Talking on 'Cities: Two Perspectives': A Fliptalk with GopalLahiri and Sunil Sharma

                                                       About the Book
Cities: Two Perspectives’ by Gopal Lahiri & Sunil Sharma proves to be the finest example of this. Poems in this volume show the city Mumbai from different perspectives and U Atreya Sarma in the foreword says exactly this. He says here in this context: “The perspectives are not the fleeting impressions of a casual tourist but of two poets whose base has been Mumbai for a long time. Though the title mentions it as ‘Cities,’ the poems are almost entirely about Mumbai only – barring one with a few references to Delhi, Chennai and Paris; yet the characteristics of Mumbai can be seen in almost every city in the country, with minor distinctions. Thus, in spirit, the City of Mumbai is not a species but a genus.”* Together these two poets give their readers thirty poems each and through these poems they “capture the colour and contours, the sound and silence, the face and pace, the grime and grace of the behemoth Mumbai, its round-the-clock light as well as its dark patches... the varied moods of the city, from dawn to dusk to midnight to dawn; from its sea to its interior land, from the top of its skyscrapers to the bottom of its subterranean crannies, from its metropolitan core to the suburban fringes.” (Sarma *)

The thirty poems of Gopal Lahiri show the alternative reality of Mumbai lies beneath the concrete and commercial nature of Mumbai. For him “City, the word itself evokes an image and space that is different for everyone. A city draws people from every walk of life and shines in all its pleasure and pain. As they say, every city be it New York, London or Mumbai, never offers a dull moment.” (Preface, 9) The thirty poems of Sunil Sharma also deal with the city life. This section is named as ‘Poems by Sunil Sharma’ and thirty poems are “30 Scenes: Cities within a City-Mumbai, Main and Extended.” Before going to discuss briefly this section let us take a look at the confession of Sunil Sharma in another collection namely “Ideas Images Texts.” Sharma in the beginning of this volume confesses: “When observing the daily grind—the highly-regulated existence and systems in the urban centers—ideas pop up and then turn into images, a creative piece is born. The process of rapid transformation—from concept to ideation to execution—is intriguing. Realties encountered can be the source of a poetics rooted in the world experienced by the sensitive observer. Poetry—such transformations—is about this life only. With gods and kings gone, the everyday gets poetic for the eye and fresh narratives get composed.” (A Short Confession, Ideas Images Texts 7)

Goutam Karmakar: First of all thanks to both of you for providing us this beautiful collection on city lifeand keeping the tradition alive of Bombay poets.

Gopal Lahiri (GL) & Sunil Sharma (SS): Welcome Goutam.

GK: For both of you Mumbai seems to be the first home. While Sunil Sharma is still living in Mumbai, GopalLahiri spent a lot of time there. So does this living or spending time Mumbai urge both of you to write poems on Mumbai?

GL:  For sure. Living in a city is very important instrument to the city-craft. You have to build a relationship with the city and in that relationship, you have to be able to identify the essence of the surroundings and the people. Mumbai has a character of its own and one can easily dissolve into and get inspired.

SS: A place serves both as a muse and context, Mumbai being no exception. Geographies and cultural geographies are ecosystems worth a literary exploration. In one of our brain-storming sessions on phone, it was decided to write on the cityscapes we both share to a large extent and experience. Ideas often die young but this project seemed to have worked out to mutual satisfaction and agreed plan. Results are before a discerning audience---a creative collaboration on a mega city that refuses to sleep; a powerhouse; a vibrant financial hub of the nation, and, a world-famous film industry producing dreams in Eastman colour for more than a billion narratives of reconciliations, if not mutinies, as seen by the venerable Naipaul.

The soft underbelly of such a gigantic organism, the Corporation, the conglomerate, fascinates me more than its glamour, now declining due to lot of factors. Call it the other side of urban progress. The groups are left out unseen by the System. Their isolation, powerlessness and pain speak directly to my sensitive self. Empathy amplifies that sense of outrage at a democratic system that does not integrate such groups but excludes and erases from affirmative action and collective consciousness. The Forgotten as a plurality become my province, occupation as a plebeian writer---the insulted and the humiliated; the voiceless mass; the deprived section. The rage gets transmuted into word-pictures, images and a poetics of resistance and protest in a subtle manner--- a conscious departure from the stylistics of a formalistic poetry, the current global rage. I posit my poetry and prose as a counter to the ongoing language-obsessed and inward-looking poetry-writing practices.

For me writing is not about linguistic experimentation but a means of getting connected with poor folks. It is truly republican in nature and splendour. Neruda and others guide me in this venture of recording such narratives. Same way, I have responded to Delhi, NOIDA and Gurugaon by focusing on such daily struggles of middle-and lower-classes in those ugly sprawls sans a soul. For me a physical place acts as a stimulant and provides a running frame and setting---call such efforts in prose or poetry as place-pieces; they have got strong imagination, observations and matching idiom, language and style as internal elements of these compositions; all of them published in various countries.

GK: This volume shows the bonding between Lahiri and Sharma. Even it is an equal partnership where both of you have contributed thirty poems each. So can you tell us the reason behind this joint collaboration?

GL: It’s a seamless collaboration. But you are right as it doesn’t always come in the moment. Sunil Sharma is a very renowned poet and I feel humbled to work with him. He actually conceived the idea of the joint collaboration on city-centric poems and we deliberated a lot on theme and content. Mumbai Nagari is fascinating and always excites both of us and it has finally become a logical conclusion that we must work on Mumbai and publish a book of poems. We are also indebted to SudarshanKcherry and Authorspress for publishing this elegant book.

SS: Already given my side of the story or that elusive Eureka moment. No need to rephrase except the fact that Gopal and I enjoy good rapport and are comfortable, never in competition. The relationship has worked well.

GK: In Mumbai the poetry never ends. This city has given us poets like Nissim Ezekiel, Dom Morales, Adil Jussawalla, Gieve Patel, Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre, Ranjit Hoskote and many more. They have written poems on Bombay (now Mumbai) also. So tell us how far do these poets influence both of you to write poems on Mumbai?

GL: Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) has been a muse for many a poet. My night stand is always crowded with poetry books. Nissim Ezekiel, Dom Moraes, AdilJussawalla, Gieve Patel, ArunKolkatkar, DilipChitre and RanjitHoskote are the poets whose work I love. I never think of any influence but surly get inspired by their wonderful poems.  It seems like that. I still remember these lines of Dom Moraes: ‘My native city rose from sea’ or ‘his sentences fall, soundless, like the leaves/ swept up in parks, and burnt: like poetry.’Who can forget the stunning lines written by DilipChitre: ‘A fouled Sun rises from behind the textile mills/ As I crawl out of my nightmares and hobble..?’ or ArunKolatkar’s ‘I lean back in the armchair/and Bombay sinks’?

SS: Although broadly familiar with their works and styles, I would confess I am on my own---like every artist. You do not imitate others; you write your own version of realities around. Same settings generate varied individual responses. Each of the writers carries a different Mumbai or Delhi or Kolkata or any other location.It all boils down to a singular perspective and inherent ideology. So no long-term influences except the enduring ones exerted by the likes of Dos Passos, Baudelaire, Pound, Eliot, Kafka, Gorky, Picasso and Monet.

Gk: Both of you here composepoemson Mumbai and it's lifestyle. But a close reading reveals that Lahiri and Sharma project this city in their own ways. So can you both explain the ways by which your poems can be differentiated from one another?

GL: I don’t judge but I feel Sunil Sharma captures the urban landscape with its images and richness beautifully in his poems on Mumbai. He translates the city into a creative world beyond the borders where we exist. In search of a city within a city, I am more enchanted by the surroundings with its smell, sound, fissures and lineaments and their intricate relations with the people. Our readers can better dissect our poems.

SS: Each comes with a different sensibility. Even siblings come with varied shades of temperament; perceptions can change and be relative within same family with shared values.Our modes of cognition are calibrated differently. That variety brings freshness and vitality. Similar objects are viewed from subjective positions that cannot be homogenized and should never be.This variety ushers in vitality in arts.

GK: Both of you here show sympathy for the downtrodden. But of you satirize the elite class for being less sensitive. I guess both of you use to dream of a better societal structure in Mumbai. So can you kindly tell the messages that you both want to provide to your readers by this volume?

GL: Honestly, I never intend to pack empowering messages in my poems. Poems that I’m creating are just part of me. Here ‘City’ is the central metaphor. I do believe that our cities are not hell and people are not always ignoring their hearts. It’s not just the grim depiction of despair but celebrations of nature and life as well. And it is in a way.

SS: For me, no messages via literary texts. It is not propaganda. Art must suggest, not pontificate. It should do consciousness-raising. The reader is autonomous and welcome to form opinions and messages. In some poems, the recording voice might sound bit sermonizing or editorializing---perhaps bits of conscious polemics or dialogic aesthetics---in some parts but mostly, reader will find images being reported and scenes described in these poetic landscapes. You can call them as contrarian pieces that interrogate official versions of progress, development and democracy. They can be read as political as well. The idea is to provide a counter-point. Status quo needs to be questioned.

GK: Thanks for this brief but fruitful discussion on this book. We are waiting for more collaborative works from both of you.

GL&SS:  Thanks GK. It’s a pleasure talking to you. Sure, we might plan something again.

Goutam Karmakar
                                  Works Cited
Lahiri, Gopal & Sunil Sharma. Cities: Two Perspectives. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2018. Print.
Sharma, Sunil. Ideas Images Texts. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2016. Print.

About GoutamKarmakar
GoutamKarmakar is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, Barabazar Bikram Tudu Memorial College, Sidhu-Kanhu-Birsha University, Purulia, West Bengal, India.

                                                          About Gopal Lahiri
Gopal Lahiri
Gopal Lahiri was born and grew up in Kolkata. He currently lives in Mumbai, India. He is a bilingual poet, writer, editor, critic and translator and widely published in Bengali and English language. He has had five collections of poems in Bengali and seven collections of poems in English which includes four POD books published from Lulu Publications, USA. Anthology appearances (among others) include National Treasures, Indus Valley, The Silence within, Indo-Australian Anthology, Homebound, The Dance of the Peacock, Illuminations. His works have featured in printed journals like Indian Literature, Taj Mahal Review, Beyond the Rainbow, CLRI, Haiku Journal and in electronic publications Arts and Letters, Underground Window, Muse India, Setu, Dead Snake, Tuck Magazine, Debug, Eastlit and Coldnoon Diaries. His translation works in Bengali Not Just Milk and Honey, (published by NBT, India), a collection of short stories of Israel is widely acclaimed. He has jointly edited the anthology of poems: Scaling Heights and is the recipient of the Poet of the year award in Destiny Poets, UK, 2016. He can be reached at & 
                                                          About Sunil Sharma
Sunil Sharma lives in Mumbai, India. He is a widely-published Indian critic, poet, editor, translator, essayist, literary interviewer, and fiction writer. He has already published three collections of poetry, one collection of short fiction, one novel and co-edited five books so far. He is the recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets' inaugural Poet of the Year award---2012. Recently his poems were published in the UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree-2015.
He can be reached at,
Twitter: @drsunilsharma, LinkedIn: His recent publications can be seen via this link

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