Gopikrishnan Kottoor (b. 1965) is an Indian poet from the state of Kerala. A poet of international repute, his most cherished works include poetry collections Piccolo, Milestones to the Sun, Sunbirds in the Rain, Nirvana and Other Poems, Rev: Father Benedict Goes to Heaven and Other Poems, Tell Me Neruda and Painters of Evening. He has also penned a few plays and novels. Mr. Kottoor has edited A New Book of Indian Poems in English, and Poetry Chain – a poetry quarterly since 1997. He lives in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Presented herewith is an edited excerpt of a conversation Mahesh Paudyal of The Gorha Times had with Mr. Kottoor recently.
Greetings from the side of The Gorkha Times. Hope time is treating you very well, in spite of the global COVID pandemic. Pain, fear and apocalypse have always been a part of the human civilization. Yet, every time an uncomfortable time comes, poets and writers discover some light; some ways out. How do poets and philosophers, in your part of the world, respond to pain and crisis?
Thank you. Quite some uncertainties and difficulties. I guess poets by nature are a worrying apprehensive, and curious lot. And the irony is that they are the philosophers who take a cue from Nature and direct the earth. For them it is a double load. Well, I guess we are learning to find light at the end of the dark, and go all the way, getting there, hiding tears, and singing.
You are fundamentally a poet, though you have other dimensions of writing. A cursory study of your poetry shows two things. First, you specialize in dramatizing the soft parts of human relations: love, emotion, trust, intimacy, feelings, etc. Second, your keep yourself free from the hard facts of the present world. What are your poetic motifs?
Poetic motifs. I like that. Yes, you are right. I guess I’m that kind of person you think I am. That opening up to the heart makes writing easier I guess, though it is not really easy. If you look at the body of the letters of Keats, you’ll find his poetic motifs embedded there. Maybe all my other work are searches to rediscover such motifs. And writing is most often a personal approach to look deeper into the hard bitterness of life, and to try and find answers.
Kerala has always been a cross-section of multiple cultures. Even the West started interacting with the Indian mainland from here. Kerala is among those Indian states that adopted to English education much earlier than other Indian states. Have all these factors affected your growth as an intellectual and a poet?
Well, I had the good fortune to be educated in a Jesuit school that had core values and insights. Even in our State schools, during my formative years we had ace teachers who were role models. So you find that even some of our best poets, academicians, civil servants had their early phase in such schools. Well. But now, I’m not too sure what is happening with our education system. Even the general texts I find are not lamp lighters for the young anymore. As elsewhere politics and corruption keep spoiling everything. And that’s deeply affecting growing up minds.
You are also a novelist and playwright, besides being a poet. What are the types of themes and issues your plays and novels take up?
My inspiration is mainly from real life. My poem sequence, Father, Wake us in Passing, which won me a German Residency was on my father in coma, and dying. It was hard for me to write the poem. My plays on the life of the poet, Bharati, Jesus Pearl, on a soldier in 18th century Kerala executed following his conversion to Christianity, or my novel based on Anand Jon, presently in prison in America following sexual charges, are all researched and charged life stories. Such themes allow emotional and intellectual rediscoveries that satisfy the writing hand.
You have been published extensively by international magazines and journals. You have also been a part of global poetic fraternity as a poet, editor or reviewer. What are the types of themes the global audience expects from an Indian poet as of today? What does your experience say?
I was fortunate, yes, to be published early in journals as The Illustrated Weekly, Ariel, Canada, Plaza, Japan etc. quite early. These helped as confidence boosters. When you ask what the international scene is looking at, I think it is core Indianness that they seek. Blended with subtle diction and translated or transcreated flavor that must give it universality. They don’t want imitation stuff. Which is why in poetry competitions judged by say the British Council in India, for example Indian themes, and how Indians handle them in English at an international level assumes significance. The same holds good for fiction such as A Suitable Boy, or The God of small Things, or say a nova screen play such as Slumdog Millionaire.
Countries like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have a lot of cultural and civilizational overlaps. Yet, governments have seem to be doing very little to bring all these overlaps together. What, do you think can we, as individuals, do to bridge the existing gap between these countries to develop a stronger literary and cultural solidarity?
Well, Cross cultural literary festivals amassing and rebounding cultures were beginning to work, but the COVID came. I guess we should strengthen our editorial and virtual platforms to re-bond, translations of noteworthy work both past and present, editorial commitments to see literature as one, and ensuring visual amalgamation by webinars etc can keep a whole lot of creative and cross cultural cultures going.
What are your plans as a writer in the near future? What are you preparing for?
I have compiled my work of 40 years (poetry) in two books, The Painter of Evenings (it contains all my award winning poems and poems I personally cherish) and Descent. Looking back, it has been eventful. Since 2013 I have been on Facebook writing at least one poem a day. This is not to prove anything. I like to write poems and Facebook does the rest of the work cataloging it and archiving it. Search options are easy. You don’t have to worry about silverfish anymore eating your poems. Further it keeps me happy to know at the end of the day that I am fortunately still in control of myself. And I’m still learning that greatest lesson. To take to living, one day at a time with spoonfuls of poetry.
[Here is a poem by Mr. Kuttoor, to suggest to our valued readers a sense of the type of poems he writes.]
You are not to me
A token for fame.
Erase my name.
I’ll still make love to you.
I don’t want to be
What you don’t want to give me.
I want to give you
All I have.
I’ll lay down my life for you
I’ll lay you down
Like a fresh body.
All lavender smells.
All awake and risen.
And how much I love you
That love knows Not itself,
That I want you
That I must no longer come
So even in death
I’ll not turn
Union of you and me,
I’ll not turn to
Sleep without you
But I must have Always had you Naked
The other side.