Literary Shelf

Quest for More Light:

Sanjukta Dasgupta Writes Back

Indian English poetry has been quoted as “Shakuntala in skirt” and “the queen in bindi.” It is a product of happy encounter with the English.It dates back to the 1830s, to Kashiprasad Ghosh (or Derozio), who is considered  as the first Indian poet who wrote in English. Over a span of  nearly two hundred years Indian English poetry, quite understandably, spurs attention from every quarter of the globe, making the genre admired in its own right.

Calcutta/Kolkata has an important role in the map of poetry in English. Professor P. Lal and his school, Writers Worksop became the home for many aspiring poets after the Independence. Indian Englih poetry got a new shape in 1950s and 60s in the able hands of Ezekiel, P.Lal and Adil Jussawalla. Editors of journals/magazines and the Institutions like Dhanyalok and Sahitya Academy canonised the corpus suitably. In late 70s and early 80s Keki  Daruwalla, Jayanta Mahapatra and Kamala Das got accolade world wide for their tremendous gusto and indomitable depth and elegant cadence in English poems. Now Indian English poetry is an engaging enterprise like poems  of any great native English poet. That anxiety is  gone! Philip Salom, a contemporary Australian poet in a poem for Jayanta Mahapatra’s 80th birthday(published in Southerly, Vol 70,Nov., 2010) writes “Your poems have called up Wordsworth in the readers(.)” Salom’s remark is sufficient enough to justify our claim.
Sanjukta is a poet who engages a thinking mind. Never mind, she is a Professor of English and her education/orientation in English literature honed her poetic skills to perfection. She is a poet of analytical clarity who sought for order, for universal patterns of human existence. Her poetry is considered versatile and inventive. In the PREFACE to “First Language” Sanjukta  introduces a dilemma of an Indian poet musing in English:
“One recurrent question that I have had to answer since the publication of my first book Snapshots has been---why write poetry in English? An interesting variant of this question has been a more searching query—“Is it possible to feel in English?” In my poem First Language whisch is also title of this book,I have tried to answer this question to the best of my ability and having done that,I am now ready to move on.”
It’s the same issue what Kamala Das raised in her poem, ‘An Introduction’. India shines with vernaculars and it has great depth of regional languages that we can never omit. English in India is a free and fair choice now. A poet is a free member of our society where the mode and medium of expression is his own personal category .The cloud of anxiety is over. Sanjukta in her title poem, ‘First Language’ clearly takes her stand:

“The language English
The text my own
Bengali? Indian? Anglo? Cosmo?
(You decide!)”
She leaves the possibilities open for readers to respond. Simple images grasp deep meaning in Sanjukta’s poetic lines.
Her  melodious cadence ushers in a whirlpool of fresh ideas and a new zeal for life. It is like rain drops showering from  a monsoon cloud. Anchored in Kolkata, Sanjukta’s   poems dazzle with universal appeal that engages sensitive readers. Poetry is a lot of things to sensitive minds . There are as many definitions of poetry as there are poets in this world. 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 creates vibes of thought and feelings to a reader. Sanjukta Dasgupta  entertains a reader :

As the words reach the world
Spinning in wild wonder
Whirling through the planer
Touching a heart
Caressing a mind
Coaxing a nod(.)” (p. 53, ‘My Poems’ from  “More Light”)
Sanjukta Dasgupta strings her variegated images together delicately. Her sweet cadence  resonates in the mind for a long period. The poet’s education and familiarity with English poets contributed  a lot to her poetic inside and  she is fully aware of it. She  has emerged as a superb wordsmith tinged with sweet cadence and rhythm.
Mysticism is the art and science of living perfectively and it is the self knowledge that subsumes knowledge of the world. Poets with uncanny knowledge of the world, connect minds! Her poetic lines seem to echo from life itself, from the pauses of loss and vacuity in life’s regular acts. We are  amazed by the poet’s logical arrangement  expressed in poems: 
“Why can’t poets write happy poems?
Said someone(.)”
Yes, why can’t word-weavers
Script happiness
Why is joy
A moment between fears and tears(.)”  (P. 20, ‘Happy Poets’, “ More Light”)
Human life is a happy journey where we meet up with people from different shores. A close bond develops gradually. Waiting is a kind of suspended animation.Widely travelled poet is aware of this  currency of life.  She has been eagerly waiting for a probable meeting with someone who can usher ‘more light’:
“As the two
Basked like conquers
After their job was done(.)” (P.50,’Power’,”More Light’)
A famous line from “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” is “Poetry makes nothing happen.” Sanjukta Dasgupta embraces a vast range of themes   like the monsoon rains, the rainy night , the temples, war and peace, gaze theory, Hindu Gods and Goddesses,  and  street happenings, the subjective depth and the clarity of expression  these poems bring,  refresh a sensitive mind. The poet is  enchanted by ‘summer rain’ which is the harbinger of hope in a flat and uninteresting life for a city dweller. Moved by the  arrival of rain, the poet sings out with limitless joy and ecstasy like a rain-wet bird. Life doesn’t give us a day off.
We  do think that those who have a drive to write poetry, and who persist with the genre, accepting appropriate criticism at times, will probably end up writing well. The idiom of a poet is ever evolving. Poets are harbingers of peace and order for an individual and for society. Sanjukta Dasgupta is a follower of the mission peace.  For her, “Peace weapons/Are care and share.” We know that ‘peace is not to buy or sell’. It is a state of mind; a beautiful dream till disorder guns it down. Sanjukta Dasgupta  reminds us how  literature is a special mode of experiencing peace, knowing and interacting with the world and perhaps a mode of survival in this world of ‘profit and delight.’
Here are a  couple of  recent poems by Sanjukta Dasgupta:
Lost in translation?
When we met
Our mutual words transcended
Transformed in translation
We strung words like pearls
Mother tongue and Other tongue
A new poem born out of the womb
Of a well known old poem
The original homegrown poem
Became a global sapling
Rooted, uprooted, re-rooted
Unique avatar
Linguistic transfer
Cultural code switching
Those are puzzles for sages
And heat oppressed brains
Ethnic poems in global syntax
Global poems in ethnic inscription

Smiled in the new dawn

Reaching hearts and minds
Liberated from the intense entrapment
 In either/or- singular tongues
Our willing translations
Our mutual spinning of words
In an Other tongue, in our mother tongue
To fill the gaps others hadn’t bridged
Insularity and isolation were erased
A rainbow of words
Not a chaotic Babel
Brought us together
Isolated islands of words
Converged into continents of communion
We never regretted any loss in translation
We were incorrigible dreamers, for us
Territories and borders were life- threatening
We dreamt about bringing together
A fractured world with our healing words-

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum

Our world as a single family
In translation
We gained an inclusive world
 We mingled diversity and difference
In our several tongues and daring dreams
We translated uninhibited
 For us, to be transfixed and immobile
Was surrender and suicide
We translated and translated and translated
And our mutual words
Became universal symbols, signs and signposts
Our adhesive translations made the Other our own
Fused into a holistic dream come true
Translated, we became indivisible
Not you and me, but us.
-Sanjukta Dasgupta
Oswego, June 13, 2011
I become greedier everyday
Greedy to continue to see the sun
Rising out of the Bay of Bengal
At each new dawn
Greedy about playing with the flowers and buds
In my invisible secret garden
Silent symphony of flowering and fading
Greedy for the fragrance of bakul and kamini
On a monsoon evening
As the drizzle soothes my thirsty pores
Greedy for the honeyed fruits
Mango juice trickling down my throat
Golden hued, touched by the summer sun
Greedy to touch, smell, taste, see and hear
The universe around me
The universe within me
Greedy, just greedy, so unabashedly greedy
To be part of this seductive whole
Which I embrace fiercely but do not claim or grasp
Sanjukta Dasgupta
June 1, 2013


More by :  Prof. Jaydeep Sarangi

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Views: 3368      Comments: 2

Comment Thank you for enlightening us about the life and works of such an important scholar

Angana Dutta
06-Oct-2013 13:54 PM

Prof Poet Jaydeep and Sanjukta have collaborated in debating about the Indian English poetry- criticised by those who aren't competent enough to relish, liked by those who realise that in Indian multilingual situation English is taking its shape gradually- it is becoming Indian, less foreign less selfish unlike the pseudo patriots, please excuse me!

Aju Mukhopadhyay
04-Oct-2013 13:06 PM

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