1. ‘Lady Lazarus,’ your name is something that intrigued or rather hooked me to take a closer look, maybe because I’m a Sylvia Plath fan as well! I know I speak for many when I say that. Is there a backstory to the name?
I’ve always been fascinated by Plath and the genre she usually worked with, which is Confessional Poetry. I came across her poem ‘Lady Lazarus’ and loved the way she’d written about a failed suicide attempt, like it’s a day-to-day thing to grasp. To be honest, it has become one and she wasn’t wrong to shed light on it. Since I’ve been coping with depression and anxiety myself, I’ve understood the tone of her works if not have related to exact incidents. Fast forward to months after, I began writing again at the end of what felt like forever. It was at this time that I undersigned my works as ‘Lady Lazarus’. The biblical ‘Lazarus’ is known to have been risen from the dead. I felt the same as to what writing did to me or meant to me.
2. When and how was your first encounter with poetry?
Well, Poetry is everywhere. So, I would say from earlier on as even nursery rhymes have poetry in them. But I began writing short ones by the time I was 7 years old or so. By 9th grade, I was writing even more, mostly tributes to mother nature and my English teacher, Mrs. Rashmi, would pitch in her suggestions on my work from time to time and keep encouraging me to continue.
3. How has poetry impacted the growth of the person you were into the personality you are?
My experiences with bullying and emotional abuse, led me to feel sorry for myself and never see myself as how beautiful I’ve always been without having to constantly take in validation from the world. Poetry had me writing about every insignificant thing or idea as something that’s finally matched up to its potential into making this a better, accepting place to be in. I’ve always seen everybody and everything as such beautiful and glowing energies and hence, often wondered whether I was the only ‘not so worthy’ thing and if it was what made me susceptible to such constant negative criticism. Poetry did wonders as it got me to look at myself the way I looked at the world – unapologetic, vulnerable, flawed AND more than enough.
4. Why poetry? There are so many other means to channelize your thoughts and communicate with people, what made resort to poetry per se?
Poetry has this rhythm that resonated with me. With such few words, so many lasting images could be created and I found that powerful and moving. Not that I have anything against short stories or novels. I believe all forms of creative writing are capable of creating an impact but just like people say about art, poetry felt like the silent whisper of the soul and the best way in which I could connect to people.
5. As unique as your pen name is your pen. Using a typewriter that was succeeded by pen and paper followed by smartphones and e-notes today, is it metaphoric of something? Why a typewriter?
When I first got the typewriter back in 2017, it was on a whim because like most people who love to write and read, I had this dream of owning one. I used to type away letters on them, the ones I could never muster the emotion to send or even show anybody else because they were deeply personal. Then later on, in 2019, Hardy, one of my closest friends, suggested that I take up busking with a very talented classmate of his – Sreeram (Founder of Buskingkochi), who had plans to take up the movement in Kerala. My journey with my ‘type-brother’ started out more fiercely just about then. It made sense to me because having the liberty or chance to correct our mistakes ends up making us more careless, with actions and with words. This is applicable to both life and writing. Hence, I felt I would make this a little less comfortable for me so I could grow while being in constant conversation with others about the same.
6. At any point in our ventures, have you felt that your typewriter is stealing the thunder/limelight instead of you?
Oh, yes! I’ve had people ask me to type out just their names or one liners or even poems they’d written. Some have taken photos only of the typewriter too. But no hard feelings because he’s the crowd puller while I create the art. It’s a win-win situation, really!
7. From your experience in this quite diverse ‘people-poetry’ niche, what emotion or perspective do you think is a common strand that links the majority of the people? (Say friendship, loss, etc.)
Pain, Fear, Loss and Love – These engulf the very being of most conversations I’ve had till date. To the point where someone once asked, ‘Don’t happy people come to you?’ That question got me thinking, a lot. Is happiness associated with keeping your vulnerabilities aside?
8. Is being a stranger a perk or a disadvantage in the case of this endeavor? If I were to say that ‘anonymity is but a refuge,’ would you agree with me?
Right before I busked on the first day, April 30th, I thought it would be odd for people to want to talk to me about anything that actually mattered to them. I was scared that I’d be put in a spot where I’d have to write about surface level things as I mainly deal with ‘Emotions’. But with time, I’ve understood that finding an empathetic ear has been an ordeal for most people and hence, there has been no disadvantages in being a stranger. If at all, it makes it all better. People don’t expect me to pop out of nowhere and tell them, ‘I told you so!’ for every little wrong turn they’ve made.
9. All through these years of adventure, you must have met a sizable number of people and heard zillion stories. Could you share a couple of memorable moments from your ‘Free poetry’ sessions that you still cherish?
I cherish many so this is definitely a tough one. Perhaps one would be the time I met an amazing photographer who’d taken a break from her passion. She didn’t tell me much about how she’s feeling but I somehow picked up on the energy and a little of what she’s been going through. I wrote something and crossed my fingers because it means a lot to me, when I can turn a frown upside down. The moment she read it, her eyes watered and she hugged me tight and said, ‘Don’t ever stop doing this!’. As she was packing up to leave, she left a 500 Rupee note near my table. I refused at first but she insisted saying, ‘You will need papers, ribbons, travel charges, refreshments for this to sustain and I want this to go on.’ Till today, that is one of the most memorable moments cause I felt understood and respected for choosing to do this and sometimes, that’s all you need.
10. Could you share any #metoo moments that you shared with your clients, if any?
So here is the thing; I almost always derive a connection with the one I’m talking to or at least I’d like to believe so that I do. And it’s the #heymetoo moments that makes the connection stronger.
11. The crux of this initiative is that people come to you to tell their stories and you listen. In the course of this journey, have you come across someone who came to your desk to listen to your story instead of telling you theirs?
It’s always a ‘conversation’. So, both of us are talking and listening whenever given the chance! I’ve often felt that when you are the one always talking and the other is only listening, you feel bad that they are put in a position to do that. So, I make it a point that I share too. Also, for the process, it shouldn’t feel like there is a debt or someone owes someone for the time spent in that confessional space. I listen to you, you listen to me and we connect. In this way, both are being there for each other.
12. Do you believe in the giver-receiver theory ‘Sometimes the giver gives so much that they end up empty from within?’ Have these therapy sessions ever taken a toll on you?
I would be lying if I said it hasn’t or doesn’t happen, at least once in a while. I consume the energy around me but only gradually. So sometimes, after three days of having conversations through out, I feel drained. Now this also depends on how long these conversations go and how intense they get. But see, it just takes an episode of a hilarious tv series, soulful food and a goodnight’s sleep to be up and about again.
13. Your brainchild ‘Soul as a Race’ is being a gamechanger in the field of mental health, with its progressive approach towards something that is still considered a taboo in our society. Could you throw some light on its conception and inception?
This one particular day, in 2016, when the depressive episodes were more frequent, I woke up from my sleep with the idea to create a Mental Health Initiative called ‘Soul as a Race’. I believed that I will get to it once I’m ready to financially support the initial running of a non-profit initiative but busking happened and sped things up quickly. I was constantly speaking to people who were having a tough time and I thought, ‘The heck! Why am I even waiting? It is the need of the hour.’ I’d visited psychologists who were extremely disappointing and judgmental and hence, I had to learn everything about my situation on my own. Although that helped, my friends and family played a huge role and I realized how important non-medical support is as well when it comes to maintaining a better mental health. It doesn’t help if it’s just therapy and medication but you return to an environment that suffocates you and doesn’t allow you to be yourself. So I wanted to create a community for the ones who at least wanted to speak up in a safe space and for the ones who wanted to understand what their loved ones are going through. With this in mind, I contacted my friends, Lettisha, Akhil Mathew, Jaiks, Abhay, Arjun and a couple of others, and we managed to host two major awareness workshops, 4 offline and 8 online support group sessions till date so this is a safer place for everyone striving to maintain better mental health. We also collect data from trustable sources with regards to licensed, affordable and non-judgmental psychologists and provide them to those who reach out to us seeking professional help.
14. ‘To the lighthouse’ was the pilot event of ‘Soul as a Race.’ Could you share experiences with regard to it?
‘To the lighthouse’ was our very first event and precisely the event that helped us decide on whether we, as a team, could pull off the idea we had in mind for what the initiative should focus on. We merged different forms of art such as music and painting to create a therapeutic environment for the ones who trusted us enough to register and make it. Prior to attending, we’d taken down questions from the ones who’d shown interest and passed it on to our Chief Guest, Dr. Divya Thomas (Clinical psychologist, Rajagiri Hospital) who was more than glad to address them during her session. We had attendees from the age of 19 to the age of 70 and this was an overwhelming response for us. It wasn’t easy to navigate everything between activities but we had our friends who helped us out as well.
15. ‘You can turn everything ugly about you into something beautiful.’ This little quote you made during an interview speaks volumes for itself. Do you think poetry’s power to empower and heal is underrated or underestimated?
I feel like I’ve already answered this one as I explained why I chose ‘Poetry’ as a medium to communicate. Just like how listening to a song is soothing when your mind feels too noisy, Poetry too has a therapeutic affect and is often underestimated. It is usually kept aside because the possibility of tertiary meanings can be overwhelming and not that easy to delve into but it can be made simple while discussing really complex emotions. It depends on the type of poetry though. When written as a means to relieve oneself, it serves that purpose mainly. It helps the writer let go of certain feelings they wish to detach from and yes, there are several readers who relate to these poems and feel better reading their emotions being communicated exactly the way they wanted to. But it isn’t a certainty. Then there are works written with a target reader in mind because the writer wants to send out a message he/she/they strongly believes should be considered. So, there are several ways in which the writer explores the art and how each reader responds to it. But it is safe to say that Poetry is Goddarn powerful in its own way.
16. Most people consider poetry to be an elite-league matter which they cannot relate to. Little do they realise that poetry is not just about confessions and philosophy but is also conversational and fun. What’s your take on this?
Traditional Poetry has been difficult to grasp for a majority, also because they were mostly written with the elite readership in mind. The language, the style, the themes they dealt with were all different and the context often not easily relatable to a person in these times unless you find literature intriguing and fascinating. And those are the kind of works we are introduced to at an early age which make people think that they are to be kept aside and only sophisticated people enjoy them thoroughly. Contrary to this popular belief, there are poets such as Bukowski who use a more direct language, indulge in free verse and have popularised transgressive fiction for the public to read and enjoy. My intention when I write poetry for a stranger is to make them as relatable, as easily understandable and personal as possible. Hence, I use much simpler language and sometimes even add in a word or two that are often used by the stranger speaking to me when narrating their story.
17. If you were given the boon to be superhuman, what powers would you want and what would you do with it?
I would like the power to read through people’s minds so that I can write for them, the kind of poem that would inspire them to be fully themselves but also embracing awareness and contentment.