Meet Nitoo Das - Poet, Birder, Caricaturist
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Meet the Person | Nitoo Das

Nehal Jain | December 08, 2017 16:13 hrs

Best known for her poetry, Nitoo Das is a multifaceted personality hailing from Guwahati. She’s currently a teacher of English Literature at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. Her poems have appeared in national and international publications including Tehelka, Muse India and Poetry International Web among others.

Nitoo did her schooling from St. Mary’s Convent, Guwahati and went to Cotton College for higher secondary education and graduation with BA in English Honours. She then shifted to New Delhi to pursue MA in English from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), from where she also completed her M. Phil. and Ph.D.

Talking to G Plus about her childhood, Nitoo recalls, “My home, near the Brahmaputra, was an unceasing mark in my life. Still is. When the Assam Agitation began, I was seven years old. The river was forever flooded with corpses. The anxieties of those days still return in nightmares.”

Nitoo had always wanted to pursue a career in education. As a child, she used to ‘teach’ the wooden pillars at her friend’s house. In school and college, she met some very exciting educators – from whom she used to learn both inside and outside the classroom – who inspired her to be like them.

Nitoo wrote her first poem at the tender age of 9. It was a tragic poem about a “poor, church mouse.” Speaking about her journey as a poet, she said, “My journey has not been linear. My first love was prose: short stories and essays. They’re forms that speak to me even now. When I came to JNU, I gave up the other genres and wrote only poetry for a brief while. All my prose was reserved for research. And then, for almost a decade, I stopped writing altogether. That was a strange phase of my life.  In 2003, I was granted leave from work to complete my Ph.D. During this year, I got back to poetry with a vengeance.”

Her roots and her preoccupation with the natural world are manifested in her writings. The poems draw from the language and culture she grew up in and largely revolve around the everyday objects of life. She proudly wears the feminist tag in her life as well as in her poetry.

Talking about Boki, the first collection of her poetry, Nitoo informed G Plus, “The title, Boki, was taken from my poem ‘Doiboki’. In this poem, a woman’s name breaks up into pieces, turns into a taunt, a song. In Assamese, “to bok” means to mutter meaninglessly, almost crazily. Boki worked with these multiple layers: poetry as naming, as voice, as uncontrollable speech.” Her second book of poems, Cyborg Proverbs, arrived nine years later. It carries forward similar ideas with a significant component on travel, birding and bird photography.

Nitoo is also a self-taught photographer. While she was always interested in birds, she started photographing them only a decade ago. She’s gotten too involved with issues of representation ever since. “Because my poetry also deals with concerns of framing, magnification, post processing, etc, bird-watching became important for my writing,” she said, striking the similarity between her poems and bird-watching.

When asked about her favourite birding moment, Nitoo said, “A recent birding moment that I find meaningful happened during my fourth trip to Ladakh in June this year. It was very early in the morning on the banks of the Tso Kar, where I had gone hoping for a sighting of Black-necked Cranes. Except for the Kiangs that dotted the landscape, I was all alone. After a three and a half kilometre walk from our camp, I did see a family of the Black-necked Cranes and I managed to click a few hazy images from afar because I was afraid my approach would scare them away. The IUCN status of this crane is ‘vulnerable’. So, it was a rare sighting!”

Her other interests include caricatures, comic books, fractals, horror films, studies of online communities, her exam-thread superhero, Tagman, and translation from Assamese to English.

Taking about her interest in caricature, Nitoo informed G Plus, “For me, drawing is primordial. I can imagine my ancestors poring over tree bark, preparing indigo, wondering about greens. I have drawn all my life, but nowadays, it’s something that happens mostly inside my mind. I don’t have the time/energy to translate the images of my mind onto paper. I let them stay within.”

“The idea of caricature seeps into the way I understand poetry. Distortion and warping design a lot of what I write,” she further adds.

She is also interested in the relationship between poetry and the internet.

“The internet gives people a way to articulate their ‘writerly’ capacities and perhaps they have understood that self-publication is a powerful new-age tool. Many a time, mainstream publishing houses do not give poetry the attention it deserves. However, several online journals have created a much-needed space for writers now,” Nitoo pointed out.

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