Kiriti Sengupta: The Unheard I, Non-Fiction
Extracting the tooth, extracting the truth...!
Editor: Donald Randolph Martin
Kolkata. Dhansere Prakashan. July 18, 2013
Pages 63. Price Rs 125 / US $ 95
As soon as I received The Unheard I from Kiriti Sengupta on August 8, 2013, I pored over the sleek volume which gripped the attention right from its very title, right from its first page. What then is this book about? Well, it’s an olio of the author’s (as well as others’) personal and inter-personal experiences, incidents, episodes, cameos, observations, perceptions, generalizations and principles underlying the art of literary writing, brought out in a uniquely creative and seamless way. And it was done almost in a jiffy – from conception to execution.
When the state of Oklahoma (USA) was devastated by a tornado as recent as in May 2013, a virtual international literary group – Indies in Action – decided in June to bring out an anthology to give some relief to the victims with its proceeds. And the international anthology – Twist of Fate (ToF) - comprising 200 pages of writes by 50 authors was ready in print as early as July 4, edited by Stephen L Wilson and published by Navigator Books. Just two weeks thereafter, on July 18, Kiriti’s book - The Unheard I - was out, making known the hitherto “unknown... fact that the author has been merging the different modes of writing, the poetic and the nonfictional, against the backlash of his expertise and memoirs in journalism,” to quote from the Foreword by hülya yilmaz (who never capitalizes her name), a professor of German Language and Literature and Comparative Literature & Turkish, Pennsylvania State University, USA.
Indies in Action is a site of “charity anthologies designed to donate all proceeds to the victims of various tragedies. It is a way for authors to contribute their work and compassion to those who need it the most,” and the word “Indies” according to a telephonic clarification by Kiriti stands for “Independents.”
And Kiriti’s book has been edited by Don Martin, associate editor of ToF. True to the spirit of charity, he has done it free for Kiriti, as shared by the latter with the writer of this piece.
Coming to Kiriti Sengupta, he is a qualified dentist (BDS) and a poet in Bengali and English with his work having appeared in e-zines like Taj Mahal Review and Kritya Online besides the print anthology, ToF. He has interviewed the contributors to the ToF and carried them on his blog:
Now let’s go over the vignettes in the book.
Though Kiriti gave Don Martin the absolute editing freedom, Don, in his Editorial Note, says that he found little need of it for “The language in the book is actually better than common US English,” even as it is Kiriti’s debut book. Not favouring “full-blown Americanization,” and believing that “part of the beauty of the English language” owes it to the “character or the flavour of the author, regardless of his native language.” He has effected only a few changes to ensure that a “Western English-speaker” doesn’t have any trouble in reading and understanding the book. What appears in it “may not be strictly American English,” he affirms, only to ask “but why should it be?” The Unheard I contains some poetry – in English original as well as in translation from Bengali, where Don says he hasn’t really touched it save a few punctuation and grammatical changes. Don ascribes the minimal editorial intervention to what he calls the first rule of editing poetry - “No matter what you do, you never, ever change any poetry.” And he elucidates: “...poetry is such a tightly-written literary form that if you change even one word you can sometimes change the entire meaning of the poem.”
Kiriti, in his Introduction, honestly shares with the readers that in fact the two English poems he submitted for ToF came to be rejected by Stephen Wilson for one of them was “too abstract to fit with the mood of the anthology, while the other had strong sexual connotations that might offend the readers.” At the same time two short stories by his friend Prabir Roy translated by Kiriti from Bengali came to be accepted. It was some consolation. Then on Stephen’s suggestion Kiriti sent in his replacements. A short autobiographical sketch, ‘As I Traverse,’ was readily accepted. Thus Kiriti has proved that life sails, and also it sells, in his own words.
Kiriti’s joy was doubled when his other submission – a poem in Bengali in translation by his friend Ranadeb Dasgupta - had also been accepted though after some hurdles. While Ranadeb had appraised the original as a “fantastic composition,” Stephen commented on its translated version: “I really don’t understand this poetry, I will post it in the group, will pin it and if any of the fellow poets can make me understand the hidden imagery, I promise that I would publish it in the anthology.” Thankfully, the poem did win the group’s approval. This incident shows that if you have the real merit it is bound to come to the fore, that the perception of appreciation differs from reader to reader, and that every poet has their readers.
As a freelance journalist since 1998 Kiriti has “always enjoyed interviewing celebrities, performers, and artists,” and ToF had stimulated him to interview its contributors and ask “intriguing questions.” While the dentist in Kiriti extracts many a tooth, the journo in him is keen to “extract the truth.”
An interesting take on poetry vs news is here. When Kiriti in his interview asked Jon Tribble whether “poetry could communicate only with the poets,” the latter quotes: “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there,” from the 1955 poem ‘Asphodel, That Greeny Flower’ by William Carlos Williams.
Kiriti rues that the editors of literary work don’t get due recognition for their contribution and are “never given the tag of a contributor.” This point is, however, debatable since he hasn’t substantiated his observation. Viewing a literary journal or compilation as the product of team work, Don Martin responds: “There are the cover artists, the book designer, and all sorts of behind-the-scenes people. Someone even has to select the font!” Well, a humble editor could say so, but never our strutting Indian movie heroes – who are given to hogging all the limelight and usurping the lion’s share of the budget.
On the question of translation, Kiriti demurs that “translators are frequently looked down upon and we appreciate only the original writers for the work!” In this context, he gives the impression of Ranadeb who has translated his Bengali poem into English for ToF. Ranadeb explains:
“Translation is a tough journey as well as important too. Not only because we can taste literature of other languages which we don’t know but also for the reason that a successful translation may convey so silently the inner depth of a writing to the readers of other languages... It implicates the efficiency of the translator. A good translator must have literary sense and ability to follow the hidden tune of the original writing... Probably, a suggestion plays in our minds that a translator is not the creator. I believe that there could be no translation without tans-creation. A translator, when translates, trans-creates simultaneously because there is no such language which can express the feel of another language totally. I must conclude that the view about translators should be changed right now.”
To me it appears that there can be no single opinion on the observation that translators don’t get due recognition.
Kiriti’s observation that poetry is a wonderful medium to reach out to not only the literature lovers but also God - corroborates the Indian experience! Traditionally, not just literature but every art is dedicated to the divine in India which “boasts the lineage of the Yogis, and Sages”. Rooted as he is in this ethos, Kiriti wishes due recognition for spiritual lyrics and poetry. Devotional poetry “artistically conveys our... desires, prayers, demands and frustrations to the Lord.” But this type of poetry is “not well regarded in the world of literature,” he highlights. Though “much has been written on Yoga... little research has been done... on the influences of yoga in English literature,” he adds.
Kiriti, who was initiated into Kriya Yoga by Yogacharya Dr Ashoke Kumar Chatterjee in 2008, informs us that Swami Yukteshwar Giri, a prominent disciple of Yogiraj Lahiree Mahasaya, did a yogic interpretation of the Bible. Later on Paramahansa Yogananda, foremost disciple of Yukteshwar Giri and author of the spiritual bestseller, Autobiography of a Yogi propagated Kriya Yoga in the United States. On a personal note, I recall having bought my copy of this book as well as its Telugu version Oka Yogi Atma Katha on June 11, 1994, though I am eons behind Kiriti in praxis.
Asked about her view on “spirituality, religion and God,” which to Kiriti are synonymous, Dr hülya yilmaz cited her favourite quotation: “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.” And these are the words of Mahatma Gandhi. And hasn’t Einstein said too: “Science without religion is lame; Religion without science is blind”?
When the literati of different nationalities and languages as in the Indies in Action group are able to come together for a larger common cause, it strikes us: why can’t leaders and preachers of different religions across the world come similarly together for a better humanity?
Linda Bonney Olin of USA from the Indies in Action brings in an analogy. When the great hymns of yore are able to inspire people long after their creators passed away, why can’t the poets “write something that would significantly touch hearts,” in a similar way?
Kiriti showcases a poem of his – “The Unheard” - as an example of one that has appealed to the general readers of poetry as well as God-lovers. Here it is in its translation from Bengali by Gopal Lahiri, a friend of Kiriti:
That road is still wet even today –
Fasting though; the journey that started
Ended in curse.
It was all dark, sudden gust of wind
Arrived the rain clouds,
Favourite leather shoes,
Salty smell in
Felt the bliss
Had a bath near well
Awaken, Thy Name!
Awaken, The Heaven.
Neither love nor cuddle
Taut breast flirts,
That road is still wet even today...
How God’s grace can be like the proverbial slip between the lip and the cup, unless the devotee is single-minded and self-disciplined, is brought home in a tongue-in-cheek manner in the following lines from the poem, ‘Stairs.’ Penned originally in Bengali by Kiriti, here is its English rendition by Shishir Kumar Roy, a senior sub-editor of Ananda Bazar Patrika.
Since my college days, my dinner ends around
One at night. Mother keeps awake, awaits me,
Without taking her food. Says she, ‘Why don’t
You cut down these hang-outs?’
Rules, such mess of rules cause my headache.
God arrives at the wee hours of morn whilst the
Alarm is set at nine for me.
Veering back to the arena of translation, Kiriti tells us that he never self-translates his Bengali works lest he might “get biased as normally happens when a writer translates his/her own compositions.” He is “pretty serious” while translating any literary piece, but then he translates the works of others only.
While there are many who would presume, and for good reason, that a lot of people idle and fritter away their time on social networking sites, there is always an exception with creative and dynamic netizens like Kiriti who have put it to good and constructive use – to display their literary merit, to network with unseen and unknown people across the world for a meaningful and edifying friendship - culminating in a moving philanthropic gesture.
In conclusion, I vouchsafe: I’ve enjoyed reading this book to the hilt for there are many aspects in it I can personally relate to - being an editor, poet, writer and translator of sorts myself, as also a believer in yoga, spiritualism and religion.
(First published at museindia.com, Sep-Oct 2013)