Balancing rhyme, metre

The Hindu
Interview by Nita Sathyendran

Senior corporate executive Arun Kumar, says he finds joy in capturing impressions in verse. His book of poems Plain Truths has just been published

Writing poetry comes to him as easily as computing accounts or balancing spreadsheets. Welcome to the verse-filled world of Arun Kumar, an entrepreneur and senior corporate executive and now a published poet. Arun’s first compilation of 40 poems in English titled Plain Truths has just been brought out by Current Books, with a painting by none other than Anjolie Ela Menon as the cover.

“I was drawn to poetry right from a young age; right from the time I was a student at Lawrence School, Lovedale [near Ooty]. The credit for inculcating my interest in poetry – and literature in general – goes to the late W.J. McMahon, our fabulous English teacher at school, and to my father, B. Madhavan Nair, too,” recalls Arun.

Enjoyable endeavour

“I enjoy the idea, the economy of poetry that allows me to express a lot in as few words as possible and leave a lot unsaid. In fact, I remember jotting down verses whenever I felt like it all throughout school and even during my college years, studying physics at University College here in my native Thiruvananthapuram. It’s something that I still enjoy doing. That’s not to say that writing poetry is cathartic. I find poetry a fun, enjoyable way to capture an impression in verse,” adds Arun. The Silicon Valley, California-based poet sat down for a chat with Metro Plus, at his parent’s house in Kowdiar while on a recent visit to the city.

Arun, who also holds an Ivy League management degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, is currently a partner and member of the board of directors of KPMG, one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting, tax and advisory firms in the world, where he leads the United States (U.S.)-India practice for the company and heads its business performance services division for western U.S.

“You’re right. It’s not a job that affords a lot of spare time to write poetry of all things and I find myself catching up on it most often when I am raking up the frequent flier miles,” muses the affable Arun, while flipping through the book drawing our attention to this poem and that, all the while explaining the inspirations behind each.

“Inspiration comes from everywhere – familiar people, famous people, famous and familiar people, places visited, politics, science…LIFE. At times the environment you’re in just throws the verses right at you. You’ve just got to catch it. There is no need then to create it,” says Arun, who adds that his keen interest in travelling and photography lets him “to see things in unfamiliar places and visualise familiar things in an unfamiliar way.”

For instance, in ‘Remembering’ he recounts his last meeting with poet-author Kamala Das while ‘Voice and Verse’ is his tribute to McMahon and ‘When You Leave’ is his poignant ode to his son Vikram, who left home for college. ‘Believing in Bernoulli’ has the physicist in him reiterating his faith in science.

Cultural roots

Thiruvananthapuram too is not forgotten. ‘Generational Journeys’ recalls two journeys, past and present, juxtaposing the old world charm of one city to the frenetic pace of another.

In fact, Kerala is never far from Arun’s memory. “Having lived in the U.S. for over 30 years now, a lot of my sensibilities are tied to my life there. But my allusion and orientation is towards India since my cultural roots were formed well in advance. You tend to see the world through the prism of your cultural sensibilities,” explains Arun, who has also co-edited the book on the State titled Kerala’s Economy: Crouching Tiger, Sacred Cows (2007).

He does, though, admit that he does not follow much of Malayalam poetry. He has read a few poems that his wife, Poornima, translated for a Chicago-based Indian journal. As for English poets, Arun’s favourites “cover a wide range from Neruda to Borges to Philip Larkin” to contemporary U.S. poets such as Billy Collins (“ for his gentle humour that seems to come from a mischievous but non-malicious eye”), Kay Ryan, and Irish poet Eavan Boland, who teaches at Stanford University and authors such as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Despite his busy schedule he also makes it a point to attend poetry readings in and around San Francisco. Arun is winging his way back to the U.S. this week and for sure we can look out for more poems that he would have penned – on aerodynamics, perhaps?


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