A Long Conversation With The Poetess, Ananya Chatterjee from Calcutta, India
Summer afternoons are best spent in the coffee shops. You order for a tall glass of iced tea, and you are allowed to enjoy their conditioned ambience for hours. If you haven’t tried this yet, trust me, you won’t go wrong as you follow my suggestion. Again, there is an added advantage! You will be able to cut down your domestic electricity bill if you can enjoy some chill outside your home. Coffee shops are thus my favorite summer destinations during the scorching afternoons. It was on 16th of May (2014) I was curiously observing the election results of our nation as I got a call from one of my old buddies; she is the one who does not quite ring up. I had a pleasant surprise in store: My friend was perhaps shivering in excitement as she told, “Hey Kiriti, I am heading towards the publication of my first poetry title, and you know, I am more than thrilled!” Her vibrations were easily palpable through my ear-drum. I congratulated, wished her all success and invited her over a glass of cold coffee the same day. She probed, “Are you sure?” I laughed out loud, and poked, “Hey! You are most welcome, but get prepared for a ragging session.” “What’s that?” she inquired, and added, “Listen, I am game.” Dear friends, she is one of the promising poetesses from Calcutta, a lady in her early thirties, ace software professional in a multinational company, the translator for eminent artiste Soumitra Chatterjee in his book, “Forms Within.” She is Ananya Chatterjee, a caring mother of two lovely kids.
Ananya was almost thirty minutes late, thanks to the wonderful traffic of our gorgeous city! She was excited, she was giggling, and brought along the complete manuscript of her upcoming book. I chased her, “Now the ball is in my court.” Ananya smiled, flattered her eyelashes (those were for real), and said, “Okay! Carry on.”
Kiriti Sengupta: Ananya, what made you think of being a published poet?
Ananya Chatterjee: Well Kiriti, to be very honest, the thought of getting my works published, was a distant dream – not something I consciously set out to achieve. As you know, I have been writing verses since long- but it was only recently that I felt the need to reach out to a wider reader base. My mother, herself a composer of Bengali verses, as well as my sister and my husband, and a few steadfast friends, who are avid readers of poetry, actively encouraged me to make a serious effort in the direction of getting my verses published. The thought initially was huge, as I have always composed purely for the love of it, and it took some time to prepare myself for taking the plunge. I must also mention, that working on translating Soumitra Chatterjee’s verses, and then actually seeing them in print as part of the Coffee Table book Forms Within, gave me the final push. It was only after this, that I seriously started thinking of publishing my own compositions. For this, I shall remain indebted to distinguished curator Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya who provided me the opportunity to work on Soumitra Chatterjee’s verses.
Kiriti: I have noticed that you prefer being referred to as a poetess. Gender of an artiste is hardly taken under consideration nowadays, but would you like to project your feminist self as you call yourself a poetess?
Ananya: Yes, I am aware that poetess as a term is rarely used in current times. Yet, I prefer being called one. It is not something that I consciously decided, it is just that poetess sounds much better, and is a term I can more associate myself with. Let’s just say I believe that poetess portrays my identity better than its masculine form does.
Kiriti: The title of your upcoming book is brilliant: The Poet And His Valentine. Here you have envisioned a male entity; do you think even a poetess has a ‘he’ existence? If this is right, would you like to say that irrespective of physicality all poets are essentially male?
Ananya: Well, the title happens to be the name of one of the verses belonging to this book. So, to answer your question, let me share with you the thoughts that went into writing this particular verse. In this poem I have drawn a resemblance between the relationship that a poet(or poetess) shares with his/her poetry, and that shared between a lover and his beloved. When a new verse starts formulating in a poet’s mind, the period is one of extreme, emotional upheaval. Being a poet yourself, you must have gone through those agonizing moments of irritability and restlessness when a new poem is about to be composed. Those moments, I feel, bear an uncanny resemblance to the emotional turbulence that unsettles a person, when cupid strikes- when love happens. The emotional balance of a lover goes for a toss, and the mind regains its composure only after he has shared his condition with his beloved. Similarly, a poet’s frustration is cured only after the thoughts that throng his mind, culminate in the form of poetry. Please note that here I have resorted to the generic rule that a lover is a “he” and the beloved being sought, is a “she.” This does not speak of their physical gender- rather of the role they uptake in the preliminary stages of love.
So, I guess, now I have answered your question. Just as all lovers are not essentially male, so is the case with poets.
Kiriti: What is poetry, Ananya? And why did you choose to write this particular genre in spite of being an avid reader of fiction novels?
Ananya: For me, poetry is an attitude towards life. A person can be a poet even without writing a single line or word. Poetry is a way of looking at things, a way of interpreting the sights we see and the events we experience- a way that is a bit off-route, a trifle irregular. A person looking at a tree might just think of resting under its shade- a poet on the other hand might imagine its swaying branches to be actually inviting him to nestle under its shadows. A poet’s imagination knows no bounds, and a successful piece of poetry can trigger an almost identical imagination in the minds of its readers. When the poet’s imagination resonates with that of his reader- that is when a verse becomes truly profound, that is when poetry serves its true purpose.
As to why I chose this particular genre- the answer simply is that I never chose. On the contrary, Poetry chose me, and I could not be gladder! One cannot choose to be a poet- one is either a poet or is not- it is not something that can be attained through endeavor- it is something that one is born with, or so I believe.
Kiriti: If I ask you to name three of your favorite poets your answer would be…
Ananya: This is so difficult, but I will try. The name of RabindraNath Tagore of course tops the list. Pablo Neruda’s works are also very close to my heart though I have read them only in translated form. Of course I am a huge fan of the haunting verses of Robert Frost, W.B.Yeats and T.S. Eliot – their works fire my fantasies. It is through their creations that I truly fell in love with poetry.
Kiriti: Much experiment is now being carried out in poetry all across the globe. Your poems essentially vibrate with rhythmic pulses. Aren’t you scared of being marked as dated?
Ananya: Wow, I would really love to answer this one. I have heard this question so many times.. why do I compose rhyming verse when the whole world is rooting for freeform verse. For one, let me just say, that this is something that comes to me naturally. It is not like I do not enjoy reading free form.. but when it comes to composing something myself- I want, not only the words to reach my readers- I also want the readers to catch the underlying pulse- the inherent rhythm or undercurrent that flows through each of my verses. And I would love to be called dated- as that would mean my being thrown into the same time period as my favorite poets- ha ha.
Then again, I never said I would not compose free verse- but I will never make a conscious effort in that direction. If it comes to me naturally at some point- I would be happy to take the plunge! But be it free verse or rhyming verse- my aim has always been to write effortless poetry. And as long as I am ensuring that, I am content.
Kiriti: You are headed to join the league of Indian English poets. Tell me something honestly, would your readers consider your work unique? Remember pal, we have enough poets, and unless you have some unique renditions none is going to remember you for your poems.
Ananya: Kiriti, I must confess I am loving every bit of this conversation J . First of all, if I started writing with the intention of being remembered, I would never be able to write even a single line- the effort would be too conspicuous! And secondly, I believe a poem is not remembered for its uniqueness, rather it is remembered only when it touches a chord with its reader. I would not mind my poem not being termed unique as long as even one reader says he or she wondered how my poem narrated his or her experience/emotions with such amazing precision. It is this resonance that I long to create. And I believe, I have succeeded in this, with quite a few if not most of my verses. The rest, I leave in the hands of destiny J.
Kiriti: Who are your target readers? Poetry is not enjoyed by many; some poets claim that poetry is read only by the poets. What is your take on this issue?
Ananya: At the risk of sounding clichéd, my answer is that my target reader is the common man – the kind of person we encounter in everyday life- the kind of person who worries for his family- who toils for his livelihood, dreams of his first love, grieves for his deceased parents, but is too scared to react when his neighbor is looted. My target reader is also the so called criminal who dreams of redemption, the ailing patient who wants to make her caregivers happy. The truth is that I have no specific target. My poems are for one and all.
I believe, there is a dormant seed of imagination in most of us. And a poem has the power to arouse that dormant facet. There is a saying “It is so difficult to be simple” And I believe many verses today suffer from the same ailment- we are trading simplicity for uniqueness. I have tried to keep my works simple enough and am confident that one and all will enjoy reading them and relating to them.
Kiriti: We don’t have enough publishers in Calcutta who publish English poems. What is the equation with your publisher?
Ananya: I feel really lucky to have Shambhabi – The Third Eye Imprint as my publisher. I agree – English poetry does not have that many publishers in Kolkata, and I am really happy that things have worked out so well for me. I love the energy and professionalism of my publisher and am really glad we chose each other!
Kiriti: What is your take on self-publicity? Should a poet engage him/herself in marketing books?
Ananya: This is my opinion- when a poet decides to publish his work in the form of a book, from that point onwards he or she should actively share the responsibility of ensuring that the book reaches a wider reader base. If a poet is indifferent to the entire process of publishing and marketing, then the book’s future will definitely get affected. In that case, the entire purpose behind publishing one’s work is lost, isn’t it?
Kiriti: I understand that you are extremely excited with your first poetry title although you have been the translator of the eminent artiste Soumitra Chatterjee in his book “Forms Within.” I would like to hear your experiences as you have worked with him.
Ananya: As you must already be aware, being a translator of verses yourself, translating poetry is a huge challenge, as one needs to not only translate the words, but also ensure that the lyrical factor is not lost. So, when I was offered to work on translating a few verses of Soumitra Chatterjee as part of Forms Within, I was nervous as well as excited, especially because his verses are so profound, and haunting. While translating, I made it a point to ensure that the translated verses carried the same lyrical quotient that the original verses did. I was naturally thrilled, when Mr. Chatterjee appreciated my work, and lauded my efforts. When the book came out, and I saw my name in print, as the translator, it was a huge feeling- this served as a trigger and further cemented my resolve to publish my own works.
Kiriti: Please share your experiences as you are currently engaged in translating the verses of the celebrated painter Jogen Chowdhury.
Ananya: After seeing my work in Forms Within, I was offered to translate the entire collection of Jogen Chowdhury’s verses. The poems are extremely thought provoking and have a unique element in them. Translating his verses has been a huge learning experience. It has been an arduous as well as challenging task- but I am enjoying every bit of it. This work has enriched my creative abilities to a large extent. I am greatly indebted to eminent curator Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya for providing me with this opportunity, as well as the opportunity to work on Soumitra Chatterjee’s verses.
Kiriti: I wish you all the best, Ananya. May you receive huge response from your readers, and I sincerely hope that The Poet And His Valentine will be read, accepted, and recommended all across the world.
Ananya: Thank you so much for your encouraging words and heartfelt wishes! I need all the luck I can get!