‘Muffled Moans Unleashed’: Interview with the Two Co-Editors Who Collaborated To Humanize the World

Satbir Chadha

“What would be the future of the children in India where one child is sexually abused every fifteen minutes, according to government records?”
“What faith can we have in a world where there is forced prostitution, genital mutilation, female feticides, abuse on the differently abled, mentally challenged children, heinous crimes perpetrated by not only criminals, but also within families?”
These are some questions posed in the preface of the anthology ‘Muffled Moans Unleashed’: An Anthology on Abuse/Gender Violence co-edited by Dr. Santosh Bakaya and Lopamudra Banerjee, two eminent and socially conscious authors based in Jaipur, India and Texas, USA respectively. In 2018, when the brutal news of the rape and murder of Asifa Bano, the girl of Unnao, Divya was making headlines, the two authors closely connected to each other through writing collaborated for this cause-driven anthology and it became a movement of sorts. 150 writers, poets, artists, filmmakers joined in for the cause. The objective was to humanize the world, and enable the society with tools of dissent to eradicate gender violence and domestic violence. Author and poet Satbir Chadha, who is one of the contributors of this anthology, conducts an interview with the two co-editors and asks them about their journey with this project, and about their other collaborative works.  

Satbir Chadha: What made you take up this topic for your anthology, and do you think a project like this will have an impact?

Dr. Santosh Bakaya: It was the time when one rape after another was shaking the nation, while we watched with benumbed horror, wringing our hands in impotent rage.  We, as writers yearned to do something. Writing is indeed a powerful tool and I believe, we are swordsmiths, who can bring about nonviolent revolutions, shaking the very foundations of a nation. So through this anthology, we wanted to pour all our anger and seething indignation on paper and it was indeed heartening to see that all the contributors had the same feelings about gender violence and child abuse. Contributions from all over the world, started pouring in and we realized that all of them seemed to be echoing the words of Lucille Clifton, who puts it in ‘Sorrow Song’ so poignantly: 
“for the eyes of the children, the last to melt, the last to vaporize, for the lingering eyes of the children, staring, the eyes of the children of Buchenwald, of Vietnam and Johannesburg, for the eyes of the children of Nagasaki, for the eyes of the children of middle passage, for Cherokee eyes, Ethiopian eyes, Russian eyes, American eyes, for all that remains of the children, their eyes, staring at us, amazed to see the extraordinary evil in ordinary men.”
 
Yes, words do have an everlasting impact on the psyche of people, it can bring about a churning in minds and make one introspect. At the same time, we, very well know that words are not magic wands that can miraculously set this topsy- turvy world right. But, through our words, we can at least, keep creating a fair and just world, where the callous disregard for women has become a thing of the past and the carefree laughter of children rings in bursts of pristine joy, untethered by any fears.  Clasping the hope close to our hearts that someday our earnest words and the real world unfolding around us, will match, we move on.

 Lopa Banerjee: I would like to reiterate the words of Santosh Ma’m, my co-editor here that writing and dissent of any kind are powerful tools, with the ability to bring about nonviolent revolutions. Sharing a few words from my preface of the anthology ‘Muffled Moans Unleashed’ which might be relevant in this context:
Can poetry, art, writing, or dissent of any kind, created by a group of poets, writers, artists, activists on the whims of an overarching message really serve as a means of awakening, a vehicle of protest, a vessel of revolution? To remember the words of Leo Tolstoy, art is “one of the means of intercourse between man and man.” Amid the most turbulent times in history, the purpose of writing and literature, art has been to empathize, empower and humanize society.”
Legendary poet, essayist, speaker Maya Angelou had famously quoted: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” It gave me the inspiration to come out with my voice so many times over, like many others I am sure. When I happened to come across repeated news of various gruesome acts of violence inflicted on woman and children since a long time now, after a point it occurred to me that I was not doing anything worthwhile as a writer, thinker and poet if I didn’t raise my voice for this cause. I have previously written about child sexual abuse in my book ‘Thwarted Escape’ and also about rape and violence in some of my published poems. But here, not only my own voice, but the collective consciousness of all writers and intellectuals over the globe was necessary to take my initiative a few steps forward. The whole world is going through tough times with the onslaught of so many acts of violence in the name of religion, racism, bigotry, sexism and power-play, and protest must happen in the creative world, in the form of poetry, stories, art and dissent. I am so happy and honored that I made a call for submissions in the social media and responding to that, so many submissions poured in, resulting in a fat anthology of 550+ pages of poetry and short stories/true stories.

Satbir Chadha: I’m intrigued with the concept of co-editing, the logistics of it. I mean do you divide the number of poems and stories and edit your share or do it together like reading and editing together on skype or something?

Dr. Santosh Bakaya:
No, we did not divide the poems or short stories, but took turns revising and editing it. Editing such a huge book was indeed a humongous task, and let me acknowledge the incredible work that Lopa Banerjee put in. A nyctophile, she did not sleep for many a night, working relentlessly on it, doing the major part of the work. It so happened that during this period, I had been up to my earlobes in work, and she took up the responsibility with unwavering concentration.
Lopa Banerjee: Though initially, due to the volume of the submissions, the task of editing seemed intimidating and immensely challenging, we managed to sail through the journey and reached where we are today, with this book. We brainstormed a lot together over phone, messenger and emails to bring out a collection with the most hard-hitting pieces. Can you believe we received as many as 300 emails, and in each of them there were at least a couple of poems or short stories? The task of selecting the best was the most challenging, but once we had a treasure trove of short stories and poems on the overarching theme of abuse and gender violence/domestic violence, we instinctively joined in to edit them, compile them and present them in a format/structure which would be strong and appealing to the readers. It is a blessing to have Dr. Santosh Bakaya to have as my co-editor and this is our third anthology together as editors, the other two being ‘Darkness There But Something More’ and ‘Cloudburst: The Womanly Deluge’. In every anthology, her erudite mentoring and insights have moved me, inspired me and I have derived the choicest nuggets of wisdom from her in every phase of this journey.

Satbir Chadha: Having read the best in English literature, and being powerful writers yourself, how do you deal with mediocre articles?

Dr. Santosh Bakaya: Well, that is a dicey question. We come across many articles, which are indeed mediocre.  Many a time, I have tried to work on it, but in so doing I have ended up changing the entire article – almost ghost writing.  It has proved to be a difficult task.

Lopa Banerjee: Mediocrity is very common, and I would dare say, a rampant reality in modern literature, poetry and fiction these days. Especially the market-driven or commercial fiction which honestly gives me no impetus or inspiration to delve into them beyond two-three pages. However, I am no literary critic or scholar to determine the benchmarks of fine writing, but having worked as an author and editor for a few books, I can now safely say that I can distinguish the good from the bad writing when it comes to my own editorial projects. In Muffled Moans, we chose only the best pieces of writing that appealed to our sensibilities as authors, that found meaning and resonance with us in terms of the theme and its overall treatment and impact.

Satbir Chadha:  How did the contributions impact you psychologically knowing that they’d all be painful stories?

Dr. Santosh Bakaya: Yes, some of the stories were very painful, and it increased the pain for me, as I knew they were fictionalized accounts of true stories. How could there be so much misogyny in this world? So much bestiality? Reading some of them, I could not sleep for many a day, and I went over many stories many a time. There were heart- wrenching poems on Asifa, on female infanticide and on domestic violence, and they played havoc with me. For many a day, my eyes kept tingling with unshed tears, and the heart cried for an end to this brutality and these heinous crimes.
Lopa Banerjee: Being a victim of child sexual abuse and also at the receiving end of many sexist remarks, minor molestation acts in the open streets, I was involved with this book not only as an editor, compiler and co-author (I have contributed a short story and two poems in it, like my co-editor Santosh Ma’m), but was strongly associated with the cause due to emotional reasons. Painting a happy, indolent picture with sugary words and images was not the need of the hour when we decided to curate this collection, in the first place. The sordid reality of the mindless butchering of girl children, the other extreme acts of violence perpetrated on women and children in the name of religion, fundamentalism, communal hatred was hammering away at the core of my heart, and raising voices was necessary. Thus, the stories in it, harsh and agonizing at times, did impact my mind, but after all, the vulnerable emotions and their stark depiction by 150 authors all over the globe proved our immense solidarity with the cause.
Satbir Chadha: Did you have to reject any entries or have the contributors rewrite them, Considering that the quality of the end product was your responsibility?

 Dr. Santosh Bakaya: We rejected a few and we asked a few contributors to rewrite them. It was indeed heartbreaking for us to reject some entries, much as we would have liked to include them. Honestly speaking, including them would have meant, rewriting them as they were grammatically and syntactically challenged and some did not conform to the theme.
Lopa Banerjee: Yes, rejection was necessary, though a painful process, all the more because it was a cause-driven anthology, but we had to pick and choose the ones which resonated the most with us in terms of language, storytelling and poetic depiction of the theme.

Satbir Chadha:  How long did it take from the conceptualization to the publishing of the anthology?
Dr. Santosh Bakaya: From the conceptualization to its fruition, it took us a bit more than six months and the publisher, Authorspress [Delhi] as usual, was supportive all along. We are immensely grateful, as this anthology would not have happened without Authorspress.
Lopa Banerjee: We started talking about curating this anthology around April 2018, as much as I remember, and then the whole process of accumulating the pieces took a while. Editing was a humungous task and it took the most time, and finally, the other aspects of the production. We are extremely proud of the excellent artistic cover design by Tanugatri Majumdar from Kolkata, the printing and the layout of the anthology which is the USP of the book. The strengths notwithstanding, since the very lengthy anthology meant coordination with so many authors from different parts of the world, there might have been a few minor shortcomings, but we have learnt a lot in the process.

Satbir Chadha: Santosh, you have back to back commitments as a literary celebrity and your own students and institute, how do you make time for such huge group projects?

Dr. Santosh Bakaya: Well, Satbirji, let me set the facts right. I am no celebrity, only a small- time writer trying to follow my passion – and when one follows one’s passion, one can find time for it anywhere, any time. As Deputy Director, Higher Education, I had to deal with files, which, was definitely not my cup of tea. Even during that phase, I did not give up writing. Whenever I had a little free time, I would just jot down my feelings. Many of the essays in my book “Flights from my terrace” were written during this period, so were many stanzas of Ballad of Bapu. Teaching is my passion, so is writing, and I have always found time for pursuing my passion, be it in a ramshackle bus perspiring profusely, or in the air-conditioned comfort of trains or planes.  


Satbir Chadha:
Lopa, having compared to the literature of the last century, what do you think of the contemporary writers who contributed to this anthology?
Lopa Banerjee: Literature, in poetry, fiction and nonfiction has evolved a lot, since the classics of the last century, and contemporary literature portrays/depicts the volatile current realities of our times. Literature and art, for that matter, have always been influenced by the characteristics of the times in which they have been born, and the best art in all ages have been born out of the sense of desperation and unrest. Take Dickens’ exemplary novel ‘Hard Times’, or T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste-Land’, or Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’, for that matter. In the same vein, our anthology ‘Muffled Moans Unleashed’ consists of very sensitive and intense writings that depict situations of crisis in humanity and the turmoil in mankind due to the crisis, and I sincerely hope the book will be remembered for a long time for its timely and sensitive content.

Satbir Chadha: Considering the fan following e-publishing has, do you think there is space for traditional books, what are the market trends?
Dr. Santosh Bakaya: More and more readers want e-books, not just the youngsters, but the older generation too.  But I honestly believe there will always be space for traditional books. They will never go out of fashion. Maybe, it is wishful thinking, but at least, I would always prefer books published the traditional way, rather than e-books, although I have started reading books on kindle.
Lopa Banerjee: I second Santosh ma’m here, no matter how much e-books and kindle publishing usurp the hearts and minds of the younger generation, the appeal of physical books in bookstores and libraries will always remain strong in the hearts of true-blue book lovers. I think there are readers for both versions, so most of the publishing houses currently cater to both kinds of readers, and rightly so.

Satbir Chadha: Having done so many successful anthologies from DEFIANT DREAMS to now, are there more projects and themes in the pipeline?
 
Santosh Bakaya: Many ideas keep whirring in our minds, and we want to work on them, but, right now, both of us are working on our solo projects, so anthologies will happen, but at some later date. 
Lopa Banerjee: Yes, it will happen when it has to happen again, and in future we might collaborate on other creative projects too, apart from books only! May be a literature festival, or any other creative production!

Satbir Chadha: With the last decades seeing drastic change in the very basic nature of human relations, do you plan any work with these in mind, I mean the acceptance of same sex and transgenders, quick termination of marriages, children having multiple parents, parents having children with multiple partners, and so on?
Dr. Santosh Bakaya: Yes, there are some contours of such a work taking shape in our minds, but definitely not in the near future, as I have my own books in the pipeline- at least six of them - all in the editing stage, so any such anthology will have to take a back seat at least for the present. 
Lopa Banerjee: Yes, in fact my own collection of stories which I am working on, my debut fiction has many bold, contemporary themes, like the life of a transgender, marriage and live-in relationships and the sexual tension between man-woman etc. In future, we might think about a collaboration on such subjects.

Satbir Chadha:
Thank you Santosh and Lopa for your valuable time, and for sharing your experiences with us and with our readers. Thank you both and bless you.

 Dr. Santosh Bakaya: It was great interacting with you, Satbirji.  Yes, the Delhi launch of the book is yet to happen, hope it happens soon and we have some more animated discussions. Thanks a ton for your wonderful questions, Satbirji.
 Let me also take this opportunity to thank all the contributors who sent us their heartfelt poems, stories, articles and even plays.  Each piece was dear to us, and this anthology would not have happened without their contribution.  Thanks a ton.
Also, I am so grateful for having the opportunity to read my poem ‘Beyond Her Mesh Window’ from the anthology at the scintillating Naari 2019 hosted by Pinkishe in February. This was just after the release of the book in Kolkata by Lopa and I couldn’t have asked for more! 
Lopa Banerjee: Editing ‘Muffled Moans Unleashed’ has been a heart-rending experience, and working on the book has definitely made me a better and more empathetic human being. After a very successful launch of the book in Kolkata in collaboration with Green Tara Social Initiative, consisting of wonderfully enriching panel discussions, film screening on the subject of violence and abuse and poetry readings, I am promoting the book in Texas, USA, where I live, in various platforms including local radio, literary meets etc. Thank you Satbir ji and other contributors for believing that together, we can try to make a difference. Thank you for taking this interview and giving us this wonderful opportunity, we are honored and humbled.

Bios:
Satbir Chadha is an author, poet based in New Delhi, India. She is the author of the highly acclaimed book “For God Loves Foolish People”, her debut memoir for which she has been awarded the REUEL INTERNATIONAL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE 2017. She has contributed her poems in several national and international anthologies, Her short story finds place in SILHOUETTE 1&2, published by Authorspress in 2017. Her latest book is a novel, a medical thriller called BETRAYED, published in November 2017 by Vitasta Publishing Pvt Ltd. Satbir currently lives in Delhi with her family. 


Santosh Bakaya
Santosh Bakaya:
Critically acclaimed for her poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Ballad of Bapu [Vitasta; 2015], academician-essayist-poet-novelist, Dr. Santosh Bakaya is the recipient of the Reuel International Award [2014] for her long poem, Oh Hark! Sanely insane, a pathological procrastinator, a die-hard believer in Martin Luther King’s dream and John Lennon’s Imagine, she dreams of a day when there is ‘nothing to kill or die for’, and ‘all the people sharing all the world’. In May 2016, she was conferred with the Universal Inspirational poet award by Pentasi B friendship poetry group and Ghana government. She is also the recipient of the Poet Laureate Award from The Poetry Society of India. Many of her poems have made it to the highly commendable category of Destiny Poets, a UK based poetry website, besides having figured in many international anthologies. Recently her book ‘Only In Darkness Can You See the Stars’ on Martin Luther King is creating waves in the literary world. Her book of peace-poems ‘Where are the lilacs’, has also won international laurels. Her collection of 58 essays on the joie de vivre of life, ‘Flights From My terrace’ is yet another critically acclaimed masterpiece of literature. Also her recently published novella ‘A Skyful of Balloons’ has received much fanfare and critical acclaim.


Lopamudra Bannerjee
Lopa Banerjee:
Lopamudra Banerjee (Lopa) is an author, editor, poet and writing instructor staying in Dallas, Texas with her family, but originally from Kolkata, India. She has a Masters in English with thesis in Creative Nonfiction from University of Nebraska and also Masters in English from University of Calcutta, India. Apart from writing and editing some critically acclaimed books and being awarded with the Reuel International Prize for Poetry (2017) and for Translation (2016), she has dabbled in all genres of writing, from journalism and content writing to academic essays and fiction/poetry. She has co-edited three anthologies of poetry and fiction with Dr. Santosh Bakaya, and the latest among them is ‘Muffled Moans Unleashed’. She has been interviewed in various e-zines, literary blogs and also at TV (Kolkata) and at radio stations in Dallas, Texas. Very recently, she has been part of the upcoming short film 'Kolkata Cocktail', a docu-feature based on poetry. She loves performing poetry as spoken words art and has performed in various forums in India and USA.  


2 comments :

  1. Very intriguing questions and well stated and explained answers. Congratulations to Satbir Ma'am, Santosh Bakaya Ma'am and Lopa Banerjee for this insightful interview and sharing it with the world.

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