Why the name ‘Stillness’?

I was very clear that I wanted this work to be mystical, a sublimation of self. I call it Stillness not because I have achieved stillness, but because stillness is my most definite goal, higher than any success, any accolade. If you’ve achieved stillness within, you’ve conquered the universe.

This collection reveals a very different persona from the one you’re associated with.

A natural evolution takes place as a human being. When I was younger, I would be adversarial in my approach. But for the last five or six years, as I get older and start thinking and introspecting, I have become more quiet and reclusive. I have become much gentler. For instance, now I will absolutely refuse to talk negatively about any party or person because I believe that that takes away from the heart of the debate.

But is Indian politics mature enough to respect such values?

No, I’m afraid it isn’t. [But] The kind of leadership I look at [values] building and nurturing relations. Look at statesmen throughout history – there was a deeper message and thought through their actions. For instance, when Pandit Nehru started his career, he was seen as an extremist within the Congress. But as he got older, he became more statesman-like. I think that is someone to learn from.
Also as an individual, you must unlearn and re-learn. I am 35 now, I started out in politics 10 years ago. In the course of time, you must distill your real message.

Don’t you run the risk of being spoken over?

The gentlest voices are always heard the loudest. If you speak very loudly, it hurts people’s ears. But if you speak softly, people lean in to listen.

What are the influences in your poetry?

My influences are to do with ideas that I have inculcated – they come from the world we live in and my reaction to it. Words bring me a great amount of solace, a great amount of freedom.

Where has this new quietude come from?

I meditate. The more you look within, the stiller you are. I believe I am happier than I have ever been because of this.

How long have you been at work on this collection? Do you write spontaneously, or do you have to work on it?

The poems in Stillness have been written over the past three years. Writing poetry is harder [than writing columns], because I am very self-conscious about putting it out. It’s less about making drafts and improving, because I think that takes away from the energy of the piece. If I didn’t like something, I would scrap it. The 52 poems here actually came out of 150.

There are some amazing, surreal photographs appended to the poems. What was the thought there?

My last book was illustrated by MF Husain, Manjit Bawa and Manu Parekh. I was firm that in this book I wanted photography not just as an art form, but something that was evocative of the loneliness and sadness, and hope, of the book. So we spent a lot of time choosing the photographs. Most of them are by international photographers, all of them famous. We bought the pictures, and we were very lucky that they were willing.

What is your next book about?

It is a book of long, 20,000-word essays and will come out two years later. It’ll broadly be a road map for governance – understanding why, for instance, we are a country of 21st century aspirations, but don’t demand 21st century governance. It’ll be a sociological book, a little academic.

And what do you think this ‘road map for governance’ should consist of?

One needs to look at more people in India having a greater stake in the future of our country’s development. Secondly, strengthening institutions, because all human beings are fallible. But if institutions are very strong, then our country’s future is secure.