Jaspreet Sangha - Behind the Netra
We first came across Jaspreet Kaur’s poetry on Youtube a few years ago, and it’s amazing to see how much she has grown as an artist since then. In the last year, she has performed countless times at various venues in and around London, and more recently with a powerful and poignant piece on the origins of Vaisakhi at City Hall, for Vaisakhi LDN 2016. A History teacher by day, and Poet & Spoken Word Artist any time she’s not teaching - here’s a woman whose words are as bold and unapologetic as her fiery copper hair.
Tell us about Jaspreet Kaur
I guess there are two answers to that question.
Number one would be the Jaspreet Kaur that is a History teacher by day and a Spoken Word Artist by night (I like to think this makes me sound like a superhero – ha!) I have always been extremely passionate about the education system, working with young people and the teaching of history, so I knew since I was about sixteen that I wanted to be teacher. I absolutely love what I do and consider myself one of the lucky people that are able to wake up every day ready for a new adventure. The performance poetry journey only began just over a year ago. I have been writing poetry since the age of fourteen and at that point it was purely an outlet for some of the difficulties that I was going through. I then decided it was about time that I shared it with the world and realised I wasn’t alone in the way I was feeling. It then became a voice for the voiceless and has grown into something I never expected.
Answer number two would be Jaspreet Kaur drinks far too much tea, wears fuzzy socks to bed and is still afraid of the dark. She likes cuddles and deep talks, she lives for the summer and dancing with no shoes on…
What or who was the inspiration behind ‘Behind the Netra’?
When I began sharing my poetry online I was happy to share it under my own name, but I also felt that what I wanted to convey was more than just poetry. It was also about exploring a deeper side to us and that’s when I came across ‘Netra.’
I have always been fascinated by linguistics and the origins of words, especially the Sanskrit language. Like many classical languages, one word can have a thousand different meanings. Netra means not only ‘eyes’ but also the windows to our soul, and the deeper levels of our power and being. Therefore, the poetry, teaching, writing, performing and public speaking became a way of discovering what is Behind the Netra.
What challenges do you face on a day-to- day basis in your poetic ventures?
There was a quote I read somewhere that said; “You will face your greatest opposition when you are closest to your biggest miracle.” Any individuals that are trying to make a difference or are doing something out of the norm will most definitely receive negativity.
Unfortunately, because of the new technological age that we live in, this has become even easier. The keyboard warriors among us will try to bring us down. I have received death threats, rape threats and a number of other horrible messages. I have had people tell me to stop writing my poetry and to stop performing. The reason for this is because a lot of my poetry will talk about taboo subjects in our community. These cultural barriers arrive because some people would prefer that these issues are left under the carpet so when they see me voicing it, it makes them uncomfortable. The only way for them to feel unthreatened is to make the other person feel inferior. Within that, I have also faced challenges because of my identity as an unapologetic feminist, a woman, and being a woman of colour. This amount of racism and misogyny just shows me how necessary my work is.
However, the amount of support and love I have received from the people who read and listen to my poetry has COMPLETELY outweighed those challenges, and helped me smash through those barriers. I will always be so grateful for that. For other artists who might be receiving these same challenges, let us try and follow the wise words of one of my greatest inspirations, Maya Angelou, on how to deal with hate and negativity;
1. Knowing who you are and who your true friends are *(VERY IMPORTANT!)
2. Having a purpose to your life? Purpose does not mean having a job. You can have a job and still be unfulfilled.. A purpose is having a clear sense of what God has called you to be. Your purpose is notdefined by what others think about you.
3. By remembering what you have is by divine prerogative and not human manipulation. Fulfill your dreams!
What’s your motto?
KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT! To me, this means that every individual should always keep fighting for what they believe in. This could be ending prejudices, tackling sexism, fighting racism, ending LGBT discrimination, stopping mental health stigma, humanitarian work or even just understanding more about YOU. Keep fighting for your cause no matter what and feel valid and powerful in doing so!
How do you stay motivated in your field of work?
You may call it God, Allah, Ehyeh, Adonai, Hu, Rab, Satnam, Lord, Jesus, Brahman, Shiva, Vishnu or Waheguru but my connection to my spiritual journey has kept me grounded and reminds me why I have been put on this earth for. I feel that my sewa (selfless service) is to help people so no matter how hard things get I need to constantly remind myself of that. That keeps me going.
Secondly, I would be nothing without my loved ones. They have kept me going when I have been at my lowest points. Balancing the teaching profession as well as the poetic journey has been incredibly hard but my loved ones help me remember why I am doing this.
Finally, my students and the young people that I work with inspire me endlessly. Sometimes I think I learn more from them than they do from me! By reminding myself that they are the next generation and they are our future I am able to keep going no matter how exhausted I might feel after a ten hour work day, a three-hour show and endless marking!
What makes you feel good?
1. My family and loved ones.
3. Music (bhangra and admittedly ratchet hip-hop/RnB).
6. Chocolate cake (no that is not the same as answer 4 and 5)
7. Deep conversations in the middle of the night
8. The sun
9. My students
10. Hugs, I fricking love hugs.
What’s been your greatest struggle (in life or your work), and how do you generally overcome negative emotions?
One of my greatest struggles would have to be my battle with depression and anxiety. I am extremely passionate about creating awareness about depression so that one day we can rid the stigma attached to it. I have always been quite reluctant to speak about my experiences of depression and anxiety, mostly because it was something I didn’t quite understand. Since I started to share my poetry with the world, I realised that I wasn’t alone in feeling that way.
I slowly realised it was just as much about letting go as it was of having control. This following extract from an article released during Depression Awareness week really sums it up for me; From the outside it may look like malingering, bad temper and ugly behaviour – and who can empathise with such unattractive traits? Depression is actually much more complex, nuanced and dark than unhappiness – more like an implosion of self. In a serious state of depression, you become a sort of half-living ghost. For anyone that is reading this and feeling the same, never feel that just because you can’t see it doesn’t make it any less valid. You are not alone.
How have your family and friends encouraged you to pursue what you are doing?
They will come to all my shows, be the first to read my poems and help me feel so empowered. I love that they will also critique my work as it helps me grow and improve. As noted above I wouldn’t be here without them. A lot of my poems share their stories and their voices so I will always be in debt to them.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My father and mother would be first on that list. They have always made me feel so empowered. I am inspired by their endless strength and humility. I’m going to have to quote one of my poems which I feel explains this perfectly for me:
A father that grew up in an age of the 70s
Protests, peace and love on the tip of everybody’s tongues. A determination that could turn dirt into diamonds
A mother that managed to make everything out of nothing. Old earth into islands.
So when people ask me if I’m more like my father or my mother I say I am purely a product of their power.
I also have my female icons like Maya Angelou, Mai Bhago, Sophia Duleep Singh, Pankhurst, Bell Hooks (the list is literally endless). In terms of poetic inspirations, I would have to say Lauryn Hill and Akala (I HAVE to meet them one day). I also find inspiration in the people I meet and talk to every day! A lot my poems have shared the stories of the beautiful people I meet.
You are having a dinner party – which three people would you invite, and why?
Lauryn Hill – she is one of my biggest poetic inspirations, her lyrics and style just kills me. I would love to pick her brain about everything!
The history nerd in me would have to say anyone from the historic period that I love – maybe Martin Luther King,
JKF, Jind Kaur, Oliver Wilde… I realise this party may be more than three people…
My Beeji (Naniji). Ever since she passed away there have been so many questions I wished I asked her. Everyone that met her was astounded by her intelligence, her strength, her humility and her pure heart. Not once would you ever hear her utter hateful words to anyone; she could only utter words of kindness. Living as a widow in Punjab was not easy. I wish I could have spent a little more time with her to understand how she did it.
What do you enjoy about poetry, and what do you find challenging?
The thing that I absolutely love about spoken word is the adrenaline that I feel once I am on stage. In that moment, I feel so empowered. I also love hearing how people have connected to my poetry or discussing how they have interpreted it. It’s so interesting to see how people interpret a poem in so many different ways depending on what baggage they bring to it.
But what I find challenging it that I am my own worst critic. I literally spend hours analysing my performances and feel so terrified every time I release a poem because I think it might not be good enough. I am always desperate to keep getting better and growing so admittedly I can be pretty hard on myself.
Follow Jaspreet’s journey:
Peace & Light,
Sukhman & Hernoor