Firstly, Bashabi talked us through her wonderful Ragas and Reels – a book of poems reflecting on the photography of Hermann Rodrigues, which features various “broon faces” spotted around Scotland; a celebration of the rich, cross-cultural identity of so many people living in Scotland today (with Indian, Pakistani, and other origins besides). Think tartan saris, haggis pakora, and a lot of wide smiles.
Bashabi spoke illuminatingly of “reverse trade routes”, and the modern India. Now, more whisky is drunk in India than in Japan, and Jura Whisky is owned by an Indian businessman. The world today is a deeply interconnected place. Bashabi read her poem, Inside Samye Ling – about the Buddhist monastery on Scotland’s Borders – just as news had reached us that night of the tragic death of its founder, Choje Akong Rinpoche.
Revealing her poetic inspirations, Bashabi explained that four times in her life she has received whole poems as “gifts” – as if dictated to her mind from an external agency. A lapsed Catholic, she maintains an openness towards the spiritual beliefs of all cultures. In one poem, she spoke of her daughter: a scientist, trained in ballet and flamenco, as well as conversant with traditional Indian dance.
Bashabi is a friend of Maria Geddes, granddaughter of Patrick Geddes (the pioneering Scottish town planner, whose deep engagement with Indian culture and religion informed his philosophy – which has shaped so much of the urbanism of our modern world today).
14 Million people were displaced by Indian partition, and Bashabi offered her own perspective on the forthcoming vote on Scottish Independence (noting that Scotland does not need anyone’s permission to call itself a nation, such distinction being long evident in our unique culture and history). The message of her poems is always a compassionate one, and a new poem on the difficult subject of the recent and harrowing Delhi rape case led to a penetrating discussion of the complex sociology of modern India. Bashabi reminded us of how many women have long held high office and respect within Indian society (not least, prime minister), and that the constitution was written by one of the ‘Untouchable’ (lowest) caste.
To end on a lighter note, your chairman and cameraman was willingly dragged onto the floor to take part in a very enjoyable duet, reading from Bashabi’s epic poem – From the Ganga to the Tay (a superbly rhythmic eulogy to two great rivers, two great countries, weaving their disparate histories and contemporary challenges into one tapestry of dazzling colour).