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

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Former D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi had a way with numbers—and letters.
WAMU/Patrick Madden
Former D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi had a way with numbers—and letters.

If you know Natwar Gandhi’s name, it’s likely that you know him as the long-serving Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia — a man who’s spent a life crunching numbers. But you may not know that Gandhi’s first love lies in letters, and he’s published several books of poetry written in his native language of Gujarati. Jonathan Wilson met him to discuss his literary passions.

On poetry being his first love:
“Indeed, I wanted to be a poet, I wanted to major in literature. Fortunately, one of our relatives educated me and told me that if you really want to get a job – want 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 is a great passion for me – and it stayed with me ever since.”

On how poetry helped him get through tough years as D.C.’s CFO:
“To me, poetry is what my heart is. Accounting is what I do to go through the day. And, basically, since I was doing it on the side – it’s a harmless profession, so to say – and at the same time, it’s very enriching. I have, or had, one of the most stressful jobs in Washington. So how do I relieve my stress? Well, I relieve my stress by reading and writing poetry. And that has been an enormous pleasure of mine, and passion of mine, and I’ve really enjoyed doing it.”

On why he writes highly structured verse:
“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 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 the 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 fourteen lines, and in a particular pattern.”

Music: "Frostbit" by Oddissee from Odd Seasons / "Things Are Getting Better" by Cannonball Adderley from Things Are Getting Better

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