Mohini Gupta spent three months in Aberystwyth as the Charles Wallace India Trust-Literature Across Frontiers Fellow in 2017.
Summer temperatures don’t go up to 50 degrees Celsius here
But the sunsets are addictive
And it’s taken me no time to belong…
Having grown up in the crowded city of New Delhi with a population of twenty-six million, it was difficult to imagine living in a town with twelve thousand people. I heard about Aberystwyth for the first time when I discovered a writing and translation fellowship based here, hosted by Literature Across Frontiers with support from the Charles Wallace India Trust. It was the perfect opportunity to complete my Hindi translation of Vikram Seth’s poetry collection Beastly Tales from Here and There, as well as build on my writing work to create original Hindi verse for young readers, which would then become part of a larger platform for contemporary Indian poetry for young readers that I would initiate.
Everything in Aberystwyth inspired me. I instantly fell in love with the sunset over the beach; the spectacular views from Constitution Hill and National Library of Wales; the buzzing life and performances at Aberystwyth Arts Centre; Welsh, Breton and French folk dance nights; with cynghanedd, the Welsh strict metre in poetry, one of the oldest forms found in a living European language; and my Welsh language classes, where I discovered striking similarities between Welsh and Sanksrit.
It mattered to me that every other person in the town was bilingual and deeply thought about questions around language politics that I too grappled with. Not only did it make for meaningful conversations; it has given me important perspective. If speakers of a ‘minority language’ like Welsh can read, write, know texts in their own language, and promote Welsh-medium schools, what’s stopping speakers of Hindi (a language with over 500 million speakers) from doing the same? What role has English really played in unifying or dividing us? There were so many resonances, so much to discuss and so much to learn from one other.
During my three-month fellowship, I got a chance to read my translations at a festival in Caernarfon in North Wales; attend the annual International Translation Day conference at the British Library in London; read my poetry at a literature festival in Aberystwyth; perform at Bedlinog – a small village near Cardiff; speak about Diwali in Welsh on BBC Radio Wales; and interact with creative writing and translation students at the University. The experience closest to my heart was my session with Class 6 students at Wales’ first Welsh-medium school, Ysgol Gymraeg. Watching young Welsh students learning to sing a Hindi song with keenness and ease, wearing traditional Indian clothes on the school’s international day celebration, will remain one of my favourite memories. In late November, I co-organised a poetry evening ‘Mushaira Aberystwyth’ along with Dewi Huw Owen, my Welsh teacher and good friend, hosted by the Mercator Institute for Media, Languages and Culture, Aberystwyth University and Arad Goch Theatre. We had over 45 people attending our event, with 19 people reading poetry in 15 different languages including Welsh, English, Hindi, Urdu, German, Portuguese, Czech, Italian, Flemish, Dutch, Mandarin and Breton.
These experiences have filled me with new ideas and perspectives for my project. I made progress on my translation work, and started writing original Hindi verse for young readers, while also joining formal Welsh classes to make the most of my experience there. For further inspiration, I visited the children’s literature department at the Welsh Books Council to learn more about their work, and browsed through various bookshops in Aberystywth and Caernarfon to explore diverse topics and approaches to children’s literature and poetry, especially in a bilingual context. It was helpful to see a range of texts, both translations and bilingual publications, and find out about initiatives like the ‘Bardd Plant Cymru’ and Young People’s Laureate for Wales as possible outcomes of my work with poetry for young readers in India as well. I am now looking forward to launching my multilingual digital platform to feature contemporary Indian poetry to encourage the younger generation to engage with and enjoy poetry in their ‘mother tongues’.
I’m so grateful to Literature Across Frontiers and Mercator for believing in me and my project. A special ‘thank you’ to Alexandra Büchler, Director at Literature Across Frontiers, whose vision and efforts have made this fellowship a reality. From my first meeting with Alexandra in Jaipur a year ago, to hearing her recite Czech poetry at Mushaira Aberystwyth, it’s been a long and wonderful journey.
I felt at home from the day I arrived here, and for that I am ever so grateful to Professor Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones, Director of Mercator Institute for Media, Languages and Culture, who made me a part of her and her family’s daily life, despite her busy schedule, allowing me to experience Wales at its best, eating in some of its fantastic restaurants, attending contemporary Welsh opera or cheering on a rugby team! Many others contributed to making my stay as easy as possible – Sian Clement and Lowri Jones from Literature Across Frontiers. And of course, I owe so much to my mentor – poet, writer and translator Sampurna Chattarji, also a former Charles Wallace Fellow – for keeping me on track with my project, and for constantly inspiring me with her love for Aberystywth, which she has visited on several occasions.
It was difficult to leave this charmed place and the friends I made, but I left with the promise that when the hiraeth becomes too much to bear – I will soon return.