When and how did the idea of Quarantined Sonnets: Sex, Money and Shakespeare emerge?
I was re-reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and rewrote one of them in a contemporary context, just for fun, for a friend. Then, I started rewriting one every day. Initially, the idea was to just do it for myself and share it with a few friends. But I decided to publish it with Kitaab, Singapore, who will donate my royalties and the profits to a charity helping migrant workers in Singapore.
How do you connect them to the lockdown? Is it a running theme?
The first seven of the 21 sonnets are not directly about the lockdown: they are humorous commentaries on our times, with tongue-in-cheek references to Shakespeare’s peccadilloes. But then the Coronavirus crisis seeps in, and the poems get darker and more cutting in their satire. They are spoken by different voices: writer, nurse, politician, speculator, lover, teenager, old man, worker, etc. Note that Shakespeare plays even more subtly with personas in the original sonnets too.
How did you go about selecting the sonnets you wanted to rewrite?
All the selected sonnets had lines and images that could be reworked to say what I had to say. I looked for that echo and potential to play.
How are Shakespeare’s sonnets relevant in the current pandemic?
Well, Shakespeare wrote at least one of his great plays while in quarantine in London, due to the plague. But, honestly, Shakespeare came in useful because his sonnets gave me a framework which could be used to hone my own critique of what is happening around us. Also, an extra slant to the humour. We call it the virus crisis, but it is basically a human crisis: its worst aspects are our own doing. My rewriting is largely about that: the human crisis. The pity of it. Tears are common to both laughter and loss.
Were you hesitant to take on the work of one of the literary greats?
I did not give that much thought. Talent deserves respect, but genius — such as that of Shakespeare —demands irreverence.
How has the lockdown impacted your work? Will the work you bring out henceforth reflect having been through this?
Working virtually from home, with family around, with children studying at home, cooking, cleaning, Skype meetings, Zoom teaching, etc; this is not the kind of creative isolation that writers need. I feel crowded rather than isolated at times! Rewriting Shakespeare’s sonnets worked for me partly because it gave me a format to return to, despite interruptions. As for the future: who knows?
Log on to Quarantined Sonnets: Sex, Money and Shakespeare on Amazon.
Catch up on all the latest Mumbai news, crime news, current affairs, and a complete guide from food to things to do and events across Mumbai. Also download the new mid-day Android and iOS apps to get latest updates.
Mid-Day is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@middayinfomedialtd) and stay updated with the latest news