Sreedhari Desai maintains that she stumbled into poetry writing when she ran out of oil colors to paint with. As the last squirt was pushed out of a box of paints she won as a teenager, she knew that she would have to find an alternate outlet for her creativity. While fine art was too expensive a hobby for her single-income family to support, writing poems, by comparison, was affordable and accessible. She started by writing poems that were parodies of the originals. This creativity led to her eleventh-grade English teacher, Ms. P. Sharda, encouraging her to find her poetic voice by loaning her several anthologies of poems.
Sreedhari followed her teacher's advice and experimented with both poetry and prose. She won several awards the next year at writing events organized by the MCM DAV College, Chandigarh. With the money she earned from these accolades, she purchased more art supplies.
Sreedhari laughs when questioned about her foray into poetry. “I wrote some atrocious poetry when I was 16. Luckily for everyone, I quickly realized how awful it was and abandoned the quill in pursuit of engineering and fine art. I am now at a stage in life where I have resumed the fine skill of writing bad poetry. It helps me on days when I can't be in my art studio. Strangely, it complements my efforts in painting by forcing me to whittle down to the basic ideas I want to express in my art.”
Sreedhari writes in not only English but also Hindi. When asked which language she prefers more, she declares, “Both! I have formally been educated in both of these languages; however, neither is my first language. My first language is Kannada which is spoken on my dad's side of the family, and my second language is Telugu, which is spoken on my mother's side. Unfortunately, I am practically illiterate when it comes to the scripts of these two languages!”
When asked if she ever plans to explore prose writing, she quips, “Well, I am required to write academic articles as a business professor, so I think my desire to write any prose is appeased. However, when I was a teenager, I did write and publish some fiction and some opinion pieces. One op-ed was about the extravagance often displayed in big, fat Indian weddings. Another was about how television is turning us into couch potatoes. Interestingly, when I look back at my life choices, I got married on a shoestring budget in a pseudo library and conference room at the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard. One of my professors officiated at the wedding, so I ended up walking the talk!” And what about television consumption? “Oh, I haven't owned a TV since 2008,” she laughs.
When asked about poets she is fond of, Desai enthusiastically responds, “The American poet, Charles Bukowski, for one. He was the quintessential non-conformist. I love the irreverent, dry style he employed in his writing. Perhaps taking a leaf out of his life book, I find myself writing on controversial and taboo topics such as sex and promiscuity. One of my poems is a tribute to his famous poem, 'Bluebird'. Another poet I deeply admire is Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayan, who wrote under the pseudonym, Agyeya, the unknowable. Agyeya's poetry is full of fire, and he enjoyed blending fine art with poetry by drawing self-portraits to accompany his evocative works. And then there's the mystic--Khalil Gibran who was both an artist and a poet. I love the nudity in both his fine art and his poetry. He sensitively portrays in all his works the essence of being human.” When probed about any contemporary poets whose work she enjoys, she articulates, “I am sustained creatively by my conversations with three contemporary, but perhaps obscure, poets: Dr. Prempushp Chaswal, Dr. Neeraja Upadhyay (my elementary school teacher), and Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts.”
Sreedhari has collaborated with musicians such as Sourabh Goyal, Mohamed Obuerda, Daniel Finn, and Bharat Aggarwal, along with animation engineers such as Veysel Comert. She says, “My more gifted friends turned my dreadful writing into harmonious music.”
Given how instrumental both oil painting and poetry writing have been to her creative journey, she combines them effortlessly in her self-expression. You can enjoy her productions under the Videos tab.