Conversations: Kala Ramesh & the Joys of Haiku

This writer first met Kala Ramesh by happy incidence at the Haiku Writing Workshop held in November 2010.
Here is a little profile sketch that Kala has shared with us, which we reproduce here: Kala has had extensive training in Hindustani classical music, under Smt Shubadha Chirmulay, Pune, for over fifteen years, especially in Pandit Kumar Gandharva’s gayaki, known for the vigour and the effective throw of the voice. She is also familiar with Indian art forms like dance, drama and poetry and strongly believes each genre feeds into the other, enriching the root source of one’s creativity.
Our interview here is with Kala, the well known haiku poet.Haiku is a four hundred year old art form of Japan but kept
fresh and live both in Japan, and now in India, the West and other
countries. Kala also writes tanka (five line poem), haibun (tight prose embedded with haiku), senryu, and renku (collaborative linked verse).

Apart from winning numerous awards and recognitions, Kala is also part of the editorial team for various magazines that publish poetry works in the above mentioned forms. There are several other interests that Kala Ramesh pursues with much gusto, which we will discuss in another space, another time. Here is the interview for now.

SK: How did you end up writing your first haiku?
KR: By sheer accident! I was a classical musician learning to become a performer. I had intense training in vocal music from Smt Shubadha Chirmule, (Pune) for over 15 years and I used to practice for more than 4 to 5 hours a day, on an average.
It so happened I read about haiku at and downloaded their lessons. This started me on a path of no return.
The first haiku accepted for publication was by Stanford M Forrester in his haiku journal – Bottle Rockets, but I had to wait for six months to see it in print. It was about the highest peak in Lonavla, on a foggy day in autumn.
Susumu Takiguchi of The World Haiku Club sent me a mail regarding this haiku. I was overwhelmed.
To: Kala Ramesh
dripping mist
pulls the sky
into the valley
ozora wo tani e hikikomu kiri-shigure
This is my Japanese version of your fine haiku. When a non-Japanese is good, one proof can be that it translates well into Japanese. This Japanese version sounds a little bit like haiku by Matsuo Basho or Takahama Kyoshi, a highest accolade for a non-Japanese haiku.
With best wishes,
SK: Do tell us about your association with World Haiku Review, how did it come about?
KR: My haiku poems were featured in Simply Haiku in August 2005, and I received an email from Gabi Greve. She had requested I write about Indian seasons at her blog – World Kigo Database. I agreed. She knows Susumu Takiguchi of The World Haiku Club, and shortly after that I received an email from him with a form attached. One of the questions was: What do you want to do for haiku in your country?
Soon after, I found myself being the facilitator of The World Haiku Club India, on 14th November 2005. I was barely six months into haiku! Then in February 2008, India hosted the 9th World Haiku Festival jointly sponsored by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji (Bangalore) and Sri Ratan Tata Trust (Mumbai).
Susumu san restarted the World Haiku Review in April 2008 after the festival, with me as the deputy editor-in-chief and Rohini Gupta as our technical editor.

SK: Your work has featured prominently in several haiku websites, anthologies, literary festivals, workshops and books. How has writing haiku changed the way you look at life?
KR: There is a controversy whether haiku evolved from Zen, and whether they are inter-related. I’m not getting into that here. I firmly believe creativity in any form to a great extent is spiritual. The phrase “form is emptiness; emptiness is form” is perhaps the most celebrated paradox associated with Buddhist philosophy.
For me personally, writing haiku is no less up-lifting and spiritual than singing a Kabir bhajan.But then I’m made this way – I plunge deep into whatever I’m doing and to me one art form is no different from the other. No, haiku has not changed the way I look at life, it’s vice versa – I came into haiku for I love nature and sense the power that words have on me.
SK: You are a trained classical singer – has rhythm, raag and taal ever inspired your writing, or vice versa?
deep in raga . . .
sudden applause
startles the singer
In Indian Classical Music, raga means ‘melody’ and the root word in Sanskrit means ‘passion’. There is a play on the word ‘raga’ in this haiku.
Unlike Western Classical Music, which is scored, Indian classical is based on improvisation. Here a musician creates on the concert platform and Jazz comes closest to this. When a musician improvises, there is a natural need to go deep within oneself.
Listening to Indian Classical music, the audience can, at any given time spontaneously respond to music being created with loud claps or appreciation. This is not regarded as a disturbance but rather, as an incentive to the artist to create better!
As expected, a musician, who is deep into the raga / melody, having lost touch with the outside world, is startled by the sudden appreciation from the listeners! 
This haiku poem was clearly inspired by Indian raga music. I do have plenty of haiku, tanka and haibun poems in which my friends see rhythm and musicality embedded. I take it as a great compliment.
In Abhinaya Darpana, we have,
Jato hasta stato drusti, Whither the hand goes, the glance follows
Jato drusti stato mana: Whither the glances lead, the mind follows
Jato mana stato bhavo, Whither the mind goes, there the mood follows
Jato bhava stato rasa: Whither the mood goes, there is “rasa” born.
In the silences between notes, between words, between lines, the emotion that arise is rasa – the aesthetic essence – which gives poetry, music or dance, a much greater sense of depth and resonance. Something that cannot be described by words because it has taken us to a sublime plane where sounds have dropped off.
The most important aspect of rasa, the emotional quotient, is that it lingers on long after the stimulus has been removed. We often ruminate over a haiku we’ve read for days and savour the joy of its memory. Thus, although the stimulus is transient, the rasa induced is not.
What RASA does to Indian aesthetics is exactly what MA (Japanese aesthetics) does to the juxtaposition between two images in haiku. This is my honest effort in trying to understand the Japanese concept of MA in relation to my own evaluation of Indian aesthetics.
It is these silences and pauses in haiku, and what this does in the reader’s mind, that fascinate me.
summer sky. . .
the temple doves somersault
into wingsong
midnight jetty
the sound of water
slapping water

SK: How does a haiku come to you? How do you ensure its polish and when does it finally feel complete, that nothing more needs to be added?

KR: Ha! This is a tough question to answer, Snehith. There can be no one method. Sometimes a haiku writes itself out and at times it hibernates in my subconscious for years before it surfaces. And at times, I keep tinkering with it even after it’s been published!
It can be a memory ku or an instant image portrayal, but every haiku poem needs to be crafted, and sometimes it does takes hours, months, even years.
I guess you’ve heard of this observation by French critic, Paul Valery: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned”

My own examples of two extremes:
This happened during our family trip to Shimla almost 15 years back. This image was deeply etched in my mind, for we had rushed to the station but saw it as . . . !
dense fog . . .
the train evaporates
into a distant horn
This haiku below was instantaneous, and it remains untouched since I first wrote it. My friend was talking about the vine farms at Nashik, and how these women farmers slog in these vineyards for months on end.
harvesting grapes . . .
the season slips through
her fingers
SK: In my interactions with you, your enthusiasm and excitement has always been palpable. Do you plan to venture into other writing mediums, apart from poetry?
KR: Thank you, Snehith. That’s very kind of you.
At present I have no intentions of venturing into other mediums of expression. Somehow haiku, senryu, haibun, tanka and renku seem to be taking up most of my dream space!
Plus, all of a sudden I am surrounded by teaching assignments. I want to do full justice to them. Haiku is blossoming in India and I seem to be in the thick of it. This keeps me happy and I couldn’t have asked for more.

SK: Your advice to budding writers.
KR: What are those ingredients that lift a piece of art a notch higher? To me it is resonance and the subtle art of suggestion.
Our ancient texts speak of resonance too. In Sanskrit it is called as Anu-naad. What is Anu-naad? In Hindu thought, Naad or sound, is a primordial sound existing in the cosmos, referred to metaphorically as AUM.
According to ancient texts, taking music as an example – an instrument (such as the voice) only resonates this cosmic sound.
The cavities in the body – like the oral cavity and the sinus cavities – including the spaces from the toes to the brain, all act as resonators or amplifiers for ‘sound’ to vibrate and reverberate, which we call as Anu-naad.
In other words, Sant Kabir has rightly expressed in a bhajan that his body is only a musical instrument which transmits the timeless cosmic resonance.

Now I come to this subtle art of suggestion: If we are aware that we are constantly over stating things, not knowing when to stop, that itself is more than half the battle won. It is these traps that mar a work. I would like to give my poem here which reinstates this thought.
an artist is one
with a glance
a flicker of a smile
a hand gesture
or that feel in her voice
brings out the rasa
an artist is true
with just a hint here
a trace there
allows the rasa to bloom
for, anything less
is truly more
*Rasa in Indian thought means the aesthetic essence
The famous Bharatanatyam dancer – Late Shrimathi Rukmini Devi Arundale had said that Abhinaya* in dance (the rendering of the navarasas through body movements and facial expressions) need to be mere suggestions, anything more becomes drama.
My advice to budding writers would be, to keenly listen to birdsong instead of hearing it mindlessly, to be acutely aware of the breeze brushing your face, rather than seeing others enjoying these senses on TV screens, to roll your food on your tongue consciously rather than gulping it down in a jiffy, to fill your being with a blossom’s fragrance rather than spraying yourself with some perfume . . . I can go on. But you get the drift I guess!
Publishing credits:
dripping mist – Bottle Rockets , August 2005
deep in raga : with explanatory notes-Triplopia, Vol VI, issue 2: 2007
Mann Library: Featured poet for the month of April, 2011
Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, (anthology) W. W. Norton & Company, May 2013.
summer sky . . .Chosen by Peggy Willis Lyles for Magnapoets print edition, January 2009

midnight jetty- A Hundred Gourds 1:3 – June 2012
dense fog – The Heron’s Nest Volume XI, Number 2: June, 2009

harvesting grapes . . . Magnapoets January print edition 2009

(Interview by Snehith Kumbla) 

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