S.S.: Jaydeep Sarangi is multi-faceted. An academic, a prominent English critic, reviewer, literary interviewer, editor, fictionist and poet. Who is real Jaydeep Sarangi or JS for his friends and admirers?
J.S.: I am a humble man brought up in a forest enclosed town in western West Bengal. I studied in different parts of the country and came in terms with sparkling personalities and genuine friends. I am blessed with friends since my childhood days. My academic friends and colleagues have rare care and concern for me my efforts. I am really lucky that people find interest in me and my works in this competitive time of Globalisation. My heart is full! I am a close follower of His Highness the Dalai Lama. I read his book The Art of Happiness several times and tried to understand Dalai Lama’s approach to living.
There are hours when loneliness engulfs me. I try to make use of it by transferring the power of solitude to productive works. I have been associated with a few social projects and some of the projects have given me strength to take up major ones in future! I have seen people practicing Truth to the highest scale. This is a real rare area of my motivation! I am blessed with friends who are epitome of Indian Philosophical, spiritual and religious truths. They show me the golden light for a calm and peaceful course of my mind.
I try to discover how to use the spiritual and social law of communication to bring myself into radiant union with my personal Higher Power.
S.S.: You have more than twenty seven books to your credit. How do you manage to channelize so much of creative and critical energies at such a young age?
J.S.: Sunil ji, you know, we can not do anything if people around you and the Good Angels don’t support you. I am fortunate that all good powers help me when I work. My friends, family members and relatives are my constant company. I believe in the principle: develop friendships and enhance existing relationships with co-workers, family and friends. We all live in an unfathomable sea of infinite riches. The world within is the creative power and we must channel this power to productivity. Friends like you inspire me to work more. My academic friends and Professors goad me to write more!
I live a disciplined academic life and seldom carry my office hazards at my writing desk. I think of all positive projects and the positive outcome when I am down under metro-city numbness.
S.S.: Working within the broad post-colonial and post-modern literary/ critical paradigm, as an academic and commentator, how do you view these dominant strands in English Studies in the Indian metropolitan universities of the first decade of the New Millennium?
J.S.: Things are changing fast. Wirers from the margin have emerged as the significant literary force. Many universities have included new writings and students are taking projects on new and challenging areas. For examples, dalit writings is taught at different Universities. I really want to see it properly represented. Bangla dalit Wrtings and the North East Literature are yet to be included through a structural form. There are really quality works from these literary bodies. Manoranjan Byapari’s 'Itebritte Chandal Jiban' is a fascinating confessional autobiography. It should be translated and marked widely. It should be available for common mass. I would like to see a Translators’ Association and its active role in near future.
Some colleges and Universities have made useful changes in teaching learning to cope with current demands of the students. Academic committees and Board of Studies of the universities should go for need based literature courses and they should include or invite experts who have knowledge in designing new types of courses. I like to see a great change in academic governance in the Indian metropolitan universities in the days to come!
S.S.: Do you believe we are still following a parasitical relationship with the American/ Anglo/ French intellectual discourse in India?
J.S.: Yes! But, it is high time that we think for Indian English Criticism and give its due credit. We must recognize our literature and intellectual discourse first. For example, how many of us really rate Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago speech (Sept 11, 1893) as a good specimen of Indian Writing in English? Look at the power of punctuations that the great soul generates in his writings in English. I read Tagore’s English letters and found great academic potential for studies and research.
We speak!! We need to nourish our tradition and caskets of literary musings.
S.S.: How do you assess the Indian Writing in English or IWE?
J.S.: The 1980s and 90s marked the Renaissance in Indian writing in English. The Renaissance was spearheaded by Salman Rushdie with his iconoclastic novel Midnight’s Children in 1980. Upamanyu Chatterjee deserves a mention as he was one of the first Indian authors who found success outside of India with his debut novel, English, August. Indian English poets like Jatanta Mahapatra, Bibhu Padhi, Keki N. Daruwalla and Vikram Seth made Indian English poetry really an international affair. NRI IWE writers became hot favourites for their subjective vastness and linguistic appeal. Seen against the body of regional writers in India, we consider the body of IWE writers as a unified whole.
India is rich with regional theatre. I do believe that Indian English drama has to go a long way to meet international scale. Indian English short stories and flash fiction are hot takes in different weekly magazines and edited volumes. New writers are coming up from the North-East. Writers from the dalit section have also marked their prominence. As a whole, India is shinning in true colours! I personally think that a good and honest body of Indian English criticism can be a great help to uplift the standard of IWE. Therefore, the role of Indian English critics should be purpose oriented. There are young editors of journals who can take up the challenge and publish articles which are up to the mark of some standard.
S.S.: Do you accept this kind of the western label?
J.S.: Thank you for raising this issue! I think we must reconsider the term and take a stand on the basis of that. I am more comfortable with an Indian text that the British counterpart. I personally rate Raja Rao’s Serpent and the Rope as a classic. I have seen my students more at ease with Raja Rao than Thomas Hardy in an Indian classroom. It is time to stand with our own feet. Why do we need to be recognized and labeled by others? It will a healthy discourse if we contest armed with facts at our back.
S.S.: Within this emerging tradition of writing in English in a multi-lingual India, where do you place your writing? Is it more India-centric primarily meant for the middle-class Indian readers? Or, pandering for the Western audiences hungry for stereotyped images sanctioned by their culture looking for the despotic, sentimental, superstitious, poor oriental other?
J.S.: I write for enjoyment. My creative or critical works are the products of joy that I experience in life. It is the result of the magic power of my subconscious.
I am bi-lingual by my family and social background. I want to be known as a bi-lingual academic who writes poems and short stories. I have two volumes of poems in Bangla.
S.S.: You are an Oriya by DNA; a confirmed Bengali by taste and accident of settlement in West Bengal; An English teacher by profession and writer by choice; Now, learning Spanish. Such multi-linguist and broad trans-border perspectives help in the overall evolution and growth of the man within or do they inhibit and cause lingual confusion?
J.S.: Ya….! Possibly, I am fortunate enough to be part of several cultural ethos and linguistic tradition. It gives me a sense of not belonging to a single tradition. It works as strength. Such multi-linguistic and broad trans-border perspectives help me to understand Indianness in a precise way. My forefathers settled in West Midnapore near the bank of the sweet silent river: Dulong. I have been learning Spanish to read Spanish texts in original. It will be a strength if I can learn the language fast.
S.S.: “Indian Novel in English: A Sociolinguistic Study” displays your depth scholarship in sociolinguistics. How you have described Indianness in Indian English fiction and what makes Indian English unique.
J.S.: I think studies on Literature should have a fresh look. Sociolinguistic analysis is the honest analysis of a text. Language is used in society. A literary text is placed in social discourse. How can we deny the language used in the text in specific social contexts? My book “Indian Writing in English: A Sociolinguistic Study” has been reviewed widely in the West and in India. The book is devoted to a sociolinguistic analysis of Indian novels in English. It analyses the language, structure, style and socio-cultural nuances in Indian navels in English by writers from India. I am happy to know that researchers quote from this book regularly. There are zones which need special attention.
S.S: What do you see as the role of the critic today?
J.S: The role of the critic today is: to facilitate the understanding of literature and improve the stock of knowledge about it. It keeps the classics of all languages alive for a fresh generation with new sets of interpretations. There are some very honest and sincere folk who are working hard. Indian English Criticism should flourish as a competent subject for academic research.
S.S.: How much of real India is visible in your creative writings?
J.S.: There is no anxiety of upholding my Indianness. No one should carry this anxiety any more. I am a bilingual writer. I write in English because I feel like using the medium. It is as honest as prayers to an Indian yogi.
I know that my poems are loaded with issues in me. My poetic self is a part of the whole net work of activities around me, my honest company and my works.
S.S.: Why do you write poems, a threatened literary species these days?
J.S.: Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is. Poetry is a lot of things to a lot of people. Emily Dickinson said, "If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry;” It is the chiseled marble of language through which emotions are expressed. For me, writing poetry is like grasping at the wind…. I like Jayanta Mahapatra’s famous comment, “…poetry has to be witness” in his recent essay published in “Indian Literature.” I write poems because I feel happy after writing.
S.S.: Does it pay?
J.S.: Materialistically, no. It gives me peace in mind and I consider it as an activity that restores my mental order and peace. I also write poems for another reason: it is through which I express my emotions and my reactions to events that take place around me. For example, I have poems on poor conditions of the tribals in and around my native place. I use poetry as an act of social commitment. “Focus on your proper duty of the moment. In this way, remain devoted to the Oppositeless. And you achieve inner perfection.” (Bhagavad Gita, 18.46.)
S.S.: Experiences as a young poet in India?
J.S.: I am familiar with some talented young poets from different parts of the country. I try to learn what is best in them. Some of them are lyrical and some are socially committed. There are good journals and magazines where standard poems are published. There should be more awards and prizes for talented young poets to make things more competitive. GIEWEC—our academic group has a proposal for best poet award every year. Other organizations may join hands and recognize talents.
There are good poets whom I really admire. I read poems by Robin S Ngangom,Rizio Raj Yahanan, Rabindra K Swain, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Meena Kandasami, Mamang Dai, Bibhu Padhi, Sanjukta Dasgupta, Sunil Sharma and many others who write well. I know, the list is huge! There are good poets coming up from the North East and the marginal section of our social life. Senior poets are to lead the course for their junior fold.
S.S.: I find an element of protest in your poems. It is subtle, of course. Is protest important?
J.S.: I am a concerned man; nervous and restless. I have seen how power operates and how people suffer and collapse in front of unjust oppressive statutory and non statutory administration. My poetry is the expression of my honesty, if there is any.
I respect all great writers who write for the cause of others. I am not an activist. I read Nazrul and Sukanta and recited in school days. ‘Necessity of Atheism’ by P.B. Shelley was one of my favourite texts (for its arguments and logical density) during my Graduation. “But the God of Theologians is incapable of local visibility.”…rings in my ear! I also read “The Art of Happiness” (Riverhead, 1998, ISBN 1-57322-111-2), a book by the Dalai Lama with keen interest. I read Bhagat Singh and started admiring him like any great social reformer. I am happy with what I write. I condemn none…I write for social justice for all!
S.S.: What are your enduring themes; issues and concerns that pre-occupy you constantly?
J.S.: I have poems on ruins which are the trace of something that has vanished and chained to its own past. The ruin gives absence, so to speak, a material dwelling: a rock-solid and skeleton site that embodies an enigmatic sense that the world is also porous, volatile, uncanny, insubstantial and non-negotiable. I write on small daily things as Bibhu Padhi explains:
“The small things
keep happening.” (‘Announcement: Early Morning’)
I write what I see with my eyes.
S.S.: Message for writers?
J.S.: To me, life is a serious thing. We should commit only when we have full knowledge of the subject under our consideration. We should always think that there is a positive route for everything. Don’t ever walk away from an opportunity while thinking. Your gray hairs are an asset: as a man thinkest in his heart, so is he. Don’t set a preconceived target reader and never run to reach him in a hurry! Writing is telling from heart. It is an on going process. Let your pen run and should continue to run for issues around you.
S.S.: How do you rate your Bengali book of poems, ‘Lal Palasher Renu’?
J.S.: Got healthy feedback from knowledgeable quarters. It has been reviewed widely. I am glad because my readers like the collection. Bilingualism is strength for me. The cognitive benefits of bilingualism are well-established. Benefits of being bilingual extend to social as well as poetic life.
S.S.: What constitutes poetry for a post-modern reader?
J.S.: Crafty poems are full of worldly experiences where the poet takes us on a pleasure- ride into the dark embrace of eternal silence where he seeks a place in the lyric order of things and his pen moves towards the necessary lines: “Night lamps wait in fear of losing their sight.” (From Bibhu Padhi’s ‘At a Different Time’)
S.S.: Why read poetry in time of cholera?
J.S.: Poetry is preeminently the art of language. The poet is organizesthe vast complex web of communication which makes our social life going. It heals paints of suffering and the dirt of modern living. It is the honest expression of joy in living and loving. The world today is a far more self-conscious place than it was in the days of Alexander Pope. Poetry gives man Hope for a better tomorrow. In poetry, the small things keep happening.
S.S.: Your reasons to continue as a poet in a foreign language?
J.S.: I think I feel comfortable in English (a foreign language). It is as true as roaring to a lion. I find it as the expression of my reckless innocence. I also write in Bangla.
S.S.: Could you successfully capture the nuances of Kolkattan life and dulcet Bengali dialect -your living habitat at present - in sterile English as spoken and understood by the middle-class Indians?
J.S.: Yes! My poems are about me and my sorroundings! The City of Joy comes as a living force in my poetic lines. My familiar faces in Kolkata create an honest space for me and my poetic impulse. I often relate myself with the suffering lots of the red soil (in the Western part of the state). All streams from different sources make me write. I write, I go….
S.S.: What is the ultimate aim of poetry?
J.S.:The aim of poetry is to satisfy the winged imagination, in contrast to modern life, which rarely satisfies the imagination.The poet speaks to us of one thing, but in this one thing he seems to communicate with the secret of human experience. I would subscribe to the concept that the subject of the poem should also be its ultimate aim. By that I mean that in writing a poem the intent of the poet should be to say "look at this" (the subject of the poem) and not "look at me" (the poet’s life). My latest collection of poems, “ From Dulong to Beas” is like my life as I work (and write).
S.S.: Where is the protest in your poetry?
J.S.: Not always! There are poems on love,love lost,relationship, issues of culture and tradition, my poetic instincts, etc. You may trace anger deep within some of my poems. I’ve seen people suffered and horror of oppression. I write as things come to my head! Of course, I try to stand with those suffering mass; dwellers forest and adivasis who are denied of common and basic needs from the State. At the same time, I want to see a civil society based on professionalism and commitment. Spiritual growth in man can lead to that blessed state of mind where he can experience anandam. I write poems mostly at midnight.
S.S.: Please will you share with me one of your recent poem?
A different being true.
My painting brush
Watched me growing old
With Time and an old bottle of wine.
Here entries are different
In a brand new year.
S.S.: Thanks for patience and honesty throughout this relentless court-martial of a very promising innovative and linguistically- resourceful poet.
J.S.: Thank you,Sunilji! I am honoured. Let me conclude with the following lines:
The power of words is enormous;
with words anyone can “paint”,
be it about a joyous/broken heart,
longing for loved ones,
and the long standing freedom
Through the artifact of poetry
we can inspire many others,
we can make someone smile
and words can make others in tears,
be it of joy or sadness.