Everyone has something of value to share, often we don’t realise this. Your story, or a part of it, may be just what someone else needs to hear. This is why this post is an interview with Rochelle D’silva – a Melbourne-based poet. I hope it inspires you and reminds you that you too have an interesting personal tale to tell and a life that has intrinsic value. I also highly recommend interviewing a friend as a way to get to know them even better.
Mashariki@wordpress: You know I’ve always wanted to interview you. I want to speak to people that I find interesting, people I think others will find interesting and inspiring in some way. So thank you for being here.
What is your full name?
Rochelle Dominique D’silva.
Dominique? That’s nice.
Where were you born?
I was born in Bombay…in Lilavati Hospital and I was a breech baby. My mum tells the story of how she was clinically dead when they had her caesarian. And then she came back for me because she knew I would need extra extra help.
Alot of pressure!
That’s an amazing story. What does that make you feel when you recount that?
I used to joke about it when I was younger. I used to mimic my mum because I could just hear her going (theatrical voice) “…and Rochelle I give you my hand and tell you not to jump off this cliff, but you will not listen to me! God is going to hold me accountable for how I’ve treated you and what you’ve done with your life because this is why I’m here!”
No, but knowing how intimate it is to bring someone into the world, I appreciate her sticking around.
And are you glad to be here?
Most days. Today is one of them (smiles).
Yes, we are having a hot chocolate drink – combined Loving Earth organic raw dark chocolate with organic chilli chocolate and almond milk. Made especially with love for this meeting.
When is your birthday?
I was born on 6th of May, 1984 so I’m a Taurus.
Do you believe in star signs?
I used to alot. I do believe I have characteristics of the bull. I have a bull tattoo on me.
What are the characteristics of the bull?
I like water, to relax, I can be very calm unless I’m provoked…then you don’t want to stand in my way. And I do like red (laughs).
Do you really?
I do like red, yes.
I believe bulls are colour blind though…
Well, it works for me! (laughs)
I’ll wave a red flag infront of you and see what happens?
(Laughing) I do feel this quiet strength, which I believe bulls have.
Can you show us your tattoo?
(Turns around and shows the tattoo of a bull between her shoulders at the base of her neck)
It’s the first one I got when I was 21.
Was that painful?
No I didn’t feel anything. I smiled all through. I had been waiting since I was 14 for it.
Nice. You have lots of other tattoos. What do they all mean?
I’ve got a cross on my hand. Most Goan catholics have a cross.
Why is that?
I don’t know..but my grandfather had one and I got mine when he passed away in memory of him. I’ve got a “peace, love and music” one on my ankle because I believe in it. I’m very close to nature and the hippie beliefs – without being a hippie…it’s a memory of that. I have a phoenix on my left bicep. I got it on my 25th birthday when I was starting over, literally. Starting over from what I had imagined my life to be, and I was ending it and starting over to something I was just not prepared for. This was when I ended an engagement.
And after that you came to Australia?
Yes, so this was before I came.
What was it like growing up in Bombay?
It was lots of fun. I was brought up by my grandparents who spoiled me. My grandmum was a taylor, all my clothes were stitched. My grandfather used to teach me how to cheat while playing cards. I was the youngest and treated like royalty. I climbed trees and stole fruit. Brought in stray dogs, parrots, eagles.
Animals that you found anywhere?
(Laughs). Yes. I built little fortresses and tents with bed sheets. I used to mash up plants and try to get my uncle to eat all these things that I’d make, squashed up worms and leaves.
Next time you come we can prepare a meal like that for you? (laughs)
(Laughing) Mud in water was tea. So, it was alot of fun. There was alot of innocence and alot of imagination. We got to celebrate every festival.
I like what you say about alot of imagination because you are a very creative person. Can you talk more about that?
I used to make stuff up because I lived in my head alot. I began writing when I was 6. I used to make up stories and imagine all these things about myself and I told a few people. It was pretty awesome.
What were you writing when you were 6?
I started writing letters to mum and dad and I wrote my first poem when I was 6. It was about a tree.
Did you know it was called a “poem” or were you just writing at that point?
I think I knew because mum and dad are writers. In my family growing up, my uncles read newspapers to us as kids. Reading was a big part of our existence.
What sort of writing did your mum and dad do?
Dad writes soppy, romantic love poems that I once found. He’s a crazy romantic person. Mum rhymes. She like to use big words and be creative about how she writes it on a page, so she’ll add drawings and things like that.
It makes sense off course then that you’re a writer. So you moved to Australia and you and I met on the spoken word poetry scene. What does poetry do for you?
It helps me cope, figure out things. It helps me feel like it’ll be okay.
Can you talk us through your process?
Usually it’s mulling things over in my mind. So if something’s happened to me I can’t write at the time, there’ll be alot going on in my mind. And then someday when it’s ready, it will hit me and it comes out in a moment of clarity and I get a whole poem out of it. Rarely will I write a piece and go back to it, or write unfinished pieces. Because it’s not an effort. I don’t sit and try to write. It just comes to me anywhere and anyhow.
We used to joke that when I was younger I’d be in the bath and suddenly scream to mum; “mum can you give me pen and paper” she’d wonder, what is this girl doing?
I’ll wake myself out of dreams if I feel something come up.
Who are your favourite poets?
Quite a few. I learned the classics. I remember being taught how to read imagery and I fell in love with John Donne. Wordsworth. Spoken word poets Shane Koyzcan, Sarah Kay, alot of others. And you don’t have to like everything the poet writes, it could be just one piece that does it for you.
It’s cathartic for you.
(Nods) I have no control over it. I don’t exactly know the point when a poem happens. When I try hard it’s very sucky. Full of cliches…terrible.
When you’re sharing your poetry with people, the spoken word, what does that do for you?
It scares me. It’s hard to do. I don’t like speaking publicly. I’m scared when I’m up there and very anxious
But you do it anyway and you do it so well!
Because it scares me.
What do you think the fear is about?
(Laughing at the incredulity on my face) I’m very socially awkward and I have great trouble dealing with myself. It’s hard to put yourself out there. I get excited to perform and then I try to talk myself out of it, so initially I’ll agree but then I’ll think; what are you doing? why do you want to go there? no one will want to listen to you, what are you going to read? you’ve read everything, you have nothing new! but people like it anyway, then I think, but what do they know?
I do it because it scares me. I’ve been one of those people that’s done the same thing over and over in my life. I’ve been scared and working on myself for a long time. I’m constantly working on things. I think it’s important to keep trying to be more. Especially to do the things that scare you because when you’re in there, you can start to ask well why does this scare me? And so there are times when I perform and it’s surreal. I’m not even there, I don’t recall.
I had a great coaching session with the Identity Theatre here in Melbourne and the coach, Ray, asked me that question: what’s your experience like when you perform your poetry? and I said the same thing “oh I go off somewhere else. I don’t know what’s going on..” and he laughed and reminded me that it’s probably better to stay present and manage what’s going on instead of mentally wandering off like “good luck, see you later”. So he taught me a few tips and tricks to stay present before you perform. But I agree it’s scary, and I find it intense.
Again I say, the whole purpose of an interview like this is because I believe everybody has something of value to share. Especially in these times, when we are starting to remember that powerful things happen at the grassroots level. Something you say will be just what another person needs to hear. It sounds like you’re coming to a place of acceptance of self?
Yes and it’s an ongoing thing. It’s constant work. I think living should be constant work. You should be aware of your actions and reactions. Be open to people giving you feedback. I don’t see the point of being a poet that preaches about how the world should be, preaching about politics, multiculturalism et cetera but you’re not living the wisdom you speak about.
So poetry should be a lived thing, an expression of who you truly are?
What else do you do creatively?
I paint, I cook. I create all kinds of food.
What do those activities do for you?
Cooking calms me. You know I’m having a bad day if I can’t cook, or if what I cook is inedible. Cooking is a happy, therapeutic, joyous occasion. I don’t understand people who say they can’t cook for themselves. I’ll cook a feast for myself. I’ll have dessert and do it all for myself.
I think that’s really profound, why can’t some people cook for themselves? Why wouldn’t you be able to do that? what a question!
I roll out of bed and head to the kitchen (laughing).
And what a paradox too. I think being paradoxical is such a human trait – so on one hand you’re learning how to love yourself but on the other hand you have no issues nurturing yourself by cooking just for yourself.
Well I come from a family that values hospitality. My mum used to say that when guests came it doesn’t matter what’s in the house, you give everything.
What about painting?
I paint rarely. I do it when I have patience. I’m clumsy and I get upset if the final product is not what I imagined. I like doing portraits but I can’t do people’s mouths well.
(Laughs) what do you think that’s about?
I don’t know, I don’t get it right. So I try drawing people sideways (laughs) – that’s my recommendation.
Let’s go back to your life in India. Sounds like it’s informed you in alot of ways. What else do you think you got out of being born there – hustle, bustle. I mean, Bombay is everything and everything is in Bombay – love, joy, hate, rich, poor, dirty, clean, intense, calm.
Alot of integrity.
Can you explain?
There are alot of people. 1.2 billion. You have to have a sense of self. You can’t be lost or you’ll be really lost. Even there, I was different from the people I saw around me. I didn’t try to be different but I felt it. It was not a scary difference – it was just… this is who I am and let’s try and get some fun out of it.
Alot of people struggle with being different and they smother it. What did you do with being different?
Well there was the time I was a teenager and starting to have some sort of sexuality and I was just weird about it. Just had no one to talk to about it, and you know that’s the thing with being more of a writer than a person that talks to people – I’m always in my head. For me to learn about stuff women were going through for example I didn’t know anything. I was brought up in a convent, then my teenage years were in a co-ed school but most of my friends were guys. Home was strict and rigid.
With your grandparents?
No, with my parents actually. I guess my parents were trying to make up for lost time or something. There was no real room for exploration so most of it was in my head. I dated much older people and I still felt I was more mature than they were.
Wiser you mean?
I just knew things and didn’t know how I knew them. I picked up on people’s energies and intentions. I’d be processing things while others weren’t. Constantly thinking, processing things. Being brought up in India and then in Bahrain there was so much difference around me, it was like being anonymous in the room. Just figuring stuff out. I think it’s given me a strong foundation for the kind of human I want to be – more humane.
What was it like in Bahrain?
I was there for seven years. It was really fun. I have a lot of middle eastern friends. Life in Bahrain was much more free for me. It was western but not crazy, not illogical. You still had family, tradition and culture but also the freedom to be a person – you can go out, do things. But it’s not extreme. It’s not running naked down the street, not getting arrested.
(Laughs) Yes, one of the first people I met in Australia said to me “you don’t have a police record?” and I thought “you do? what for?”
(Laughs) So you mentioned you have alot of thoughts running around in your head. Do you do any writing in prose for that?
I had a blog. I blogged alot before doing spoken word – not in a dear-diary format. It came out of a necessity to write. I was at my first job and needed to pretend to work (laughs). I go back and read those posts and I like that girl! She was blunt and with pretty good vocabulary.
That’s good, most people don’t like what they wrote back in the day.
That what I feel about my writing when I was 13!
Now, I’m going to ask your opinion about certain things.
What do you think about God?
I believe in spirituality and God somehow. I usually don’t talk about spiritual beliefs. It being shoved down your throat at school and with family and everyone wanting to discuss it but it’s such a hot topic back home. Religion’s a big deal, people kill themselves over it. And then other people have opinions about it and how doctrine-like everything is. I believe in God, miracles, goodness and prayers and I do all these things.
What do you get out of it?
It makes me believe in good. The way I see it, standing and praying with ten people is like meditating with ten people – a unified thing that’s holding you together. It’s goodness or the intent to be good, wanting to be good. Believing in something bigger than you. It’s not a sign of weakness. I think we all need to believe in something outside of ourselves. Humans can be selfish and self absorbed. I get that you’ve labelled everything you could find, and that’s nice, but what does that mean? If you’ve figured it all out, then why are you roaming around going to India to find yourself?
And lots of people go to India to find themselves! Is that funny to you as an Indian?
It can be annoying sometimes (laughs). Do you have to rub shoulders with the poor to feel good about yourself? You don’t wash dishes where you’re from but you’ll scrub floors in an ashram whilst wearing loose clothing, possibly no underwear and not showering for 3 days.
What do you think of when I say the following words. Humanity.
And it scares me. People are forgetting common sense. Get up for a pregnant lady on the tram, smile at an old person. If you’re standing at a bus top and it’s raining, offer you umbrella to the person next to you, you don’t have to even engage in small talk. Common sense.
Beautiful. calming. It gets me through. When you look up at the sky things will be okay.
Trees (smiles), life.
How interesting. What do you think when I say “flawed”?
What do you think when I say “Evolving”?
(Curses in Konkani, an Indo-European dialect and laughs) I think constant.
What do you suggest people try doing to boost their health and wellbeing?
Smile, especially when people are being silly and difficult, when life is being difficult. Just sit, like a crazy person and force the widest grin you can. Blast alot of music, good beats. have a drum that resonates in you. Lie on the ground and ground yourself. And please jump on your bed! You’ve got to hop once in a while. Hum to yourself. Do these things.
And what do you think all these things do for a person?
Endorphines…whatever you’re facing just becomes do-able.
You mentioned music two or three times. Who do you listen to and what does that do for you?
How do I pick? anything from classic indian music which is beautiful, to tamil rap, greek music, arabic, all kinds of stuff. Don’t do electronica and dub step though. There is a constant, there is alot of music. I wake up to it. I’m in a foul mood if I don’t have music.
As part of the Melbourne Jazz festival I went to listen to (jazz bassist) Christian Mcbride in conversation. And he talked about how “genre” was just a word someone else invented because music is music you know, and he listens to all kinds not just jazz.
And another person I know feels the same way “it’s all music” she said to me. Sounds like you feel the same way?
(Nods) I used to judge people that didn’t know the genres they like. I’d just learned the word you see, learned how to pronounce it and I thought it was really cool (laughs, self deprecatingly). There has to be emphasis when you say “oh my god! music!”.
I get that. What does music do for you?
(Sighs) Uplifts my soul, speaks to me, makes me smile, makes me go through all the emotions that are happening. I’ll try translating the words and learn what it means like with arabic music. It’s just…when they say it’s universal, it’s the truth.
Do you write music, play anything or sing?
I used to sing in the choir. I tried to play, I’m bad at it, can’t keep time. I get flustered.
What sort of work is your ideal form of work?
I used to say travel writer, and I’d still love to do that. But I want to have a school – work with kids and older people.
What kind of work?
Apart from teaching common sense? (laughs). When I was part of Occupy [the movement] we used to have these general assemblies where everyone spoke their minds. If one person disagreed you would listen to him or her. You’d speak for and against, and we’d debate the difference of opinion and that really expands your reasoning and thinking. I never felt that in school. I just felt competitive, comparing myself to everyone. You need to be in a school where you’re appreciated, the world puts enough pressure on you to be what you’re supposed to be. School should be a place where you want to learn.
What do you hope Rochelle Dominique D’silva is doing in 5 yrs?
Oh god. I don’t know. Rochelle’s not doing anything I’ve been telling her to do for the past ten years (laughs). I don’t even know what I’ll be doing tomorrow!
Someone else needs to be in the driver’s seat perhaps?
(Laughs) how do you project what you’re going to be doing?
It is a loaded question. We don’t know what’s coming in the next minute even.
I could be doing anything, maybe even living in a tree somewhere!
Any last words? As an individual who matters – because we all matter.
Love yourself. And make a chocolate drink (laughs)
Yes, make a chocolate drink and pour it over someone you love.
You can see some of Rochelle D’silva’s poetry here: