Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee giving his book to Samik Bandyopadhyay,
the noted dramatist in Thema on Sept 20 2013.
Poet Ratan Bhattacharjee is one of the strong voices in the sphere of Indian English poetry in recent times. His love lyrics aestheticise the progressive exploration of diverse corridors of romantic love in a brilliant Bhattacharjeesque style. Through his poetry, he explores diverse milestones of the mystery of love, human feelings, pain, loneliness etc. A true “Romantic singing Bard of Kolkata”, Dr. Bhattacharjee is an unlaboured poet. He is also a bilingual writer and academician. He is at present the Chairperson of the Post Graduate Dept. of English and is also associated with teaching in the PG Dept of English of Rabindra Bharati Univesity, both in regular and distance. He is the Executive member in the International Advisory Board of International Theeodore Dreiser Society, USA. His book of poems The Ballad of the Bleeding Bubbles is a milestone of poetic literature. He was formerly associated with the Indian Association of American Studies (IAAS) as a member of the Executive Body and now he is the Founder Director of the newly inaugurated Dattani Archive and Research Association (DARA), Kolkata. He edits the Journal VIEW (Voices of the Indian English Writers). He has to his credit nearly five books on British and American literature and nearly 650 articles. And 200 poems and a good number of short stories all in English.
In a candid conversation, Poet Ratan Bhattacharjee shares with me about the journey of his eventful life and about his love for poetry.
SH: Sir,would you please tell us about your childhood days?
RB: Our childhood days were never remarkable ones. In fact in our time, childhood was usually spent in joy and sportive activities. Our parents were not conscious at all about our growing. This indirectly made us self sufficient. I remember how my father used to walk very fast in the morning even before the sunrise. But I could not keep my eyes open. I used to feel drowsy. I walked very slow. Today I feel the good effect of walking. In my childhood days, we used to play with muslim and Buddhist boys and never felt that they were not hindus. My grandfather was a village zaminder as he was elected as Member of Legislative Council in the British period around 1939. He at that time organized employees in the Metcalfe Press in Kolkata to fight for their fundamental rights and gained immense popularity. Our house had a rationing office and a Post Office. My grandfather got a salary of fourteen rupees and my grandmother started teaching village girls and subsequently got an appointment as a school Headmistress for an emolument of Rs. 15. She enjoyed all sorts of freedom and unconsciously seemed to have been a spokesperson of female freedom and female rights.
My schooling started at a very younger age. I had got double promotion in class I and did not read in class II. In our time that was a kind of honour given to the meritorious students. I was doubtful about my merit. But I used to write poems and stories. I imagined that I have published a book and imitated Tagore in his childhood. I was very much enthused by Jivan Smriti of Tagore and Gorky’s My Childhood. Nehru’s Letters from a Father to a Daughter gave me huge ideas about history and geography of India and World.
Basically, I belong to village and the rural Bengal gave me an ever lovable ambience. Life is so slow in the village. I got used to simplicity of living and felt very proud of exhibiting simple living and high thinking. I used to read Bengali novelist Bankim Chandra and Sarat Chandra and Tagore’s novel ‘Noukadubi’ was one of my all time favourites. I used to organize magic shows and listen to Voice of America Bengali programme over the Murphy radio of our house. One very interesting thing happened. I requested Voice of America Bengali Section to send me photographs of the first Voyage to the land of moon. You will be surprised to know, I got nearly 60 huge pictures of Neil Armstrong having his steps which he described as ‘big leap for mankind’. In our locality I become instantly famous. People could not believe their eyes when they saw the pictures of real men walking on the moon. Since then I had global connections and I felt that any one can be contacted all over the world. Communication and connectivity are still the motto of my life since my childhood days. At that time I had been hardly a boy of 12.
I was a fun and festival loving child. Durga Puja days were much enjoyed by me. I loved Siuli flowers, white and fragrant, falling all night on the green grass. I loved to collect flowers for Durga puja , so much of them in the pre-dawn hours.
My most memorable moment was that I learnt riding bicycle. My dad gave me money to go by bus. But I hired a bicycle and fell down deep into a paddy field and had a chest injury out of nervousness. Since my childhood days I used to take risks. I am a lover of adventurism and freedom and till today these qualities prevail in my character. You know I used to compose songs and one song on Paul Robson and one on literacy programme were recorded by HMV. At that time I was a student of College. I loved Sukanta and Jibananda and Lorca poems in my student life. Dickens’ David Copperfield was my topmost favourite.
Since my childhood I could do adventurous job. I loved military training. Netaji in uniform appealed to me most. But at the same time I loved I can undertake any venture, be real or imaginary. That is the best achievement of my childhood days.
SH: Would you tell us about your loving daughter ,the Authoress of Bhutiya... the child Prodigy who wrote her first story book at the age of 11 and had her first story in English published in the Statesman (The Voices) at the age of 13?
RB: Yes, she is a talented girl. She is my daughter , so I could not give much publicity to her . She got the Suktara prize at the age of 9. She got it for story writing. Rituparna Bhattacharjee published her first story ''A Story of Three Fish" at the age of 7 in the page of The Ganashakti. She wrote her story ‘Mrityunjay’ for Suktara at the age of 10 and got the second prize in the competition. Her first English short story 'Growing Up' was published in The Statesman: Voices in 1999 when she was only 13. The Suktara story, ‘Mrityunjoy’ (Conquest of Death) which is the first story in BHUTIYA deals with the invention of medicine for curing Cancer. Dr. Sen in this story experiments a potion on a dog which was saved from certain death. But Dr. Sen himself died because of too much strain taken for the invention and research for a prolonged period of ten years. This is a story of commitment and devotion. BHUTIYA(also Bhutia), is a collection of memorable Bengali short stories written by Rituparna Bhattacharjee and it was released by the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, Hon'ble Jyoti Basu on Jan 28,1998 in presence of the then Information Minister Sri Buddhadev Bhattacharya (former Chief Minister of W.Bengal). The book got plethora of appreciation in book reviews done in all leading newspapers in India and abroad. BHUTIA (Bhutiya) was appreciated by the then President of India Hon'ble R.K. Narayanan and by the then Hon'ble Governor of West Bengal K.V. Raghunath Reddy. The book was reviewed extensively by the newspapers in Bengali and English in the country and abroad.She got the Jugal Srimal Excellence Award 1999 with the famous Tennis Player Poulomi Ghatak.
SH: Sir your maiden English Poetry collection “The Ballad of the Bleeding Bubble” has been published and within a few hours it has become very popular. Would you please elucidate why you have chosen this title?
RB: The term ‘ballad’ in the title of the poem apparently seems to be a misnomer as I have not used the ballad meter for any of my poems and they were deliberately not composed in couplets with refrains in alternate lines. One may easily understand that the poems are not couplets (two lines) of rhymed verse, each of 14 syllables. But there is a melodious narrative surely suggestive of “dancing songs” as the ballads have often been called ‘ballares’ since the Medieval Age in France or Scottish ballads such as Tam Lin. Nor are these poems broadside ballads’ of the sixteenth century Europe. One feature of ballad is there in the poems of course as each of them contains a story of love with an undercurrent of pathos.The couplets in the poems do have the flow of run- on lines closer to acoustic-based folk song, simple and easily understood by readers and yet are allowed to reach a high tempo in the final section of each of them as it occurs in an American Power Ballads which came into existence in the early 1970s,when rock stars attempted to convey profound messages to the audiences. I had no messages as such to be conveyed, I have sung spontaneously like Shelley’s lark in profuse strains of unpremeditated art. These poems of The Ballad of the Bleeding Bubbles are the outcome of my interactions with men and women in reality and dreams.I talk with my characters in my poems and there are still some with whom I had an imaginary conversation.Even the most fabulous characters are all real to me. My passions and feelings are all genuine. They are quintessentially tangible. Like the frustrated people,I never take refuge in Philosophy.
Sir,What is the main theme of your poetry anthology “The Ballad of the Bleeding Bubble”?
RB: I had no messages as such to be conveyed, I have sung spontaneously like Shelley’s lark in profuse strains of unpremeditated art. These poems of The Ballad of the Bleeding Bubbles are the outcome of my interactions with men and women in reality and dreams.I talk with my characters in my poems and there are still some with whom I had an imaginary conversation.Even the most fabulous characters are all real to me. My passions and feelings are all genuine.
SH: Sir, Do you consider yourself as a romantic ?
RB: (Smiling) Romantic? hahaha. Yes. My daughter and many of my younger friends of Facebook call me Romantic in my approach. But this is not all true. Yes, I am more optimistic than pessimistic. If you give me half glass of water, I shall regard it half glass full and not as half glass empty. I read God is now here and not as God is nowhere. I have struggled much in my life and so Shelleyan romanticism is not in my nature. I am rather like Wordsworth’s skylark “Type of the wise who soar but never roam, / True to the kindred points of heaven and home”. This volume contains two parts, The poems which I wrote with fanciful emotions are Melodies, and the poems which deal with my realistic perceptions are called Maladies. You have seen the comment of Elsa (Elisabetta Marino ) in the Foreword to the book. She says this point beautifully, “In Melodies momentous social issues such as domestic abuse, violence, and rape are also dealt with, as in “Darkness at Dawn”,
Bhattacharjee’s potent cry against brutality and indifference. In Maladies the sense of alienation that affects every modern civilization is dramatically recalled through the reference to Kafka’s metamorphosis, in the text entitled “A Cloud Comes Pouring into my Window”. Again, the dullness of any routine, the sadness of a life in which human beings are turned into automatons, repeating the same meaningless actions over and over again, is persuasively evoked in “Morning again”. In “My House will be Painted Today”, Bhattacharjee underlines the superficiality of contemporary life, the importance commonly attached to the surface and not the essence of objects, as well as people.” In fact , Kafka is my all time favourite.
SH:Would you define poetry in your own words.
RB: Omg, this is very difficult. I am not the poet of Lyrical Ballads although there is some word Ballad in the title of my poems. I am not a poet with programme. I cannot define poetry in my own words, but I can borrow the words of Coleridge to define what I write : “Poetry is the best words in best order”.
SH: Sir, there are nearly 500 research journalistic articles to your creadit. A great achievement indeed. Would you tell a few words about your journalism?
RB: Yes, but not all of them are research articles. Most of them are published in Newspapers, and online portals such as Merinews, and Boloji.com and the Statesman Blog section. I used to write regularly in two Assamese Newspapers, The Assam Tribune and the News Star. I never felt that I would be a writer or poet. But I used to react to many issues of the society- political and social. I love to write nearly every day for three to four hours. Nowadays it has increased.
SH:You are a great academic leader.How do you manage your time?
Academic leader! Haha. Not so. I am now the Chairperson of Post Graduate Dept of English and you know how tough it is to organize students and teachers for running the course. I have got very good batches of teachers and students as well in my college. They are creative and enthusiastic. Yes, I use cell nearly all day long. In the evening I am absolutely detached from my professional world. I try to use my time in creativity. I started writing on writers of the Facebook, particularly the young generation of writers. Loved to write on them. But for the last one year so bogged down.
SH: Would you mention some of your poems that will establish your identity as a poet?
RB: Yes.. but I am not sure if the poems I love will establish my identity as a poet. But I love them all. You may take for example:
When you cannot sleep at night
You may be lost in someone's dream
When memory is liquid like milk
Sorrow is its delicious cream.
When you cannot walk alone
Your hand may be in a good friend's hand
When you do not see the rivers
They are lost in the sand.
It is absolutely romantic like the following , the poem
“I miss you most’
When the sky becomes crimson red
I miss you my dear
When the cuckoo coos sitting on the palash trees
Sweetheart I miss you
When the apple turns red from green in Kashmir
I miss you now and then
When the boughs are loaded with mango shoots
I miss you since the dawn
When frosty winter lashes at the door
I miss your warmth in the lonely room
When the mailbox is filled with letters from others
The Ballad of the Bleeding Bubbles 27
I miss you, miss you dawn to dusk
When I am at mess and feel all alone
I miss you in the crowd
I miss you when you don’t see my e-card in your mailbox
Or when you don’t log in
But I miss you most my dear
When you don’t miss me at all.
SH: What, according to you is a good poem?
RB: A good poem is one which touches the deepest chord of your heart and stirs the inside of your head. It is a perfect head and heart matter, dear. You yourself a poet might have felt it.
SH: What is your message to the emerging poets?
RB: I myself am struggling to be a poet. How can I pass messages to others. It is too early to call myself ‘a poet’. Yes I am picking pebbles on the seashore of poetry. The ocean is far beyond.
SH:You are a seasoned journalist.would you tell us when you started writing your research articles?
RB: Yes, I had a penchant for journalism. I used to practice journalism since my college days, say 1970s. I took interview of great political and poetical personality. I interviewed, the veteran Parliamentarian Hiren Mukhopadhyay, the great actor, Rabi Ghosh, the great poet Syed Mustapha Siraj, the great poet, Annada Shankar Roy and Lila Roy in their residence. I was doing this in the days of hectic movement of AASU in Assam even. I used to move in the streets of Guwahati and Kolkata for taking interviews and for writing articles.
SH: What influenced you to write poetry?
RB: My family had a penchant for writing poetry. My grandfather was poetic, my father is a crazy soul for poetic expressions. I was very much moved by Mayakovosky and Sukanta. I had a photograph of my young age in which I posed as Sukanta. So much I liked his simplicity of language and the revolutionary urge. But I was surprised to know that Sukanto was a romantic at the beginning of his poetic career. I loved Jibananda and Sunil’s Neera series of poems. I want to translate them . At one time I became a fan of the great Spanish poet Lorca. I was a voracious reader, I used to write for Nandan, Dainik Basumati in Bengali and for the Statesman, and many other newspapers outside West Bengal.
SH: We know you are a famous short story writer. Would you tell us about your popular book named, Chotoder Choto Galpo(a collection of short stories for children)?
RB: Not famous, but yes, I am basically a Bengali writer. I used to write stories for many many years . Hope to translate some of them. But before everything, I want to see my daughter’s stories translated and published by a good publisher. The Chotoder Choto Galpo is written for a series of stories in a newspaper. Every week I had to submit a story for the paper. This way the book came up. But the publisher was a cheat. I got no royalty for the book and the book is not found any more in print. I will be happy if any publisher comes up to do reprint or republish them. They were sold well in the Book Fair.
SH: Sir, you have written a famous book named “Prachya O Paschatya Sahitya Bhavana ebong Bijnan Manaskata” (Literary Thoughts of the East and the West and Scientic Temper) .Would you tell us a bit about this book?
RB: Yes, this book was really very good. It was taken twice by Rammohan Foundation. The book tells us about all the writers of the Western World in the first part. For example I have compared Shelley with Whitman, or I wrote on Octavio Paz , the Nobel Laureate. In the second part of the book I focused on the scientific reflections of the great writers and poet. Without scientific outlook, one cannot be a great writer. Tagore had that and he understood the dynamism of Einstein’s theory . Have you read his poem ‘ Balaka’? The hills want to be a mountain. What does it mean? E=Mc/2 theory.. means the Mass Hill wants to be Energy in the velocity of light. He wrote this poem after meeting Einstein. Interesting explanation I gave nah? I thought this way. You may differ.
SH: Sir, you are a novelist, all we know. Please tell us about the theme of your famous novel “Batabriksha (The Banyan Tree)”.
RB: You also know about this book..Yes, a novella in Bengali. I have tried to write a novel of love and I was very much influenced by Syed Mujtaba Ali ‘s Shabnam. A fantastic novel it was.
SH: Sir you are the the Founder Director of the newly inaugurated Dattani Archive and Research Association (DARA) in Kolkata. Would you share with us about your meeting with Mahesh Dattani Sir.
RB: Yes, I have a dream about it. The Organisation will surely grow. Our Dum Dum Motijheel College, PG Dept has a room for it. We are trying to collect all Dattani materials here. Future days, researchers will be able to study here and do their research. It will take some more time to organize.
SH: We know that you are also a film critic. How many articles have you written on the topic?
RB: Very few. Actually, I had to write reviews on new films released, it may be drama as well. I write some. Not more.
SH: At present you are distinguished member of the International Advisory Board of International Theodore Dreiser Society, USA. Would you tell us a bit about the society and its activities?
RB: Yes, a rare honour for me. I have not contributed much but as my Ph.D research is on Theodore Dreiser, I am appreciated by this society. I am one of the five distinguished members. The society promotes studies in Naturalism and American Literature in general. I am invited twice to visit the USA. But I could not go. What is more important is that they have sent us an offer to publish a Journal on Theodore Dreiser and given us affiliation of the society for that. We have started Kolkata Dreiser Society and planned to publish the International Journal of Theodore Dreiser Studies.
SH: Sir tell us a bit about your tranlslation works.
RB: I translated the Classics for children. I translated stories of the Nobel Laureate all over the world. Yes, at one time I translated a lot. One story I still remember, Alan Paton’s The Magistrate’s Daughter. Wonderful , I called it ‘Durottto’. A love story, fab it was.
SH: You are a Lieutenant, a commissioned NCC officer who has been imparting Army training to cadets. And once you got Best Physical Fitness Award from Army wing at Kamptee. We want to know more about it. Will you tell us?
RB: Yes. I did the training when I was almost 39. It is a marvellous experience. I used to run so fast on the track, they gave me the name Chetak (smiling). I did a record in running , 2200 metres In just 9mins… still a record in Kamptee. I loved the hardship involved in the training. It has changed my approach to life. Do or Die – this mantra became real to me. I became an enterprising man. I feel all should have NCC training in college. It makes a young mind hale and hearty.
SH: You are Dr, Lieutenant, a famous poet, a celebrity journalist, a short shory writer, a novelist, a translator, a great academic leader, a critic, a reviewer, a proud father and a great teacher. How do you look at your identity?
RB: I am nobody Santanu. Look at me as an ordinary man who loves Hilsha fish but cannot afford to buy them at 1000 rupees a kilo. Very ordinary living in a small flat in North Kolkata. I don’t personally believe in luxurious life. I love simplicity in all my spheres of activity. I am straight forward and never practices dishonest means.
SH: Do you have any plan in future to write any novel in English?
RB: Yes, I have plans to write. I am inspired by the young writer Chetan Bhagat. So brilliantly he writes. There are a host of golden daffodils like him.
SH: Can you remind the name of your first written poem?
RB: My God, not possible… next to impossible..One researcher only yesterday wanted to do research on my poems.. he may do it.. hahaha…(stifled laughter with difficulty)
SH: Do you have any immediate wish?
RB: Only Writing and writing and writing…..
SH: Any regret in life?
RB: No.. I have been blessed with a talented daughter, a homely wife, and friends, admirers all around. No regret. What I have got is more than I deserve. I am satisfied and a very happy man.
Thank you Sir for sparing your valuable time and sharing wonderful thoughts with me.