When life throws you off guard, most of us are able to eventually, after eons of denial though, take it in the stride and move on. While for some, the time elapsed may be less, for some it lasts long, even a lifetime. Yet life, known for catching us unawares, does push us to become a different person with each knock that it gives us.
Meet one such woman – Anu Mahadev, a poet based in US – who after some tragic experiences in her life gave birth to the poet within her. While it is a known fact that time is a great healer, for Anu, her pen became a great healer.
Well known for her verses that touch a raw nerve in her reader’s soul, Anu writes vivid descriptions of life with strong imagery that takes the reader to an altogether different realm.
Swapna: Hi Anu! To begin with, tell us something about your journey from a well trained right-brained engineer to a left-brained creative writer.
Anu: Hello readers, and thank you Swapna for this interview with Eyra.
We all dream of becoming something while growing up. Truth be told, I was a very decisive person, but also one who did not like to stop learning something in pursuit of something else. This dichotomy probably defines in a sentence who I am.
It was not lost on me that in India, the arts were not valued at all. Everyone ran around science and math, and the PCM or PCMB percentage was your identity when it came to college admissions. Regardless, I put enough effort into languages and was always rewarded in return; but it was also clear to me that the very process of writing and learning was equally rewarding too.
It was with some chagrin that I left writing behind during my 4-year undergraduate degree and 2-year graduate degree in Computer Science. During this time I had also come to the US, and then started working. If I were to confess under gunpoint, I soon began to realize that I was not a fit for this field or this area of work, since it did not come naturally to me. After a series of jobs and much self-reflection, it became very much evident that this was not my place in the world. Around this time I was started to show strong symptoms of depression too (though I was unaware of it, and did not get diagnosed or treated at the time). I got married soon after, and I gave this field one last shot when my husband and I moved to New York. But the brash, aggressive type-A people were not exactly the kind of environment I had envisioned myself in. Therefore, at a natural juncture in my life, when I had my child, I quit.
Swapna: Motherhood is an experience that all women long for. Yet, not many understand that it can be an overwhelming experience. Especially the first time around. I know motherhood for you was tough. But it also bought out the poet in you. Do walk us through this transformative experience. I am sure some of our women readers will connect with it.
Anu: Motherhood was the best thing that happened to me. I did not have postpartum depression, and with strong support from my immediate family and friends, I sailed through the first few years. Yes, it was overwhelming at times and challenging as well, but it opened a floodgate of emotions that I felt I had been guarding for a long time, only to be released at the right moment. I was overcome with so much love for my baby, I tuned out everything else. Especially during my pregnancy when my employer was so callous and demanding, and I was surrounded by managers who did not care and would hurt me again and again, I would make it a point to tell myself – these people do not matter – the one growing inside you is the one who will love you forever – and so I would listen to Mozart or happily converse with my womb, even if people thought I was crazy.
That is how protective motherhood made me.
However, as with everything, things change. Babies grow up. And before you realize it, you are older and wiser but have nothing to show for it. I would look at myself in the mirror and wonder who I was. The identity crisis, clichéd as it may sound, set in. This did not mean that I was any less devoted to my family, but the depression that had taken over me in my 20s, reared its ugly head again, and swept me unforgivingly into its grasp.
This time around, I did not ignore it. I got diagnosed and treated, and during that process, somewhere, I started writing again after a gap of 15 years. Mind you, none of it was award-winning type of writing, but it helped me express my inner self, and purge the devils that were plaguing me. I did not own a journal, but would keep writing on my laptop and watch as the pages grew. To all those who denounce Facebook, I would like to say, it was extremely significant in the role it played in transforming me into a poet.
There were a few groups whose sole purpose was to propagate and develop poetry skills and I hesitatingly joined them. Whether it be posting every day, sometimes more than once, or participating in weekly contests, I did it all. It provided me a distraction from my daily routine and life, and I began to look forward to mornings and weekends! I began to read a lot as well, lesser-known as well as well-known poets, and this expanded my thinking and gave me enough impetus to publish my first book Myriad, which in turn led to a Masters degree in Fine Arts at Drew University, a 2-year course that challenged me to get out of my comfort zone, read and be exposed to various kinds of poetry and helped me become the poet I am.
So in short, motherhood does not limit you, rather I would say it makes you soar, because one day you realize what you are truly capable of, and as the child grows, so does the mother – she becomes more resilient, more practical, while also retaining her emotional
Swapna: This is so true – motherhood makes you so protective and giving. Your two books – Myriad and Neem Leaves – are seeped in emotions. How important are emotions for you to sail through this journey of life?
Anu: I would say very important. Emotions are ultimately what build people and define who they are – not the one-page resume that tells the world what you have achieved on paper.
This is not to say that goals and actions are not important, but what drives one towards them? No one is a robot; ultimately, and behind every thought and action is an emotion of some sort. Personally, being a very emotional person, I want to dispel the myth that it is a bad thing to be so. There is always a balance between what you feel and what you do, and not all feelings need to be extreme. Not that I live swinging between euphoria and sadness. But what I have learned is to curb the degree of these extremes, and live in a space that is more manageable. Not to say I have fully mastered this zen-like state, but being mindful of what I do and when and how I do it, have really helped me through my journey so far.
If it were not for me being this way, neither of my two books would have come about. My
medium of expression is words, just like someone else’s outlet might be meditation, or sports, or music or being immersed in their daily routine. Myriad was the result of many years of suppressing my mental health condition and finally finding an escape. Neem Leaves was the result of losing someone very integral and close to me and my family. Just goes to say that unless one feels happiness, sadness, anger, success, nothing in life would make sense.
Swapna: Women are known to be emotional. Yet it is the same emotions, with a significant thrust from our male-dominated society, that tend to take shape as insecurities and challenges in a woman’s mind. Do you see these (emotions) to be an empowering tool that the universe has gifted to us? And how important is it to fruitfully use it, rather than waste it away, undermining one’s own self?
Anu: First of all, I do not know if it is right to stereotype men and women this way. I believe that every individual feels and believes in emotions, it is just that some express them more willingly and openly, and others keep them bottled up or in check. Everyone feels insecure at some point of time about something or the other, but the reaction to these feelings, and how they are handled is what is important and what differentiates one who is in control versus one who is not. I think emotions are a great source of energy, inspiration, passion and help you propel towards your goal rather than hinder your progress.
When I write, I cannot imagine myself being dispassionate, removed from my subject – no, it is me being completely immersed and involved that makes for a successful writing session. I imagine it being the same no matter what you do in life. Regardless of gender, emotions should be considered as a powerful driving force and should be channeled correctly in order to bring about the best version of yourself.