Author Highlight: Mohul Bhowmick Talks about his New Book ‘They Were My Heroes’ and Stories from his Life
We are back with another author interview. Today, with us, we have a multi-faceted personality Mohul – the author of ‘They Were My Heroes’. He converses about a successful stint in cricket, his journey as a travel writer and poet and much more.
We would like to know about career in cricket? Do cricketers write books?
Playing cricket is more than just a profession for me; it is like oxygen. I would not be able to live without it. The sport has shaped the person that I am today and I am extremely grateful for the teachings that it has imparted to me.
I have had the great honour of being selected to play for Hyderabad at various national-level competitions organised by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) at the under-16, under-19 and under-23 levels so far. I have also been privileged enough to get named in the probables of the Hyderabad Ranji Trophy team, and am working towards getting a call-up for the same at the moment.
As for the second part of your question, I do not know of many cricketers who have written outside of their orb of expertise. Only Mike Brearley and Ed Smith, of England, and the great Steve Waugh, of Australia, come to mind when I think of cricketers who have written books not about our sport.
Did you meet Indian cricket stars? If yes, what was their message to you?
I have had the joy of interacting with quite a few players of the Indian cricket team. However, none of the conversations that I had with them scratched beneath the surface.
On the other hand, I vividly remember the conversation I had with the legendary Sunil Gavaskar when I bumped into him at the airport in Bombay a couple of years ago. An erudite and cultivated man, he spoke at length about not neglecting my academics even if my entire day was taken up by training for cricket.
I also recall having a conversation on similar lines with the elegant Kumar Sangakkara when he was in Hyderabad playing for the Deccan Chargers. Like him, I am a wicketkeeper-batsman, and apart from technical nuances, he drilled home in me the importance to have a normal, balanced life outside of the rat race of cricket as well.
What attracted you to poetry? As it's a trend among new young writers to write more about love and college stories? What made you to choose something different?
I think that I have always had a proclivity toward poetry, or the world of artistic pleasures in general. I wrote my first poem when I was eight. When I read it now, it seems infantile and naive at first glance, but the profound nature of my articulations stands out. By now, I have recognised that I cannot endure without poetry, and try to seek it everywhere in life.
I believe that my observational skills have been honed due to this inclination of mine, or it might be that my poetry has benefitted due to my ability to be curious about the ordinary things that we come across in everyday life. I have impassively despised reading cliched college/ love stories in fiction; naturally, then, it would have been hypocritical of me to end up writing them.
How do you shuttle between travel writing and poetry?
It is not easy, but it is not difficult either. It is a challenge that I quite relish, to be honest. Travel writing requires a framework that poetry can never adhere to. Having said that, the former adds a touch of realism that poetry- of any sort, not just mine- can only aspire to stipulate. The fact that I love travelling helps, and sometimes I club the two, as can be seen in the section 'Travel Capers' in They Were My Heroes. At other times, though, travel writing projects are more laborious and test my capacity for hard work; poetry, on the other hand, flows because there are fewer constraints other than rhyme and meter holding me back.
Do you read poetry/novels? Is there any poet or novelist that influenced you heavily?
I think that I have been influenced heavily by the works of John Keats, William Wordsworth, Vikram Seth, Hugo Williams and Dana Gioia in poetry. Seth, I believe, is the greatest poet and novelist in English that our country has given birth to. Williams, for his part, changed the way I looked toward free verse poetry. The works of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Mirza Ghalib, Sardar Anjum, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Dagh Dehlvi, in Urdu, have aided my understanding of sonnets, especially in the genre of unrequited love, whenever I have felt mislaid.
In fiction, I look up to Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevski, Charles Dickens, Ian Rankin, Lee Child, Jhumpa Lahiri, V.S. Naipaul and Jeffrey Archer the most. They have all spun yarns that are discernible to the most unrefined of readers and yet carry profound messages- ones that we would do well to subscribe to in life.
Do you think you can lead the Modern Indian Poetry arena?
To lead a revival of poetry has never been a goal of mine. I write poems solely because they give me immense joy and my endeavour has only been to allow those who are less fortunate than me to share in that pleasure. To end up being labelled or listed under a particular category would be doing poetry- or any form of art, for that matter- a disservice and annihilating its sanctity, because art is limitless and no one can claim to be a champion of its cause.
We are only flowing in this river of time; we might have reached the bank, but we will not always remain here, and someone else will come gushing past. Let us take the time to enjoy that cold evening breeze when it arrives. Come what may, the purity of poetry remains in the undying visions that it fills a connoisseur's intellect with, and it cannot be allowed to get destroyed by petty classifications of any sort.
How do you think you’ve evolved as a poet over the years?
I believe that there has been a huge change in me, both as a person and as a poet over the years. When I look back at This Means War now, most poems jump out at me as being immature and juvenile. Nonetheless, I do comprehend that however massive a gift hindsight is to human nature, to allow it to cloud one's judgement would be looking beyond its scope.
This Means War is a product of its time, and it has to be appreciated in its own way. Similarly, although my grip on rhyme and meter has risen over the years, They Were My Heroes still appears to be unfinished work. I earnestly believe that my best poems are yet to come, despite the love and accolades from readers that They Were My Heroes continues to enjoy. God has been extremely kind.
Do you think that poetry has a purpose and meaning? How do you see it with reference to your own work?
I think that I would differ with most opinions here when I say that not all kind of poetry has some meaning behind its conception. Poetry defeats the very idea that art is inferior to utility, and that is an argument that we are bound to have for the rest of our lives.
The birth of a poem can stem from several things- a chance encounter, a random observation or a conscious effort to obliterate the past- and it would be unfair to mark all of them as having connotations. The intention to make sense will remain, as that is the basic propriety that any human being would want to live up to, but I also believe that poetry can be afforded more luxuries of the intellect than, say, works of non-fiction.
You have a tribute section in the book. Would you like to discuss it with regard to Anil Mittal?
The 'In Tribute' section in They Were My Heroes, as its name suggests, consists of paeans to the people who have touched my life in some way or the other. My coach in cricket, the late Anil Mittal sir, features most prominently in it because of the kind of relationship I shared with him. He was like a second father to me and continues to be my beacon on moral rectitude, even in death. Not a day goes by when I don't think of him, and wish that he were still here.
Next only to my parents, his was the strictest moral compass I have known, and what he taught me goes beyond the intricacies of cricket. He led by example and instilled in me the capability to be a man of strong character and to go out of my way to help the downtrodden. Sir's sense of morality was almost mythical; he could always be trusted to do the right thing, no matter how difficult it seemed. After my father, he was the man I looked up to the most; there was no better role model I could have had growing up. He led me towards the path of truth, integrity and virtue, and I am trying to keep up.
What’s the best experience you’ve gained through your poetry writing?
I have always been spiritually inclined and what poetry gave me was the ability to delve deeper inside my psyche than I could have done otherwise. More often than not, poetry is about talking to oneself- chasing one's fears and erasing one's aches- and I feel that I have learnt more about myself this way than through any of my practices of meditation or minimalism. I often get this sense of peace of complete withdrawal when I write poetry; I want to reach a stage where I can dispassionately detach from my writings and look at them like a neutral spectator would.
Is it correct to say that you are a born poet or cricketer or something else?
Unfortunately, I am neither. I was born with a capacity for hard work and that has held me in decent stead in either sphere of work. This is quite reassuring in times of desolation, I feel- to be able to fall back on one's capability for old-fashioned discipline- and acts as a check whenever I make the mistake of stopping to believe in my own hype.
Would you like to share some of your writing tips with aspiring poets?
I do not think that I am qualified enough to share tips with aspiring poets. However, I do believe that out of incredible devotion comes great work. This concept has helped me over the years; coupled with focused attention, the ability to passionately believe in things that give one joy and put in deep work is one piece of guidance that is bound to hold over the years.
I find that I have the ability to withdraw from the world outside of me whenever I undertake deep work. Free from distractions of any sort, I feel that I find my happy space without the glare of influences from the outside. My not being on social media helps, but not everyone can afford the luxury to do so. Similarly, someone else might have some other routine that helps them get into the 'zone'. Just as what works for me will not work for them, what works for them may not work for me. Every individual is different, and that is what makes life so fascinating.
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