The Worth of words

After her panel discussion at the Asia Pacific Literary Festival, writer-activist Meher Pestonji speaks about her upcoming poetry collection, the power of words, and more

Published: 30th November 2022 10:10 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th November 2022 03:49 PM   |  A+A-

Irom Chanu Sharmila and Meher Pestonji | Nagaraja Gadekal

Irom Chanu Sharmila and Meher Pestonji | Nagaraja Gadekal

Express News Service

BENGALURU: After communal riots, a city doesn’t return to what it was,” says writer-activist Meher Pestonji to a crowd of mixed variety, with journalists, writers, and students in attendance.

This took place during a panel discussion at the Asia Pacific Literary Festival at Alliance University, where Pestonji was accompanied by civil rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila, university professor Andrea Lorenzo Baldini and hosted by Portuguese writer Hélder Beja.

Pestonji will also be at the festival on Wednesday for the launch of her book of poems, modestly titled Poems. Published by Bluerose Publishers, this will be her first poetry collection despite writing them for forty years.

“Even though I have written poetry for many years, I had never published them or taken part in any poetry events. The lockdown had really worked for me, strange to say. A poet from West Bengal started these poetry sessions on Zoom. I have struggled with public speaking in the past, but this was very convenient as I could sit in the comfort of my home and recite poetry to the world. So, I participated in many such events and got a good response from published poets, which gave me the confidence to do a book,” shares Pestonji, who is visiting Bengaluru for the second time.

In recent years, there exist multiple instances of writers, journalists, and activists being heavily criticised for something they said or wrote. Having been involved in activism since the ’70s when she protested against archaic rape laws, Pestonji believes words continue to hold power in them.

“Well, words certainly have power as it challenges the people who are in authority, and they don’t like it. So that’s what it is,” says Pestonji, who feels the number of people speaking out now has reduced a lot.

Personal responsibility towards social change is something each person needs to work out for themselves, believes Pestonji.

“I have been told by friends to stop taking risks as I have got a family. Are you ready to take risks? Can you afford to take risks? One needs to figure all these out for themselves and then take it from there. There’s no general rule about this. But my response to the question of risk-taking is that yes, I have a family, but I know what kind of world I want them to inherit. So, then I will have to take a stand because I can’t leave it to other people to do it,” she concludes. 


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