Setu Dialogue: The Author Interview: Sunil Sharma in conversation with Braja K. Sorkar

Braja K Sorkar
Setu: Welcome to the Setu dialogue! Braja K Sorkar, in third person, please!

BKS: Welcome you too, Sir. It is my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me from 'Setu' magazine. Before starting the conversation, I would like to present my brief introduction which will surely not be irrelevant.

I am a creative bilingual author, editor, Critic and translator. I have been editing and publishing a Bengali language literary magazine 'Tristoop' for 23 years. I have published Ten (10) titles in Bengali in my credit, including a book of literary essays and one title of Assamese poetry and one title of English narrative in Bengali translation. I also published a collection of my English poems, titled ”Syllables of Broken Silence”. I edited and published an International Anthology of World English poetry, titled’ Voices Now: World Poetry Today’. Recently, I launched an International English Literary Journal, “Durgapur Review’, edited by me. It is a venture of ‘Tristoop Books’, an emerging publisher of English language from Durgapur, near Kolkata, India. Apart from my creative work in Bengali and English, I am working as a regular Translator, associated with National ‘Sahitya Akademi’ and other institutions in India. I As a publisher, I am associated with 'Tristoop Publications' and ‘Tristoop Books’, 

Setu: Tell us about your latest book of poetry. 

BKS: I am a bilingual author. I published six books of poetry in my mother language -Bengali to my credit. The last one is’ Selected Poems’. In English, a collection of English poetry, titled’ Syllables of Broken silence’ was published in 2021. Now I need some more days to publish the second book.

Sunil Sharna
Setu: What was the immediate inspiration for it? How did it happen?

BKS: Well. In fact, I started writing poetry in English since long Not regularly, but occasionally, published them in a few English Online magazines. It took many years for publication in a form of Book. During that period I focused on primarily on Bengali poetry, besides other writings in Bengali and I could not invest enough time for English poetry. I got inspiration for English poetry from my regular reading as I myself is a regular reader of English literature since my college life. On the other hand, I have a special love for Indian poetry in English. I have a lot of collections (anthologies) of Indian poets in English which inspired me and helped me to write English poems very much.

Setu: Its broad influences, contexts and concerns? The overarching motifs, threads and ideas that unify the collection of poems?

BKS: Dear Dr. Sharma. Nice question. Readership is important to me. To be a good poet, a person should be a good reader also. I believe and think in this manner. I have two entities of authorship, Bengali and English. While choosing of my English poems for this collection, I was careful, but had a little bit of confusion as well and concerned for its readership also. On the other hand, I was confident about their creative quality to some extent. This factor ultimately motivated me to publish a book of my first English poetry. 

Setu: As a bilingual author, do certain common themes get explored in both Bengali and English? Or, these get different treatments and focus? Or, totally different in each language?

BKS: Certainly, there are certain common themes which get explored in both Bengali and English. But both languages have their own style of writing- Writing style, form and syntax are different. Moreover usages, idioms and phrases in English language are different from Bengali Language. Keeping in mind all the factors, one needs to compose English poems accordingly. I always try to do in this way. My focus is to write a good poem according to the prevailing or contemporary standard language. Language is getting changed with time. I am aware of this changes. 

Setu: The linguistic play, syntax, mood and imagery; the structural side, the overall flow and forms, how do you manage the complex elements of these two important languages?

BKS: I have almost answered to this questioned as above. I understand – poetry is not simply feelings. It is experiences. Though I write in two different languages, but I remain the same person with different moods, imagery, flow of thoughts and form also. Whenever I try to write in English, I forget Bengali style of writing. I concentrate on English language only, I try to write based on my experiences got from study of English poetry, Indian Or Western. It helps me to write. In fact, it is very complex, indeed. Creative writing itself is a complex job. It needs serious and smart work. Besides, I am a learner as well, which is a continuous process. 

Setu: What are the verbal and stylistic continuities in Syllables of Broken Silence? Things that return often as preoccupations needing expression and release?

BKS: Most of the poems included in this collection were composed much earlier. Being a creative person, some poetic thoughts always play in my mind. Some feelings as well, which I want to translate into a poem. And the form and style: they also grow inside me but express them in the manner I feel communicative and easy for readers. But my reading experiences also helps me to choose them. As per as theme is concerned, I always focus on inner world of human being, psychological elements, human values, besides, themes associated with love and sorrow etc. On the other hand, I also think about Craftsmanship of writing. It is very important. What I write is not important, How I write is more important. 

Setu: Bengali has produced some outstanding authors. Your favouraite ones that have enriched your understanding of the craft and world?

You are very right. We got many outstanding authors. The most outstanding author, in other word, the most versatile Bengali creative personality is R N Tagore, the first Nobel laureate of Asia. After Rabindranath, Poet-novelist Jibanananda Das is the most brilliant and influential writer in Bengali literature. Apart from this, Bengali prose literature has seen many talented writers such as Vibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Manik Bandyopadhyay, Tara Shankar Bandyopadhyay, Sharadindu Bandopadhyay, Shyamal Gangopadhyay, Kamal Kumar Majumder etc Contemporary famous poet such as Shankh Ghosh, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Bhaskar Chakraborty, Alokranjan Dasgupta, Pranabendu Dasgupta, Joy Guswami, Ranajit Das and a few more enriched me by their craftsmanship. Now young generation poets are trying to create new forms and Hybrid words for new generation poetry. Experimenting new poetic language by young poets. 

Setu: Your views on the Indian Writing in English (IWE)? How does it compare with the literatures of Indian languages?

Well. Indian Writing in English, in other words, Indian English Literature is an important literary genre of Indian Literature as a whole. Indian Literature consist of Indian regional language literature, Sanskrit literature and certainly Indian English Literature. In fact, Indian English literature (Poetry & Prose) is a part and parcel of Indian Literature.It is nearly 200 years old. 

Setu: The writers that appeal in this expanding domain of IWE?

Many Indian writers in English produced remarkable literature in poetry as well as in Prose. Before independence, most of the authors wrote in the Romantic and Victorian English and gradually Indian Poetry in English took shape of modernity. Calcutta ‘Writers Workshop’ a small publisher, played a vital role in promoting Indian poets in English, it published the work of poets like Kamala Das, A. K. Ramanujan, Nissim Ezekiel, Pritish Nandi, P.Lal and many other remarkable poets in English. Poetry of Kamala Das, Pritish Nandi, Nissim Ezekiel, Jayanta Mohapatra, Dom Moraes, Eunice De Souza, Gieve Patel, Dilip Chitre, Keki N Daruwalla, Agha Sahi Ali, Adil Jussawalla, Arun Kolatkar, Jayanta Mahapatra, Bibhu Padhi, Manohar Setty, K Sachidananda, Sudeep Sen and many other senior poets live in India contributed greatly to Indian English literature. There are many young contemporary poets in India and others who settled in abroad also published their work globally. Now Indian Poetry as well as Novels in English has been recognized in International English literature. It is matter of pride, indeed. Arundhuti Roy, Vikram Seth, Salmon Rushdie (India born Writer) received Booker Prize. Gitanjali Shree, an Indian writer has been awarded Booker Prize, She is the first Indian Writer of Indian language (Hindi) who got Booker Prize for her Translated work. 

Setu: As an editor, your experience of curating anthologies? The frameworks and criteria for them?

I made an attempt to publish an International anthology of World English poetry. It is a hard task indeed. It was decided all of a sudden though I had a dream to publish such an anthology. As a reader, I have number of anthologies of Indian poetry in English in my collection. I use to buy books of Indian poetry in English since long apart from Western English literature because I have a special inclination towards it. As I have personal contact with only a small number of poets, I got help from some of senior poets. Fortunately I got cooperation from them.Specially I am grateful to Bibhu Padhi, a renowned poet from Bhubaneswar, India who helped me a lot. From my personal side, I had some contact numbers of poets whom I admire. I grateful to all of them for their sincere support. At last, an anthology, titled ‘Voices Now: World Poetry Today’ was published sometimes back. Initially, my objective was to select poets from English speaking countries including India and other Asian countries. And original English poetry only, No translation work would be considered. Secondly, the poets must have published at least one title in English. Thirdly, maximum three poems on any theme to be considered. These were the criteria. It was a big responsibility for me to publish the anthology as I hold the entire responsibilities for making the project successful. Other two editors associated with me provided some limited support as well. I also thank you for your cordial support to this project. 

Setu: As a reputed publisher of quality books, what is your take on publishing and distribution? Do the literary books sell? Or, is it a myth created by the industry only? A diversionary ploy, as the market is still full of literary products, a kind of contradiction? Is it not?

I try to publish quality books only. But for a small publisher from a country like India, it is very challenging job. Certainly, there is market for literary books. But I need to select the readers and their preference. I want to publish literary books according to the targeted readers. Different kind of readers having different likes and dislikes. Moreover, books are not meant for general public. It takes time to sell out all books at a time, needs investment (time and money). There must be suitable distribution channels also. Therefore, it is easy for a big publisher. But small publishers do not have these facilities. Yes, I believe that Book is also a product to Publishers, involves market mechanism. In case of Bengali readers, they buy books of literature. But it is not a big market, limited to West Bengal and other two states of India plus Bangladesh. You are aware that the largest book fair in the world is the Calcutta (Kokata) Book Fair. Books of millions of of rupees are sold in this book fair. Nowadays, Bengali readers for English literary books are growing in a section of the society. Many multinational publishers are taking part in Indian Market. Middle and upper middle-class people are interest in English books. There are selective readers as well as selective publishers. Now, a small publisher has an opportunity to sell books through online within the country. It is beneficial both to the reader and Seller.

Setu: Your message to young writers seeking avenues of good book publication? How should they approach the market? Through an agent or directly?

Thank You. As a publisher I do have some preference. I encourage those young writers who are serious to their creative work. In case of Bengali literature, hundreds of writers want to get their books published. But it is not possible for a publisher of repute, because the publisher must see that its books are sold, that means the book must have market demand, in other words – literary quality, else, it would be a bad investment. A talented writer, who is known to readers by or his/her creative work published in reputed magazines/journals has a better chance to publish his work. Any such writer may approach to the publisher directly. It is better. Now, it is easy to make contact to the publisher through internet facility. Publishing now is more easy as new technology has been developed for printing of books, But a published should have sound knowledge and creative idea also. A.I is used in publication technology also. Publisher should be well equipped with new technologies and market mechanism as well. Young writers should develop their literary qualities, get them published their work first in good quality literary journals, only then, they should approach to the publishers. As a creative author as well as publisher, I believe that self development is the key to success. 

Setu: Thanks for your time. And best wishes for your poetry book!

Thank you, Sir, for given me an opportunity to share my experiences. Also grateful to SETU, the esteemed literary journal you edit so nicely. Thank you also for reading my poetry book. Best wishes. Namaskar.

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