Mumbai-based, Sunil Sharma, a college principal, is also widely-published Indian critic, poet, literary interviewer, editor, translator, essayist and fiction writer. He has already published three collections of poetry, one collection of short fiction, one novel and co-edited five books so far. His six short stories and the novel Minotaur were recently prescribed for the undergraduate classes under the Post-colonial Studies, Clayton University, Georgia, USA. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012.
He edits online journal Episteme:
Some recent literary interviews done by him can be viewed on these links:
And a representative piece of fiction:
Geosi Gyasi: You are an English teacher with more than 23 years of degree-college teaching experience. Where does your love for the English Language come from?
Sunil Sharma: Being a post-colonial nation, India has inherited the legacy of the British Raj and it still continues in the independent nation as something desirable and ideal, and, not as a burden or an imperialist strategy/tool of domination. The entire thing is no longer a relic from the past but an organic one growing very fast in the national psyche for more than six decades now. In fact, it has evolved into a pan-Indian obsession by the New Millennium. English as a language is a thriving industry and average Indian is investing a lot to learn the intricacies of saying their terminal ‘Rs’ in the correct way—that is imitating the native speaker for that accent to sound like pucca British! It sounds hilarious! That wish to act like a native is not possible due to various genetic and geo reasons and it is a different story. Naturally, I am a product of a social system that is still fixated on the British model and culture. Recently the shift is towards USA. My love for English drives from this national preoccupation with the former colonial masters and their grammar and canonical texts. As a student of English Lit. I followed them closely. It was done—MA and later on PhD in English—for gaining gainful employment, a livelihood as a teacher. Most of middle-class India suffers from a sense of cultural inferiority and hence, clings on to their sole legacy that has been converted into a hegemonic power center to prove our superiority over the toiling masses. But then this is a development that is recurring in other post-colonial countries as well and has been much documented by anthropologists, experts and writers alike.
In brief, school and college education systems are geared to produce sham men and women who think in a language brought in from far-off shores and gleefully accepted by the elites here—and elsewhere.
Geosi Gyasi: As an Indian, do you speak English at home?
Sunil Sharma: I am afraid not on 24X7 basis at home or outside in a multi-lingual country. We are bilingual. English is for official/formal occasions and purposes. But, if needed, the switch is made instantly and conversational English is used which is more American in usage these days than the Queen’s English.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest lesson you’ve learnt as a teacher?
Sunil Sharma: That I do not know anything in life. Knowledge is a dynamic area and keeps on expanding at frightening pace, reducing us to the status of laggards. We have to be life-long learners and tech-savvy these days to remain relevant in a domain that has become a huge market now. Earlier, it was not so.
Geosi Gyasi: You’ve also worked as a freelance journalist and written for the supplements of the Times of India, Mumbia? In your view, what is the similarity between a teacher and a journalist?
Sunil Sharma: Communication. An overlap exists. Both use words. One uses oral words in classroom; another written in the copy. Grammar is common. Using language as a mode in effective and efficient ways; the right words and simplicity. These virtues are cultivated over the years.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the inspiration behind your book, “Golden Cacti”?
Sunil Sharma: It is a collection of poems dealing with everyday realities of urban India as witnessed by a sensitive heart during office commute. It maps out the disparities of this India developing in such sprawls.
Golden cacti is a rare and hardy variety that blooms in the east-central Mexico and stands as a metaphor for poetry in most arid landscape. A poet has to work and survive in a tough terrain.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you give me a brief summary of your book, “Poems on Highway”?
Sunil Sharma: This second book marks continuities with the first one. It records daily journeys and experiences along the country highway. Images of nature and towns along the long way constitute the core of the book of poetry done in last few years. the daily struggles of the people in a land that has largely ignored them for decades. The songs may find resonance with other nations where the peoples have been excluded from development story by the ruling classes.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that a poem is easy to write?
Sunil Sharma: For me, it is. You can finish it in one sitting or two. But short fiction takes a lot of time. Sometimes, weeks or even months. Poetry comes more naturally. Novel is a ball game of different kind and very challenging for those who write for pleasure, not money or stardom or awards and have to do a day job.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you think of the recent crop of writers coming out of India?
Sunil Sharma: It is a good export. Many of them are hugely successful. They are inspiring examples for others, peers and younger ones. everybody wants to write a bestseller these days and own an island somewhere out there in the Pacific. Priorities have changed. This new and brash breed is successfully responding to market needs. I am a complete misfit in such a scenario prevalent in every national market and global markets.
Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write, “Mundane, My Muse”?
Sunil Sharma: This is again a collection of everyday poetry. About the mundane and how it can motivate a poet. For me, poetry is a habit, almost a daily activity. Once I get a sizeable number, I get them published in a book form. So, roughly, three-five months maximum behind a book.
Geosi Gyasi: What are your main research areas as a writer?
Sunil Sharma: No, I do not write that kind of stuff. It is based on observations. I am not into fantasy or horror or historical. But I do research, when visiting cultural references that I often use in my poems and shorts.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more books?
Sunil Sharma: Books are my route to liberation and salvation. Passage to nirvana. So far I have produced 14 books—some edited with others; some solo.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you belong to any group of writers?
Sunil Sharma: Naw! I am solo and suburban. Hence, unknown everywhere as I have nobody to promote me.
Geosi Gyasi: Who are your biggest influences as a writer?
Sunil Sharma: Many. Notably the Russians; the classic Victorians; the French realists and the Americans up to the decade of the 70s. Then Indian litterateurs.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you think any budding writer ought to compulsorily take studies in writing?
Sunil Sharma: Not necessarily. They do not teach you empathy. Life does. A Harvard does not produce a stalwart. It shapes up your talents. A Bill Gates gets moulded in a small garage in every decade these days of IT-driven world.
Geosi Gyasi: Do Indians read?
Sunil Sharma: Well, it is hilarious, the question and the underlying assumption. Akin to asking: Do Ghanians read and write? Such stereotypes! We have to come out of such thinking. Yes. They do read. But reading as a habit is dying in every nation. We are into the age of the visual.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind telling me anything about Bharat College where you’re the principal?
Sunil Sharma: A vibrant ecosystem that promotes real learning and makes everybody think and do things in a friendly environment.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you manage to find time to write amid your busy schedule as a college principal?
Sunil Sharma: I have to. Like breathing. Essential for me to do the multitasking. Finding time for writing is like finding an oxygen mask in a polluted city.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you read negative reviews of your own books?
Sunil Sharma: Hardly any reviews are done here. Most are friendly and managed. Love to have negative reviews to learn from them. Will you do that please?
Geosi Gyasi: Do you gain anything financially from writing?
Sunil Sharma: Nothing. My job saves me from certain starvation!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have anything to say to end the interview?
Sunil Sharma: Thanks for your interest in an obscure Indian writer. I remain grateful.