M: My friend and poet, Christina Olivares, says that a poet’s job is to observe the world with accuracy and honesty. In the first chapter of Asprishya, you observe a crow eating a baby magpie for at least a page.
T: Observation is everything. For my first book of poems, Suryadaha, it was the Sri Lankan sun that I observed every day. My husband worked for RNAC then and was stationed in Colombo. Our house was three blocks away from the railway tracks, and after that, the ocean. I had never seen anything like that body of water: vast, unforgiving and kind at the same time. And the ocean met me at eye level, it was not like a mountain and neither was it below me. There were large black rocks and in the crevices lovers nestled in pairs. I watched every sunrise and every sunset, that is why the title. It felt like the sun came with its own water.
But sometimes seeing alone is not enough. Or some peoples’ visions are blocked, or inadequate. My friends ask me, Why do you write such simple poems?And I ask them in return, What did you get by writing convoluted ones? I use simple words. No one has to use a dictionary to read my poem. But they come from very deep within me, I thoroughly feel them grow and then they rise up.
M: What, then, do you think is a poet’s job?
T: Simply put, to write poems. But also to know when to write, what kinds of poems to write, and why. When I was in my early 20s, I wrote poems about everything I saw: the flower, the stone, the mud. Now, when I write about the same flower, I have to think so much more. Because as poets we are offering our thoughts, our ideas, and we have to think about how they will be received by our readers.
M: I did the math and you worked full-time for 23 years at Nepal Bank. You moved from the Biratnagar branch to the Kathmandu branch. Clearly you didn’t just write full-time. When did you find the time to write?
T: I could not write full-time, because literature is not a shop, it is not something that has immediate return. And maybe that is not something we should wish out of it either. So, I had to work 10AM-4:30PM. But in between bank vouchers and punching numbers, I would slip away and write. In my later years at the bank in Kathmandu, I was promoted to look after an entire department, so my office was on the top floor of the New Road Bhugol Park building. There was a bakaina tree outside my window that gave me shade and invited sweet breeze. I wrote many poems at that window. I would look over the roofs of all these Newar houses: they dried their clothes, food, shoes on these roofs, and kids would play there too. The poem, Madhyanna (Afternoon) as translated by Manjushree was written then. There was a boy and a girl playing doctor on the slanted roof, pretending to give each other injections. But you know, later they cut down that tree. I was so sad, I wrote Rukh Guliyo (Tree Sweet), which Ann later translated for an American literary magazine.