day.
J T: Your poems are short, pithy and most of your titles are abstract nouns suggesting some human emotions, feelings and conditions like Nostalgia, Beauty, Captivity etc. Can I call you as a psychological poet?
Mona: You can call me anything you wish; only I hope it is complimentary! Coming to the point, it is true many of my poems deal with human emotions. In fact even in Urdu ghazals, the stress is on emotions, the complexities of which are endless and fascinating. A few poems in Beyond Images are also about nature too like Sky Maiden, Cosmic Game, Monarchy etc. But as you rightly observed, most of the poems can be termed psychological inasmuch as they deal with inner feelings.
J T: You are a rare breed of poet in the sense that you go beyond the term bi-lingual and you write and translate in almost six languages which include English, Urdu, Hindi (you write) Marathi, Telugu, Malayalam (you translate). Please share this rare experience.
Mona: Most of us in India are multilingual. Having studied in Hyderabad I knew four languages English, Hindi and Telugu from school and Malayalam from home. Love for ghazals inspired me to learn Urdu. I did a Certificate course in Urdu from Jamia Milia Islamia , New Delhi. Knowing Hindi earlier, and being a lover of old Hindi songs, which are mostly Urdu, the language as such was not very difficult, only the script took many years to master.
Actually poetry does not have a language. Thoughts/ideas can be conveyed in any language one is comfortable with and on which one has a reasonable command.
Having worked in Mumbai for a few years I picked up a little Marathi, but I need dictionaries and helpful friends for translation from Marathi.
In fact, there is one more language that I purposely did not mention , German, which was my Second language in College, because I am out of touch with it and hardly remember a few words. When I get time in future I plan to catch up with it.
Next to writing poetry, I love translating poetry. I have translated the poems of many Hindi and Urdu poets, sometimes for occasions like Hyderabad Literary Festival, sometimes at their request for publication, and sometimes on my own when I feel the poems are really appealing. Translating classical Hindi poets like Sumitranandan Panth (some translations found their way to the Wikipedia) and Agyeya and Urdu poets like Meeraji and Faiz Ahmed Faiz was challenging but rewarding. The fringe benefit was that I also improved my vocabulary of Hindi and Urdu in the process!
I have translated some of Kamala Das Suraiya’s Malayalam poems into English/Hindi, Chandrasekhar Sanekar’s poems from Marathi and some Telugu poems to English. I feel translations help us build bridges between poetry of different languages and understand unique cultures other than our own.
J T: By now you have got enough experience in publishing your poems both in print and web. Do you think digital printing will run over hard printing? Please comment on these two media.
Publishing poems on the web is literally speaking, on our fingertips. You type your poem on your computer or laptop, press a few buttons and immediately it appears on the website, or if it is a Moderator controlled one, a few days later. Publishing in print is another story. It is always someone else’s prerogative to accept or not accept for a magazine.
Nowadays books are printed in the physical form and as e-books. I feel that a book in hand is worth many on the net. The thrill of seeing your work in solid paper with a proper cover and pages smelling of printer’s ink is a thrill that cannot be achieved from the virtual counterpart. Where speed is the hallmark of the digital media, a feeling of possession marks the printed version.
My book Beyond Images was published by CYBERWIT.NET, an online publishing firm, which can be said to be a combination of both digital and print. The poems and sketches were sent by email to the publisher Dr. Karunesh Agrawal. Further correspondence, proof correction etc. were also via net and printed copies were sent to me pretty fast. I am happy they have done a good job of it. Books are listed on Amazon, Flipkart etc. and printed on demand and also available in e-book form.
Digital printing is in the initial stages as far as literature is concerned. I think both types of printing will co-exist for a long time to come.
J T: Rightly said Mona, we had a chance to include your poems in the women’s anthology of Roots & Wings. How do you rate that book and what is your opinion about similar efforts?
Mona: Roots & Wings has done a praiseworthy job in bringing out an anthology of women poets. In a time when poetry is the last resort of publishers, most of whom are basically concerned only with the profit angle, this venture comes as a breeze of fresh air. It has given wings to the writings of contemporary women poets whose roots are Indian. Annie George and Sandhya SN, the editors deserve to be appreciated for having spent time, money and energy on this project despite their being working women. Various subjects were covered; the poets were of ages ranging from twenty three to eighty four, from all corners of the country. It is mentioned in the foreword that this was first conceived as a project in connection with the one hundredth International Women’s Day 2011. This is surely a fitting tribute to women, much more tangible than the fiery speeches generally churned out on such occasions. I sincerely salute the editors and publishers of Roots & Wings. May their tribe increase!
I have seen similar anthologies of poems in Hindi, Urdu and Telugu too and also contributed to a few. These are very encouraging to poets, who get a platform to showcase their work. Also it relieves them of the hassles of getting it printed themselves. They also get to read other contemporary poets in such anthologies. I feel such ventures must be encouraged by poets, readers and reviewers alike.
J T: How poetry and poets are going to survive in the globalized business world?
Mona: Globalization has taken place not only in business, but also in literature. The internet has globalized poetry too. One can read and be read by others on the other side of the globe so easily now.
Poetry and poets will survive as long as the earth and the skies survive. Poetry is not business and one does not make a living out of it. It is a passion that… that elevates the mind out of the mundane.
J T: Your philosophy on poetry, new projects and of course tips for budding poets?
There is a lot of philosophy in poetry. Ghazals are especially rich in this respect. The universality of humankind, notwithstanding borders –geographical, cultural, linguistic and religious is reflected in poetry of all languages. Laughter and tears, happiness and sorrow are the same everywhere.
My next project is an anthology of Urdu ghazals, which is one of the books selected by the Urdu Academy Hyderabad for publication grant this year. A book of Hindi poems also with sketches by Sushil Thapa is being finalized. A book of ghazals in Devnagiri script with Roman transliteration and free English translation is in the pipeline. Translation of Dr. Ahilya Misra’s Hindi poems and Chandrashekhar Sanekar’s Marathi ghazals are expected to be published soon. Translation of a Telugu anthology of poems Viswa santhi, Kristu kraanti may be completed early next year.
What shall I tell budding poets? Buds take time to flower, so take it easy! Write poetry only if you really enjoy it, not with an eye on name and fame nor as a commercial venture. Be your own critic and polish your poems till they sparkle. Poetry is its own reward, whatever follows is bonus.
Thank you so much Mona for the time spent and efforts taken and wish you all success for your fantastic new collection newer projects.