Dr. Amitabh Mitra talks to Prasenjit Maiti about The Romance that is Kolkata.
1. Pritish Nandy was once declared as the poet who touched the heart of Kolkata – ‘Calcutta if you must exile me, destroy my sanity before I go…’ Your poems go far beyond, Kolkata a beautiful woman whom you have romanced, Tell us about the poetry that is Kolkata.
I started experimenting with the prose poetry form a few years back when I first tried my hand in writing continuous prose lines that run (almost tumble on one another!) to form a brief yet tight paragraph (justified) while maintaining an idea, a movement all along the body poetic … There is no real poetry in Kolkata but for those moments of madness that compel someone like myself to toy occasionally with a few words that make precious little sense!!
2. Kolkata has poets in every lane, every street, poets writing in Bengali about love, life and the politics that is embedded in the very fabric encompassing the vibrancy. Do you write poetry in Bengali and English and what do you feel about contemporary Bengali poets, their versatility? Did any one of those poets influence you?
My Bengali writings never did see the light of day so I gave away those exercise books where I used to draft a few silly lines here and there … Among post-Tagore writers I must express my gratitude to Jibanananda Das, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Tarapada Roy, Sudhindranath Dutta and a host of others whom I cannot recall off hand but whose contribution to Bengali literature is nevertheless outstanding.
3. I use to sit at KC Das’s sweet shop in Esplanade and hear poems from sex workers and students, The Coffee House was another such rendezvous which I use to frequent, I loved these lines of yours!
"The morning tram droops an early, hopeless return while the winter wraps around our windshield in and out the vanishing green . . . I walk back home in the company of mists and memories of battles and happen to wag my tail and my tongue when I run into my god …"
Did you write instant poetry while sipping coffee?
Not really … nowadays I do not even write … but I must admit that poetry like any other serious art form gets better and better as one spends more and more time practicing one’s craft and identifying emotions and experiences with a genre and a style that is comfortable in its expressions and evolution.
4. The Times of India declared the film ‘Hathat Nirar Janye’ – ‘All of a sudden for Nira’ as a contemporary poetry in film based on the work of popular novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay. That was love poetry in film. Do you see your prose poems being filmed – a feature or perhaps a documentary?
May be … at least that may mean some easy money to a penurious writer!!!
5. Tagore remains the poet that every Bengali reveres. How do you see his poetry in present circumstances in Bengal?
I am too ignorant to comment on Tagore … but the fact remains that even if Tagore is not directly in the backdrop he is always there as a constant reference point for all the generations to come.
6. You studied in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, a place that can stir your innards and spill out creativity to its extreme limit. I used to be an addict of JNU during the days when Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury ruled the student union, trying my best to relate Medicine, Marxism, Poetry and Love. What was the influence your poetry had during your JNU days?
In fact I started writing in English after I returned from JNU but the University influenced my writings in a major way.
7. Professor Purushottam Lal, Pritish Nandy, and Mukul Sharma wrote about the heady days that once was Kolkata. Can you relate your poetry to the poetry of the seventies?
I cannot but one must admit that it is fun reading the great stuff that was written around that time – my prose poems written in the recent past perhaps best express my failings as a human being and a writer.
Writing is a dog's life but is the only life worth living said Balzac who used to chain himself to his chair while writing his masterpieces. Well I don't really go to such incredible extremes and nobody would believe me if I claimed anything on the contrary but I am at least certain that writing is a great way to converse with yourself and let your emotions of sin, righteousness, indignation, hopelessness, lack of purpose, prudery, sadness and nothingness wash over your mortal frame of reference comprising your pen, paper, laptop, printer and an assortment of goodies that you may prefer to refer to as your very own ideas …
Jokes apart I feel in my occasional lucid moments when I am not quite horny, hungry, sad, afraid or gloomy for no apparent reason that writing is at least an excuse to go on struggling in this meaningless charade of life that more often than not strips you of your essence and leaves you in a sorry state to pick up your shattered egg shells of lost memories and defeated battles … And I try to write in English while nourishing a distant and impossible dream to earn easy money if I happen to catch the frightful fancy of an expensive publishing house!!!
March 26, 2006
The Poetry of Prasenjit Maiti