Dr Jaydeep Sarangi is a bilingual writer, academician, critic, poet, editor, translator, academic administrator and the author of a number of significant publications on Postcolonial issues, Indian writing in English, and 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 taken the editorial board of several refereed journals in India and abroad. Dr Sarangi has delivered keynote address in several national and international seminars and conferences and read his poems in different continents. He has several seminal books to his colorful cap. Dr Sarangi is the Vice President, GIEWEC (head office at Kerala) and one of the founder members and the Vice President of SPELL (Society for Poetry, Education, Literature and Language), Kolkata. Recently he had been awarded with visiting fellow writer to the University of Wollongong, Australia and the westerly center at the University of Western Australia. Anchored in Kolkata, his poetry defies boundaries and resonates with global experiences.
I recently had an online conversation with Dr. Sarangi on June 18, 2013.
Congratulations on your great achievements!
Would you tell us something about the forces, conflicts and events that led you to poetry and shaped your sensibilities?
J.S.: I’ve been writing poems in Bangla and English since I was in high school. It became a regular practice during my college days. Some of them were included in respectable magazines and newspapers. I moved on. My familiarity with established poets from India and abroad shaped my poetic within. I was engrossed in criticism and critical practices. I used to write poems as relaxation. Then, one fine morning I found the intent to write poems on a regular basis. Situations and webs of thoughts honed my skills. I remain grateful to all my soul makers and editors who published my poems which gave me zest for a new facet of life and living.
Do you think you could write many poems without an autobiographical intent? How far does your poetry describe your life?
J.S.: Interesting question! Some poems are about me, my association and my milieu. I can’t deny the indomitable pull of the native own. It’s different from out an out a memoir both in style and contents. There are stray references to my vast world of which I’m a part of. A poet is also a committed man in a civilized society. He can become a potent voice for humanitarian concerns. Again, I agree with the stance of Alf Taylor of Australia, a distinguished writer who writes as writing is a free space for resistance and emancipation. Let me quote a few lines from his poem ‘Locked Away’ (Winds):
For my people
Alf is a part of the multifaceted tradition of Western Australian aboriginal culture. Can we separate life from poems? It’s a challenge for a thinking mind. Many of my poems are triggered by, and thus may open with concrete personal experiences, but then take a flight to universality beyond the reach of my form. The topic of discussion should be whether the creation makes the creator happy or not. I’ll say, move on….Never look back once you create a poem out of a context. Let the words speak for you and your people.
But, there are poems where I experience a sense of neutrality and universality. I enjoy reading them as they fill my heart with extreme joy and happiness. It also contains the scent of herbs from my lexicon.
Would you tell us how your poems get written? Do you revise a lot?
J.S.: It comes like a flash. There is no predictable pregnancy before its birth. It’s sudden. There is always a feeling of happiness associated with its production. It’s like a spring in a deep forest. You discover it and enjoy its sweet run. There may be a context that ignites the wings of imagination. And language follows this special spell. It can never be uniform in pattern and thought. It is produced in a moment of ecstasy and excitement. India is rich with its history, spirituality and philosophy. An educated mind is always evolving. My idiom is in a state of rapid swing. I’m committed to its changing facets. Sometimes I do revisit some poems and revise. But as many remain just as they are born.
What type of audience do you write for?
J.S.: I don’t write for a particular audience. It’s an open discourse. It is for my countrymen and the whole reading world. I think poems defy dictates of geographical boundaries. I’ll be glad if my poems communicate my feelings and tradition in a global language to reach out the vast reading world. It is a private as well as a public enterprise. I share with you a translated version of my poem, ‘Bilingual Bard’ into Italian:
Il Poeta Bilingue
(from ‘Silent Days’ 2013)
(Translated from English to Italian by Antonio Casella,
a noted Sicily-born writer who lives in WA, Australia.)
La mia lingua sorge libera dall’anima
Quando il cuore si accende
Di bolle di ansia.
La vita m’invita...
Al povero chandal é vietato entrare all’interno della camera segreta
La poetessa viene impiccata per le sue parole di protesta
Contro millenni di pregiudizi di caste e di fede
Conto solo quando Devi Saraswatu siede sul mio pollice
Le pagine vuote e bianche
Divengono dolci ritmi musicali.
Parlo per la mia terra
Per la gente che soffre
M’identifico con l’antica tradizione
Forse, le generazioni che mi susseguono non più scriveranno
Di una casa lontano da casa.
Scrivo in una lingua che puoi comprendere,
In cui la mia comunitá e i miei cari si possono rispecchiare.
E’ una lingua per i lettori del mondo.
L’inglese é la mia spada, il mio rifugio
Mentre il bengali é la lingua della mia anima.
Sará forse la cadenza libera dell’inglese
Che adopero, per una causa, gocce d’acqua a forma di una squisita pietanza.
La gente lo chiama nobile!
Ha il sapore di un curry di pesce
Preparato per un convegno di nazionalitá miste.
Non porto mai una maschera falsa nelle mie posie.
How far are you genuinely influenced by Indian culture as you have communicated earnestly with the larger world around you?
J.S.: I think there is always an urge to translate the native culture for the reading world. I’ve travelled a lot; met with people from varied backgrounds. I’m happy about it. There is a native within in me which desires for musing in appropriate cadence. The root in my vernacular, Bangla is unfathomable. The cultural heritage of my land is unique and provocative. I respond writing back. There is a sweet music that fuses Indian way of life with my academic orientation in literatures in English. My experiences abroad and meeting with noble souls there have made me a man in multitude. I think I belong to all traditions and webs of the world. Reading literature of different countries and continents gave me insights into joy of living.
What comments do you offer on the present scene of Indian Writing in English in general and of Indian Poetry in particular?
J.S.: It is as good as literature from any other country. I’m happy to see that Indian English criticism is also making its strong ground worldwide. I’ve read my poems on different shores and have been with positive vibes. Reputed journals (including web magazines) have already published special issues on Indian Writings in English. We have a long history of English education. I’m confident, IWE is an authentic body of discourse which engages a thinking head. It has a bright future as new writers are coming up from remote areas of the country. Let us celebrate their journey from oblivion to acceptance. There is a dire need to change our mind to incorporate new ideas and propagation of truth. Syllabus has to be more oriented towards contemporary writers and their engagements. Marginal writers of the country should have their deserved space. I’ll be happy to see more research works on writers from socially and geographically marginalized within the Indian system.
What future do you envisage for the Indian Poetry in English?
J.S.: Young poets are really coming up. They are the flag bearers for tomorrow. I read their works with keen interest. Social media like Facebook can incredibly promote world poetry. Talented minds always receive the signals fast. I’m blessed with poet friend like Rizio, Archana, Rudra and Meena. They engage me in their works.
Now a question to a teacher, who is also a creative writer. Can creative writing be taught?
JS.: Creative writing is the free flow of the self. Training gives writer strength. It’s like sharpening the sword for a battle. I may be wrong. I think there should be a reservoir of poetic idiom in the poet. The making of a poet is a long process. I think continuous immersion into poetry can help a poet to pick up the trends. A good schooling can be more of help than harm. If the cricketing genius in Kapil Dev or Sachin Tendulkar was not properly groomed, then could they rise to this level of excellence? The genius needs to be trained for upgrading him to an icon. But, the poet must remember the fact that he is under the spell of evolution. Regular feedback from knowledgeable quarters contributes a lot. For me, I read reviews on my books of poems and criticism seriously. I’m open to learning things from my fellow writers and critics. My academic friends and colleagues give me ample support for writing.
Would you tell us about your newly released book ‘Silent Days’ at Australia?
J.S.: Professor Dennis Haskell, the Director and a reputed poet, Westerly Centre, UWA launched the book formally on the 27th May 2013. Dennis introduced the book, read out and explained some of my poems. I’m grateful to the Westerly center for giving me such an important platform. It was very well attended. Fruitful academic discussions on the poems and their contexts followed. Reflections of distinguished scholars and writers like Alf Taylor, Delys Bird, Phillip Mead, Laksiri Jayasuriya and Dennis Haskell enriched me significantly. I’m sailing through the book now!
In the poem ‘Silent days” a line reads ‘You are passing through a phase; silent days.’ I take what others say’… Tell us something about these ‘Silent days’?
J.S.: I know the title poem implies a lot for a reader and the poet. I have been loud in the academic scenario for nearly more than a decade now and worked hard to achieve some desired goals. My family and friends supported me as they could do their best. A poet is an ever evolving man. There is a baby always growing within me. Eyes are changing for understandable reasons. Thoughts from different quarters of life added flavor to it. Silence is more pronounced than words. It’s an important life style often underrated, and of which I increasingly feel the charm.
A philosophical growth parallel to chronological aging is flourishing. I’m bound to report at my mind’s notice board. With time life reveals itself more and more to me with all its richness. I realize it in its many layers not apparently intelligible; a richness that hides its face amidst all the race of a world dictated by profit making rationality and changing masks of socially defined commitments. It makes me humble realizing the vast range of factors that act in synchrony to weave the magical project of life – so many factors that we take for granted, so many more contributing factors that we will never know!
‘Silent Days’ poem is my favorite but some of my other favorite poems of the collection are ‘Missed Calls’, ‘Missing Link’, ‘Going to a Holy Place’ and ‘Refugee’ which also represent me as a poet and a sensitive member of the society. Many of them reflect an increasing philosophical quest into uncertainty, the meaning of life and a groping consciousness of its holiness.
Your Poems include some indoor and outdoor sporting activities in poems like ‘Cricket Australia’, ‘Chess master and his moves’ and ‘Out swinger’. How do you find time for sports and leisure time to gaze at the sky from such a busy schedule of yours?
J.S.: Cricket was my childhood mania. I carried it on with me. It contributed a lot to me. I literally remembered ball to ball commentary of Test matches when I was in primary and secondary schools. My English is largely shaped out of my infatuation for listening to cricket commentary. It flows through my veins! I used to play as a fast bowler and people thought I had a career in cricket! Kapil Dev was my boyhood hero. His greatest weapon was out swingers!
In Poem ‘Homeless in my Land’ the line says, “I sit under a banyan tree; I read Arjun Dangle aloud!” When and How did you get influenced by Dalit writers and their work?
Yes! I started working on dalit writings in the year 2006. I reviewed books for reputed foreign journals and the journey started. It became my passion over a period of time. I wrote research papers and translated works on Bangla dalit literature to support with. I interviewed these poets/writers extensively so that the secondary resources were created. I guest-edited a couple of issues for ‘Muse India’ which were received very well among distinguished academicians and writers. I worked for two books on Literature of resistance/emancipation. Honest reviews of both the books gave me positive impetus. I’m glad to note that now the interest has been taken up by many others who can take this canon to a certain height.
Tell us something about your newly released book on “Marginal Writings in English” What inspired you to edit this book?
I’ve been working on Bangla dalit literature for some years. Works by Prof. Meenakshi Mukherjee and Sekhar Bandopadhyay inspired me to work on their literary engagement but there are still few works on area. It is an inviting discourse! I guest edited two issues on marginal literature from the East and the North East for Muse India, a renowned e-journal. I read volumes of the Dalit Mirror. I’m really glad that some of my students and colleagues have also taken up the subject as their research interest. The present book is a collection of research papers presented during the national seminar on Dalit literature at our College. I thank everyone involved in the book. I’ve a separate book on marginal literature entitled: Writing as Resistance (2011). It aims at discovering the vast virgin corpus of Dalit writings in India which falls as a counter discourse of mainstream Indian Writings in English. The kernel of this book comprises a critique of the marginalization against this large body of writers. Sunil Kumar Das in his short story collection entitled Dalit-Adalit (2011) writes about dalit issues what only a dalit by birth can experience and write. In the story ‘Refugee’ he narrates his own unfortunate experiences to issue Schedule Caste certificate from the appropriate authority at Asansole. In another story, ‘Uchujater Gopon Sanrankhan’ (‘Secret Reservation for the Higher Caste’) Das gives a vivid description of caste discrimination in West Bengal which works silently under polished masks. Sometimes the caste-stratification undercurrent runs so stealthily that it remains very difficult to perceive from the surface. Manoranjan Byapari is another important man who writes about his days of struggle and hardships. Other important dalit writers from Bengal include Manohar Mouli Biswas, Kalyani Thakur, JatinBala, Smritikona Howlader and Parimal Hembram .The list is huge and they write really well. Many distinguished writers of Dalit literature from Gujarat, Maharastra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are my close associates. I enjoy their happy company and learnt a lot.
Tell us about your connection to the Red soil which allures you and your fascination for the rivers?
J.S.: My soil and people associated to it are important in my writings. Some of my poems are located in Jhargram and its scenic surroundings; the red soil and green forest where the saviors of history live in close proximity with nature. Small rivers are my inspiration; the sap of energy and tradition. My writing poems is an act of celebration of the small but beautiful. My ancestral house is situated near the banks of a rivulet, Dulong. It is a creative escape for me from the humdrum reality of metro city hurry and professionalism in daily acts where time is sold out for necessary meetings and engagements.
You have dedicated this volume of ‘Silent Days’ and a Poem named ‘Titas’ (Titas is poet’s daughter’s name) to your loving daughter. A line reads “One day our treasured dreams in your eyes would reflect and give shade to burning old age”. Would you like to share with us your treasured dreams you have for Titas your loving daughter?
JS.: YES! Titas is growing up. We do hope that she takes up writing one day, though she may prefer other creative forms of expression she wishes. May be it is a reflection of a generalized hope of seeing our next generation pick up trends from their earlier ones. My wife has great contributions to grooming her subtle sensibilities.
How do you view the research work going on by the researchers on Indian Poetry in English? What advice do you offer to the researchers?
J.S.: The situation is inspiring for poets and scholars. People are doing a commendable job. There are some prominent academicians who are poets, as well. There is always a blending of tradition and modernity in Indian English poetry. North East has become a reservoir of quality poets. There are significant voices from urban as well as rural India. I think that is the hallmark of new trends in Indian English Poetry. There are some organizations like GIEWEC (Kerala), SPELL (Kolkata), Muse India etc. who are promoting Indian poets in English quite well. A new cannon is knocking at the door. Be it opened for fresh thoughts and engagements! My personal experience is overwhelming. Poems and researches on them can connect continents and thinking minds.
You are a “Bilingual Bard” you write in Bengali and English. Tell us in which language do you feel comfortable to express?
J.S.: ‘Bilingual Bard’ is one of my favorite poems. I’m really happy to note that this poem has been selected for translation into different European languages. It contextualizes the linguistic choice of a bilingual poet in India. He writes back in a language he is comfortable with whether it is Indian English or not it really doesn’t matter. It is an expression of truth and it streams from a happy and powerfully charged mind:
“My language is the free flow of the soul(.)”
I write both in Bengali and English. I make no preference. I celebrate code mixing as part of my self-contained poems. It is as real as any Indian way of life. There may be a special flavor of ‘fish curry’ in my poems as they are anchored in my native contexts. There are poems that defy boundaries with universal subjectivity and cadence.
What are your future plans? Are you coming up with a new poetry volume or a book?
J.S.: For me, poems are the means of the exploration of the self. It is an engagement that keeps me rolling forward in the ocean of happiness. Daily routine in a metro city takes away my sap of life. Poems restore order and peace in mind. I’m working for my next volume; as well as collecting poems from different places for an anthology. Hopefully, they will be published sometime in 2014. I’m yet to decide a good and timely title for poem collection. Any advice in this regard is welcome!
Would you like to offer some advice to the upcoming emerging poets and writers in Indian English?
J.S.: Poems are the expression of Truth. It’s like mind’s notice board. Reading poets of note and following them carefully helps. For my aspiring Indian poets, I’ll suggest reading poets like Jayanta Mahapatra, Keki Daruwalla, Niranjan Mohanty, Tabish Khair, Rizio Raj Yahanan, Mamang Dai, Sanjukta Dasgupta, Sharmila Ray, Bibhu Padhi and Archana Sahani a lot. But, a poet must develop his/her own style of writing. I keep it very simple. I always keep it in mind that my poems will be read by people from different cultural backgrounds. Good command over the cadence is always an added quality.
Thank you Sir for sparing your precious time.