Bookend: Former D.c. Cfo Natwar Gandhi Trades Number-Crunching For Poetry (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Bookend: Former D.C. CFO Natwar Gandhi Trades Number-Crunching for Poetry

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Before we say goodbye today, let's take out monthly look at the literary life of the D.C. region. It's "Bookend."

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:13
This week, Jonathan Wilson sat down with Natwar Gandhi. You may know him as the long serving Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia. But his first love wasn't crunching numbers. It was composing words. He's published several books of poetry in his native language of Gujarati. Jonathan met him downtown at the Metropolitan Club on H Street NW.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:00:34
Going back to your formative years, how early were you interested in the world of finance and how early were you interested in the world of poetry, which is what we're here to talk about?

MR. NATWAR GANDHI

00:00:45
Poetry longer than finance. Indeed, I wanted to be a poet. I wanted to major in literature. Fortunately, one of my relatives educated me and told me that if you really want to get a job, going to get married, have children, a roof over your head, poetry is not the way to go. You should go into accounting. And so I started learning accounting and majored in accounting in my college. But nevertheless, I kept on reading and writing poetry. Poetry's a great passion for me and stayed with me ever since.

MR. NATWAR GANDHI

00:01:26
So, about age 60, I said, do I ever want to be a published poet or not? And so, basically, since I had accomplished a great deal of my professional career as an accountant, as a Chief Financial Officer, I decided to concentrate on poetry.

WILSON

00:01:45
When you were growing up, were you considered odd because you were so interested in poetry, or was it common amongst your friends and relatives growing up?

GANDHI

00:01:56
No. Or to this day. Because usually, people who major and devote all their lives to accounting and finance do not generally think in terms of poetry. But to me, poetry is where my heart is. Accounting is what I do to go through the day. And I think, you know, basically, since I was doing it on the side, and it's a harmless profession, so to say, and at the same time is very enriching. People often say, you know, I have, or had one of the most stressful jobs in Washington. And so, how do I relieve my stress?

GANDHI

00:02:41
Well, I relieve my stress by reading and writing poetry. And that has been an enormous pleasure of mine, a passion of mine, and I enjoy doing it.

WILSON

00:02:53
Over the years, working for the city, dealing with that stress, as you say, I'm wondering how, other than just stress relief, your poetry maybe affected how you looked at your job. And vice versa. Do you think that any of your job bled into your poetry, as you were writing it?

GANDHI

00:03:08
Absolutely. I think, you know, you cannot really distinguish and separate life into several blocks, you know? It's all integrated into one. And writing my poetry has reflected what I go through the day. And one of my poems deals with that one should not take oneself very seriously. And, you know, that reminds you of Shelly's poem -- sonnet -- Ozymandias. And it's on the same line of thought. At the same time, I have an office on Pennsylvania Avenue. I had an office on Pennsylvania Avenue, so my greatest volume is called The Pennsylvania Avenue where it shows my disillusionment with American politics.

GANDHI

00:04:01
Particularly its foreign policy, and later poems that I've written reflect that. So, I basically do my accounting and my finance and poetry in one fell swoop. It's difficult to really segregate all that.

WILSON

00:04:18
I'm also wondering, in terms of your style of working, and the way that you view poetry. With your background in Math and numbers, do you have, at all, a mathematical or systematic approach to writing, or is it -- do you really try to get away from that when you're writing?

GANDHI

00:04:35
Well, I think the form of poetry that I have selected, it reflects my emphasis and my inclination towards discipline. Discipline of accounting, discipline of finance. So I write only in meters. Sanskrit meters, and these meters are a highly precise form of expression. There are only so many letters in a line and then again in a similar pattern. The Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, has a very detailed (unintelligible) ways of forming poetry. And I also write sonnets. Sonnets, as you know, are 14 lines.

GANDHI

00:05:18
It has specific rhythm and rhyme. People who have known me as a very disciplined person, devoting most of the time in the day towards accounting the numbers, also could see as to why I have selected sonnets and meters, as opposed to writing in blank verse. So, for example, I could never write in the way, say Walt Whitman had written. Of course, there is no attempt on my part to compare myself to that great poet, and he is one of my great favorites. But nevertheless, he would write free flowing -- goes on and on and on. I cannot do that. I have to have a message done in 14 lines and in a particular pattern.

SHEIR

00:06:05
That was D.C.'s former CFO and published poet Natwar Gandhi, talking with Jonathan Wilson. You can hear Gandhi reciting some of his poetry and translating it on metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:06:24
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jonathan Wilson, Jacob Fenston, Bryan Russo, Lauren Ober and Jerad Walker. WAMU's Managing Editor of News is Memo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" Managing Producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our Editorial Assistant. Our intern is Tyler Daniels. Lauren Landau and John Heinz produce "Door to Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU Engineering and Digital Media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

00:06:51
Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts," and our "Door to Door" theme, "No Girl," are from the album, "Title Tracks," by John Davis, and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can find all the music we use each week on metroconnection.org. You can also hear the entire show on our website. Just click the "This Week On Metro Connection" link. And you can subscribe to our podcast there, or find us on iTunes, Stitcher and the NPR News app.

SHEIR

00:07:15
We hope you can join us next week for a show we're calling "Against the Odds." We'll hear about a Virginia woman's miraculous recovery from a suicide attempt, and find out how she's using her experience to help others. And we'll get the latest on how Maryland's growing number of casinos is affecting gambling addicts. Plus, we'll meet one of America's first woman orthodox Jewish clergy members.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:07:37
I just kind of assumed that I would not pursue a career in orthodox Jewish life, because I just didn't see women, really, in those positions. And so I think, you know, just subconsciously, I just assumed that was not for me.

SHEIR

00:07:48
I'm Rebecca Sheir. Thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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