We Need to Talk About Nupur Saraswat
We first caught Nupur Saraswat at the Bombay edition of Sofar Sounds, the much buzzed-about house gig series. She was an unexpected – yet completely welcome! – addition to the otherwise music-heavy line-up. The twenty-something poet spoke for all the women in the room when she touched upon themes of safety, self-image, body positivism, love and longing. We listened in rapt attention, snapping our fingers in agreement every time she echoed our thoughts. Even those of us who’d sworn off spoken word poetry were sucked right in. All of which compelled us to catch up with Saraswat, and get to know her better!
View this post on Instagram
What was your first brush with spoken word like?
“My first brush with spoken word was via slam poetry. My first performance was at a bar in Singapore. I went up on stage shaking, and quite sweaty. I was talking about the brown girl experience to a largely non-brown audience. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of this experience. I had only ever watched videos of slam poetry, never been to a live performance. What came was resounding applause and feedback not just on my performance but the content I had just spoken about. It was one of those experiences that you look back on as a milestone that put you on the path that you have been traveling on. I think if I hadn’t received that kind of response and appreciation, I might not have pursued this art form so diligently.”
How did you identify the themes you’d touch upon?
“The themes I largely deal with are surrounding my identity, my sexuality, my love of many, my activism, and the human experience in the 21st century. These themes are very personal and derived from my lived experiences. To me, these are inevitable topics. These are stories that need to be told, and I use all mediums I can to tell these stories. This inevitability is my artistic guiding force.”
A lot of your pieces stem from your personal experiences. Was there ever any hesitation about what to reveal and what to withhold?
“I believe it is an artistic choice to withhold and to reveal. There are stories in me that I haven’t told yet and I might never. There are stories that are waiting for the right time to come out. Since a lot of stories are deeply personal and deal with lived experiences, it also depends on how much time I have had to process these experiences and how fresh the memories are. Some experiences edge on the realm of trauma, so the retelling becomes reliving.”
What do you count as some of your landmark shows or projects?
“I think my landmark shows so far have been Two Sanskari Girls (2017, International Tour), and Girls Just Wanna Have Friends! (2019, Indian Tour). Two Sanskari Girls explored the concept of being a culturally acceptable, good girl in India and in the larger context. My stage partner, Kate Black Regan and I devised the show in Bangalore and took it to Mumbai, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris. It was a show that dealt with the intersectionality of the female experience across the world.
Girls Just Wanna Have Friends! is a collection of 12 stories told by me and my stage partner Karunya Srinivasan on the topic of female friendships. Some of these stories are our own and some are submitted to us by women around us via social media and email. The show explores the kind of female friendships that are not present in the mainstream media and they are not told to cater to the male gaze. They are good, bad, ugly, nasty, kind, and beautiful – just like real life female friendships.”
Do you divide your time between India and Singapore, currently? And has the contrast between the two societies shaped any of your pieces?
“I made a choice to leave Singapore at the end of last year as I quit my corporate job to explore theatrical poetry to its fullest extent. Since then I have been based between Bangalore and Copenhagen. But I do think both Singapore and Copenhagen shape my performance vastly because they bring out the experience of being brown in predominantly Asian or Caucasian societies. Things like passport power, currency power, and ethnicity are constantly called to question which make me analyse my history and my identity.”
What are you working on next? And where can we catch you perform?
“I am working on bringing more shows to different cities in India. The next show in Mumbai happens on the 5th of July at G5A in Mahalaxmi. It is a 40-minute show that explores the themes of identity, love, and sanskars. It also has a talkback session where we invite the audience to get intimate and have a conversation.”