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India's 'Bard on the banks of Dulong' Dr. Jaydeep Sarangi on poetry and Dalit writing
Among the galaxy of India's contemporary English poets, Dr. Jaydeep Sarangi shines like a bright star. His poems lift the veil from the hidden beauty of the world. His pen chronicles a new history of the downtrodden, oppressed people, his personal pangs and sorrows, and his happy days. His poems also throw light on several issues of rural life, his lonely childhood days, his grown-up memories, and his days amid the urban setting.

Riding on the vehicle of imagination, Dr. Sarangi envisages life, its form and shape and identity in the form of poetry, which gives the readers an unspeakable joy. He is a bilingual writer, academic, editor, translator, administrator and author of a number of significant publications on post-colonial issues, and Indian writing in English, Australian literature and Dalit literature in reputed journals/magazines in India and abroad.

He is the mentor of many academic and literary peer-reviewed journals and has been part of editorial board of several refereed journals in India and abroad. His Bengali book of poems, “Lal Palasher Renu” has been reviewed extensively. His latest book of poems is "From Dulong to Beas" (New Delhi, 2012). Dr. Paula Hayes (USA) in her Introduction to the book, comments, “A few of Jaydeep’s poems reach toward asking metaphysical questions.”

Dr Sarangi's poems, articles and reviews have appeared in different refereed international journals and magazines in several countries. He has guest edited two successive issues for muse India on marginal literatures from the Eastern India and the North East.

In a candid conversation, Dr. Sarangi tells citizen journalist Shantanu Haldar about his journey from “lonely” childhood days to the literature world.

Tell us a bit more about your childhood days?

Most interviewers ask me this question. It’s very interesting! Childhood memory is frozen deep in the mind and we carry the childhood image till we breathe our last. The same is the case with me too.

My mother was not well and up to my class ten, there were hardly days when my mother could stand firmly. I had a brother…very loving brother, Sankar. He died at an early age. So I was all alone with my father because most of the time my mother was on the bed. But I am blessed with some rare friendship. In the house…a big house… there was no one to share thoughts with me…no one to play with me. I enjoyed the deep silence. But Sourav, Surojit, Supriyo, and Rajib - there are so many good friends of mine. And I remember my happy time with them. It had positive and negative sides.

Things became sweeter later on. But it is a miracle that now my mother is as fit as myself. The journey that I had in my childhood, I look back with very happy pleasant memory because I was very much attached to my father. I used to wait for my father to come back from his office.

You once said Titas, my daughter is a hurricane who sets the contrast to my childhood days. Can you elaborate?

Titas is a hurricane because people say I was very obedient and calm in my childhood. I had a very silent, concentrated mind. I used to get up at 5.30 in the morning. I had a very strict and disciplined childhood. I used to study without instruction from anyone around. But Titas, my daughter is the cynosure of our eyes - she has everything - her parents and grandparents, and playmates. She can play with everybody. If we compare our childhood, one completes the other. She is a little naughty genius! I celebrate her childhood. She is always engaged in activities. Therefore, I must say she is a hurricane and I love it.

What sort of things should a poet keep in mind before composing a poem?

Very difficult to say… some schools think that poetry comes from within. A poet should not think of a particular issue or subject before he/ she engages with. There is another school that believes that poetry is an act of commitment. We are not here to judge, but poetry for me is an engagement that invites you to react with certain things in life. We are not divorced from life. We all have our cultural, linguistic and social roots. My tradition and roots in rural Bengal is the sap of my poetic zeal. Small rivers and life associated with the sweet and silent flow of these rivers is my poetic passion.

One of the reviewers has made an honest observation by calling me ‘Bard on the Banks of Dulong’. If my social experiences come back through musing, shall I be considered a situational poet? Poetry survives instead of all mechanical, prosaic, hectic schedule of the day because it restores peace and order in mind. If that is the ultimate, if it is an experience or it is an exercise of truth that we cannot act out in daily performance, let us celebrate this art form.

What according to you is a good poem?

If it unfolds the hidden truth of mind through a discourse that engages the reader, and if the reader wants to come back to the poem again and again, that is a good poem. Actually, it is very difficult to say what is good or bad. Margins overlap!  But if it gives a sweet note to your ear and if it impresses you as a thought pattern, it may be a good poem. But in a way all poems are good and bad because they should not be categorized as good or bad. These terms are value based. It is more subjective than objective. The openness of a poem is a beguiling parameter of truth!

Why do you write poetry?

Possibly, because I cannot tell the truth face to face and poetry is an avenue that unfolds me and my internalised thought patterns. It makes things open for the readers. So if you interpret in a particular way, I will say, there is a possibility of interpreting it in another way. Due to the interpretative autonomy, a poet has the license of unfolding the heart successfully. I know it sounds paradoxical. And possibly it is an exercise that gives me an unfathomable joy...the joy that beats drum in your heart…the joy that makes you dance. It is a celebration of my commitment, engagement, philosophy and your living totality. I write because I am happy with it. I’ll continue writing as I experience a calm and peaceful mind while writing. It saves me from wear and tear of daily mundane exercises which I do as I have no option to say NO.

Do you have any message for emerging poets?

They should read more English poetry and in different languages translated into English. I think one should read the traditional stuff as well as unconventional stuff because who knows any pattern can touch a poet to the maximum, not only in English poetry, but also in regional languages.

India is so richly diverse and regional literatures are potent, sound and very competent. At the same time, one should read translations into English like Greek translations into English. I would recommend Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca and George Seferis. One should cultivate the habit of reading, and rhythm. Reading and rhythm should tune the ears to perfection.

As for myself, I am grateful to Jayanta Mahapatra, Bibhu Padhi, Niranjan Mohanty, Keki N Daruwalla, Nissim Ezekiel, Tabish Khair and almost all contemporary Indian English poets I am associated with. I read new poetry from Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and Latin America in English as well as in translation. So, the only suggestion is to read more, learn more, adapt more, tune ears and then come to writing.

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood - so said T.S Eliot. What is your view on this?

Yes, I fully endorse the great poet T S Eliot. People say poetry is an open-ended text. And a genuine poem is something that has a message which is easy to access and I am really happy to note that it is a product of happy mind. It may happen also that a poem may come out of a sad incident, but it is the very production of a mind that is engaging, the mind that is moving and poetry connects minds. It is an artifact or it is a body of discourse of mutual communications and understanding between the poet and the reader. Poetry has a social function apart from its aesthetic value.

Tell us a bit about your short stories? Are you going to publish them in the future in the form of a book?

Together, Dr. Sunil Sharma of Mumbai and I edited one collected contemporary short stories that came out a couple of years back. May be in the future I can think of a collection, but at the same time there is a possibility of publishing India-Australia short story collection of recent years. We are looking forward to a publisher in Australia. May be sometime in 2014, when the present commitments will be less, I can think of it.

Do you have any plans in the future to write novel or your autobiography?

Novel is a genre all we know. I have already written a Bengali novel when I was a student of graduation named Mouno Kokil (Dumbed Cuckoo) that never appeared in print. And about an autobiography, I will think over it, may be in future. But now I am preoccupied with other some things. So, I don’t know possibly at this point of time whether I will be able to write or not.

Tell us a bit about your maiden collection of Bengali poems, Laal Palasher Renu?

Laal Palasher Renu was published one and half years ago from Kolkata. My friends, academics, and mentors insisted me to come out with a volume of Bengali book. It is about traditional whirlpool of thoughts, small events in life, and how people shoulder the pains of others. I am moved by the suffering lot. There are small rivers that flow gently but we never talk about that. We talk about the Ganges, Kaveri and Brahmaputra. But how many of us are familiar with Dulong. It flows through the tribal villages. It holds the tradition so that things cannot fall apart. My maiden collection of poems is about the celebration of the locals in Bengali tongue.

Your famous poetry book is From Dulong to Beas. Tell us a bit about it.

The preface of ‘From Dulong to Beas’, was written by Prof. Paul Hayes and the comments on the back cover by Mamang Dai, a famous poetess from the North East India; Prof. Murli , Head of department of English, Pondichery University; and Patricia Prime, a famous poetess from New Zealand. It has been reviewed extensively in India and abroad in many national and international journals and magazines, in web journals- both in electronic format and print. I am grateful to all the reviewers, to my all academic fraternity for their reception of the book.

There are poems about myths, legends, celebration of the small, the small things happening every day, life under stress, relationship, etc. There are some poems which are located in the continent of Australia and New Zealand. There are references to the Maoris of New Zealand and Dalits in India. It is a cultural exercise and social engagement. I will be happy, if the readers are happy about it. Most of the poems included in this collection are short lyrics in free verse. They are written in deceptively simple style which is conversational.

Tell us about the importance of the river Dulong in your poetic journey.

My choice is deliberate, because as a post-colonial critic or as my engagement with marginal discourse, I like to celebrate the small. If we look into the geographical territory, the big rivers are celebrated and respected widely. But small rivulets, rivers should be celebrated in a manner to engage oneself with rural India. And the temples near the river Dulong like Kanak Durga Temple in Chilkigarh, the tribal culture associated with the river, I found everything very engaging and I wanted to transmute what I have experienced with the big reading community through this global language. So, Dulong is the metaphor of celebration of the local in a global tongue.

Niranjan Mohanty, Jayanta Mahapatra, and Bibhu Padhi - they are three Indian English poets with whom you are personally acquainted with. How did they influence you?

All three are great poets. Jayanta Mahapatra is one of the major Indian English poets the country has ever produced. He created his own idiom and we follow the footprints. Bibhu Padhi is an interesting person; loving caring man with great poetic skills. I am fascinated by his thoughts and engaging discourse. Niranjan Mohanty died quite early in life and that was a personal loss to me and the personal loss to each member of the poetic community.

They are the three titans of Indian English poetry. What I really like is that they have created their own space in the eastern part of India. They have showed that Indian English poetry is not only the exercise of metro cities but also relatively smaller places like Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar, and Berhampur (Odisha). So relatively smaller towns produce great poets and they hold the canon of Indian English Poetry. They are my longstanding support. I miss Niranjan Da a lot. He was a great man, great soul and a great poet.

Can you share any information on your forthcoming poetry book and its title?

The title is Silent Days. I am planning to release it in Australia when I will be there this summer. This collection will be a bit different from my earlier one because things develop and the poetic self evolves in years of experience. There are several things associated with the book and I am really happy. I am honoured and humbled to share with you that the reception of my earlier book was overwhelming and I am overwhelmed by the support and cooperation that I received for From Dulong to Beas (2012). I remain grateful to the publisher, Authorspress, New Delhi for elegant production of the book. Sudarshanji is almost like my elder brother in Delhi. I’m grateful to him for reasons more than one.

You write poems in Bengali and English. With which language do you feel most comfortable while composing poems?

It is a very interesting question because if we look into Indian English poets, there are so many. I can remember who has talked about the linguistic dilemma they come across. In this context, I refer to Niranjan Mohanty’s poem where he refers to his language as half Odisan and half English. I may also refer to Kamala Das’ poem ‘An Introduction’ which rightly sets the linguistic diversities of our country.

I write with the language I am comfortable with. I write with the language that has the flavour of myself. My writing is roaring like a lion, or twittering like a bird. When a bird chirps nobody asks, “Are you comfortable with the language?” So I write with the language that I have. Regarding acceptability, appropriateness and grammaticality, we can debate. But I am comfortable with what I am engaged in. So regarding language I do not have problem with my second language English and I don’t have any problem with my first language which is like my mother’s milk - Bangla. I am happy that I can use both languages together as a bilingual product of a typical Indian society.

For so many years you have been doing academic work on Dalits or marginalized people of Bengal and outside the state. What's the reasoning?

I think it goes back to the year 2006 when I started working on marginalized writers because I came across with certain good corpus of marginal discourse from Maharashtra and Gujarat through my academic friends. Immediately, I could trace a sound militant body of discourse from West Bengal. I edited the Dalit writings of Bangla in the Journal of Aesthetics and Literature from Kerala long ago and that was my first engagement with the Bengali Dalit writers writing for quite some time. It came out from Kerala and it became an engagement for me.

Now, it has become a mission in life. To be with them, to shoulder pains with them or maybe it is a sphere through which I can go back to our roots. I do not know why I am engaged with it but I am happy about what I work with the Dalit writers of India. I find them fascinating. I am not afraid to face the truth. And I am not afraid to unfold their truth in whatever small and humble way I can. So, now it has become a commitment- a journey we will travel together. I am happy to announce that there is a sound corpus of Bengali Dalit Literature and it exists with authority.

Will you tell us about the contribution of publishers in your writing? Would you like to mention any names?

I think publication is a mutual venture between a writer and a publisher. I’ve always come across good souls whom I respect a lot. I don’t want to mention any name in particular. But I’m happy with them. They are good friends. I don’t consider the situation as bleak as some of my friends think.

Will you share with us one of your recent poems?

Why should I be the rock?
Like the reckless flow
I would gush unstoppable.

Immovable, thick, stagnant knowledge –
You remain so.

Why do you dream
To make me your mate?

I will stretch the windy wings
Would dance the stormy play
As the withered leaf.

With your glares and distractions…
Why do you come to trap me?

May golden grains shower
From your fist to golden fields
May my wings get drenched
In the in the sky-rending monsoons.

(Flight by Jaydeep Sarangi)

 

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