Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Jaspreet Kaur for her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Jaspreet is a multi-award-winning spoken word artist, educator and author. One of the UK’s most critically acclaimed spoken word poets, her work has been lauded for tackling difficult subjects and helping raise awareness of serious social and political issues. Jaspreet has a passion for both her work in the charitable sector and education, and she is currently a Research Fellow at Birkbeck University’s Centre for British Political Life. Her debut book ‘Brown Girl Like Me’ is set to release in February 2022.
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What does poetry mean to you and what impact has it had on your life?
I first began writing poetry at around the age of 13, and at first, writing was a way to express and release many of the emotions I was fostering inside as a teenager. Writing not only became my form of expression but also a way to unpack, explore and navigate what it meant to be a brown girl growing up in the east end of London.
I couldn’t find women who looked like me or sounded like me in mainstream media; there were no brown women found in literature, on TV screens, in school textbooks, or in positions of power. Whenever I saw brown women presented in the mainstream, I would see the same tired tropes being churned out repeatedly, that brown women are fragile, weak and lack autonomy. The erasure was both frustrating and exhausting, but I decided to channel that energy into my poetry and writing as a way to share our story from my own voice.
As a teacher, do you encourage poetry as a form of expression in your students? If so, what impact or effect have you noticed it has had for young minds transitioning into adulthood?
I work actively in supporting young people, both through my teaching and workshop facilitation, to use creativity as a way to express themselves, specifically through spoken word poetry. I think spoken word has become increasingly popular in recent years, especially for minority and/or marginalised communities, as a way to voice their untold stories and struggles.
Historically, spoken word poems frequently refer to issues of social justice, politics, race, and community, and given the current political climate, these young people have needed avenues to express and heal. I think what differs spoken word from poetry in written form is that it has the intention to be spoken, performed, heard and listened to.
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Which one person has had the greatest influence in your life, and why?
My dad is definitely my biggest inspiration. His kindness, intelligence and resilience are something that I truly admire. If I am ever going through any difficulties in my adult life, my dad is the person that I go to for advice. He always knows the right thing to say, and usually starts with “make yourself a cup of tea...”
Since a young age, my dad has always encouraged me to read. There would always been tonnes of books lying around the house, history books, encyclopaedias, you name it! We used to pay a visit to the mobile library every week and I would always bring back a load of new books to read. Dad taught us that that the knowledge that you build in your mind is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. This is probably one of the main reasons I became a teacher and a writer and love literature and history so much.
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What do you think has been the most profound realisation or discovery about yourself over last few years?
During the pandemic, there was a lot of time for self-discovery. I spent a lot of time thinking about how we can cultivate feelings of hope and optimism even in difficult times. In the Sikh faith, the concept of chardi kala, essentially has the same principle - to maintain a mental state of eternal optimism and joy is to live in chardi kala. But that doesn’t mean just putting a ‘positive lens’ on everything in life. It means recognising the pain, the sorrow and the suffering, and to look all those things in the eye and say still – I am blessed, this is hukam, a divine order. I wish I could flip a switch that will allow me to reach this eternal state of joy automatically but chardi kala takes time, practice and action.
The two simple habits that I have put into place over the last year is to meditate daily and to write in my journal at least three times a week. It seems tedious, but when I look at the most joyful people I’ve met, they all meditate daily and they all take time to turn inwards and self-reflect.
*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.