A published poetess when she was 20 itself, with her first book, The Inability of Words, and now a columnist for The Print and an Analyst for Dasra, Harnidh Kaur is a name that thousands of people reckon with, quite literally so because she has about a 20k following on her Instagram page. A champion of Indian feminism, Kaur tells us about her journey, her work, struggles and what’s to come in a very candid conversation with us.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you began your journey in writing?
I grew up between Bombay and Delhi. I grew up reading a lot and some of my most important childhood memories are like my grandfather taking me book shopping and my mum reading poetry to me. I grew up in a household that really valued cultural expression. How I started writing was for anger management actually. I was really pissed off as a kid. You know once I was just very angry at my mom so I wrote a really angry poem to her about how she was very unfair to me and instead of getting mad at me after reading the poem, she told me that I could improve the meter. I don’t think I looked back from there.
When did you feel your first poem was ready to go out to the world?
As a person, I don’t have a lot of filters, so it was never a matter of deciding when it will happen. As I wrote, I kept putting my work out because for me, writing becomes real when someone else reads it. I feel that if my writing is to fulfil the purpose it was meant to, it has to exist as an equation between the writer and the reader. Written work requires validation of a reader, and only then the work become tangible and exists beyond the page, and as a thought.
What are some of the books and authors that have inspired and affected your writing so far?
My mum is a professor of English Literature and she specialises in Indian Literature and Women’s Writing, and that has impacted what I read and how I read. While I did grow up reading a lot of White authors, as are all of us because our syllabus is full of white authors, I did read some fantastic women writers like Margaret Atwood, Naomi Woolf, a lot of Shashi Deshpande, Jadie Smith and books like The Second Sex, et cetera. I read so much of women because that was what was available in my house as my mom did her Phd in Reimagining the Feminist game in India. Also I am not a very choosy reader, I read everything and anything.
Tell us about your journey so far, especially the challenges you’ve faced as a writer.
My entire environment around me, right from my workplace to my parents, have been so so supportive. Is it tiring? Yes it is very exhausting, because right now I am also doing a full-time job and before that I was doing a full-time degree, but I won’t have it any other way.
We understand that social media has played a very important in your career as a writer so far. Tell us more about it and how you personally feel about social media and its affects on our generation today.
I think the whole debate about ‘is social media good or bad’ is a redundant one. I think the attention should be shifted to how to make social media a more conducive and inclusive space. This is what I have tried to do with my social media. I have always written for people like me, young women. Before social media became such a huge part of my life, found women read my work, now just a lot of young women read my work, and that is what matters to me. Everybody writes at or to young women, nobody really writes for them. Nobody really talks to them and what social media has done for me is that it allows me to talk to so many young women and that really matters to me. I think young women are the greatest and social media has allowed them a certain democratised approach to expression, whether it is through writing or through selfie, both are valid mediums of expression.
Talk to us about feminism. There is much said and debated about this ideology, what is your take on it and do you have your own personal brand of feminism?
Feminism today is a very hairy topic for people. I think especially in India, feminism is not defined as of yet, we are still exploring and trying to make it more inclusive. I think feminism does not have any definition, because definitions are meant to be defining, you mark the contour and then say this is where we stand. I don’t think we are at a point in Indian feminism as of now where we can really say we know where we stand because as a culture we are so stratified that it will take time for our society to understand what feminism is. Personally, feminism is such a guiding source to whatever I do, and for me, feminism is equal to dignity. It is the dignity of choice, it is the dignity of knowing that you are self sustaining and that no one can strip you off your personhood. Dignity perhaps is a slightly higher concept that just the idea of earning and emancipation. Indian feminism cannot be as straight as western feminism. We have caste to contend with, colourism and regionalism to contend with, so me defining feminism becomes really reductive, for me its about what do you see feminism hoping to achieve.
The title of both your books, The Inability of Words and The Ease of Forgetting, are very quintessential to your way of writing. Tell us more about the story behind these titles and what inspired you to write them.
I think a lot of my work in fact is marked by a little bit of whimsy because try very hard to find magic in everyday things, its a recurring theme in my book that little things become poetry and that reflects in the title as well. The Inability of Words came out when I was going through a really bad phase during my undergrad. I was horribly depressed and drinking, and when I published the book, I felt like I had so much to say but no words to actually say it, so quite literally, “the inability of words”. I remember that one day I woke up, and this was theme when I couldn’t sleep till 7 in the morning so I would sleep all through the day and miss my classes, but that day I woke up at 10 and printed out nearly a 110 poems and I sent them off to the publisher. I used up my last 400 bucks to do this. It was just born out of so much to say but not enough voice to be able to say it. The Ease of Forgetting was almost a letter to myself. I had seen a fairly emotionally wrangling, on the verge of abusive relationship and as I emerged put of it I realised that I had to forget somehow, because I realised that so much had gone wrong in the time that it had lasted, that if I did not actively start moving towards healing, I would be stuck there. So, I tried to write myself a treatise on how to forget and I realised that it is not very hard to forget. Its just that, nobody has really taught has how to let go, all our lives we have been taught to hold on to things and how to make them better. So I wrote this instruction manual for myself and a lot of people read it and came t me and said that they had learnt from it!
You’re also a columnist and analyst for Dasra. What do you enjoy the most, the poetry that you write or the journalistic and research writing?
I enjoy everything. I love writing my column because, think about it, it great to be able to rant on a verified medium, and I love my editor, Ramalakshmi who haas always supported me t not be sorry about the way I feel about things and has encourage dme to write about it. Poetry is my solace and I really adore my Dasra work because I love the fact that I am doing work that impacts people and that is what I want to do with my life, dedicate it to the public policy, justice and access to dignity. There is a Japanese concept of Ikigai, which says that what you’re good at, what is good for you and what gives you purpose, when you find all three is when you achieve an equilibrium of existence. I feel that my Ikigai is made up of all these three things so I really cannot choose.
You speak out quite frequently about your struggle with PCOD, which is rapidly becoming an issue for a lot of women today. How do you personally deal with it and what do you have to say to everyone else who is also struggling with it?
In all honesty, I haven’t been dealing with it, Its been a busy time and I haven’t been working out and eating right and I have to get back on the wagon. But in terms of dealing with it, the first thing is to realise that it is a lifestyle issue and not a disease per se, and it requires a lot of patience. Two, its important to reach out. My Instagram DMs are open and somehow I have become the communal elder sister, and I get so many messages regarding younger girls dealing with period issues and being scared about it. Here is another issue regarding PCOD, that is it being very under-researched. There isn’t enough literature about it and all some people need is to be heard and told that you will be okay. SO its important to reach out and talk because until we foster a sense of awareness, it won’t change or get better.
Would you ever venture into writing other forms of fiction like a novel, short stories or plays?
I am not a fiction writer, I love non-fiction. Where I am in life right now, I have a lot to give to non-fiction because I feel women in their 20s in India, need a voice to spell out this is what we are, this is what we go through and this how we survive it. I feel that I haven’t seen enough of life to write fiction. Good fiction stems out of experience and for now I feel I will stick to non-fiction and poetry because poetry is cataloguing the experiences I have and non-fiction is the creation of it. So, eventually, someday I might sit down and say you know, I have gained enough fantastic ideas to write fiction. Fiction is very very difficult and I am in awe of whoever writes it because you know we live in such a fantastical world that I don’t know how you could make it even more interesting.
Lastly, what are you working on and what is next?
I am working on a book with Durjoy Dutta. I am collaborating with a bunch of places. I am going to Argentina in October because I am the Indian representative for the Girls 20 conference. Eventually like in a year and half, I really want to get out and do another degree because I want to study more and I want to do a Masters in Public Administration and an MBA. I love being in school, I love learning. You know this is the only time in life I can and have to do a lot because I com back home to food and my mumma to take care of me. God bless my mother, you know my aim is to be famous enough so that my mother gets to do a tell all interview about what a terrible daughter I have been!
TEXT Nidhi Verma