Rukhaya Mohammad Kunhi

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Hello Rukhaya, thank you for being a part of IWI’s Incredible Women Writers of India 2016, and sharing your journey as a writer. 

How would you define yourself?

A writer friend once described me as “As an open book, with pages falling out.” I would go with that.

People, normally with the first impression, think I am arrogant, while some term my smile Beckettian or Joycean. I am bit of an introvert who takes time to open up.

What was your childhood like? Any incidents form your growing up years that shaped you as a person?

I spent nine years of my childhood in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I feel my stint at the International Indian School of Jeddah gave me a good base in the English language that has carried me this far. I used to read a lot during my childhood.  My family and teachers had formative influences on me. My father writes really well, and I guess I inherit my writing ability from him. As a person too, I look up to him as a role model in terms of principles. My older siblings have enhanced my communication skills. My sister has conditioned my writing with her constructive criticism. I cannot single out any particular experience. All experiences have been teachers, especially failures. What failure teaches you, success never can.

When did your journey as a writer/poet began?

As a child, I used to win lot of prizes in writing competitions. The turning point was a prize that I won at the national level for a competition conducted for KVs all over India.This encouraged me to take up literature for my graduation. Even while doing my UG and PG I won a lot of prizes in writing. My points majorly in writing events helped me bag the Kalathilakam in college. In the same year, at the university competitions, I won prizes in all the five items I had participated in. It made me feel that I had made the right career choice. The journey begins from there.

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Do you have a muse? If yes, who or what acts as a catalyst to your writing?

After my wedding, there was a short sabbatical from writing. After marriage, my husband was yet to get divorced from his bachelorhood, and simply refused to part with his money. While other wives seemed to be walking along with live credit cards, I felt like I was restricted from accessing my own Piggy Bank. It used to hurt my dignity to ask him for money each time. My poem “The Piggy Bank” was penned during this period:

PIGGY-BANK

He was like
The Piggy-Bank.Why?
The more full it was
the more difficult,it was to pry.

I was told
that it was mine.
Then why is it
the slit hurt my fingers
whenever I did try?
The more full it was
the more difficult,it was to pry.

The rule went-
piggy banks’re never meant to be
broken before time.
This was supposed to be mine
and not to be broken open past its prime?
The slit that was to project
a smile seemed wry
as,the more full it was
the more difficult,it was to pry.

I asked myself-
what was the piggy bank for?
For it was not maintaining
its primary responsibility:
the function that defined it.
But only gave
the frigid show of being
a money box to the Eye
for,the more full it was
the more difficult,it was to pry.

© Rukhaya MK

This is when I turned to my passion again in order to make money. I started to write for sites like Brighthub.com and Helium.com that used to pay generously in terms of royalties, and also others like Yahoo Voices, Hubpages.etc. Gradually, I started getting mail from different parts of the world, and found that I was getting recognized as a writer. Helium recognized me as a four-starred writer, and Brighthub awarded me with a golden badge of expertise. I was awarded with the top 1000 voices badges for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 on Yahoo. The Google Panda update affected these sites really badly which is why a few of these American sites had to close down, or stop access to international writers. Today, all these refugee-articles have found a home in my own website www.rukhaya.com. I can proudly say that my site has an average of over 4000 views per days, a majority of the visitors being first from America, and then the UK, and then from India. Mera Bharat Mahaan. I wish to engage more Indian readers.

Today, though my husband has turned into a responsible family man, I feel happy that he did not give me money at that juncture. For, I would have been complacent and not carved a niche for myself.

With regards to my poetry, I take him as my muse. Some of my best poems have been written after fights with him. I write better when I am dejected or when I am moved.  Nowadays, I guess my poems are more about social issues that affect me deeply:

Lucky are the Kanhaiyas
Lucky are the Omars
as their innocence floats above
opaque dirty politics,
doctored remedies.
As they stand out-
in the wonderful frame
of friends, teachers, well-wishers.

Not so lucky are the ones-
whose innocence was never attested,
Ones who were uprooted
for planted evidence,
Ones who were killed in darkness
to quench the thirst of
“the collective consciousness of a nation”
Ones who left behind mothers who waited
well after nine months,
Ones who left half-widows, half-orphans;
Vemulas who hung life on a string
to prove a point;
Ones who were so forced to put on the mask,
that the mask became the man.

 

Do you plan out your work or just go with the flow?

As far as poetry is concerned, I go with the flow. I am quite lazy when it comes to going back to a work and editing it. With regards to criticism, though words come easily, my work did need a lot of structuring and polishing. This, I learnt from my PhD supervisor Dr. Joseph Koyippally.

For you, what’s the easiest thing about writing and the hardest thing? Do you have any weird/funny writing rituals?

Some are born writers, some build up their aptitude for it, and those with a tradition in the family, have it thrust upon them. The hardest part is getting recognized. Though that does not make them any less a good writer. For, there are brilliant writers there who are not getting recognized: ones who have an excellent repertoire of work. And yet one may be etched in the pages of history for a single poem like “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”

Do you get writer’s block? How do you battle it?

As I mentioned earlier, I feel I can write poetry only when I am downcast and this feeling is repressed, or irked by a social issue. Otherwise, there’s no writer’s block. Nowadays, with my job, PhD and other responsibilities, I do not get enough time to write, leave alone think about writing blocks.

How have you evolved as a writer since you have started? If you could give one advice to yourself, what would it be? What are you working on now?

As I look back at my earlier articles, I have evolved as a writer. Yet, I have a long way to go. Most of the articles on my site were written immediately after my post graduation. I have not posted recent articles on the site, for the fear of plagiarism. Most of these are published in journals and anthologies. Apart from my guide, there have been other mentors like my sister Dr. Zeenath Ibrahim, Dr. Ampat Koshy, Dr. Madhumita Ghosh and Reena Prasad. I get inspired by their works as well.

My advice to myself would be to continue writing honestly in a way that gives me satisfaction.

I am doing a book with Authorspress India A Literary Companion to Indian Writing in English. Have to work on more books and my site after my PhD.

What’s your opinion about the future of writing/reading/the publishing industry in India?

In a country with a rich story-telling tradition, the reader is also a writer. Remember the flames in Karnad’s Nagamandala? Writing has a great future in India with more people getting recognized online.  Especially, since India is the 7th largest book publisher in the world and the 3rd largest books market in the world after the U.S and U.K, in terms of the English language. Poetry is being revived with more writers and literature lovers coming to the fore due to the exposure. Good publishers can and should handpick writers purely on the basis of merit. This is one side of technology. On the other, I hope books never reach the fate of videocassettes as people are becoming more inclined towards electronic stuff in a nocializing world.

 

Autobiography of a Book

 

Once upon a time
you held me close to your chest
or I fell with a gentle thud
as I lulled you to sleep.
Not like my four cornered
gizmo cousin
who crashes rudely while you doze off
burning a hole in your pocket.
He has stolen your status
as reader too
I was always your friend
ever reliable
Even when the power failed you
I wouldn’t-
Today you look down on me
as a heavy burden
A poor unfashionable cousin
outdated for your hi-fi friends
As the peacock feather you placed
inside me multiplied,
I watched you grow up.
In your nocializing life,
do not forget to bookmark
this poor book.

Rukhaya M.K. 2016

 

One liners:

Favorite food… I do have a weakness for Kebabs.

Favorite Book… I must have read The God of Small Things about six times. And each time I read it, the humour, the pathos, the story told from the twins’ point of view tugs at my heart’s strings. Midnight’s Children is a tour de force in magical realism.

Favorite author…  There are many. As a child I grew up with Enid Blyton and feel nostalgic as I recall the St. Clare’s and Malory Towers Series. I also loved reading Charles Dickens as a child. And of course the Archies comic series was an absolute favourite. There are many favourites now: Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, A.K. Ramanujan, Arundhati Roy, Girish Karnad to name a few.

What are you afraid of… Losing my loves ones.

What makes you angry… Lies

Childhood crush… I don’t know about crushes but there was this one admirer who followed me relentlessly for five years, in spite of saying  ‘no.’ I ended up marrying him. J

Things that you can’t leave without… I cannot leave without and live without my family. They are my biggest strength, and greatest weakness.

Any message or advice you want to share with our readers?

Be a voice, and not an echo.

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To know about Rukhaya’s work follow her Facebook Page: Rukhaya MK

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Please Note: This interview has been conducted online via emails by Rhiti Bose for IWI. 

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