An Orthopedic Surgeon and Aviation Medicine Expert by profession and a poet, author, editor, publisher, painter, photographer and film maker by passion, Amitabh Mitra dons all these hats with a panache that is awesome. Ramendra Kumar caught up with the modern day Da Vinci to unravel his ‘code’ of success.
Ramendra Kumar (Ramen): Amitabh, how did your tryst with creativity begin? When did you first start writing?
Amitabh Mitra (Amitabh): I was entranced with reading during my school days. There use to be an American Peace Corps Library very close to my home run by a volunteer called Earl R. Choldin. I always wondered as a boy about how he can be an Earl and yet be an American and live in such a small house. I lost a cycle which my father had bought for me a few days back thanks to my passion for books. The cycle was parked in front of the library and while I was engrossed in a book inside some enterprising soul swiped it. In 1967, I got a school award for my story writing skills. The title of the competition was ‘The Haunted House”. Mrs. Vijayan, the teacher teaching English in the Carmel Convent, Gwalior encouraged me to write, selected books for me to read and made me write a page of critical viewpoint on each book.
Ramen: Who has/have been your inspiration?
Amitabh: I have always written love poetry. The seventies showed the best writings that India has ever had. I was in the Medical School but my first love was writing poetry and reading. I bought poetry books from Delhi and met fellow poets there. The country was surcharged with politics and poetry was the greatest happening. I just couldn’t stay as a bystander and see this wonderful movement taking shape. I needed to be a part of it. Love poetry like Bollywood movies still remains deeply entrenched within the psyche of the common man. Love poetry reigns, love poetry is published and love poetry is bought. Hindi film music had the most wonderful love lyrics and I knew that I must write. My first booklet of love poems titled ‘Bithika’ was published in 1976. It was more like an attractive card with eight love poems. The venture was sponsored by Rotary Gwalior and sold at Rs.5 each. The booklet sold well from The Book Worm in Connaught Place, New Delhi. The foreword as I remember went somewhat like this,
In the eucalyptus lined boulevard of passion, in the bithika of heart’s Paris, caught unaware among a sudden onrush of neon worms, poetry comes tumbling out….
Ramen : Who are the writers/poets whose work has influenced your writing?
Amitabh :There were so many poets and writers in the seventies. Indian writing in English which was launched in the Pre independence era by poets such as Toru Dutt and Michael Madhusudan Dutta got its final recognition within India and abroad in the seventies by the poetry of Pritish Nandy, Kamala Das, Eunice de Souza and a host of others. Pritish Nandy received his Padmashri and became the Chairperson of the Sahitya Akademi then. There were Hindi poets like Maithilisharan Gupta and Subhadra Singh Chouhan and writers like Nirmal Verma, Urdu Lyricist Sahir Ludhyanvi and even Russian poets like Yevgeni Yevtushenshko and Samuel Galkin.
If I ever have a writer’s block, I just need to hear the Hindi Film lyrics written by Gulzar or Javed Akhtar. I relive a Bollywood movie in my everday mind. To more about me and the poetry of the seventies you may visit the link:
Ramen : In your poetry Gwalior appears as one of the main motifs – could you elaborate on your love and longing for this beautiful city.
Amitabh : Gwalior is beautiful; it’s my home, my love and a living love poem.
From – Train to Gwalior
………When you have crossed the long night fortress
Of a forlorn desire
When you have reached the stolen palace
Of a long forgotten dream
When you have touched the time on a face
That just stood for
You so long
Gwalior looms again into sight.
Ramen : Can you share with the viewers your favorite verse?
Amitabh : (Laughing) It can’t be one Ramen!
Connaught Place blues
We had once walked around Connaught place for hours
Trying to solve a puzzle
Of a day in its stately columns
Holding aloft the far shores
Of an unfamiliar sky
Morning of jigsaw pieces in The Book Worm or
Mind shopping at the pavement
For love poems
Rushing to embrace
At a backthought corridor in
Our legs ached
Going round and round
Just trying to be somewhere
Until the one legged man in Dass Studios
Appeared from nowhere
As Sushmit Bose’s voice from the gramophone
Bent down to pick us
Loving was an afternoon
In a season that finally fell in its
It was difficult to place your home
Green foliage hung around the majestic gates
Loudly protesting as I pushed it open
A child in rags looked curiously
Rivers of a dry season shuddered on a path
That had once grown and bloomed pride
You would still find me here you had said
As we never let go off the stones
They only live breathing pain
The rain cradles this place sometimes
Union is always leaving
Loving stays knotted in creepers
And reminiscences is the mad man
Only the moss had cleverly hidden the breath
In our eyes.
Ramen : You are a poet, a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, a painter, a photographer – how do you manage to excel in these entirely different genres?
Amitabh :One should not be shackled by genres. One needs to move into different forms of expression and integrate them into one. I always imagine a poem in colors so it is necessary for me to illustrate it or make a film based on it. I really don’t excel but I have tried to bring a poem which one can feel. In the words of Pritish Nandy
…… I shall bring you a poem in a raging sapphire…
Ramen : Your contribution to poetry is not restricted to penning beautiful verses you are also doing a great job as an editor and publisher. Through ‘A Hudson View’ a journal of poetry you have been encouraging both young and established poets, providing them a platform to showcase their talent. Tell us a bit more about the magazine and its mission.
Amitabh : I own a small time publishing company called ‘The Poets Printery’. ‘A Hudson View’ is published by Victoria Valentine of Skyline Publishing, New York and is edited by me. The journal was previously being printed by ‘The Poets Printery’, South Africa but is now being printed both at South Africa and the United States. I publish African, Asian and Middle Eastern poets. South Africa is a young nation and so is its poetry. It is necessary for me to publish these poets so that they can get international exposure and recognition. Victoria herself is a well known poet in the United States, she selects poets from the US and Europe. We came up with this idea of producing a print poetry journal which would be of international quality, economical in its pricing and would have world class poetry.
I edit and publish a print journal titled ‘Inyathi’. It is a journal that focuses on Southern African Arts. This journal has research oriented articles on art, comparative literature, reviews and art that is yet to be thought about. I also publish poetry chap books of poets in very economical terms. I fully agree with my friend Goan Poet, Brian Mendonca who says,
Even recent studies on post-colonial poetry in English have a sense of déjà vu stopping at Kolatkar after paying due obeisance to Mehrotra and Kamala Das. The same names, the same verses quoted. Old wine in new bottles. If you are living you have a slim chance of being published!
Ramen : What has been the response to ‘A Hudson View’ and what are your future plans regarding it?
Amitabh : The journal ‘A Hudson View’ has definitely grown. From a paperback journal with limited distribution, today it is a hard laminated cover journal with perfect binding and has subscriptions to libraries and various American Universities. It was previously printed only in South Africa and now is being printed in New York and in East London, South Africa. It is archived in the Museum for English Literature and South African Writings at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.
Ramen : What are your views on Contemporary South African Poetry? How does it blend with your works?
Amitabh : Contemporary South African Poetry is raging. It has colors, music and vibrations that one can feel. Each poet’s work is unique in itself as they have all gone through a system of sociological and political upheavals in their own individual way. I am always very excited to publish such poets. I introduced the poetry of Phillippa Ya de Villiers and Kobus Moolman to poets in Dubai and New Delhi on my visit in December 2007. I was affected by the political structure when I was pursuing post graduate studies in the University of Pretoria. My poetry now has the flavour of South Africa while keeping my Indian ethos intact.
You can listen to Tracks of ‘Jacaranda Flowers’ here.
Ramen : What are your words of advice to budding poets and writers?
Amitabh : One must continue to write. The inner journey is as important as the outer one.
Ramen : Finally, what are your future plans – how many more peaks to conquer?
Amitabh : Merge poetry with art, photography, music and films. My compact disc, titled ‘A Slow Train to Gwalior’ featuring ten of my most popular poems has been brought out by Harp Records, Johannesburg which has my recitation with a background of African and Indian traditional music. I have been busy shooting a short poetry film which I hope to screen at a Film Festival this year. I am translating the Bengali poetry of Prabhat Kiran Basu who was a literary icon of Bengal in the fiftees and sixtees. He also happens to be my Pishomoshai. More about him at Bolokids.