When an Omani teenager teamed up with her mother to produce a book of poetry, neither realised their efforts would make them a literary hit. They talk about their mutual artistic journey, in this week’s Coffee with Y.
The bond between a mother and daughter can be a thorny one at times.
But the story of 18-year-old student Rishika Singh and her mother Shail Suman reveals a rapport far beyond most traditional parent-child relationships.
It’s a sacred bond forged in ink – one that started when they began writing poems during their time together at a community group in Muscat.
This has since taken the shape of a book, titled ‘The Duet’, where both cast their ideologies, thoughts and beliefs verse by verse – all poems written over the past five years and compiled into themes aimed at making the reader stop and think.
It’s not just about inviting opinion. The volume is designed to bring to light the beauty of poetry – an art form that can evoke most, if not all, human emotions.
The co-authored book, which was published at the end of last year, also features illustrations by Alex Gili, Rishika’s fellow student at British School Muscat (BSM), and contains a foreword written by the former Indian Ambassador to Oman, H.E. Indra Mani Pandey.
This week, we visit the duo’s home to learn about the book that is creating a buzz among the literary crowd in Oman – and beyond.
Y: Publishing an anthology is a great feat indeed. Can you tell us a bit about the collection of poems that were published?
Rishika Singh: We decided to pick 11 themes in total. The first 10 themes were those that my mom and I had an inkling for – like radio, a medium that she absolutely loves. She grew up with it back home in India, and she has always had a passion for it. Furthermore, we have poems on love, relationships, dreams, and many more. But an impromptu one we had was on Oman. This was a poem I wrote, because I wanted to express my love for the country, having grown up here. My intentions were simple: I wanted to get my emotions and feelings and put them into a poem.
Y: As a poet, do you have a muse or a writer who inspires you?
RS: My favourite author right now is Margaret Atwood. I find her writing to be engaging and gripping; it’s not like anything I’ve never read before. Her topics are slightly dystopian in nature; like what would happen if society took a different path and how it would function in the long run. I recently read her novel, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, and found it to be radical. There were so many elements that we could analyse in detail.
Y: What motivated you to begin writing poems?
RS: Well, it all began when we joined a poetry club here in Oman that we would go to once a month. There, the group would give us all a central theme to follow and each member would have to write a poem based on that. Then, we’d have to read it aloud and discuss it in length with the group. It was a nice way to ease into poetry. After a year of doing that, both my mom and I had a short collection of poems – and she had the idea of turning it into a collection. By then, we both had an equal number of poems about similar themes. And, that’s how it all came together. Compiling and publishing it was her idea. Then we came up with the idea of splitting it into two parts: each theme would have two perspectives – one would be my mom’s and the other, mine.
Y: When did you start writing poetry?
RS: I started writing from a young age – when I was 10 or 11. But it was when we went to the UK in 2010 that I got more exposure. I also became expressive in my writing. We came back to Oman in 2013, and I started to write a novel. It didn’t pan out as intended but we did get a book out of it. Even so, it was the Internations Poetry Club – where poets from different countries would come and contribute their poems – that gave us the exposure we required.
Y: How long did it take for the book to come along?
Shail Suman: It didn’t take us very long to compile the poems for the book. All the materials were with us at hand. Then it was just down to getting the illustrations done by Alex Gili, who is also a student at the British School Muscat.
Y: How great is the difference between both your styles of writings?
SS: Rishika writes intense poetry with a bit more drama. Mine is different and a bit more soft and mature.
Y: What can you tell us about the illustrations in the book? How challenging were they?
Alex Gili: A lot of it is just me expressing an idea of what I felt about a poem – it’s all about how I related to a topic as a reader. My favourite one is the one on Oman. It’s because I’ve been here for 16 years and I see it as home. It took me about one summer to complete all the illustrations so I didn’t have much time on my hands. But I worked on it every day. There were a few times when I would create a drawing and it wouldn’t go down too well. Therefore, I had to experiment and draw it again until I got it right.
Y: Co-authoring a book at the age of 18 is truly an achievement. What has the support been like from readers and your peers?
RS: Everyone who has read the book love it. We had a book signing event at school with teachers at the Winter Fair. We also launched our book there. Some were pre-ordered by people within the school itself. They loved the idea of a collaboration between a mother and her daughter. Some of our friends also bought the book as Christmas gifts. My friends at school have been very supportive. I’m very proud of it, but maybe not as proud as they all are of us. Our book is also special to us, as we have a foreword written by the former Indian Ambassador to Oman, H.E. Indra Mani Pandey, and the principal of the British School Muscat, Kai Vacher.