The Camphor of Night by Samir Satam is a collection of hauntingly beautiful verses that stay with you even if you flip the pages. In an absolutely effortless manner, the poems have been served to keep you still and move you from within, both at the same time.
It was a great experience to interview Samir and get to know his views on diverse topics. Hope you enjoy reading it too:
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Ans. This is the toughest part of any interview. However, I will try to put it in a few words: I am just a wanderer who scribbles poems.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Ans. There was no definite point of realization as such. On the contrary, it was an inevitability. As far back in my childhood as I can recollect, I always had trouble in verbally expressing myself, which naturally led to thoughts and feelings getting bottled up, which in turn used to come out as outbursts at some point or another. An effective antidote to this trait turned out to be the pen. Writing came to me as naturally as verbal expression comes to others. Therefore, writing was never a choice but a necessity.
What inspires you to write books? What are the things which catch your attention?
Ans. Nothing specific, yet everything. There is beauty in everything, even in our ability to feel pain or any other strong as well as subtle emotion. I think our choices, no matter how practical, are deeply rooted in some emotion or another, without which those choices may feel too heavy to be lived through. So, irrespective of the topic or incident, which inspires me to write about something is always the core emotion that lies beneath the subject. If I can feel something deeply, I cannot help writing about it. Moreover, I don’t write poems with the intention of creating a book out of them, but purely out of the need to write down my feelings. If an opportunity to turn them into a book comes my way, I take it.
Tell something in brief about your latest book. How did the idea of coming up with this book strike you?
Ans. ‘The Camphor of Night‘ is a compilation of poems which were born out of real-life experiences – some my own and some that I observed others go through. The poems in this book try to express their underlying thoughts in as few words as possible.
About the idea of coming up with this book, it didn’t really strike me as such. It just happened. I don’t like to plan things. The most significant experiences of my life have been unplanned, things that happened to me in a natural flow. And most of the things that I plan meticulously, tend to end either in failure or disappointment. Therefore, I just go on writing as and when a thought occurs to me or when I am going through a phase or when I see something around me that moves me enough to give birth to words in my mind. This book too took birth by chance. It’s purely born out of love, loss, and chance. One of my dearest friends and mentor Yaseen Anwer who is also the founder of Kaafiya asked me to send my poems to him, I did and eventually ‘The Camphor of Night’ started taking shape.
What is dearer to you – stories or poetry?
Ans. Both, but if I must choose just one, it’s poetry. Even when it comes to reading short stories or literary fiction, I feel connected to the work only if the writing style is poetic or lyrical. So, no matter what I am reading, if it doesn’t have an effortless poetic flow, it doesn’t hold my interest for long. Therefore, I believe a story cannot be effective for me if it has no poetic elements in the way it is written.
Let us know which poet rules your heart.
Ans. Oh! It’s impossible to pick just one… The ones that come to mind instantly are Oscar Wilde, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Agha Shahid Ali, Arundhati Subramaniam, Mirza Ghalib, Warsan Shire, Gulzar, Amruta Pritam, Deepti Naval, Javed Akhtar, Jeet Thayil and many others.
Which is your favorite book? Any favorite author you religiously follow?
Ans. My all-time favorite book is the richly textured ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude‘ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who is also one of the authors I have read extensively. But there are two other books that have left footprints all over my life:
‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ by Milan Kundera
‘The English Patient’ by Michael Ondaatje
Rabindranath Tagore’s works have molded my thoughts and life since a very young age. Gurudev is one author, whose works I have read, re-read and yet learned and felt something new each time. I think he is one of the most free-spirited humanists I have ever read, whose stories are relevant even in today’s times.
Then I love ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood. There are so many artistically composed sentences and paragraphs, that I ended up highlighting almost three fourth of the book, and I cannot help going back to those highlights again and again.
‘Draupadi’ by Mahashweta Devi leaves me restless every time I read it.
Other than the above, I religiously follow Harumi Murakami, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Deborah Levy, Virginia Woolf and I am waiting desperately for Shubhangi Swarup’s second book.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Ans. I am a complete world-cinema buff, especially French, Italian, Bengali, Malayalam and the new-wave Maharashtrian as well as the art-house Hindi cinema.
Other than that, I love to keep trying new cuisines, single-origin coffees and wines from across the world. I feel life is too short to stay stuck on native food choices.
I also love to travel, but again my traveling experiences too are ruled by the local food experiences, without which the trip feels thoroughly and morally incomplete. So, to sum it up, it’s reading, movies, food, wine, coffee and travel combined with food, wine, coffee again.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Ans. Staying true to your work and standing by it, not giving in to popular demands, is the most difficult thing when getting your book out, especially in polarized times such as these, but it’s completely worth it.
How would you describe the contemporary scenario of writing and reading in India?
Ans. I think reading is a matter of personal choice and every reader evolves if she/he stays open to contemporary, experimental as well as classic reading experiences.
As far as writing goes, today we have some brilliant authors making their mark in genres of Literary Fiction and Poetry. One I have already mentioned, Shubhangi Swarup, though I find her book more of a modern classic already. Then there is Janice Pariat whose writing style has an underplayed psychological depth and an unmistakable charm. Then there is Rochelle Potkar whose brave book of haibuns ‘Paper Asylum’ finds magic in the mundane. It’s one of the most beautiful prose-poetry (haibuns) books I have read in recent times. There are so many great authors who are redefining the mold of fiction and poetry. So, I think contemporary writing is in its full bloom at present in India.
The best piece of advice you would like to give to the budding authors?
Ans. I have met quite a few authors recently and I feel a bit too small in social gatherings to give them any advice. However, one thing has been on the tip of my tongue for a long time and maybe I can use this opportunity to convey it to my peers. I would say, please stop hunting for answers to that popular question, “What works in the market?” And be brave enough to go deeper into your feelings and then write about them or build your stories around them. That’s the only way to break new ground. No business formula can ever replace honest literature. I say this purely as a reader, because as a writer, I believe, it’s not my place to give advice to anyone.
Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project that you are working on?
Ans. I have compiled a new set of poems based on longing. Let’s see if they take shape of a book someday. I am also working on a couple of translations from Hindi to English. One is a biography of a living legend in the Hindustani poetry world and another is a translation of poems by one of the most iconic poets we lost in the last decade. However, I am not at liberty to provide titles and names at this point. So, I will leave it to that.
*We wish Author Samir Satam all the best for his future endeavors.*