Indians truly global citizens: US poet

By Shinie Antony
New Delhi : This may be US poet Erica Funkhouser’s first visit to India, but it has confirmed her opinion – garnered in interactions back home with Asian students – that Indians are truly global citizens.

“My biggest impression about India is not so much the geographical or historical one, but the immense variety of its people,” Funkhouser, who teaches advanced poetry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told IANS in an interview.

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“One learns a lot about India in the US. A lot of young women at MIT are trying to figure out how contemporary, how American can they be. I was thus more aware of the diaspora,” said the Essex-based poet, who despite the jetlag was eager to “see the Mughal layers” upon arrival in Delhi.

Funkhouser, who at 57 has written several volumes of award-winning poetry – “Pursuit” (2002), “Natural Affinities” (1983), “Sure Shot” (1992) and “The Actual World” (1997), remembers a poem written by an Indian student on the ritual of oiling hair.

“Every Sunday her mother would oil her hair, but she was listening to her friends debate the merits of certain brands of shampoo. She had to reject the ritual completely to become one with her friends.

“I had also gained some second-hand knowledge on this country by reading R.K. Narayan, Rudyard Kipling and Kiran Desai. My image of India had been abstract, but I always knew the experience (of coming here) would be overwhelming. The population, language groups and vibrant literature have only confirmed my image of India,” she said.

Funkhouser, just back from a writers’ meet in Mussoorie, finds women here “articulate, humorous, passionate about reading and curious”.

In Mussoorie, she says she never had the time to read or write, just listen. But then, Funkhouser says, this was not a trip to get work done but to “interact with many people”.

At the April 23-29 meet, attended by Ruskin Bond, Tom Alter, Stephen Alter, Hugh Gantzer, Vishal Bharadwaj, Sudhir Thapliyal and Namita Gokhale, “we discussed pushing the stereotype, translation issues and the voice of the middleclass – to whom is it addressed”.

“Earthly”, her verse collection slated for a 2008 release, is in three parts. The last is a series of sonnets that go into thinking about being a writer. The middle part looks at apples, myths and legends centred around the fruit, like Johnny Appleseed and a war widow who is said to have submerged herself to death in apples, which, says Funkhouser, “is a biological impossibility”.

Funkhouser, who began to write poems at the age of seven – her first one was about spaghetti – says that her family, if anything, was horrified at her being interested in “something beside the point”.

“I had always dreamt of being an archaeologist. At nights, I dreamt of discovering a lost city somewhere…”

Discovering Delhi, at least, is high on her agenda in her waking moments. “I regret not being able to roam around to my heart’s content in this city. I will have to come back for that.”