Taseer Gujral, WE Meritorious Green Heart Awardee 2022, Interviewed by Smeetha Bhoumik, Editor Yugen Quest Review

This is a glorious moment of realization, Taseer – that we’ve been together on poetic trails for more than twelve years now!

You have taken immense strides in your literary journey, and advanced the cause of our WE Literary Community . Please share some moments you cherish.

Taseer: It feels wonderful to realize we all have been together on a poetic journey for more than a decade now and yet time seems to have stood still. Which is not to underemphasize the goalposts and changes we have together been through. In my personal journey of growth as a person and a poet, there has been a happy mix of discoveries in realms of reading more poets and writers, (Indian and others), honing my own voice, getting erratic in my publishing graph but becoming sharper and surer in my powers and talents. My poems have found homes in some wonderful publications like The Punch Magazine, Outlook, Coldnoon and many acclaimed anthologies. I enjoyed penning fortnightly columns on Cinema, Literature, Art and their confluence in the DNA. I also worked on a huge project headed by Manu Dash of Dhauli books, on a collaborative translation of the first modern Odia story penned by Fakir Mohan Senapti- “Rebati” into Punjabi (translated into 36 languages as a part of the book). So I found myself growing and evolving in many dimensions. Besides all these achievements, chairing the panel for the readings and selections for the Kamala Das award and Eunice D’souza Award was a journey that went hand in glove, and also that led to finding and discovering some beautiful poetic voices.

2. These are the very same twelve odd years, that have posed the biggest challenge for women in this country; and the texture seems to be common in many parts of the world.

a). What are your thoughts on this and how do you deal with it.

Taseer: The last few years have been a period of major flux for women in our country. Statistics point towards a more stable sex ratio, more girl children going to school, fewer girls forced into early marriage and more women leaders serving in positions of leadership and power. Despite these affirmations that we need to keep making, there are humungous challenges. Discriminatory laws and regressive social norms, 16 percent increase in Crimes against women (NCRB report), underrepresentation of women at all levels of political leadership, a big percentage (30 %) of women reporting physical and sexual abuse continue to haunt us. Also it is a staggering reality that Indian women’s participation in the formal economy is among the lowest in the world. Despite a progressive stance of the establishment, cases of brutal rapes and murders of Dalit and under privileged women keep happening. The rape conviction rate has also substantially decreased from 49 percent in 2012 to 29 percent in the present times. These are the problems that need to be addressed.  The solution is many pronged but centered on one and only one focus- smashing the patriarchy, whether in education, laws, social and familial structures. We need to subvert the power structures on their head and we need to go forward and claim our rightful place in this social quagmire. The change begins at the smallest individual level and becomes big from thereon. For instance, spending on a girl’s education, rather than pooling money for her marriage – the mantra that my Grade10 daughter recently expostulated for the women in a colony she had a chance to address. And how they took to this principle like fish to water!

 b). As a collective, we have found inspiration together, of course, and that’s helped me at the personal level too. Your thoughts?

Taseer:  Any kind of collaboration as a team can be seen as a success only if it helps its members to collectively embark on a journey to achieve a common end. We at the WE got together with the common objective of helping the cause of women in all possible dimensions – whether as poets, novelists, activists, propellers of creative writing, organizers, curators and others. The focus always remained women and their efforts to gain and create more power so that they are able to gain their rightful place in a truly equal society.  I think, we have run a decent innings and will continue to do so. This collective endeavor has definitely inspired and driven me much at a personal level, and the same holds good for the others too.

As judges of the WE Poetry Awards, you comprise a dream team! Many thanks from WE and YQR. Warm thanks from me, and I am happy to join you on the panel this year.

Taseer: We are equally elated to see you here taking an actual chair, Smeetha. You are after all the founder of this whole movement I will call WE now. Three cheers for us and the WE

4. In recognition of your outstanding contribution to WE through tumultuous times, you are recipients of the WE Green Hearts Awards 2022, along with Nishat Haider and Somrita Urni Ganguly, (poets Amita Paul, Rituparna Khan and Lily Swarn received it for poetry @ #CeWoPoWriMoWE and contribution to WE Celebrations). This award is very special as it joins the dots in our WE journey since 2016, when WE Literary Community came into being.

Everything came to a head during ’20-’21, when the pandemic and climate change necessitated a renewed look at life and nature. We’ve been fortunate to have worked through those trying times establishing new awards, writing poetry and celebrating treasured moments.

Would you like to share your thoughts on this please? How do you see it going forward?

Taseer:  At the outset, let me tell you all how happy I am to receive this lovely Award, and so aptly named and I thank the WE Literary Community for thinking me capable of receiving this. Wary as I am of labels, this takes me to the cause of ecology and climate change and Ecofeminism. A new passion that is driving us all after the pandemic is Ecofeminism, a term originally coined by the French feminist, Francoise d’Eaubonne – which is to extend the female principle to the earth and its resources, and to stop that exploitation at the basal level. The pandemic had brought about this affinity with the earth and we need to be more sympathetic and compassionate than ever before to the cause of ecology and to restore a primeval balance and a state of physical, mental and socio-spiritual lushness that is much needed in its spaces. We need to also to look back and derive lessons from ancient wisdom. In all skewed structures, patriarchy needs to be demolished and holistic connections need to be established. I used to read engaging portraits of nature and life in the poems of poets like Mary Oliver and Anna Akhmatova.  Now I hear the same songs resounded in the works of modern poets like Adrienne Rich and Joy Harjo . This is how writing changes life, and for the better.

Taseer Gujral is a poet, editor, columnist and a translator. She has been a recipient of a grant for the American Civilization Course (ACC) in the ASRC Hyderabad, and has worked on the feminist poems of Adrienne Rich for her doctoral thesis. Her published works appear in The Punch magazine, Outlook Magazine, The Sunflower Collective, Coldnoon Diaries, Muse India, Kashmir Lit, Life and Legends, Open Road Review, E3W Literature,Yugen Quest Review and several important anthologies. Her columns on Literature and Cinema have appeared in the DNA. She is on the panel of judges for the Kamala Das and other WE Poetry Awards.