Interview: Poet Gopal Lahiri

Interviewed by Anurag Sharma
Gopal Lahiri
legible in ink
there is cohesion
the marks of the mind
settle in the wooden desk
in a state of dark and soiled
the essence of life and energy
seething, smoking, spilling over
laconic, ambitious, greatest secret
letters, words, or the factual references
chaos of bursting life and existence itself
the images shimmer gently, and then wipe down
call up emotions, rushing past, detonate and run away
Anurag Sharma
Anurag:  Thank you Gopal for taking time to speak to me. Your name is not new for Setu readers. They would certainly like to know more about you, your background and your inspiration for writing. Let us start with your favorite author. Who is your favorite and why?

Gopal: It’s a difficult question and there is no simple answer. So many great authors are there and it will be hard to pick one amongst so many.

Probably Rabindranath Tagore is my favourite author as we grew up in Kolkata, with reading his poems, novels, listening to his songs, watching his dramas and getting absorbed in his artwork. It isn’t the tone of a worshipper but the works of Tagore come to me in all its obviousness, all its innocence, in all its beauty.

In fact, he has shaped our life and probably inclination to write prose or poems comes readily from inside.

Anurag:  What is your favorite book?
Gopal: Again a difficult question to answer but if I single out, it is ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy. Set against a large and finely textured nineteenth century Russia, the novel’s main characters simulates a dynamic imbalance of the society, reflecting the stark contrast of city and country life and the conflicts of love and love lost. This powerful, vigorous and elegant novel has become the definitive text for the generations to come.

Anurag:  What is your favourite movie?
Gopal: ‘Citizen Cane’ by Orson Wells. “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Many felt that Citizen Kane traced many new paths and trails. The cinematography, the story telling, the texture and special effects, the soundtrack with background score — they were all elegant and innovative. As if all woven into an artistic whole by a young director making his first film.

Welles explained the transformation of Kane. Ignorance, he said, was perhaps the genius of the film. “I didn’t know what you couldn’t do. I didn’t deliberately set out to invent anything. It just seemed to me, why not? And there is a great gift that ignorance has to bring to anything. That was the gift I brought to Kane, ignorance.”

 In my opinion it is indeed more than a great movie, it’s a masterpiece and I may say, perhaps stand above all others. I could still remember the movie watched in a film society show in Kolkata long back.

Anurag: Why do you write? What inspires you to write?
Gopal: I don’t know when it started but writing, especially poetry is something which is absolutely essential for me. I guess I love to watch and listen to the people in realms of beautiful earth- how the world is and how the world ought to be. Never really want to grab the readers by their frontal lobes and immediately snag their attention.

You can say that poets live a bit in air but I am lucky in that sense as my science education probably discipline myself to a certain extent.
What I admire most is poetry but I must say it is not an extension of dreams and the most important thing is that it can make a difference. In my poems, the emptiness always ends with hope that’ there will be time to fill it’.

Sometimes my poems represent a multitude of thoughts play into the words and letters. It is true that given the opportunity, words and letters can recreate texture and rhythm and I feel that’s poetry.

Anurag: When did you start writing? What prompted you to express yourself in literature?
Gopal: I started writing in my childhood but seriously during my college days. In the late seventies and early eighties, I used to freelance a lot for a Calcutta based English daily, covering art and cultural events and writing in a few other journals.
Even though I was a student of science and excelled in, I also took a lot of interest in literature. Poetry was always my passion and that perhaps carried me all through my life.
I told elsewhere also that initially, I was more inclined to write prose especially short stories where you can get a more of life, features and essays, in school magazines and local journals. No one in my family discouraged me in any of my extracurricular efforts.

I studied in Presidency College, Kolkata. Like many others, there is no denying that I visited the iconic College Street coffee house more often than not, checking the latest trends in poetry and little magazines per say, sometimes even bunking classes. I was more shifted to writing poems both in my mother tongue Bengali as also in English especially when I enter college. Later on, I find myself more and more fascinated by poetry.

As I said earlier also, the study of science was there and eventually completed my masters in Geology and joined in the National Oil Company looking for oil and gas beneath the surface.

Anurag: How many books have you written so far?
Gopal: Seven poetry collections in English that includes four POD (print on demand) books and five poetry collections in my mother tongue Bengali. My latest English poetry collection is ‘Tidal Interlude’ I love writing in both languages, English and Bengali. I have translated in Bengali (from English) a short story collection from Israel and the book was published from National Book Trust of India  If I may say so the translation work is well received.

Anurag: What book/creation of yours is your favorite?
Gopal: I don’t think I could live without poetry and my books. The experience of writing a poem is more exciting than to look back at your poem once it was written. ‘Living Inside’ is my favourite creation. Perhaps the title means a lot. Perhaps I speak less here. Perhaps these poems can’t be read aloud. Setting aside the peripherals, the poems looked more focussed and have an emotional and psychological depth. True, this poetry collection is close to my heart.
But in my last poetry collection, ‘Tidal Interlude’, I deliberately moved away from myself and created a space for others also to enter and soak into my pool of thoughts and reflections.

Anurag: Tell us about your target audience
Gopal: Honestly I love to reach all ages of life. There is nothing as such target audience for me. Remember what Lord Byron says ‘A drop of ink may make a million think’. Now It may be ‘A tap in the key (board) may make a million think! I believe in ‘Keep it simple’ and ‘Keep it snappy’ theory. Not sure, what will be its impact.

Anurag: What was your biggest learning experiences in your literary career
Gopal: Not to deal with trivia, nor sticking to certain sacred principles, never bothered by the constellation of magic words and try to focus only on the search not for gentility but for something that belongs to us and at the same time it escapes us always.

Anurag: What did you do right that helped you break in?
Gopal: May be the wealth of reflections of everyday life that I collect in my mind and translate later into words.. Being a earth scientist, I have to travel a lot and watch the life in realms of nature. May be that help me to break in if at all.

Anurag: What do you do for living?
Gopal: I am an earth scientist exploring and exploiting hydrocarbons beneath the earth. For drilling wells in search of oil, I actually strive to capture the anomalies and nuances of the nature. Oil also resides in the mind like poetry or any other form of literature and arts. Currently I am located in Mumbai.

Anurag: What would you have done differently if you could do it again?
Gopal: Certainly not the other way round. But probably dig deep inside and bring out all the success keys that put me on the pedestal. This may be ironic but then again it may not. Honestly speaking, I don’t have any lingering regrets about something that I haven’t done in the past.

Anurag: Your writing advice to new authors?
Gopal: Read more and write better if one is going to succeed at it. Be evocative, thoughtful, lucid and fluent. I am reminded of Emily Dickinson’s poem: the soul should always/stand ajar/ready to welcome/the ecstatic experience.

Anurag: Tell us something special about you to surprise our readers
Gopal: Nothing in particular. Besides writing, I love travelling and photography and post my creations in various social networking sites. Music and watching sports are also my favourite pastime. Not sure those will surprise anyone at all.

Anurag: Thanks for talking to me Gopal. Best wishes!