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The student who got writing tips from Tharoor

How many students in the country had their books published with a blurb written by Dr Shashi Tharoor ? Parvathy Salil should be one among that handful list. Parvathy Salil is a young poet, a second-year student of MA English Literature at St Teresa’s College (Ernakulam) and a former student of Liberal Arts (Young India Fellowship Class of 2019) at Ashoka University, Haryana. She has been publishing poetry since Class VII and self-published her first book of poetry, Rhapsody in 2016. She was a national-level finalist for the International MaRRS Spelling Bee Championship, 2014. She has recited her poems for the All India Radio’s Yuva Vani and at Literature festivals including South India Poetry Festival, Krithi International Literature Festival, etc..

For her second book, The One I Never Knew, Tharoor, one of India’s finest writers, wrote: “Parvathy explores and gives voice to not just the themes of intolerance and a lack of empathy that has become endemic in our times, but also the beauty of nature that surrounds us. An interesting perspective on life from a promising young poet.”

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Team Fayz talks to Parvathy, who aspires to study English Literature at Oxford University

Not everybody who writes takes up poetry as a passion. How did you inculcate interest in poetry?

My English teacher, Mrs Rajeswari Nair (who taught me from Class VIII to XII) is very passionate about literature. I was fascinated by the way how she emoted poems in class. It was she who encouraged me to read, write, recite poetry, as well as to participate in extempore competitions.

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When was the first time you heard a poem?

What comes to my mind now is the faint memory of listening to the poem ‘If’ recited by someone. Well, the captivating moment was when I listened to my teacher read ‘Brook’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Again, youngsters who write rarely have their collections published. How did that happen? What prompted you to go ahead and publish?

It was in seventh-grade that I got published for the first time — it was a poem I wrote for the school magazine. Later, I published a few write-ups in The Hindu’s Young World. It was my teachers’, as well as parents’ persistent support and encouragement that kept me going. In Class XII, I had to pursue science (which am horrible at) against my wish to study humanities; it was at that time, when I constantly found myself frustrated, that I began to seek refuge and joy in reading and writing. I had completed the manuscript of my first book by the time I finished schooling. Most publishers hardly used to publish poetry then, and I was repeatedly told that poetry doesn’t have a market. Then Deccan Chronicle started publishing students’ contributions every week. They published many of my poems which I kept posting on Facebook. And many readers also began to send feedback. That was really inspiring.

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How tough was to self-publish your first collection?

It was really tough, and I ended up self-publishing my first book, Rhapsody, in February 2016.

Then how did the second book happen?

I used to write very often back then. When I found around fifty poems scribbled in my diary, I sent a few of them into AuthorsPress. Luckily, they reverted immediately, and the feedback was positive! .

We heard Shashi Tharoor wrote a blurb for your second book. How did the meeting happen?

I attend most literary events in the state and had met him a couple of times during the Mathrubhumi Books International Festival of Letters. Once I told him about my passion for literature and requested him for a foreword to the second book. He was kind enough to skim through the manuscript — he suggested a lot of corrections and emphasized that I have a lot to improve. However, he was convinced of my passion for poetry and encouraged me to write.

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Are you in touch with him?

I could meet Dr Tharoor last month while hosting the Women Writers’ Meet organised by Prachodita and Aksharasthree at Bharat Bhavan, Thiruvananthapuram. He was the chief guest for the day, and I was fortunate enough to have got sometime to interact with him.

Are you a voracious reader? Do you prefer mostly poetry?

Yesss! I absolutely love to read. I enjoy reading poems by : Wizlawa Szymborska, Adrienne Rich, Kamala Das, Sylvia Plath, John Keats, Eunice D’Souza, T.S Eliot, etc. These days I gorge Fiction more than anything else — I love to read Milan Kundera. I find myself irresistibly drawn to Cultural Studies, and like literary theory too. My reading list keeps oscillating between all of these. The last few books I read are: The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Ignorance by Milan Kundera, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone deBeauvoir, If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino, Becoming by Michelle Obama, and Sula by Toni Morrison. Some of my favorite poems include : View with a grain of sand by Wislawa Szymborska, Go all the way by Charles Bukowski, Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats, Tulips by Sylvia Plath, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot, etc.

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How was your experience been at Ashoka University where you acquired Young India Fellowship.?

It was the best decision I’ve ever made in life. I was in the second year of my Master’s in English at St.Teresa’s College when I got selected for the Young India Fellowship, and I had to take a sabbatical to pursue the same. Doing more than thirty courses in diverse fields including, economics, science, public speaking, art appreciation, philosophy, religion and leadership. That was absolutely chaotic, but I really learnt, and also discovered a lot about myself in the process.

The best part was the multicultural environment; a batch of 300 students from diverse fields — engineers, lawyers, doctors, writers, artists — all coming together; learning and teaching each other. Six of my best friends were from six different states and backgrounds, and I believe that I could learn more from being with them than anything else— I learnt to respect and accept people whose beliefs and actions are contrary to those of mine; I believe this is inevitable especially in our times when intolerance gnaws at the pluralism that we so used to brag about.The opportunity to have Prof. Anunaya Chaubey as my mentor was the best thing about my Ashokan journey — watching Professor paint, observing the love and curiosity with which he talked about Literature and Art, talking to him about life in general — honestly, all these are indescribable.

If you can tell us how you got through the Fellowship and the whole process.

Initially, one should submit the application on Ashoka University's website. This would be followed by a telephonic interview, a personal interview, and a written test.Link to apply

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What next? What are your academic/career goals?

I aspire to be a poet and a professor of English. My biggest dream in life is to study English Literature at the University of Oxford.

For an aspirational poet, what’s your advice?

Read as much as you can, and no matter what others say — keep writing!

Can you list 5 habits of yours which has helped you reach where you are now?

Prayer has been a source of hope and solace for me, and that definitely is one — I am not a religious person at all, but I pray to a God whom I don’t like to define. Secondly, I like to keep a list of the top three goals, and strive consistently and wholeheartedly. I don’t let negative criticism subsume my passion — no matter who says what, I keep doing whatever I want to. Not that I am absolutely resistant to it, but self-motivation is priceless and keeps me going. Networking is equally important — I keep in touch with other writers and poets, listen to their criticism, accept their suggestions, attend events regularly, and learn from them. The most important thing is to keep doing — sometimes even when you’re sure about what you want to do; at times things stay in limbo or rejections occur frequently. Lastly, I use my knowledge and talents for others too — volunteer for a cause, or guide another person who aspires to acquire a skill I have. This has helped me to rectify my flaws and improve myself while helping another.

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