Bangalore Literature Festival, India’s largest community-funded independent literary event, is scheduled at the Royal Orchid hotel (near KGA) on 5-6 Dec 15. The festival is free to attend but we recommend an early registration. Here’s the link.
Open Road Review interviewed Mani Rao, poet and translator, whose latest book, the translation of Bhagwat Gita, was released this October. Mani is scheduled to speak at the festival.
Kulpreet Yadav: Why does religion influence your writing so much? What was your upbringing like and how religious are you at a personal level now?
Mani Rao: I was raised as a secular Indian, and we seldom did pujas at home although there was a small shelf in the kitchen with some of my mother’s favorite deities, and she had/has ‘high’ bhakti. My family became followers of Satya Sai Baba when I was very young. As a young person, I never thought was any reason to be observant of any religious practices, though—I was a poet interested in the passion and perils of language, I was an advertising professional interested in being clever and making money. In my 40s, I had an experience that made me realize that the world is a manifestation of love. Since then, I have been a devotee of Satya Sai Baba, whose main teaching is that ‘the only religion is love.’ I do not think myself religious in a conventional sense. I am a thinker, a seeker, a sadhaka. It is not ‘religiosity’ that interests me in ancient and early Indian/Sanskrit sources, but the knowledge. There are many revelations about methodologies that can point us in the direction of finding such information for ourselves, and we all are heirs to these sources, not only ‘Hindus,’ not only Sanskritists and not only religious people.
KY: Sanskrit is no longer used as a language to communicate by people and its practice remains confined to government-funded academic institutions. Do you see a revival of Sanskrit as a popular language anytime in the future?
MR: I do not … unless ample Sanskrit literature is written in the present without ideological motivations, without religious content and without the desire to revive an idealized past, it will not be a popular language. Sadly, religious separatists position Sanskrit as a language more sacred than other languages, and there is no such thing, and there are mantras in other languages too including in Arabic. Sanskrit is a delightful language, and those who have access to it have that pleasure. It is also a window into our heritage, it is a shame if politics and religion hijack it.
KY: As a writer you seem interested in classics and religion which are associated with rules and dogma—does that influence your personal life and perspectives?
MR: I believe people make rules, and when the rules are outdated and no longer wise and helpful they can be revised. Everything has a structure, even a seashell. In art, we need structure, it helps us be creative. I recall a film by Lars von Trier called The Five Obstructions… I have a taste for classics and formal values in literature. Socially, politically and culturally, I am progressive
KY: In 91st Meridian, the publication of the University of Iowa, I read something which made me pause and reflect on my own definition of love. You had said, “If we don’t stop writing love poems, how can we be loved?” It’s a curious thought and I’m sure it can’t be hurried through by any reader, but while I contemplate more on this, can I ask you for your definition of love?
MR: Ohnonono! I won’t spoil your fun, please read the essay and if that doesn’t help, how about my New & Selected Poems, lots of love poems in that. J And hey, let me know if you come up with a definition when you’re done contemplating.
KY: Do you like Bangalore? Any thread that’s common between Bangalore and Hong Kong where you have lived most of your life.
MR: I like anywhere I can have a view of some trees and birds! But Bangalore is where my books are now.