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For better with verse



Bernadine Evaristo... penning verse. Photo: S. Arneja.

VERSE, WE are taught, rules your pen in particular state of affairs. Either you are in too elated a mood or in extreme pain. But with such a mindset, meeting British poet-novelist Bernadine Evaristo is edification.

"To tell any story, you need to capture the essence of it and then the heart comes alive", and verse flows out - effortlessly. The result - her two novels-in-verse - "Lara" and "The Emperor's Babe: A Novel".

Bernadine, in New Delhi for the first time this past week, claims that this rather uncommon mode of writing makes her feel "unusual and rewarding". For, is not the structure of a novel superfluous?

"I feel completely at ease in this medium. I even tried to write "The Emperor's Babe" as any other novel, but after 200 pages, I realised I am going nowhere and then I returned to my familiar mode," states Bernadine. "Also, I use a lot of imagery in my work expressing which is easier in verse," she adds.

Born in London to a Nigerian father and an English mother, she says, her mixed lineage helps her writings, equipping her with "a different way of looking" at things. Truly so, her first verse novel "Lara", which won her the EMMA Best Novel Award in 1999, traces the roots of a mixed-race Nigerian/English family over three continents and seven generations. Her next verse novel, "The Emperor's Babe" is set in Roman London in 211 A.D. and follows the tragic-comic adventures of a Sudanese girl who ends up having an affair with Emperor Septimius Severus. While her family history aided her a lot to deliver the former, the latter was the product of hours long rummaging through Museum of London as Poetry Society's Poet in Residence.

And, this critically acclaimed writer's work ultimately looks at what it means to be `British' in contemporary times.

"If someone says I am British because I am White, do not believe him. There is a multiplicity of British identities," affirms this author of the poetry collection, "The Island of Abraham". Being one of the two British writers to take part in the Literatureexpress Europa 2000 tour, she crisscrossed with about 140 European writers through 11 cities over six weeks by train. "We met many a writer, poet in different parts of Europe. It was an illuminating experience but living with 140 people without a break was at times stifling," Bernadine adds with a smile.

On to her next novel, "Soul Tourists", a comic tale of two 20th Century misfits and their adventures across Europe - again in verse - she says her ultimate goal, as a writer is "to grow as a writer". Though she takes out time from her packed schedule to read, the lady with not less than 31 worldwide tours to her credit since 1997, has not yet gone beyond Indian authors like Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy. "But I am planning to lay my hands on a Shashi Deshpande book," Bernadine adds.

But, what about availability of her books in India? "No, they can't be bought here. Let there come a day when my writings are on the book shelves in Delhi," she hopes.

And, we say, all the best!

SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

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