On Love & Language

Kala Krishnan Ramesh speaks to Lata Mani about her new book of poems. 

The mechanics of patronage



it’s not always.

Sometimes I forget

how much the turning of

your ask moves my writing.

Sometimes, you just ignore me

when I am chasing after this thing

that thing, the things I don’t even know

for what I want. But sometimes you decide to

let me know you are watching, waiting, and getting

impatient, by grabbing my head in your hands, and snap-

ping my mind shut with a loud sound that rings through the

valleys and rises up to the tall hill, where your devotees, those true

among them, will recognize it, and with a smile, say to each other, ‘One

more, another poem.’ For they know the motor of your want moves the pens

of the poets over the pages of books as they praise you, Guha, who dwells in the

heart, the one who fertilizes our dreams, visions and imaginations for ever and ever.


Lata: How did these resonant poems about love and language come to be?

Kala: The poems began incidentally, and apparently, not in season, but the manuscript was deliberate hard work.  In retrospect, I know that in crafting these poems, I was mastering a vocabulary to language those parts of my world for which neither reading, nor intuition had given me a language. I needed this language because, like all bhakti poets – I’m calling myself that now, after my publishers tagged my work, bhakti poetry’ – I too am filled with the irresistible urge to tell of what I’m living, but that telling requires a language, which neither shuts the door on the world nor shuts me out of the world.

Lata: The poet’s struggle for the perfect word is also her struggle to see, feel and hear her muse, the Lord who dwells in the cave of her heart. Does this account for their at once oral, textual and visual quality?

Kala: Yes, there is a great deal of conversing going on all the time in that cave; the Lord is picky and choosy - unless the words are well-grown, he doesn’t deign to even turn his head! But the poet’s not daunted – she’s laboured over her craft so well, she knows what can get his attention; she also has a sense of how good her work is. The tug and pull between the two is what gives the poems tone, texture, flavour, why, even its words.

Lata: Bhakti as an affective and cognitive register evokes suspicion and incomprehension among many in the English-reading intelligentsia today. What pressure did this exert on you, on your poetic choices?

Kala: Very little, as a direct response because such suspicion and incomprehension neither interests nor bothers me. To me, bhakti is natural, light, necessary. I know bhakti as an affirmation of craft: the bhakti mode attempts to craft ways to engage with, celebrate and language the sacred. What pressure I may feel (if we are to retain that sense of being pressed upon) is about language: I worry about whether I’m using a language that may give readers a false notion of some claim to a special status for the world in the poems, for the poems themselves, and for the poet. As I see it, the world of the poems is in this world and like many others, I choose to write about it because it entices me, it engages my intellect as much as my devotion and makes me so inventive, it’s marvellous, and unless one is a mystic – whole in aloneness - one wants to share this thrill.

Lata: How would you describe the relationship between you as the author of these poems and the figure of the poet at the heart of this collection?

Kala: As that between body and breath. The poetic struggle is identical within and outside of the poems, both poets struggle similarly for language.

Lata:  What would you say was most challenging about crafting this work? And what surprisingly easy?

Kala: It’s always words: the challenge was the necessary daily to-and-froing from the writing part to other parts of life, which required a shift in language – I was constantly struggling with separating and using the words appropriately. Sometimes, the dissociation was traumatic:  going from the world of the poems, where I had mastery of words and I was sought after, to the ‘real’ world where what speech I had was weak and the words were often vehicles for routine. Surprisingly easy was how this, while being at times, almost unbearably painful, also seemed to make sense as part of the process of composition.

Kala Krishnan Ramesh writes and teaches in English. Her favourite word in every language is any of the many names of the god who muses her work: Guha, Muruga, Subrahmanyan. She thinks of her life as four quarters in a circle: in one, are her three children, in another Murugan, in the third, she and the rest of her life and the fourth is what she thinks of as the 'S' quarter : sentience, surprise, sadness. Kala lives in Bangalore and teaches writing and Indian Literatures to undergrad students; she enjoys teaching. For more of here, here & here.