Believe in your own capacity to be an achiever: Lily Swarn, Famous Author

In an exclusive interview with the Heaven Mail, she talks to Rameez Makhdoomi.

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Tell us about your early days, especially your life in childhood days?
Born to a brilliant dad who was a lawyer and a gentle soft spoken ,charming lady who was a devoted home maker and indulgent mother . I grew up in Chandigarh ,the city with scenic boulevards and broad tree lined avenues ,flowering gardens and a leisurely pace of life . The ancestors hailed from across the border , which is now Pakistan . They carried with them their language , culture , food and perseverance .Walks to Sukhna Lake , Zakir Rose garden and picnics to the hills were a norm as were vacations in Shimla during the scorching summers or to see the snow in winters .Watching films with family and eating ice cream  were pastimes ! Plucking raw mangoes and guavas was fun .Trying out mother’s high heeled shoes, posing in front of mirrors,creating finger nails out of flower petals are precious memories . I learnt to sing and recite Gurbaani – shabads from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji in my formative years .Childhood was a blessed time watching plays and mushairas in the iconic Tagore Theatre with my parents .
Walk us through your academic journey?
 I schooled in one of the best girls school  in India , Carmel Convent Sector 9 , Chandigarh . The nuns were strict and the teachers taught with diligence . We were names and not merely roll numbers . Reading was a passion . I would  beg and borrow books , reading right across book shelves in the library with determination . I remember scoring good  marks in my ISC examinations .The test papers went to Cambridge for marking I am told .My passion for declamations , elocution and dramatics began very young as we would recite and enact Shakespeare . The great Barry John came to coach us for theatre workshops . My first award for short story writing came when i was about 11 years old for a competition for The Blood Bank Society of India . I distinctly recall  the title of the story – Blood Transcends All Barriers .Armed with the title of ‘versatile genius’ and a belief in myself I was ready to face college life . Government College for Girls which was then known as GCW was where I did my Honours in English with elective Hindi,sociology and optional French. I seemed to have my finger in every pie , besides being editor of the college magazine ABHA.Participating in Youth festivals all over Punjab , I had started reciting self composed poetry in Hindustani and getting recognition and prizes . With Almighty’s grace I got a Gold Medal for Best All Around Student of the College.I went on to do my post graduation in English at Panjab University . A new world opened up .I won the university colour for Best Actress as well
as Histrionics and dabbled in student politics . I was the first girl president of The Three Hundred Society of the English Department.I have fond memories of that golden era .I had started teaching English to degree classes  in Sacred Heart College,Dalhousie even before my MA results were declared .
What was your first book about ?
My first book was a collection of my poetry titled A Trellis of Ecstasy. It was published in 2017 soon after I won my first award in 2016 . The Reuel International Prize for poetry “for poetry that is prolific and never at a loss for words , depth and beauty “. The book is mentioned in the Journal of Commonwealth Literature,London , calling it a ‘ veritable delight ‘. It says “Lily makes use of many forms and devices such as the tanka,limerick,alliterative verse, the roseate sonnet ,the mesostic poem, palindromes and free verse.The poet’s understanding of nature is a defining feature of this collection . The poems are highly alliterative :fragrant frangipani flaunting/seductive scents sublime “. “ Panoramic ,Pandemonium/ guttural ghoulish gargantuan/ creeping in covetously “. Swarn derives lineage from women writers such as Kamala Das and Maya Angelou in poems such as My Story and I know why the caged bird sings .”India Today gave it a thumping review .
Your favourite authors?
The Sikh Gurus , Sufi poets like Bulle Shah , Shah Hussein , Farid , Thomas Hardy , Romantic English poets like Keats ,Wordsworth,Shelley .Also John Donne and Browning . Punjabi folk literature, Bhai Vir Singh.  Shiv Batalvi , Amrita Pritam .Prem Chand , Pant ,Manto ,Faiz, Ghalib,Mir-the list is long !
Which topics you love to write?
 I love to write about Love and it’s myriad shades .Nature and it’s wondrous hues , women and child abuse , women empowerment are  subjects that move me to write .Lives of underprivileged and penury stricken ordinary humans nudge my pen . Peace poetry flows unabated as I strongly condemn war . The plight of orphans and refugees is also my area of concern .
 Your hobbies ?
Listening to Qawwalis , Punjabi folk,Ghazals .Trying out new cuisines,travelling and reading .I like cooking simple homely food for my husband .Trees and flowers intrigue me . The hills talk to me .
A bit on your urdu poetry journey ?
I learnt the Shayari of powerful Urdu poets from my father while I was rather small .Iqbal ,Daagh , Zauq just flowed into my mind like kids learn nursery rhymes .Later I had the good fortune to meet and interview the inimitable Faiz Ahmed Faiz when I was in college . I first started writing and reciting Urdu nazms .Syed Zia Alvi , a Sufi scholar read my Urdu poetry and suggested that I write ghazals too . His encouragement resulted in my collection of ghazals titled Yeh Na Thi Hamaari Qismat. The foreword is by the eminent academician Prof Zaman Azurdah of Srinagar , the tributes are by Prof Anisur Rehman ,senior adviser of Rekhta ,Prof Khalid Alvi and Dr Chander Trikha,Chairman Haryana Sahitya Akademi .I am humbled by their kind words. The book was launched amongst others by PadamShri Dr Surjit Patar, Chairman Punjab Arts Council , Dr Lakhwinder Johal president Punjab Sahitya Akademi, Dr Sumita Misra IAS, Vivek Atrey . I am immensely honoured by the powerful reviews by Humra Qureshi in Tehelka and by Mushtaque Barq in Kashmir Pen. Kashmir Newsline interviewed me after this book was unveiled and later published a  glowing review too . I am touched by the love my ghazals are getting .They are sung by melodious voices . Samina Aslam . a Television producer from Karachi made an exquisitely sung and aesthetically made video of my ghazal “ Oas ki boond Roti rahi raat bhar “as a tribute to me .The book was published by Rhyvers Press,the cover is by Khattat creations Srinagar and is available on Amazon .
Awards and recognition you have received?
The universe has been very merciful towards me and I have been blessed with over 70 international and national awards over the last few years . The Gujarat Sahitya Akademi awarded me three years in a row.
Global Icon of Peace ,Sahitya Rattan Award,Order of Shakespeare Medal , Cesar Vallejo award WE Diva of the world , A La Excelencia Literaria,25 Women of Excellence
I am a  nominee for Lifetime Achievement Award and finalist for Global Culture Champion Award by SheInspires Awards,UK.
I was  awarded Women of Hearts award 2020-21 and  ‘Best Indian Author Award  2021 ‘for my  book ,History on my Plate,WOmen Empowered PoeTree Green Heart Award ,Rabindranath Tagore Literary Honour 2022 , Golden Heart Award 2022 , Kazi Nazrul Islam Award 2022 Bangladesh . Cesar Vellajo Award 2022 for peace and social justice, Ambassador of Culture and Peace and Swarna Lekhini Golden Pen Award .Chirag e Dair Award by Women Empowered group 2022 for Urdu ghazals .I believe it is the blessings of my young son who passed away a few years ago that  help me write.
 Army wives have a hectic schedule ,how did you get time for intellectual pursuit?
Nothing can stop a creative human being from following his or her passion . I rise before dawn as I believe in the mysticism of that magical hour of “Amrit Vela”. That is  when I write best without the intrusion of the business of living . I must write as soon as a thought , idea or emotion shakes me up whether it is in the kitchen or sitting next to my husband in the car .Words ask me to write them . They don’t let me rest until I’ve given them a new form and life .Besides,the sylvan surroundings of cantonments were serene and conducive to writing .
Your message ?
Believe in your own capacity to be an achiever .I never thought that grief can be such a potent catalyst for creativity . After the sudden demise of my young son I channelled my searing pain into words . It was cathartic as well as uplifting . Secondly be true to your craft . Do not try and portray yourself in a false light . Your own light has  enough irradiance to illumine your path . Lastly please love the elderly in your homes . They need your attention .

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