“Don’t ask my sister (poetry) for a loan”: In Conversation with Jaydeep Sarangi

 - Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

Before we begin with the conversation let me reintroduce Jaydeep Sarangi to the readers of SETU:

Jaydeep Sarangi is a widely anthologized and reviewed bilingual poet with eight collections in English, the latest being Heart Raining the Light (2020) released in Rome.  Sarangi has read his poems on different shores of the globe. Jaydeep is Vice President, Guild of Indian English Writers Editors and Critics (Kerala) and Vice President, Executive Council, IPPL, ICCR, Kolkata. He had a great venture with the Australian Poet Rob Harle, and thus, paved a new path for Indo-Australian Writings with six anthologies together including Voices Across The Ocean (2014), Homeward Bound (2015). His Home Thoughts: Poetry of the British Indian Diaspora (2017) with Usha Kishore has been widely acknowledged and is gradually attracted by the wide-readers, and has come into the scholastic discussions. With Dr. Amelia Walker he is guest editing a special volume for TEXT (Australia), which is due in November 2020. With Malsawmi Jacob, he has collaborated for a book, Prose Writings from North-East India through Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. Among his recent awards, the Setu Award of Excellence for 2019 (USA) and SUFI AWARD for Indian English Literature (2020). He is a college Principal involved in the poetry movement for social change anchored in Kolkata, India. Email: jaydeepsarangi@gmail.com
Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

 

SGR: We know you as an acclaimed academician, an award-winning poet, an able administrator, a social activist, a short story writer. Tell us something about the real you. In moments of solitude, how do you converse with yourself? What are your apprehensions? What are your uncertainties? What are the doubts that still haunt you?

 

J.S.: Green trees wear my spirit. Rice has got strange wings of the heart. Memory carries me to strange lands. I’m held by new promises with colours of soft morning rain. My mind is in the blue waters of oceans after the quarantine. I always see a house of promises.

My horse is waiting outside uncertain faiths. I fear miscommunications. Language is an open game. Life is a journey. I enjoy every single moment of this. Life has given me so many things--good friends, honest and caring parents, wonderful collaborators, soul makers, caregivers, healers, beautiful riversides, amazing fellow poets, concerned colleagues, etc. The Himalayas taught me so many things. Small rivers are in me.  I sit in the turn of the muddy road. I think a lot. Looking from the top is neutral. A sense of detached neutrality is a virtue to me.  Starts give me good sleep at night.

 

SGR: Tell us some interesting incidents of your childhood? Tell us about an incident from your childhood which left an indelible imprint on your mind. As a child were you shy? Were you garrulous? Or a reclusive one?

J.S.: I had a much-disciplined childhood. Cricket was a constant company. I played a lot of games. I used to bowl very fast and developed my batting later on. Kapil Dev is my all-time icon—a Renaissance man! What an inspiration! My daughter is a cricket manic now. She is carrying the gene and the motion.

Childhood memories are the doors to happiness. So many to count! Jhargram is known for its deep jungles and lively minds. Its red soil is my sap for life. I always think that Jhargram has a soul.

I lost my only brother too early.  That evening is still alive. Cry of a lifetime!  I remember all those worried faces around him. My mother was not well.

My father was my smile and my playmate.  I was shy, for sure! But, I used to take part in debates, quizzes, recitations, etc. Sourav, Surajit, Rajib, Sudipto, and some other good friends gave me a character. The influence of Sourav on me is permanent. I paint my house in his colours even though we live on two distant continents! There was also some figure in marble I longed to see. I revisit them in a dream.

 

SGR: We often describe the Poet as a legislator or even a Prophet. What is prophetic about poetry?

J.S.: A poet hopes, through his poems, to unsettle received signals, to bring new experiential truths to the table, and to build bridges across time, allegiances, and minds. A poet is to write and communicate truth in his poetic way. This is, in a way, prophetic. One shouldn’t consider poetry as flat as toothless gums and shrivelled skin. Its volcanic power can topple states. That’s why many poets were arrested in the history of man. Many were expelled from the Universities. A true poet is a lawgiver of the day. Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra, Roberto Bolano, Giorgos Seferis never compromised with tangible truths. Many of them were diplomats by profession. A true poet is a free person.

Poetry is also a criticism of the life and manners of the time. It exposes the sordidness and boredom of postmodern life. A poetic mind unburdens this sacred intuitive inclinations clothed in a ‘priestly robe’. Poetry is a record of tranquil moments spurred by the need for figurative explorations of experience. It’s about life and truths about life. A poem is not necessarily a soul’s spanking weather. It is a powerful art form. I always consider poetry a deep realization of life. At times, it is political. Its strong and pungent lines mirror a political society. There are so many social and political satires in the history of poetry in different languages. A poet is a committed artist who takes his readers towards the aesthetic celebration of the self and nature, and records twists and turns of a sensitive heart.


SGR: How do ordinary people look at a poet?


J.S.: Poets are often classed as ‘escapists’. I don’t subscribe to this partial view. Poets engage us with their magical felicity enforcing certain predicaments of life, ‘the weariness, the fever, and the fret.’ Poets are not always pale warriors. They bring peace and order to the land and its people. Their meditations on pains and pleasure come out of intense experiences of life’s various shades.

Some people find poetry very difficult. Some consider it as written for a select group who can play with words and ideas. Ideas in poetry, at times, are farfetched. Conceits are hard to digest. But, once we penetrate, we have a casket of delight. It’s like getting coconut water. The linguistic distancing is not an excuse to banish the poets. Epic poems are sagas of life and society. So is lyrical poetry. Poets tutor us to dream. Men should dream. Dreams can create doors for happiness. Poetry has a healing touch. Writing/ reading poetry is like prayers we make every day for a better tomorrow.

For me writing poetry is my participation in a cultural movement for change. I read poems by the marginal writers as their voices/cries for justice in all spheres. Here is a poem by Shyamal Kumar Pramanik,

 

Untouchable
 
The man runs out
To write a poem on fire
Disregarding the inequality
He runs in the main street like God
I ask him, who is he?
He replies, I’m Shambok
The Untouchable.  (Translated from Bangla by Jaydeep Sarangi)
 


SGR: With so many poets around us each trying to eke out a name please tells us who is interested in poetry except for the poet himself/herself?

J.S.: Poetry can be a reason for living. It can defeat the threats of death. Poets are good friends of the society. There are poetry lovers who don’t write poems. Poetry is close to hearts. Some write it with the brain. Wit and humour are its ornaments. Poetry has a unique appeal to ears. Anyone can identify how to differentiate  from raw prose. Its flow and rhythm give life force to common men. The song is also a poem with musical components. It can lead us to different moods. When we read Rabindranath Tagore we take part in an artistic process. Involvement is all. Look at the popularity of world poets. People read Shakespeare and Keats generation after generation. No hungry mouth can stop its eternal flow. It’s open to all. No door is closed. Each wall is a door. It’s about men. Poetry will survive all viruses, wars, social distances, new technologies, etc.



SGR: Do you think poetry can apply balm to the bruised psyche of modern times?

J.S.: Modern life is a life in fragments. We live in islands, contactless. With the advent of smartphones men only click likes without even reading the full content. There is a Sun in every person. The busy mundane and materialistic schedule has taken away our innate innocence. Poets explore that light of hope.  Poets are committed to bringing us to that blessed state of the mind. Reading poetry can be therapeutic. Poetic cadence can work like fingers on a musical instrument. Poetry is a peace enforcing act. Let me share with you a poem  of mine written in April 2020,

 

Homebound
 
There is peace after a homely noise
my mother sleeps safely after the evening chants.
 
The earth watches
I take the pigeons out every day.
 
Every pain has a remedy
with men and women rising.
 
Fair green Mistress
I bear a rooted grief.
 
I speak with your words.
I peel out the juice of happiness.

 

For me, poetry is a fair green mistress. I live with her. I take her for night rides with me. She is my darkness. She is my light post. She is my daughter of hope. She is the sister of the earth. Don’t ask my sister for a loan. I swear, I shall always keep her in good humour.


SGR: Do you think that poets intentionally inject metaphors and similes into their poems or is a poem a natural product of a poet's imagination?

J.S.: Poetry comes from within. It grows within a poet. Training helps. Metaphors and  imiles are ornaments. Thoughts or ideas are cardinal in poetry. The selection of cadence and words add poetic qualities to the body of a poem. Imagination works like flash floods. It runs riot in a poet. It appears all of a sudden, from nowhere. Flashes come like cloudlets in succession.  A poet’s task is to stitch them in unison. In the lines of poet Bibhu Padhi,

“I touch the stone’s cold, move
My lean fingers over its surface (.)”

Poetry is an act of gathering truth in the dark where a smile is known and soon forgotten. Imagination is a divine faculty. It’s like an acquaintance with fire. Can man live without it?


SGR: What is the difference between poetry that inspires us and poetry that is conspired in rotten order?

J.S.: A poem is a congress of ideas. My poems are armed with love, grit, fortitude, nostalgia, and hopes. Let me imagine my poetic vision as a female self. One day she bleeds, screams, and cries in despair. The next day I take her to a correction home. She gives us a baby. It becomes a moment of ecstasy. Poetry overcomes the history of backaches. It’s an act of survival for those who embrace its soul forever. 

Let me share with you a recent poem (from Heart Raining the Light, 2020):

 

Rain in My Heart
 
Green trees are wearing my spirit
Rice has got strange wings of the heart.
 
Memory  carries me to strange lands
wild as Nataraj against a darkening cloud.
 
 Rain breaking everything,
all laws, only wishes.
 
I’m held by new promises
with colours of soft morning rain.
 
My horse is waiting
Outside uncertain faiths.
 
Blue waters of oceans after the quarantine
Keep me a stranger in the house of promises.
 

For me, writing poetry is an exercise. A game, perhaps. It’s searching. Search for a happy abode somewhere, at some corner of my home of thoughts. Only daylight has its key. I don’t recall an owl’s late cry in disorder.


SGR: As a poet how would you define evil and good? Are they absolute terms?

J.S.: Margins are fragile. Good and Evil are relative terms. Moral extremes are fuzzy. Society is a fast-changing machine. Liberal inclusive ideas are fruits of our educated minds. New ideas are pouring in. I consider whether anything is harmful or beneficial to humanity. Any move against humanity, equality, and peace is evil. Good is a positive vibe. Feel good is a well-being concept in psychology. Poets should work for an ideal society where each one has a good space. Writing poetry is returning to one’s mother. Visiting my mother is always a holy act.


SGR: This is a personal question-- do you believe in destiny? What is destiny according to you?

J.S.: It is no secret that poets are intensely fascinated with death and that, for them, death is a soulful state. Reading John Keats is an ennobling act. He takes us to a romantic world where life is a lived dream. But, how can we call him a grave charmer?  Death is invoked as an object of infatuation. The idea of death haunts the poets as a romantic dream. Poets are promise keepers between the outer world and the self. There are a few things to be crossed over so that we can reach our destiny. We live through adult miseries. Some of us reach out to our goals. Some of us stop, take turns, and walk slow. Our routes are different. Our missions are varied. All rivers do not empty in other rivers. Life is an ongoing process. My destiny is different from what was in my childhood days. I reset my course of life.  I wanted to be a cricketer. I end up as a soul maker. Life gives us lessons. It surprises us. We only can count milestones in between. Years lie in wait.


SGR Why does a poet write? Why do you write?

J.S.: One writes to make a timely home for oneself, on paper, and in others' minds. I write to make peace with the things I meet with. I write to create the green in a world that often appears black and white for daily routine repeat ions of acts and things. I write to discover images and ideas in me. I write to uncover my past. I write to meet my different selves. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change. I write to bring another angle to honour beauty. My words have roots in my land and people. I write to correspond with my friends and fellow poets. I write as a daily act of improvisation. I write against oppressive machinery and for democracy in all spheres. I write myself out of my land and people and figures in my dreams. My words are my armoury to fight against injustice and malpractices.


 SGR: A man/woman is born not just to his/her parents, but he/she is born in a system. Can he/she defy the immediate system?

J.S.: Parents give biological birth to a child. But, a child is a result of the social system. Social forces are difficult to overcome. Stereotypes are age-old conventions. A child learns the structures and imitates them in the process. Upbringing is a process. A child forms things as a habit. It takes natural order of time to relearn things. For a Dalit poet, community angst, angst against age-old injustice, cry for equality are integral. Poets are saviours of the lost world. We paint our houses. We present ourselves as superstars in the market. We sell ourselves as parts as products in a consumer society. Something is missing somewhere. Poetry is the missing link.

The stupid wind foretells a long story of desire and longing. Promises rise with the rising Sun. One can take the soul of a cyclonic monk and revamp the social practices with words of wisdom and experimentations with the truth. That’s why a hero is respected. Think about cricket, Kapil Dev, the Renaissance man who revolutionized Indian society with indomitable spirit and self-confidence. Indian cricketing tradition of the slow process was broken for all good reasons. He gave us a fresh spirit to win amid all odds in trying circumstances. He made impossible things possible. I watched him performing again and again. I learn from him. Think of Swami Vivekananda, who demolished all rotten structures. His mission was an eye-opener for the masses. Man can make, man can break. He can challenge the sun’s mellow orange colour. Biology is not destiny. I walk out of that room of thoughts. Each small act is a part of the structure re-mapping.

 

SGR: We would like to know about your present volume of work/new venture/project/ collections/books…

J.S.:  With Dr. Amelia Walker, worked on an interesting issue for TEXTJournal of Writing and Writing Courses, Australia. It may be released in early November 2020. It is going to add fresh values to India Australia's literary partnerships.

I have submitted an updated manuscript for a reprint of the book, Presentations of Postcolonialism in English: New Orientations. I’m expecting the book very soon.

I am collaborating with Carole ROZZONELLI and Alessandro MONTI, and now giving finishing touches for the book, The Partition of Indian Women to be published through a grant from Université Lumière Lyon 2, France.

I am also working with Malsawmi Jacob and we have submitted the final manuscript on Short Prose Writings from Northeast India for Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.

Also, I am working with Prof. Zinia Mitra, translating the noted Dalit poet Kalyani Thakur’s powerful poems for a collection. I’m also acting as a peer reviewer for a couple of prestigious journals abroad. In between, I compose some poems. I get back to the poems already drafted. The plate is busy.

 

 

SGR: Thank you Prof Jaydeep for the interview, and these insightful replies, and now before we wrap up we would like to have your message/advice for the aspiring poets.

JS.: Writing is an ongoing process. It takes turns. Good writing stems from long daily waiting. We should read poets of the world from different backgrounds. The style grows within. On a personal note, what may come, I read poems at least for an hour every day. There are so many things to learn. The choice of words is important for a poem. The use of myth, allusion, reference, and symbol needs a proper understanding of the forms. Reading myths and legends of different countries help. Life should be felt at heart. Writing is feeling aloud. Creativity is a smoky rope.  Its colour is cold!! Feel it! Smell it!


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