A Tale of Words, Wit and Whimsy: An In-depth Conversation with Author-Poet Sonika Sethi
Dr Sonika Sethi is an Associate Professor of English at S D College, Ambala Cantt. Her articles are regularly published in newspapers like Hindustan Times, The Tribune, etc. She is the author of two blogs- ‘Fireflies in the Jar’ published on the web portal of Times of India and The Economic Times and ‘Spell-Bound by Sonika’ published on rhyvers.com. She is also the Executive Editor of the monthly literary magazine, Rhyvers Beat.
She has 9 books to her credit:
- The Albatross Around My Neck (2023/Rhyvers, ND)
- From the Sidewalks of Life (2022/ Rhyvers One, ND)
- Easter Lilies and Other Stories (2021/AuthorsPress, ND)
- Of Gulmohars and Kaners and Other Stories (2018/Notion Press, Chennai)
- Rohinton Mistry’s Fiction: A Postmodern Approach (2018/Notion Press, Chennai)
- Cinematic Adaptations of Literary Texts: The Author versus the Director (ed.) (2019/Ambala)
- Brewing Memories: An Anthology of Short Stories (ed.) (2022/Rhyvers Press, ND)
- Shades of Love: An Anthology of Poems (ed.) (2023/Rhyvers One, ND)
- Seasons of Life: An Anthology of Poems (ed.) (2023/Rhyvers One, ND)
Her book Easter Lilies and Other Stories was long-listed for ‘Times of India Auther Awards’. The book also won the ‘Best Fiction Book Award’ by Asian Literary Society. Recently her book has been included in the ‘Top 100 Books of India’ published by the magazine Literary Mirror.
In 2023 she was awarded ‘Indian Women Rising Star Award’ by Asian Literary Society, New Delhi and was included in India’s Top 50 Legendary Women, Women’s Award by Diva Planet Magazine for her contribution to the field of literature.
She conducts lectures and workshops in schools, colleges and universities on the art of storytelling, creative writing, soft skills, Intellectual Property Rights and communication skills.
HELLO DR. SONIKA SETHI, WELCOME TO WORLDAUTHORS.ORG! TO START, DR. SONIKA SETHI, COULD YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY AS BOTH AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR AND A WRITER?
Well, I do have an interesting journey to share with the readers. Incidentally, I did my graduation in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) and I also did courses in Yoga and Panchkarma. I practised medicine for a couple of years before realizing the fact that my heart was not into it. I gave up my practice and became a full-time mother to my one-year-old daughter. In my free time, I used to read as I have been a voracious reader since early childhood.
Seeing my interest in literature, my mother, one fine day suggested I pursue a Masters in English through correspondence courses. It was a lot of hard work, believe me, pursuing my studies while raising a toddler and living in a joint family. However, I topped the university and won the prestigious University Gold Medal. After this, there was no looking back as I took up jobs in local colleges on ad hoc basis before landing a permanent job in S D College, Ambala Cantt in 2008.
In 2018, I came out with my first book Rohinton Mistry’s Fiction: A Postmodern Approach, which was a critical analysis of the author’s works. The same year, I published my first collection of short stories Of Gulmohars and Kaners and Other Stories and the rest, as they say, is history.
CAN YOU SHARE THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR LATEST POEM BOOK, “THE ALBATROSS AROUND MY NECK,” AND THE THEMES THAT RESONATE THROUGHOUT THE COLLECTION?
The inspiration behind my latest book The Albatross Around My Neck is, by and large, the need to share life experiences in a form other than prose. I have been a prose writer so far. Short stories, blog posts, and columns for newspapers have been my medium of expression. There comes a time in a writer’s life when he/she wishes to unleash the creative potential, dip the quill in the flowing waters of myriad emotions and splash the canvas of life with varied hues. These thoughts resonate with the Poet’s Note which appears as an introduction to the poems, “These are poems of affection, adoration, condemnation, compunction, rejection, perfection, appreciation, realization, pacification, adjudication- accoutrements of a life lived and experienced.”
AS AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR, HOW HAS YOUR ACADEMIC BACKGROUND INFLUENCED YOUR APPROACH TO POETRY, AND DO YOU SEE ANY INTERSECTIONS BETWEEN YOUR ACADEMIC WORK AND YOUR CREATIVE WRITING?
No doubt, your academic background plays a crucial role in whatever you do or accomplish. Being a professor of English and more importantly, being a student of English has been instrumental in my creative writing process. As a student of literature, you study numerous authors and poets; you come across varied genres of writing and you witness myriad forms of writing along with various techniques employed by writers and poets to embellish their creative works which not only make the works enchanting but also unique.
My academic work and my creative writing, hence, do intersect and often meet at a crossroads to shake hands and greet each other. I am a firm believer in the fact that every aspiring writer before embarking upon their writing journey must endow their minds and thoughts with the literature of the language in which they choose to write. A shallow mind can hardly contribute anything to the world of literature.
IN “THE ALBATROSS AROUND MY NECK,” ARE THERE SPECIFIC LITERARY INFLUENCES OR MOVEMENTS THAT HAVE SHAPED YOUR POETIC VOICE? HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE THE BALANCE BETWEEN TRADITION AND INNOVATION IN YOUR WORK?
Before embarking on my writing journey, I immersed myself in the vast ocean of English literature, delving into the works of poets and writers spanning diverse ages and schools of thought. Modern poets and writers, with their nuanced perspectives and innovative expressions, left an indelible mark on my creative sensibilities. Their ability to navigate the complexities of contemporary existence, weaving profound narratives and crafting poignant verses, deeply resonated with me. The Modernist movement’s embrace of individualism and exploration of new forms fuelled my inspiration, compelling me to infuse my writing with a similar spirit of innovation and introspection.
However, unlike the modernists, I strive hard to maintain a well-balanced structure in most of my poems. I focus on achieving a rhythmic quality in my poems by following a rhyme scheme as far as possible which can be end-rhyme or internal rhyme and also I try to limit my poems to stanzas of four lines each. At times, I let my poems run loose in free or blank verse with ellipses to symbolize an incoherent thought or an unfinished contemplation. Therefore, these poems are more a labour of love rather than a set mission.
WHAT’S YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS BEHIND CRAFTING A POEM? WHEN WORKING ON A NEW PIECE, HOW DO YOU DECIDE ON THEMES, FORM, AND LANGUAGE?
Crafting a poem is a deeply personal and intuitive endeavour, often guided by inspiration and a desire to communicate emotions or ideas.
Themes emerge from introspection, observation, or a response to the world. A poet generally draws on personal experiences, societal issues, nature, or abstract concepts, selecting themes that resonate with their emotions or convictions. This is a universal process followed by most poets including me.
Form is another critical aspect, encompassing the structure and style of the poem. Choices range from traditional forms like sonnets or haikus to free verse, allowing for a more fluid and unrestricted expression. As a poet, I often experiment with rhyme schemes, meter, or stanza length to enhance the poem’s aesthetic and convey a specific mood.
Language is the vessel for emotions and ideas. You have to carefully select words, considering their connotations, sounds, and rhythm. Metaphors, similes, and vivid imagery enrich the language, providing layers of meaning and evoking sensory experiences.
AS AN AUTHOR AND EDUCATOR, HOW DO YOU ENVISION YOUR POETRY CONTRIBUTING TO THE BROADER DISCOURSE ON LITERATURE AND LANGUAGE? WHAT MESSAGES OR EMOTIONS DO YOU HOPE READERS TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR WORK?
As an author and educator, my poetry seeks to contribute to the broader discourse on literature and language by fostering a deep connection between the reader and the essence of genuine, authentic expression. I envision my work as a testament to the power of sincerity, aiming to resonate with readers on a profound level.
Through my poetry, I aspire to convey universal themes and emotions that transcend cultural and societal boundaries. By embracing authenticity, I hope to inspire readers to reflect on their own experiences and perspectives. In the realm of literature and language, I intend to contribute to a narrative that values the raw and unfiltered expression of the human experience.
I aim for my readers to not only appreciate the aesthetic qualities of language but also to connect with the underlying authenticity of the emotions conveyed. Whether exploring joy, sorrow, love, or introspection, I hope my words serve as a mirror for readers to recognize and validate their feelings.
In the broader discourse, my poetry endeavours to promote empathy and understanding, encouraging a shared appreciation for the genuine and authentic aspects of our collective human existence. Through this, I envision fostering a community of readers who find solace, inspiration, and a sense of connection within the pages of my work.
CAN YOU DISCUSS ANY CHALLENGES YOU FACED WHILE WRITING THIS COLLECTION AND HOW YOU OVERCAME THEM? WERE THERE MOMENTS OF PERSONAL SIGNIFICANCE THAT FOUND THEIR WAY INTO THE POEMS?
Crafting this poetry collection presented challenges that mirrored the complexities of the human experience. Structuring each poem posed a continuous struggle as I sought to balance form with the fluidity necessary for genuine expression. Conveying my emotions proved a formidable task, transcending the limitations of language to encapsulate the depth of personal feelings.
Yet, within these challenges, moments of personal significance emerged, becoming the lifeblood of the collection. My own experiences and emotions, though deeply personal, wove themselves into universal themes. These poems became vessels for shared human struggles, joys, and revelations, transforming my individual narrative into a resonant chorus of collective significance. By embracing the authenticity of my journey, I found a bridge to connect with readers, forging a powerful bond rooted in the shared threads of our humanity. Through this collection, I hope others find echoes of their own experiences, creating a shared bond that speaks to the universality of our emotions.
WHAT FUTURE PROJECTS OR CREATIVE ENDEAVOURS CAN READERS EXPECT FROM YOU? ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING LITERARY PURSUITS THAT YOU’RE EXCITED TO EXPLORE?
Readers can expect a novel as my next literary pursuit, delving into the intricate tapestry of human relationships. Building upon my diverse exploration of writing forms, including short stories, newspaper columns, blogs, and poetry, this novel will be a deeper exploration of characters and the dynamics that shape their connections. I’m excited to embark on this new venture, weaving a narrative that captures the complexities of human emotions, interactions, and the evolving nature of relationships. The novel will be a testament to my commitment to storytelling, offering readers an immersive experience into the rich and nuanced landscape of human connection.
AS WE CONCLUDE OUR CONVERSATION, IS THERE A PIECE OF ADVICE OR INSIGHT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH ASPIRING WRITERS, PARTICULARLY THOSE WHO ARE BALANCING CAREERS IN ACADEMIA AND CREATIVE EXPRESSION?
To aspiring writers, I would advise, finding synergy between the two realms. Allow your scholarly endeavours to enrich your creative voice and vice versa. Embrace the interdisciplinary dance of ideas, letting academic rigour fuel your creativity. Recognize the unique perspective academia affords, enhancing the depth of your creative expression. In this delicate balance, discover the beauty of an amalgamation of intellect with imagination, creating a harmonious bond that reflects the richness of your diverse passions.
AS WE WRAP UP OUR INTERVIEW, DR. SETHI, WHERE CAN OUR READERS CONNECT WITH YOU ONLINE?
Readers can connect with me through my social media handles- Instagram, Whatsapp or Facebook. I can be reached at @sonika.sethi.15 or they can email me their suggestions or queries at email@example.com