A Candid Chat with Lopamudra Banerjee

Lopamudra Banerjee, is a Writer, Poet, and Translator, currently based in Dallas, USA. Her prolific writings include a range of books to her credits. She is the co-editor of two anthologies, ‘Defiant Dreams: Tales of Everyday Divas’, published by Readomania in collaboration with Incredible Women of India and ‘Darkness There But Something More’, a collection of 30 ghost stories published by Blue Pencil, where she is a resident editor now. Thwarted Escape, her debut narrative non-fiction work, has received Honorary Mention at the Los Angeles Book Festival 2017 and has also been First Place Category Winner at the Journey Awards 2014 hosted by Chanticleer Reviews and Media LLC, USA. Her recently released books, ‘Let the Night Sing’, a poetry collection and ‘The Broken Home and Other Stories‘ have already received much critical acclaim. She has received the International Reuel Award 2016 for her English translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s novella ‘Nastanirh’ (‘The Broken Home’) instituted by The Significant League, a renowned literature group on Facebook and she is also the recipient of the International Reuel Award for poetry 2017. Apart from books, Lopamudra has got many of her works published in numerous literary journals.

It was my privilege to be able to take her interview, when we got connected on her recent trip to Kolkata, India. This interview was electronically conducted via mail.

1.What draws you towards poetry?

Poetry has been my home and my shelter and my refuge from the banalities of the outside world ever since I can remember. Blame it on my mother who had first sown in me the seeds of reading and appreciating Rabindranath Tagore or my English classes during my college days and beyond which introduced me to a vast and magnanimous world of the English romantic, Victorian and modern poets, I have woken up, drenched in their sweat, their rhythm and their cadence. Later when I started writing poems myself in various life situations and when that gained momentum gradually, I also realised that poetry can be the ultimate form of attaining my own personal catharsis. It can be the lens through which I not only perceive the world around, but also dissent about its vast periphery of subjects, unabashedly, without any inhibitions. So, in a word, poetry is the essence of my heart which I cannot escape, and also the weapon with which I try to fight in my own small way against indiscrimination or atrocities or discrepancies of any kind which I see around me, and poetry makes me accomplish small but significant wins in a way no other literary form will probably make me accomplish.

 2. Which poets, authors or books have fortified you as a writer?

That is really a difficult question as there are a huge gamut of poets, authors, books and even songs and their lyrics which keep inspiring me, fortifying me, strengthening me in their own inexplicable ways from time to time. While some days I might gain inner strength as a writer from Maya Angelou’s “I Know When The Caged Bird Sings”, some days it is the intricacies of the mythological narrative of “Palace of Illusions” by Chitra B. Divakaruni which makes me put on my thinking caps. Some days, a song of Bob Dylan or Tagore or “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman might make me delve into my quintessential inward journey; some days, short stories by Maupassant or O Henry or even essays by E. B. White or Annie Dillard might nurture me with their haunting, long-lasting and emotionally impactful narratives. It is such a vast, boundless ocean out there and a lifetime is not enough to explore it. What I have mentioned here and also, what I have explored till now might be just a mug of water from that boundless ocean. I would always remain thirsty for more.

 3. How has writing changed your life?

Oh yes, in countless and inexplicable ways! Writing poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction has, first and foremost, taught me to respect solitude and to celebrate the little, minute nuances of human life in words, embedded in those blissful moments of solitude. Writing poetry, especially, has endowed me with rhythmic compositions that are born out of sweet nothings; out of raw, naked emotions while embracing the language of longing. As writers and artists, we might be thousand times poorer than other professionals, but on the other hand, thousand times richer when it comes to the manifestation of our longings, our expression of feelings that we give birth to, in the garb of an aesthetically refined literary form. It is equally true for all artistes—writers, painters, musicians, singers et al.

Lopamudra with Let the Night Sing
Photo Courtesy: Lopamudra Banerjee

4. Tell us something about your latest book. What are some of the themes you have touched upon?

In 2017, I have come up with two books of mine as of now, launched almost back to back. My debut poetry collection ‘Let The Night Sing’ (Global Fraternity of Poets, India) is a collection of 70 poems, most of them born as lunar musings in the wee hours of the night. The poems are the manifestations of a restless child woman and also a restless sojourner who celebrates the splinters and shards, the broken pieces of life in its continuum in this meticulous assortment of musings. Divided into five short volumes, through the poems I have attempted to trace my various trajectories starting from my girlhood and puberty to being a woman and grasping my own inner world as well as the world outside which has been a vital part of my womanly being and consciousness.

The second book of mine, ‘The Broken Home And Other Stories’ (Authorspress, India), released in Delhi Litexperia in August 2017, is my English translation of eight selected works of fiction by Bengal’s illustrious Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, including two novellas, ‘The Broken Home’ and ‘Laboratory’ and six short stories where women are the nucleus of the fictional narratives. All these eight works of fiction by Tagore are deep, enthralling sagas where women have been scripted in an inimitable, powerful aura. As a translator, I have tried my best to portray the essence of their complex emotional world, originally depicted by Tagore. In this context, let me add that I have received the International Reuel prize (category: translation) for ‘The Broken Home’ in summer 2016, when it had made its first appearance in Amazon Kindle, a year before its appearance in paperback.

Apart from that, I have co-edited with Dr. Santosh Bakaya an anthology of 30 spellbinding ghost stories, ‘Darkness There but Something More’, which also has a story of mine in the collection. It has been released in July and evoking very good response from the readers. The dark and esoteric has always fascinated me to no ends and thus, this book has been a dream project for me ever since its inception. Let us see where all these diverse books lead me to, but for me, the journey is more important than the destination, if any.

5. How do you deal with criticisms?

I have always welcomed constructive criticism in any form whatsoever, regarding my writing. As writers and creative artists, we keep evolving in our craft and it is the critics who value and appreciate our craft as well as see through our loopholes to help us evolve into better, more consummate writers. So their comments, if made in good sense and with due respect to our craft, is always much sought after. On the other hand, each negative criticism I have endured in my life till now has stoked the fire in me deeper and more vigorously, so I am thankful to all of them in a way. More than a decade back, when I went to Delhi to learn about the publishing industry and make a place there, I had been told by a cousin brother that I do not have the makings of a writer at all. Today, after so many years, I AM a part of the publishing world in my own small way and my literary journey has gained momentum in the most unthinkable of ways. Had I not faced criticism and rejection during those days, I do not think I would have striven to push my boundaries and emerge stronger as I have done in all these years. So I am thankful to the criticisms and the bouts of rejections too, which has made me what I am today.

6. Do the reviews that you get from your audience, affect your writing in any way?

No, I wouldn’t say that the reviews I get from my audience/readers distract me, or affect my writing in any way, because as a writer, I feel it is my job or responsibility to pour my thoughts and feelings on paper and serve the cause of literature in my own humble way, no matter what the reviews/feedback might be. Having said that, I must also say that there have been many detailed, insightful reviews of my books, ‘Thwarted Escape’ (my memoir, published by Authorspress, 2016), and ‘Let The Night Sing’, my debut poetry collection praising my poetic craft and my narrative style which has brought a wide smile on my face and filled me with inspiration and gratitude. On the other hand, if I come across a negative review of any of my books ever, I will try to grasp the essence of the reviewer’s words as much as I can and see if working on those would help me in becoming a better writer.

7. How would you describe the market for poetry in India? Do you think it is suffering a setback considering the sheer number of fictions being released in comparison to poetry books?

Let me tell you here that no matter how many works of fiction are released and read all over the world, poetry as a superior art form will always have its niche readers. Had it not been true, there would be no Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley or Byron, or no Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Kamala Das, or no Walt Whitman or Pablo Neruda. Poets in all ages and eras, for that matter, have survived and even thrived in their own peripheries amid the ruling estate of fiction and the best ones among them have carved names for themselves and are read and remembered even after ages. So poetry will always have a long shelf life and sustain itself as an art form as long as there are readers who swear by the sheer artistry and captivating nuances of languages expressed in the genre.

Lopamudra with Thwarted Escape
Photo Courtesy: Lopamudra Banerjee

8. In the age of Social Media, how would you see it connecting you with your readers?

In today’s age of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, the world at large is a small village and every miniscule voice is being given a platform and sharing words, pictures and creative outpourings in a pace that was unthinkable some years back. When I started writing poetry as a mere teenager, I wrote in complete isolation, with no media to express. It was like that for many years before the virtual world and the Internet came in my way and changed the way I look at things forever. Now due to the internet, there is a surge of creative energy, and voices dispersed all over the globe are converging and coalescing. There is a greater virtual-turned-real community, where vibrant Poetry groups all over India are doing substantial work. In Mumbai, I know of a woman empowerment group which employs poetry, as a vehicle of protest. In Dallas, Texas, which is my home now in USA, there are various poetry groups with diverse demographics which are both physical platforms to share poetry and dissent in big public spaces and also strong virtual spaces in Facebook and Instagram where poets from all over the state and the nation share their works. So the possibility of connecting with more readers with the passage of time is immense and will continue to expand our horizons as more forums open up in the days to come.

9. If you had a chance to talk to a dead poet, who would it be and what would you tell him/her?

It has to be Sylvia Plath, the mad and melancholy poetess because I see so much of myself in her, sometimes. I would like to ask her why she went away so soon and let her know how much she invades my mental space. I would definitely read out a couple of poems from my poetry collection ‘Let The Night Sing’ to let her know how much I was influenced by her raw vulnerability as well as the surreal, alliterative rhymes in her poetry.

 10. When can we expect your next book?

As I am writing the answers to this interview, I am also checking the final PDF version of an anthology of women poets: ‘Cloudburst: The Womanly Deluge’ to be published very soon by The Poetry Society of India, which I am co-editing with Dr. Santosh Bakaya, another prolific author, academician and poet. It will be an assortment of verses penned by 28 women poets of the Indian origin, including myself.

As for my own book of fiction, I am working on my upcoming book ‘Of Frailties And Old Flames’, which will be a collection of short stories on love, betrayal, promises, old ties and all the virtues and vices of human relationships, with women at the core of the narratives. I am taking some time to finish and fine-tune the manuscript and will then submit for publication.

11. Any message for your readers. . . . . .

Be yourself and express yourself freely, without any inhibitions in your art. That is the only single factor that will let you push your boundaries and justify your work at the end of the day, no matter what others have to say about what you create. If it comes from your heart, it will touch other hearts too.

Lopamudra’s book are available in paperback . They can be purchased online through the following links:

Defiant Dream: Snapdeal, Flipkart , Amazon 

Thwarted Escape: Flipkart, Amazon 

Darkness There, But Something More: Flipkart, Amazon ,

The Broken Home: Amazon

I would soon be back with  the reviews of some of her books in subsequent posts.

Mosaic Vision : A Review

Nestled within the colourful pages of Mosaic Vision, lies an anthology of poems written by Poet, Editor, Writer and Blogger Vaijayantee Bhattacharya. Her maiden book, Mosaic Vision was launched at the Oxford Bookstore Kolkata on the 23rd July, 2017.

Having spent a significant time of her life in Kolkata and Delhi, she now resides in Bahrain with her husband and son. Her poems are inspired thus of not only philosophical thoughts but also of the culture and traditions of three very different destinations. One would also find reflections of the different shades of human moods through the poems. This only goes on to highlight the versatility of the subjects the poet is capable of penning down.

Talking for myself, all thirty -seven poems were a pleasure to read. Each of them are interspersed with beautiful photographs which not only aids the presentation of the book but also breaks the monotony of mere words. However three poems stood out very distinctly for me as I could relate to them a lot.

The Mahalaya Morning. . . .

Though preparations for the Durga Puja begins months in advance, Mahalaya signifies that the festival is knocking on your doorstep. The sound of Dhakis, the pandals on the verge of completion, the last-minute bargains for new clothes and the smell of incense and shiuli flowers fill the air. Having been deprived of this scene for the past two years, The Mahalaya Morning touched a personal chord in my heart.

Yah Devi Sarvabhuteshu

Filled the morning air

With nostalgia

If You Saw Me in Heaven. . . .

Very beautifully worded, ‘If You Saw Me in Heaven’ poses many questions that might be in the minds of every individual with regard to their time in Heaven. Would Heaven be as calm a place like the way the term is often used; would it be a place where old strife’s be forgotten and one can start anew? Though these questions remain unanswerable at present; the boldness of penning down what reflects the thoughts of many is indeed commendable.

If You saw me in heaven

Amidst nameless souls in a crowd

Would you shy away or look at me

Would you look diffident or proud?

Lost . . . .

‘Outwardly I was everything a well brought up girl should be , Inside I was screaming’ – these lines from the Titanic struck me when I read out the poem ‘Lost’ . Everyday we camouflage our deepest sorrows , our darkest fears and our anxieties with the help of a smile. But behind this mask lies a broken and hurt soul- broken but brave still to hold  on to the miseries of the world without a flicker on the face.

You may never know

But she is lost

In an invisible maze of life

With impenetrable walls around her-

You cannot see but she is trapped-

She knows not how to break through them

And cries invisible tears

Disguised as smiles on her face.

Vaijayantee Bhattacharya with Mosaic Vision
Photo: Abhizit Dutta

Robert Frost had said, ” Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” This holds  true when you read the poems  by Vaijayantee. Each poem stems from a very basic thought. The simplicity used to express  some of the most complex thoughts and situations is bound to leave you mesmerised. If you are a lover of literature, a person with poetic instincts, or an artistic soul ; then Mosaic Vision is bound to leave a profound impact on you.

Mosaic Vision is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle edition. It would soon be available in all leading bookstores near you.

 

Getting Candid with Vaijayantee Bhattacharya

Last Sunday (23rd July), I was lucky enough to have been invited to the press meet and book launch of Mosaic Vision , a beautiful anthology of poems written by Vaijayantee Bhattacharya, at the Oxford Bookstore Kolkata. Vaijayantee is a Poet, Editor and Journalist by profession.  A true Calcuttan by heart, she has been living away from the City of Joy for the last fourteen years- in Delhi and in Bahrain. Thus, it was a magical moment for her to be able to launch her maiden book in the city she grew up in and is so attached to, amidst well known dignitaries and friends and family.

The Press Meet was organised by PR Sufia Khatoon wherein almost twenty media houses came in to interact with Vaijayantee. Her book was launched , following the press meet by chief Guest Shri Jawhar Sircar. This was proceeded by a panel discussion by Dr Sanjukta Dasgupta (Professor, Department of English, University of Calcutta), Mr Shahenshah Mirza (descendant of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah), Ms Saira Shah Halim (Educator, Activist and poet) , Ms Saheli Mitra (Journalist, Author, Poet, columnist) and Vaijayantee herself. The topic for the evening was ‘ Is poetry a reflection of emotions recollected in tranquillity or disturbance? What is its relevance in today’s morbid world of prosaic reality? ‘

I am humbled that Vaijayantee gave me some time from her busy schedule to answer my questions. She answered an array of questions posed by me . Here are the excerpts.

Tell us something about the first ever poem that you had written.

The first ever poem that I had written was in a train to Chennai when I was probably 8 or 9 years old. I was quite taken by the scenic beauty of world outside. That’s when I composed a poem out of the sheer delight of visualising something so beautiful.

How does a poem begin for you- an idea, a form or an image?

 It is either of these and sometimes it can even be a sound, a sight, a news byte or a piece of music. For me, poetry or writing is triggered by anything that emotionally moves me.

 Do you have a particular time when you sit down to write your poems or do they come to you spontaneously?

They mostly come to me spontaneously unless of course there is a subject that I have been invited to write on like a few other anthologies in Bahrain with a specific theme.

 Do you think at times people find it difficult to connect with poems as it has several layers of meaning to it ?

Poetry unlike prose usually is succinct and precise and to attain this precision it often rides on cryptic phrases or imagery like metaphors, alliteration and so on. While poetry is not written in any coded language that a reader needs to decode or crack, sometimes people do find it difficult to appreciate a poem in its entirety not knowing it’s significance.

Vaijayantee reading a few lines from Mosaic visions
Photo: Abhizit Dutta

What does’ being creative ‘ mean to you?

‘Being creative’ to me means being able to create something new and aesthetically pleasing. The new thing created could be a poem, a write up, a painting, a handicraft, a song, or anything that aesthetically pleases the soul.

Has the publication of your first book and its reception affected your writing style?

No, not really. I remain quintessentially the soul that I have always been, changing, growing and evolving only in response to time. My first publication is a matter of great joy to me but I can’t say it has or can change my writing in any way.

Which, out of the two , do you think is a better medium of reaching out to your audience- through the screen or through paper?

I am essentially a scribe or a writer and poet. If by screen you mean the electronic media, then certainly that’s not going to be my platform aptly. But by screen if you mean the Kindle or the online media then I would say my writings/poems could be savoured well on both media, depending on the comfort level of the reader with his preferred medium of reading.

How do you measure your success as a poet?

Success of a poet to me is not in the number of poem he writes or the number of books he publishes. If at the end of the day, even a single poem of his can emotionally touch a reader’s soul and can resonate similar feelings and sentiments that is where the poet’s success lies. In this context may I mention the great Nobel Laureate and poet Rabindranath Tagore. His poems and songs are the source of succour or sustenance of innumerable people who remember his immortal words of creation in some song or poem at every possible state of emotional upsurge.

If you could communicate with one dead poet, who would it be ; why and what would you tell him/her?

If I could communicate with just one poet, it would perhaps be William Wordsworth and I would tell him that like him I derive absolute joy, love and peace from Nature.

A message you would like to give to your readers . . . .

If you want to savour the taste of different facets of life, through small and big incidents, experiences and observations of a perceptive soul through poetry, then Mosaic Vision is perhaps the book you should pick up. I can’t promise you great moral or material upliftment through my poetry but I can assure you of a more inclusive perspective where you savour the delight of living, loving, longing and appreciating the different nuances of through our daily existence.

Mosiac Vision is not only a book of poems but also a collection of thoughts spanning over eight years . With varied subjects, experiences and emotions intertwined in a few pages, it is bound to bring the reader closer to the poet and also reflect on her take of the world. A review of the book would be published shortly. You can purchase it from your nearest bookstores soon or order a paperback or kindle version through Amazon. Keep Reading !