Levitating Monkey: First off, congratulations on your latest collection of poems, “Saris and a Single Malt” being released and going on to become #1 on Amazon’s Asian American poetry list! I was deeply moved by your poignant collection of poems about your mom, your personal journey through grieving, and your own healing. The depth of emotion you share — so powerful, so raw. I can relate to such a strong loss, as my mother passed away within six months of my graduating from college. Can you talk a bit about how writing this collection has helped you to heal and help you through this difficult time?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Thank you so much for your kind words. And I am so terribly sorry for your loss. To be honest, I didn’t plan to write “Saris and a Single Malt.” The book and the poems chose to happen to me. There was so much going on in my mind at that time when I found out that my mother was hospitalized; writing was the only way I was able to make sense of the world. My mother died suddenly, and I never got to say goodbye. I caught a flight to New Delhi, but saw her directly in the morgue. Poetry is what kept me sane and alive during that week of receiving the call, cremating my mom, and conducting the last rites.
For me, once I share my thoughts and feeling on paper, it starts the healing process. The anger, confusion, loneliness, fear, courage, and chaos were all out and had a form on paper. Writing this collection allowed me to move on to the next chapter.
Levitating Monkey: Having been born in India, spending your formative years in India, the United States and North Africa, can you talk about how all this traveling has influenced how you see the world, how you connect with your feelings, your emotions and how you write?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: I feel quite blessed to have grown up as a global citizen. Because of all the movement and displacement, I have always been very curious. I am used to observing people and cultures without judging them. It’s mindboggling how beautifully similar, yet different all of us are. That’s why wherever I travel; I become a part of that place. Interact with the locals, visit grocery stores, eat where the residents of a city eat, etc. I feel traveling makes us more tolerant and accepting. It teaches us so much about the world and offers us a fresh perspective. As a writer, no wonder, traveling inspires stories for me.
Levitating Monkey: How did you first become interested in the art of writing?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: I grew up in a home where my father was an engineer by day and a poet by night. At every social gathering, he was asked to share his writing. Words have always been around me.
Levitating Monkey: Can you describe how the role of women in Indian society has changed over the course of your career?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: I see more and more women readjusting their priorities and focusing on their careers and themselves. I hear fewer cases of “After marriage, you can work if your in-laws allow,” which makes me happy. But then, India is a big country so it’s fair to say that the culture and changes are complex. Cities and communities drive the role of women within their particular society. While in some places, women are climbing the corporate ladder; in other cities, their growth and mobility is limited. For instance, I feel India was a lot safer when I was growing up. I remember my friends and I used to sit by the beach in Mumbai at 3 am. Not once did we have to worry about our safety. Now, when I need to attend a meeting in New Delhi, even the middle of the day, my Dad and the driver accompany me. Losing my freedom, it suffocates me. But then I am reminded that I don’t live in India and I don’t understand the “rules,” so I oblige unwillingly.
Levitating Monkey: What are your views on social injustice of women in India?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Be it India or any other country, no human being should be objectified and treated as an owned commodity. No one should have to fear for their physical safety or be judged for their wardrobe choices. Every few minutes, crimes against women are reported in India. Despite all the economic growth, sexism is so deeply rooted. Yes, India has progressed a lot, and we have huge recognition on the global map. I am really proud of the achievements. But something drastic needs to be done to end this tide of violence against women.
Levitating Monkey: Can you talk about how you first became interested in Ayurveda, (The Science of Life)?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: My mother was an excellent cook. Not just that, but she also shared incredible holistic tips and she used foods to heal. I was rebellious and didn’t pay much heed to her wisdom until I hit my thirties. I started to realize that her suggestions, (for example, don’t mix dairy with fish or avoid dairy when battling chest congestion or her tips on the kinds of foods to avoid when someone’s arthritic pain had flared up), were rooted in scientific wisdom. It was after she died suddenly, that I realized that she had been preaching Ayurvedic living all these years without knowing it.
Levitating Monkey: Aside from publishing your 11th book, being a freelance writer, you are also a digital marketing consultant, a yoga teacher, a loving wife and are also pursuing your certification in Ayurveda. With so much going on, how do you find the time for work-life balance?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: We all make time for the people and things we love, don’t we? I am no different. I am an obsessive planner, so can prioritize well. I chart out my calendar, keeping a lot of my time for my close, personal relationships. They are my world. The one thing I diligently do: protect my time. In the past, I would make room for anyone and everyone. All sorts of conversations and meetings and people. And that would leave me emotionally and physically depleted. Life teaches us valuable lessons. Now I am mindful of whom I allow into my life and how much I get involved in people’s business. I certainly make sure to leave room for “me-time.”
Levitating Monkey: Can you share a few of your favorite work-life balance tips our readers can put into action today?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: I grew up in a culture where self-care was frowned upon. For the longest time, I took pride in adding my needs to the bottom of the totem pole. I have learned the hard way how important it is to make time for yourself. Compassion that doesn’t include you isn’t true compassion. It’s okay to say NO. Prioritize who and what is important to you. Life needn’t be a struggle all the time.
Also, as an ayurveda devotee, I follow certain morning and evening rituals—be it meditation, oil massage to my feet, cooking, helping others out without any expectations, listening to certain music etc. My point, find out what sustains you and follow through with it. If you are happy, you will impart that happiness to others.
Levitating Monkey: Talk to us about your exciting upcoming Writers Retreat in Panchgani, Maharashtra, India. (How long is the retreat? What sorts of activities are planned? What is your favorite part of the retreat? What lead you to create the retreat?)
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: My company, NimmiLife, is a service-based company that helps people achieve their goals by elevating their creativity, productivity, and wellness. At the Panchgani Writers’ Retreat—this is the 2nd year—I will be teaching creative writing using holistic wellness. Aside from writing workshops, I will also teach yoga and mindfulness that will help writers battle writer’s block and any emotional issues brought upon by their writing. I make and bring my own organic, Ayurvedic oils to help people relax. I will also introduce Ayurvedic principles of food and how that relates to productivity. It’s a pretty unique retreat and participants have reported tremendous success in both their personal and professional lives upon return.
Maryland-based Shabnam Samuel, is the founder of this retreat, and she manages all the logistics exceptionally. I love the sense of camaraderie she creates. Great local, freshly prepared meals and Indian hospitality. There is bed tea served every morning. Need I say more? 🙂
The dates for the 2016 retreat are October 18-24.
Levitating Monkey: This last question is one we ask all our Experts to respond to, as it’s our way of providing a bit of uniformity to all our interviews. If you could impart three key life lessons to others on their (spiritual) path, what would they be and why?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram:
1. Life is a gift so cherish it. Don’t be bogged down by what others say or do. Everyone is on his or her own journey and we aren’t always privy to it. And it’s not our place to understand. Very often, our mind and heart are at war, because of what others say or do, and that leads to a lot of upheaval.
2. Spending time alone is important to growth and creativity. While it’s good to spend time with friends and family, it’s equally important to find quietude so you can hear your inner voice.
3. Meditate everyday. It doesn’t matter where you are; make room to find the stillness, which will lead to contentment.
About Sweta Srivastava Vikram:
Sweta, (www.swetavikram.com), featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an award-winning writer, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Amazon bestselling author of 11 books, writing coach, columnist, marketing consultant, and wellness practitioner who currently lives in New York City. Her latest poetry collection, “Saris and a Single Malt,” ranked #1 on Amazon under several categories. Sweta’s work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. A graduate of Columbia University, she also teaches the power of yoga, ayurveda, & mindful living to female trauma survivors, creative types, entrepreneurs, and business professionals. Sweta is also the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife, which helps you attain your goals by elevating your creativity & productivity while paying attention to your wellness.