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An Interview with Kiriti Sengupta

Global Dimension To Bengali Poetry

Interview by Anit Mukerjea

kiriti 5Kiriti Sengupta, a Dental Surgeon and graduate of the University of North Bengal is also the author of other bestselling titles: My Glass Of Wine, a novelette based on autobiographic poetry, and The Reverse Tree, a nonfictional memoir. His other works include My Dazzling Bards [literary critique], The Reciting Pens [interviews of three published Bengali poets along with translations of their Bengali poems], The Unheard I [literary nonfiction], Desirous Water [contributed as a translator], Poem Continuous – Reincarnated Expressions [contributed as a translator]. Sengupta’s works have received critical acclaim Sengupta has also co-edited three anthologies of poetry; Scaling Heights, Jora Sanko – The Joined Bridge, and Epitaphs. His latest creative venture Healing Waters Floating Lamps is a collection of philosophical verses that delves into the magic of healing, complimented by photographs that are eye-catching. While appreciating the book K. Satchidanandan, the renowned poet has stated, “These poems are different from the run-of-the-mill Indian English poems in being far closer to our humdrum daily experiences and their baffling paradoxes and cruel ironies.” Healing Waters has been a bestselling title in the United States [on Amazon]. Here are excerpts from a personal interaction with the poet and translator, Kiriti Sengupta.

kiriti 1

Anit Mukerjea: What inspired you to base your present anthology of poetry on the theme of Healing Waters Floating Lamps?

Kiriti Sengupta: On a recent trip to Varanasi I observed the devotees of Lord Shiva floated tiny lamps in the Ganges. These lamps floated for a long time without extinguishing, the water having a healing effect and the lamps moved on. My present book of verses was first named Crucifixion Is Christ-Filled. This was inspired by one of my poems titled Namesake. However, I was not happy with the title, and I emailed the entire manuscript to Eileen Register, who is a brilliant writer and a poet, living in Florida. It was Eileen who carefully read my manuscript and came up with the title. You know, the title Healing Waters Floating Lamps perfectly compliments the poems that have been included in the book. Now, if you ask me the inspiration behind this anthology of poetry, it was Gopal Lahiri, one of my reviewers who strongly suggested that I must publish an exclusive collection of my poems, for he thought my other books have quite of a few of them woven in nonfictional memoirs. So, this has been the background score. Spirituality and Philosophy have always been an integral part of poetry. The book is all about the philosophies of my life, the way I look at my being!

Anit: You are a Dental Surgeon by profession. What made you choose poetry as your creative canvas?

Kiriti: Does one really enjoy an option of choosing poetry as his/her kiriti 2creative canvas? I don’t think so. Poetry is one of the most condensed form of literature, and it germinates within one’s existence. You don’t have a choice here. Either you have poetry in you, or you don’t. You can’t write poetry just for the sake of writing it. You may learn crafting, but poetry arrives naturally. I must tell you that a few months back I have interviewed the famous Bengali poet Bibhas Roy Chowdhury, and the article [interview] appeared on “Word Riot,” a well-respected, online literary journal published from the United States. In his interview Roy Chowdhury categorically stated, “Poetry involves eternity … I believe, poetry emerges from our lives quite helplessly…”

Anit: What is your take on the flow of ideas in poetry should be spontaneously backed by a stream of consciousness?

Kiriti: Ah! A relevant question indeed. If you ask me what consciousness is I would tell you that it is a larger perspective of your vision. I told you before, my poetry reflects the ways I envision life and its challenges. There is always a stream of consciousness irrespective of the tone, structure, and nuances of the language I use in writing poetry. You know, during the launch of Healing Waters Floating Lamps poet and academic Sharmila Ray read from the poem Evening Varanasi, and she interpreted the title first. She explained, “One must meditate on the title. Sengupta did not write ‘Evening In Varanasi,’ but he wrote Evening Varanasi. Readers have to comprehend the implications of such a title.” Sharmila is one of the prominent Indian English poets of our times, and she has been pretty quick and apt in identifying the ‘streams of consciousness’ in my poems.

kiriti 3

Anit: You have been known to have undertaken translation work of Bengali poetry into English in The Reciting Pens, Desirous Water, and Poem Continuous. What has been the response of these translated poems abroad?

Kiriti: Both The Reciting Pens, and Poem Continuous have been published by Inner Child Press, Limited. This is a small press situated in New Jersey, U.S.A. On the other hand, Desirous Water has been published by The Poetry Society of India, Gurgaon. Among them Poem Continuous has been widely appreciated and reviewed both nationally as well as internationally. I think, globalization of Bengali poetry can be achieved through translation work, and I have been considerably successful in my attempts.

Anit: Don’t you think translation work becomes difficult when two different languages with their distinct separate nuances and idioms whose meaning and dimension may be lost in translation?

Kiriti: You are right. Translators do suffer from apprehensions of conveying the exact nuances of the original language to the target audience. But you know, translators are primarily readers, and interpretation of poetry differs from one reader to another. Therefore, I consider “translation” as “transition.” My approach is to follow the original piece as closely as possible, and I seldom include my interpretations in the translated version, for a “faithful” translation is believed to be the best approach.  I make sure my translation hits the right chord of the target audience as I get my works edited by an expert poetry-editor. Unfortunately we don’t have many efficient poetry-editors in India, and poets at large refrain from getting their works edited. They fail to understand that an expert editor would not impose changes forcibly, an editor finely polishes the surface roughness of a work rather.

Anit: Until now you have collaborated with three American editors. Stephen L Wilson, Kate Lantry, and Don Martin. They have given the requisite edge to your works. Any plans to work with them again?

Kiriti: I’m eternally grateful to my editors. Both Kate and Stephen have been instrumental in editing The Reciting Pens, a book of translated long interviews of three published Bengali poets from Calcutta along with their translated poems. They taught me to identify “lazy words,” and helped me to get rid of irrelevant portions from the interviews in order to make them compact and sharper. Long interviews often tire the readers, but in The Reciting Pens my editors made sure that the interviews read smooth and fresh. I can remember while translating From The Crossroads, a Bengali poem by Ranadeb Dasgupta, I wrote: “During daytime the shops resemble lover boys, while under the halogen street-lamps they have conspiring eyes.” Kate aptly edited the line that finally read as: “During daytime the shops resemble libertines, while under the halogen street-lamps they have conspiring eyes.” From lover boys to libertines, you see, how a word-change rendered better perspective to my translation!

Don Martin, on the other hand, is not only an efficient editor, he is a bestselling author as well. I have worked with him for most of my books. Whether it is my translated work, nonfiction, memoir, or poetry Don understands my breaths quite well. I have picked quite a few of editorial skills from him, and Don has been extremely supportive to my literary endeavors. He is a nice gentleman, and we are now good friends.

my glass of wine

Anit: Your older books like My Glass Of Wine, and The Reverse Tree have done remarkably well in the market. MGOW has been a national bestseller while TRT has been a bestselling title in the United States. Both of these titles got you critical acclaim in several literary journals. Do you think marketing goes a long way towards the success of a book?

kiriti 4Kiriti: Marketing is indeed important to secure immediate readership, but it is the work that will speak for itself in future. In MGOW my objective was to bring more readers to poetry, and I proved my point. Poetry can be cherished even by the general readers of literature if it is presented with narratives or relevant nonfictional prose pieces. MGOW has essentially been a work that centers around poetry, written by me in English-language. In an article published in The Statesman [Delhi ed.] on 23rd of April, 2014 it was documented that MGOW has been a bestselling title across the online portals in India.

The Reverse Tree has been a work of nonfictional memoir that included a few poems. It got several interesting chapters on transgender/transsexual issues, scriptural verses and their influences in my life, racism, mimicry, among others. In a nutshell, TRT projected my journey towards understanding the quest of life. It has been appreciated in international journals like Red Fez Magazine, Word Riot, and I am expecting a review in Muse India, one of the most significant literary journals published in India. I’m thankful to my reviewers who have appreciated my works. Having said that I must add I have my share of negative or not-so-positive reviews, but they only made me alert of my limitations as an author.  

Anit: Tell me something about the anthology Jora Sanko – The Joined Bridge.

Kiriti: Jora Sanko has been a diligent effort of compiling and editing English-language poems by the Bengali poets across the globe. I co-edited the anthology along with Dr. Madan Gandhi, President of The Poetry Society of India, Gurgaon. In this book I have had collaborated with the big names and some extremely talented poets like Debjani Chatterjee, Sudeep Sen, Sanjukta Dasgupta, Sharmila Ray, Ranadeb Dasgupta, Ananya S Guha, Gopal Lahiri, Bishnupada Ray, Jaydeep Sarangi, Debasish Lahiri, Sutapa Chaudhuri, Sujan Bhattacharya, among others. Our effort received appreciations in The Hindu Literary Review, Muse India, among other places. Another exciting achievement is Jora Sanko has been placed in the Poetry Library at the Royal Festival Hall, London. I’m planning to bring out the second edition of Jora Sanko in order to include other Bengali poets who write in English-language.

Anit: What is the response of your present book of poems Healing Waters Floating Lamps? Your reviewers must have been happy with those spectacular verses.

Kiriti: HWFL got published only a few weeks ago. I’m yet to receive reviews, but I’m sure my work would be appreciated by the critics, poets and readers. Let me share the trade facts here: HWFL has been a best-selling poetry title in the United States in Indian Literature, and you know, it ranked first among the “Hot New Releases” in Indian Literature on Amazon [United States].

I don’t know if my verses are “spectacular,” I’ll rather term them “subtle,” or “humble.” You are perhaps aware that I am a spiritual person, and spirituality centers around one’s journey towards realization of the “self.” Spirituality has nothing to do with the so-called “religions.” Religions divide while true spirituality unites. My poems are to deliver certain messages to the readers. Above all, my poems speak about “simple living.”

Anit: When you are penning a Bengali or an English poem is there a subtle difference in the thought processes of those two languages?

Kiriti: Certainly yes. Languages have their characteristic nuances. The way I think when I write a Bengali poem is quite different from the way when I think in English. This is indeed a challenging task for any bilingual poet, but poetry in itself is a cardio-cerebral affair.

Anit: What are the projects you are currently working on?

poem continuous us edition

Kiriti: I’m trying to bring out the second edition of Poem Continuous. The first edition bore only thirty translated poems by Bibhas Roy Chowdhury. And now I would translate another thirty poems of Roy Chowdhury, so the target readers can read more works of this noted Bengali poet. I’m also planning for another book of my verses. I’m yet to finalize the manuscript, though.

– Anit Mukerjea is a poet, writer, and a painter based in Calcutta. He is a columnist with The Statesman for nearly three decades. He has extensively written in other journals and magazines published from Delhi and Mumbai.

My Glass Of Wine by Kiriti Sengupta

my glass of winePaperback: 70 pages
Publisher: Author’s Empire Publication, India (April 26, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 8192861902
ISBN-13: 978-8192861906
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Reviewed by Shernaz Wadia
 
As I held Dr. Kiriti Sengupta’s little book in my hand for the first time, my instant reaction was, “Oh, this shouldn’t be too time-consuming.” I was right in that it took me just a few hours to read it but it is going to take much longer to savour the delight of the wine in it – the heady wine of love and spirituality; of a curious, contemplative and open mind; a large accepting heart – all embodied in the simple, direct words of the writer that make you enjoy and revel in this intoxicating cocktail of prose and poetry. A delightful experience as we take sips from his glass! 
 
It has already been mentioned by others that this book cannot be pigeonholed. As he says in the preface “When I wrote the manuscript I deliberately wrote down what came into my mind. I never considered what genre my book would fit into.” To brand it would be to diminish it. It is a distillation of some momentous pieces…autobiographical word snapshots, each followed by a poem. This book is Kiriti’s humble attempt to take poetry to all book lovers so that it can ‘reach its pinnacle again’. With great simplicity he tackles issues of love, spirituality, relationships, the world and nature as he perceives them and brushes them with his poetic sensibility.
 
He cracks open little drawers and lets us peek into some uplifting moments of his life. The initial glimpse is into his first date with his future wife Bhaswati, which began on a slightly comical note that for him turned into the stepping stone of his literary journey.  His wife to-be was quite amused when she asked him about a Rabindranath Tagore novel and he replied that he didn’t read poetry at all! Because the novel was “Shesher Kobita”! This honest revelation by Dr. Sengupta at the start of the book immediately endears him to his readers and keeps charming them till the end.
 
The poet Kiriti was born from the agony of a painful relationship with a friend to whom he addressed his first poem in Bengali. While he says that with all its innumerable functions and facets poetry should also entertain, he believes that true poetry arises out of total consumption of one’s being.
 
Consumption
 
Consumed time/ like an infant consuming
milk; inevitable/ it remains.
Killed essence of
the eternal soul; and consumed,
Essentially I remain…
 
The second chapter from which the book takes its title shows us another side of Kiriti as he takes us along on a sacred trek. He is gentle but forthright in the weaving of this tale. We get whiffs of the wine that he imbibes spiritually and are given a peep into that part of his life which was experimental and experiential, culminating into the insightful observation that ‘red’- the colour of some wines and of blood – is divinely symbolic in Christianity, Tantric Hinduism and Islam.  Whereas in Christianity, (to which he received formal baptism after the priest was convinced that he had attained spiritual baptism) ‘red wine’ is representative of Jesus’ godly blood sacrificed for mortals; Tantrics also use alcoholic beverages in their rituals and hold ‘red’ to be the colour of divine power. And so their attire is blood red in hue. With these he compares the Islamic ritual of animal sacrifice – ‘Qurbani’ – and draws the conclusion that ‘the elements of blood, power, alcohol and red (are) associated intimately with divinity”.  “Blood Red”, the poem at the end of the chapter is a summation of this belief.  The poetic vision he lends to his experiences and deep meditation on things we take for granted in our indifferent stride, shakes up our mental lethargy and prods us to reflect intensely on such matters. 
 
From the sphere of spirituality, we go into an investigation of the word “Bhaiya” – meaning older brother – a tag given to him by his elder sister! From there onto his take on ‘name’ with which he plays a word game, replacing ‘n’ with ‘f’ and then with ‘g’. He muses that though many Indians are named after gods and goddesses, ruefully few imbibe the virtues of their namesakes – “Religion has left its profound mark in the psyche of Indians, but has failed to alter their behavioural pattern.”
 
Namesake
Whispers the tale fo your character,
colour and its fragrance merge to call it/ a Rose.
A lot matters, /if you remember/ the name…
 
In the next chapter, Southern Affiliation he talks of his association with the southern city of Chennai (Madras), whose charms have bitten him affectionately. His affiliation is further enhanced by Mr. Atreya Sarma, to whom he devotes a whole paragraph and dedicates the poem “Clarity”.
 
“Rains” is an allusion to situations that bewilder and hurt him; those thoughts, crowds, disciplines in which he tends to get totally drenched. These ‘rains’ have inspired poems from his haemorrhaging heart. His scientifically trained mind believes that love is “a strong cerebral affair.” It is the brain that rules the heart he feels and yet he says love is “a wonderful experience that enables you to feel your loved inside of you.”  How beautiful is that!
 
“My Master and the Cover” is the most significant chapter.  He talks about his initiation into Kriyayoga by his beloved master; about Spiritual awakening through the rising Kundalini – the Divine Feminine force – whereby an aspirant experiences a ‘winy trance’.  In the glow of his awakening he also tries to justify the cover design as substantiating Yoga in the light of literature, though there could be many different interpretations, as the designer refuses to explain his creation. But even as he exults in his Awakening he laments the moral degradation of the world and is grateful for his Master who helps him uncover the mysteries of life.
 
I
As identical as ‘I’/through the slice of my sigh.
Like the sky; where the stars shine bright and/ the Sun ‘I’.
 
This book ‘stirs’ the reader to arouse his sleeping Kundali
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You can check out the book here:
 
 
Shernaz-Wadia3 Shernaz Wadia, a retired teacher, lives in Pune, India. A free-lance writer, her articles, short stories and poems have been published in many online journals and literary magazines like Muse India, Boloji, Kritya and The Enchanting Verses etc. Her poems have been anthologised in Poets International, Roots and Wings and Caring Moments. Shernaz is in the process of publishing her poems in a book titled Whispers of the Soul.. She has also co-authored a book of poems titled “Tapestry”, with Israeli poetess Avril Meallem. It is an innovative form of collaborative poetry writing developed by the two of them.

 

 

Poem Continuous – Reincarnated Expressions – By Bibhas Roy Chowdhury- Translated by Kiriti Sengupta

poem continuous us editionPaperback: 62 pages

Publisher: Inner Child Press, Ltd. (July 17, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0692233180

ISBN-13: 978-0692233184

 

Reviewed by Shernaz Wadia

 As Leonard Cohen put it so aptly poetry is just the ash, the evidence of a life burning well. When a poet fleshes up his emotions and thoughts and attires them with words, a poem seems to take on a life of its own but an invisible umbilical cord runs from the creator’s soul to that of the poem, making them indivisible.

 It has been said that a poem is never finished. Even if the last line seemingly ends on an air of finality there is no true closure. There remain gaps to be filled between the stanzas, lines and words. Poems grow along with the poet making them an uninterrupted process. Even if he does not alter them on revisits, new ones sprout out of that receptive emptiness giving them continuity. In this book, Poem Continuous, the ‘Reincarnated Expressions’ are birthed through their transition from Bengali into English, done smoothly by Kiriti Sengupta.
 
Bibhas’s voice pulsates with an undercurrent of passion…it is melancholic yet inflected with hope…pithy in words but loaded with sensitivity…it is a reflection of the loneliness of the poet’s heart and its aches. To quote Kafka, “(his) pen is the seismograph of (his) heart.”  I realised that these poems are not for idle reading. I read them once, I read them again and then again each time sinking a little deeper into their profundity, their challenging complexity, and emerged with an ‘aha’ feeling. That is the beauty of these poems…they plummet you beyond the tips into their inner core and thereby into your own deeper recesses, conversing with your sense of self. 
 
Minimalistic, staccato at times, as in “The Small Boat” – Bird…Bird…Bird…Bird/Fetch the sky
 
and again in ‘The Offering’ which is all of four very poignant lines dedicated to Rabindranath Tagore,
 
“Poison in the diet
the budding poet!   
 
Ye, the source…   
 
What is in your mind?”
 
The poet leaves us pondering. I have used more words to talk about the poem than he has to convey his distress at the pathetic marginalisation today of poetry and poets. In the third line he expresses his reverence for the great bard in just three words!
 
Bibhas’ poetry is enigmatic with a near mystical aura to it as he puts into words his innermost emotions about life, love, nature and other poets. He connects with both the worlds – that of matter and of spirit to find and define the meaning and balance in life. His language is fragmented at times when all he has are shards of pain to be expressed, for instance, in ‘The Tie of Brotherhood’, where he laments –
 
“We are finished, aren’t we?
Can you hear me, Gurudev? Ye Tagore?
Crowd no longer…no music…hands free!
Now the ties are lost, and so are the Bengalis…”
 
In his Translator’s Note, Kiriti says “… wounds are essentially native, and they are difficult to translate into other languages.” I think other poets will concur with me when I say that often wounds of the spirit are native to the individual soul and are near impossible to transmit into words. That Bibhas and in this case, the translator has been able to open up those deep gashes so movingly to the readers, is very laudable.
 
‘Bhatiali – Song of the Boatmen’, is pure anguish. It harnesses the distress of myriad souls who
“Wish my blood obliterates the Partition, on either side of the border…” His pain transmutes into obstinate hope as he ends his poem with these lines:
 
“In the core of my heart I nurse the wounded soul carefully/Union of the parted Bengal will aid in my recovery…”
 
Though the poet talks of a divided Bengal, the soreness of his words reflects an universal ache…no country, no people like the divides they are forced into by the scheming, screaming, contorted truths propagated by authority, by those few who snatch power, control minds and leave them defenceless.
 
The poet often asks questions in his poems. In The Horizon, he asks “What is poetry?” and concludes with these lines
 
“The blind bird/was painting/its nest so deceptive/on the water-body…” Let each reader and lover of poetry demystify these words in his own heart and mind, for poetry means several things to different people.
 
Don Martin calls this book “A Literary Tour-de-Force”. Full of praise for the work he says, “This is a seamless, and highly accomplished Bengali poetry. Experienced lovers of poetry will immediately recognise the significance and nuances of the work. Those new to Bengali poetry are in for a real treat!”
 
 
Shernaz-Wadia3Shernaz Wadia, a retired teacher, lives in Pune, India. A free-lance writer, her articles, short stories and poems have been published in many online journals and literary magazines like Muse India, Boloji, Kritya and The Enchanting Verses etc. Her poems have been anthologised in Poets International, Roots and Wings and Caring Moments. Shernaz is in the process of publishing her poems in a book titled Whispers of the Soul.. She has also co-authored a book of poems titled “Tapestry”, with Israeli poetess Avril Meallem. It is an innovative form of collaborative poetry writing developed by the two of them.