Poet’s Bio

Anushka Anastasia Solomon, was born Anusha, daughter of, V. Balakrishnan and Ariyathavaletchumee Kathiraveloo, on August 18th 1963 in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. As a student in Assunta Primary School, Anushka wrote, on the back of a school exercise book, these words:

“I wish I were a spirit, wandering free and flying high
  Unlocking the mysteries of the world, unfolding the secrets of time
  Oh, but if I only I were a spirit, I’d leave everything be
  Fly up to the sky, and sing, sing of the rhapsody of life!”

A precocious reader, Anushka engaged her Hindu parents, the immediate family, classmates, teachers, aunts and uncles, servants, neighbors, gardeners and basically anyone she befriended in conversation. At Assunta Secondary School, in 1980, she won the 12th Annual Roteract Speech Competition with a speech written for her father, titled, “Success Does Not Have To Be Spelt With The Dollar Sign.” The full text of this speech was later published in the English Language Malaysian newspaper The New Straits Times.

Adibah Amin, the editor of Education Times, The New Straits Times ran Anushka’s  column, “Getting Away From The Books”, an article arguing for student teacher involvement in extracurricular activities. This article was as much arguing the cause of personal freedom as that of the group. The Malaysian Government had switched from English Language education to Bahasa Malaysia, and already, language policy had begun to determine freedom of thought, speech and action. The Bahasa Malaysia language policy determined how and what an individual in Malaysia could think.

Islam and Malay culture was imposed on Malay and non-Malay students who had not the intellectual foundation or framework with which to articulate personal thoughts or reflection. Kirby trained Malaysian teachers struggling to make the switch faltered in their level of proficiency in Bahasa Malaysia and did their best, producing the bilingual, oftentimes trilingual and highly literate population of Malaysians today.

In 1982, Anushka left Malaysia for the University of Missouri-Columbia to study journalism. The decision to leave was influenced by Jassy Dhaliwal, a Bengali-Malaysian student at the Australian Matriculation Taylor’s College, who read Anushka’s prose and asked simply, “Why not, leave Malaysia and go to the United States to study?” Why not, indeed?

Gaining permission to travel alone to the United States to study journalism, and admission to an American University, entailed many impassioned arguments and discussions in her home. Her tradition bound Hindu- Tamil parents, Mr. V. Balakrishnan and Ariyathavaletchumee could conceive of the pursuit of law in the UK, or medicine in India or teacher training in Malaysia but balked at sending their only daughter away to the United States to study journalism. Her father famously said, “Why do I want my only daughter running around after American men with a microphone and a tape recorder?” To which Anushka replied, “I will only be doing this to better understand the men who are in power today and defining the world. Wouldn’t you like to be known as the father of a famous journalist, papa?” Apparently, Papa did fancy the idea and promptly financed his daughter’s education with private funds.

 Malaysian government scholarships were reserved for bumiputera students and non-Malay-Muslim students were carefully screened even then for having views that might be at counter purposes with Barisan National or the National Front government. Malaysian government bumiputera students arriving in the United States lived on singular Malay only communities.

Anushka lived in the dormitories and was selected to be a Resident Assistant in the University of Missouri-Columbia Residence Hall system. As an aspiring Malaysian-Tamil journalist studying in the United States, Anushka was unable to address her concerns about Education in Malaysia or America. The Malay-Malaysian community on the American campus was closed to non-Malay involvement and certainly non-government espoused views were clearly not tolerated. Frequent visits by Malaysian dignitaries to the American campuses ensured that Malaysian students remained loyal to the Barisan National education policy and Islam. Most Americans were uninterested in Malaysia or interested only in those aspects of the culture that titillated the senses or fit squarely into an existing paradigm of thought or stereotype.

Clearly interested in American education and freedom, and all that it had to offer, Anushka Solomon immersed herself in study. Poetry became a vehicle by which Anushka could tread the untraditional path of creating an identity apart from that espoused by the Malaysian government for all Malaysian regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or gender. The Malaysian identity that Malaysia still advocates and promotes is alien to most non-Muslim Malaysians. An Islamic and Malay cultural rubberstamping of the evolving, changing and dynamic entity of the Malaysian identity is soul destroying.

In Anushka’s studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia, she encountered a friend, teacher and mentor in Dr. Jim McCartney of the Sociology Department. Dr. McCartney read a spiral bound loose-leaf collection of handwritten poems and suggested that perhaps Anushka might want to consider transferring to Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts to study writing and poetry. The suggestion created turmoil in the young Malaysian-Tamil poet but was acted on silently without the knowledge of her parents in the Fall of 1985.

The transfer was seamless. All academic credits transferred and as a student of the Jamaican poet laureate and Professor of Writing, Andrew Salkey, Anushka Solomon graduated with a slim volume of poems, Division III, “Creative Writing and The Creative Process.” At Anushka’s Division 111 meeting with the poets, Dyann Sublett, Andrew Salkey and Professor of Education, Mike Ford, Anushka arrived dressed in the highly favored and fashionable attire of Hampshire poets, all black and cried all the way through the meeting. The relationship with Andrew Salkey and Anushka Solomon was tempestuous. Anushka was unable to understand at the time what the older poet was attempting to teach and prepare the younger Malaysian Tamil poet for. “You will return as an exile to America. Your life may well parallel that of the African poet Ngugi wa Thiong'o” said Professor of Education, Mike Ford as Andrew Salkey nodded in agreement. “We highly recommend that you remain in the United States and take another two years to complete your degree”, the Division 111 committee recommended. The young, angry, fashionably dressed Malaysian-Tamil poet refused to listen.

Her return to Malaysia in 1986 and her personal/professional and political experiences there form the basis of her point of view as a writer/thinker/educator and poet today. In 1995, Anushka Solomon won the IV National Short Story Competition organized by the New Straits Times and the SHELL oil company for her story, At The Window.

Now listening, willing and a Christian, Anushka Anastasia Solomon is back in the United States as an exile, and author of “Please, God, Don’t Let Me Write Like A Woman.” by Finishing Line Press, October 2007. One of the poems, “Raped, Draped and Relegated” in this book was read by Amnesty International at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, August 2007, as part of the Women's Voices, Imprisoned Writers or Writers at Risk or in Exile. Extracts from another poem "The Creed of the Poet in a Woman/Poetess" will also be used by Amnesty International, U.K., in a exhibition that is planned to take place in Glasgow Women's Library, Scotland. This exhibition focuses mainly around writes who have been featured in Amensty International's Edinburgh Book Festival Events, and will likely tour other places around the U.K. in 2008.