This … is just play

Our community sure is bursting with talent, with another poetry publication, this time by Hardesh Singh!

 With 40 poems in his first poetry publication, Hardesh shares life lessons and the lost wisdom from our childhood that remind us to stay connected as we journey through adulthood and the challenges that come with it.

We had the chance to ask him some questions about his passion and are excited to share his story with our readers.

How did your interest in poetry begin?
My interest in poetry was first piqued when, as a child, I came across a series of poems by Rumi. The different worlds that he created with his poetry and the ideas, emotions and wisdom took my heart away. Sufi poetry has a certain spirit of innocence and bare honesty about life, what we are and how we are. I began writing soon after, inspired as I was by my love for his poetry. What I learnt soon after was that the beauty of poetry is in the way that it suggests but does not tell you what to think; you get to take from it what you will each and every single time you return to it.

Do you have any favourite poets or poems by others?
Yes, a few of my favourites include Pablo Neruda, Omar Khayyam, Jami and of course Rumi. I have to also mention my favourite author: Orhan Pamuk, who writes captivating novels.

Do you practice writing poetry often or do the poems come to you naturally?
Honestly, it’s a little bit of both. You have to practice constantly if you hope to write anything worthwhile, although this is easier said than done. Inspiration, for better or worse, is a muscle that needs to be trained; and a large part of writing involves learning to listen and to observe, and to be taken by the world around you.

Do you worry about the “rules” of poetry while writing your own?
I try to but I think my desire to be authentic with whatever it is I seek to express is what guides me. I always know when I have written something good and worthwhile because it feels true to whatever it is I hope to express.

Do we need to be fantastic at English to write poetry?
I don’t think anyone is really fantastic in English or any language for that matter and that’s not really the point: it’s not so much about adhering to rules and structure as it is about conveying an emotion or idea authentically.

What motivated you to publish?
I did it mostly as a desire to want to share my work with others. It was also important to create something of my own that I could put out there and share with the world. Of course, you are always conscious about how your work will be received and what people might think of it – but when it comes to art, there is no one correct interpretation and you have to be open and willing to let your work be taken by the world as it is and in the way that people choose to – which is a lot like how we should embrace our relationship with the world around us.

You dedicated the book to your mother and brother. How did they influence you so strongly for you to dedicate your first book to them?
A large part of who and what we are in life is a result of our relationships with our loved ones. I obviously owe everything in this life to my mother; and as for my brother, the themes of innocence and childlike wonder at the world and life reflect our relationship as brothers, the common aspects of our personalities and the manner in which we were raised by our mother.

Why do you think play is so important and how can it serve us in our adult lives?
We tend to get caught up in the business of life and oftentimes we become cynical and jaded. So it was an exercise in introspection for me to examine and contrast the way I view life today and how I did so as a child. In this book, I have tried to reflect the need to not get so caught up with life, or with the need to grow up and carve a narrow interpretation of our experience here. A child sees wonder and possibilities in everything and everyone and we can retrieve that innocence and curiosity for ourselves if we simply learn to just play as we once did.

Were the poems arranged in a chronological order of when you wrote them or in a thematic fashion? How did you structure the poems in this collection?
I tried but soon gave up all attempts at presenting my poems in any coherent structure. Instead, I wanted readers to find each poem ‘fresh’, separate and distinct from the ideas and emotions that were evoked in the ones that preceded it.

Many poems revolve around the material and other forms of attachments we have to things, feelings and thoughts. Was there a particular turning point for you to let these go?
I’m not sure we ever truly let go of our experiences in life. Instead, it’s less about letting go and more about accepting that these events and experiences have shaped us in some way and brought us to where we are today. Our very identities are shaped by our relationships with people, places, objects, ideas and emotions. These relationships are stories that will go on to shape the large one that we continue to tell with each passing day of our lives.

Poem 10 has a really strong message in such succinct form. Was the inspiration for this poem from a specific event you encountered?
In this poem, I was actually making a reference to myself. I was part of a charity initiative in Sri Lanka and while at a school to donate books and other items, I found myself surrounded by a whole bunch of ecstatic children, wide-eyed and curious about these strangers before them. They wanted to reach out and make friends and to simply indulge in innocent games as kids do. The fact that I found myself so hesitant, unsure and trapped as it were, unable and unsure of how to reciprocate, of how to play simple games, and laugh for no real reason made me question myself. What does it say of me as a person if I found it so difficult to simply reach out and share in laughter and play with children? And I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us have experienced something similar in our lives with our own families, friends and strangers.

Can we look forward to more poetry books?
Yes, although I am presently working on my first novel – so stay tuned!

What kind of feedback have you received so far?
I’m very grateful that people responded the way they did to it despite me making very little effort to market or publicize it. It’s encouraging to see that people took from it what I had hoped they would.

What advice would you give to others who have yet to try writing poems?
Just start! There’s no right way to begin and you’re never ever going to be ready enough. You might just surprise yourself and it will always be a work in progress even if you end up as a best-selling author someday.

What advice would you have to those who are afraid of publishing their work?
Start right now – there’s never a better time. Aim to create a gift for the world around you by sharing a little of your life and experiences. That is always enough.

To purchase “This…is just play” by Hardesh Singh, visit Amazon.com.

The Poetry House, Vol 1: Prison of Youth

Our teenage years are often filled with newfound emotions that send us on a rollercoaster without warning. Trying to make sense of the changes that we undergo is a struggle even for the best of us. Some of us keep these upheavals to ourselves, but young Charanpal dared to share his thoughts and experiences in the beautiful form of poetry with his recently released, Prison of Youth, compilation of poems. We leapt at the chance to ask him a few questions about his experience and passion for the arts!

Front cover Back cover

Having been introduced to poetry formally in secondary school, Charanpal was attracted to the themes, emotions and imagery that poems offered. He started writing his own, drawing inspiration from anything that caught his eye and then reflecting deeply about the circumstances around him.

Charanpal’s favourite poem, O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman and his favorite poet Philip Larkin, betray his youthful looks and expose his thoughts that wondered to the poets of past ages when penning one’s’ thoughts was more deliberate than the 140 characters we have grown accustomed to today.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                        But O heart! heart! heart!
                           O the bleeding drops of red,
                              Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                 Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman

He shared his work with family members and friends through group chats and after some time, with help and encouragement from his brother-in-law, put together his art into the Prison of Youth under the brand, The Poetry House, another one of Charanpal’s creation. His goal for The Poetry House is no small one. The aspiration is for it to be a global brand boasting world-class poems, and a cafe for anyone to read poetry books while enjoying a meal, or even settling in to a cosy theatre for movie screenings.

The Poetry House logo

The Prison of Youth features 53 poems grouped into 5 themes, Life, Illusion, Death, Relationships, and Love. Many of the poems made references to local idiosyncrasies that many Singaporeans can relate to with some giving us an insight into the characters that Charanpal interacts with in his daily life.

A number of the poems dealt with the frustrations we feel when our choices are criticised. Others deal with serious issues such as suicide and depression. Charanpal believes that many youths face such circumstances often and are labelled negatively or seen as rebels. He shares that adults criticise rather than empathise and try to destroy the illusion or illusive hope youth develop when trying to make sense of the world around them. Poetry helps Charanpal express these frustrations, along with difficult situations.

Girl Under The Blanket, in particular, is a heart rending poem on suicide that Charanpal penned to share his sorrow at the loss of a friend. A 15 year old girl whose passing affected Charanpal and would continue to do so for a long time.

When asked what would be his advice to budding poets or writers, Charanpal recommends to simply pen down how you feel in a few short lines. It gives you an outlet to express your emotions and deal with any overwhelming situation. He further adds that we should not look down on our efforts or be afraid of the outcome. Every piece of work is a success in one way or another.

Having sold over 120 copies within a month after publication, Prison of Youth has been an amazing experience for Charanpal’s first foray into the formal poetry world. Not afraid to step up and show his work, Charanpal has been courageous in setting up booths at local community events to spread word of his aspirations and engage youth to explore art in their own way.


Charanpal (rightmost) promoting Prison of Youth at Khalsa Week 2018.

With Volume 1 out of the way, Charanpal has plans for another 2 volumes in the next couple of years. We look forward to seeing more of his work and hope everyone will support our young Charanpal in his exploration of art!

To order the book, visit https://www.facebook.com/thepoetryhouseofficial/ or follow Charanpal and The Poetry House on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/thepoetryhouse/.

 

Sikh Voices Volume I: Traits of Future Sikh Leaders

We are fortunate to have institutions that take care of our community’s interests. Among them is the Young Sikh Association. It not only organises events and spearheads initiatives with the wider Singapore community, but also provides platforms for youth to step up and lead such efforts. Among these efforts is a recently published book Sikh Voices Volume I: Traits of Future Sikh Leaders.

Launched on 11 November 2017 at the Sikh Voices Conference, the book comprises essays written by three generations of Sikhs who share their thoughts on what it would take to be a future leader of the Sikh community in Singapore.

Set to be an annual publication, the inaugural book was edited by Alisha Gill and Malminderjit Singh. The duo built the idea for the book after identifying a gap in thought leadership and strategic analysis on community issues and worked hard to present essays by writers from a variety of backgrounds. One of their aims was to produce  a resource for our community to understand the demands and hopes placed on the leaders in our community.

While the book may have focused on leadership traits, the arts and artists were not left out of the mix. Internationally renowned poet and scholar Professor Kirpal Singh shared six traits that he believes are vital for an effective leader (honesty and forthrightness, awareness and courage, knowledge and wisdom). Entrepreneur Harveen Singh Narulla argued that future leaders will need an appreciation of  the arts — “the arts give us meaning and context, and provide depth and enjoyment to our lives”. He also reminded readers that the Sikh Gurus were themselves deeply involved in the arts.

We at Afsana are hopeful of our community’s future and of our community’s appreciation and support for the arts. We hope that more members of our community continue to explore the arts and share with us their endeavours to showcase their creative energies for all to benefit!

If you’d like to find out more about the book or how to get your hands on one, reach out to Alisha Gill at alishagill8588@gmail.com or Malminderjit Singh at malminderjit@gmail.com.

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