Prabal Kumar Basu is a Well known poet, editor and thinker. He has 21 volumes of poetry besides collection of essays and short stories. He edited SIGNPOSTS ( Bengali Poetry since independence) and is the editor of YAPANCHITRA, a Bengali little magazine considered as a platform for youth. Mr. Basu is also a recipient of State Akademi award for poetry and he participated in various National and International Lit festivals. He translated many works into various Indian and International languages.
Owshnik Ghosh- What does the word Poetry signifies to you?
Prabal Kumar Basu- Poetry is an honest expression from the soul which is the manifestation of life around a poet. The poet is inundated by articulations of protest, love, joy, despair, grief, wish, beauty, ugliness and myriad other motifs of life. Poetry reveals truth in a manner that has to be discovered, where much remains untold. The expression has such depth that it touches the core of the heart of the person reading it. The reader develops a sentiment, a feeling, that the poet’s expression is of the reader’s own. The first ever poetry according to our mythology was created when Valmiki almost spontaneously uttered the word “ Ma Nishaad” seeing a Krauncha couple getting killed by a hunter at the time of mating.
Owshnik Ghosh- You have been writing for almost 45 years. You have seen a number of new generations of poets in your poetic journey. What changes (in terms of Bānglā poetry) do you see in this long time span?
Prabal Kumar Basu- It is needless to say that poetry has evolved a lot in last 45 years, as evolution is a continuous process. The history of evolution of poetry in any language is basically the evolution of its form. When I started writing poetry during early eighties of last century, Bangla poetry domain was dominated by the poets who are popularly known as Poets of fifties. The initiative that was taken by the poets of thirties to come out of the influence of Tagore, actually became successful in the writings of the poets of fifties. From the descriptive or narrative style poetry became more confessional. The expression of love in poetry remained no more platonic, rather the physicality of love was celebrated. The use of imagery also changed. Literature of a particular language portrays to a large extent the society, it’s values, ethics and culture it practices. As a constant decay of values have corroded our society, ideology is on the back burner, same is getting reflected in poetry. Young poets, instead of concentrating on improvement of their own writing, are more focused on some immediate gains. In the meantime, a third force has arrived—the media, which has failed to inspire young poets. Mediocrity is on the rise and talented poets are languishing for want of recognition. As a result, Bangla poetry is stagnating, excellent poets are de-motivated. Very few experimentation is happening now a days in Bengali poetry.
Owshnik Ghosh- You spent a significant part of your student life in North Bengal within the tea gardens. According to you what may be the impact of that life within the nature in your poetic career?
Prabal Kumar Basu- Nature is an integral part of our existence. And I am fortunate to have spent my college life in Jalpaiguri, North Bengal amidst Nature. Our college campus was next to a tea garden and from our hostel we could see the snow cladded Kanchenjunga on a clear day. Poet Shakti Chattopadhyay was a frequent visitor to North Bengal, specially Dooars area and at times I used to accompany him. The jungle, the sounds of silence, the flow of spring, the sparkling river used to mesmerize me as if the Nature is revealing herself in totality. I used to be struck by the Nature’s nakedness. This had a long lasting effect in me as I used to pick up imagery from it. Even some expressions of my poetry are gifts that I picked up from the Nature.
Owshnik Ghosh- Can you elaborate on the impact of your international exposure on your poetry?
Prabal Kumar Basu- I visited Wellington , New Zealand in 2005 to attend the 3rd Wellington poetry festival. Sunil Gangopadhyay had attended it, the previous year. I met poets like John F Dean ( Ireland ) , Sam Hammill ( USA ) , Ban’ya Natshuisi(Japan) , Grant Caldwell ( Australia ) among many others. In those days google or internet was not that easily accessible, perhaps those were non existent. My perception about poetry totally changed after meeting, interacting and listening to some of the finest poets of the world. The diction of my writing changed and after returning I adapted a completely new style which Sunil Gangopadhyay started publishing in his magazine ‘Krittibas’ and it drew attention of many. Once, film director Mrinal Sen called up Sunilda and appreciated this new style of writing. Written in this new style, my book “Aapnakei Thik Korte Hobe Gantabya” was published in 2007. Academicians acknowledged this book as the forbearer of a new genre of writing that would be soon followed by many young poets. In 2007 I visited Japan to attend 4th World Haiku conference and that again exposed me to another world of writing. I owe a lot to these international poets, interactions with whom have enriched me.
Owshnik Ghosh- There is a separate genre of Kavyanatak ( verse drama ) in Indian literary tradition. Modern Bānglā poets have worked in this genre to some extent. You too have explored this field vividly. What made you choose this particular genre as an instrument of conveying your thoughts?
Prabal Kumar Basu- We got familiar with verse drama from the writings of Ezra Pound, Elliot and Lorca particularly. Almost all major poets in Bengali have tried this form. I found, it has tremendous potential to express one’s heart as well as mind on a bigger canvas. Expressions or narratives that could not be broached properly at times in poetry, verse drama could be another route. It explores the inner conflict of the poet with him/herself and with surroundings as well. I not only wrote verse drama, in my younger days, I even used to stage them. I found this form has the potential of opening another door and I simply started exploring it. Perhaps I wrote the maximum no of verse dramas in Bengali as I enjoy going into this form.
Owshnik Ghosh- You have edited an anthology of post independence Bānglā poetry named Signpots. What was the response of that book on the pan Indian readers? Do you have any plan to update that anthology?
Prabal Kumar Basu- It got tremendous response, thousands of copies were sold. This book was published by Rupa & Co, Delhi and they invited Gulzar Saab to fly from Mumbai to Delhi to launch the book. Sunil Gangopadhyay who wrote the foreword of the book was also present. Gulzar remarked in that occasion that earlier people used to know Bengali poetry through “Geetanjali” and now it would be known through “Signposts”. In fact no comprehensive anthology of Bengali poetry was available till then, and till date, this is the only anthology available. When I started working on this I selected 50 poets and about 4/5 representative poems of each poet was chosen and almost 25 translators worked on those. I think this is the only book available to the non Bengali readers who are interested to read Bengali poetry. I am not very sure whether this book is available in the market anymore but I strongly feel the need of publishing an updated version of it.
Owshnik Ghosh- Besides writing poetry you also write prose extensively on art, literature and theatre. Your interest in different fields of arts must have enriched your world view and your writings too?
Prabal Kumar Basu- I always felt interdisciplinary interaction is always necessary for the growth of not only one self but also the particular creative medium. Way back in 1999 I organized on behalf of PEN a creative meet in the city where poets , painters , singers and intellectuals interacted for two days apart from reading poetry , singing and painting. Due to my family background I got extensive opportunities to interact with some of the finest minds of our time which has not only enriched me and widened my thoughts but also inspired me to share my experience and understanding of the cultural milieu.
Owshnik Ghosh- What was the story behind establishing Yapanchitra magazine and publishing house?
Prabal Kumar Basu- We started publishing Yapanchitra in 2002 and at that time barring a few there were hardly any little magazines which gave space to the young writers. So we made it a point that we will focus more on the young writers and poets and will publish a set of poems by a particular poet so that the character of writing may be understood. Even till date we continue to do the same. We also have the credit of publishing the first story of some young authors who later could get themselves established as a writer. We wanted to create a platform for the young.
When we started Yapanchitra, we found the new authors had to depend on Publishers who were dishonest and were there to cheat the authors rather than supporting them. We thought of establishing a publishing house with a view to support the young authors and ensure they are not cheated. We had plans to bring out rare and good books which are out of print for long time. After the initial few years of publishing we started a scheme named ‘First manuscript of young poet’ where we started publishing books at our cost . This initiative to some extent could change the poetry book publishing scenario in Bengal.
Owshnik Ghosh- Do you think extreme popularity of a poet helps his/her poetic career or it dooms probable possibilities of his/her writings?
Prabal Kumar Basu- It depends, there can not be a straight line response to it. We had poet like Shakti Chattopadhyay whose popularity during his life time reached such a peak that none else but only Tagore could be a comparison. Actually popularity creates a pressure from within on the poet to keep up to the expectation of readers and it becomes very difficult to maintain the balance. To some extent it’s a trap also. A poet needs to maintain a balance here. A poet in his journey needs to discover and rediscover him / herself again and again. Whoever can’t maintain the balance will find it difficult to remain creative for long.
Owshnik Ghosh- You have been a guest to the Writers and artists in residency programme at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Can you share the experience of a poet spending days with the head of the constitution of India (President)?
Prabal Kumar Basu- I was at the residency of the Rashtrapati Bhavan for two weeks. But being there does not mean we were spending time with the President. All our appointments used to be pre scheduled. Being a Bengali, I got the opportunity to meet the president couple of occasions more than others since at that time the President was a Bengali and a literature lover too. In fact the residency programme itself was his initiative. Most of us hardly had any idea of what exactly happens inside Raisina Hills and how it functions or what developments and changes each President had brought about in the functioning of the esteemed palace. We got access to the President’s library which itself is a treasure. The library contains the diaries of the earlier Viceroys which, if ever revealed, could open up a new chapter of history. It was a life time experience about which I have written in my book “Cholte Cholte Rashtrapati Bhawan”.
Owshnik Ghosh- You are one of those poets who represents Bānglā poetry to different poetry festivals organised in different parts of India. According to you how important it is for a young writer to be exposed to these vast literary cannons of India? How can it benefit his writings?
Prabal Kumar Basu- We all know that the more exposure one gets, more his thinking horizons get expanded. As a particular language defines the cultural boundaries of people speaking that language, instead of remaining confined to one such language and culture, if one can interact / mix with people from different cultures speaking different languages one would surely be benefitted from it. The festivals bring that opportunity. Also as a poet one gets a larger audience for his poems. One can build up his / her own association which is very important considering today’s situation. The feeling that we are all Indians is augmented and that he / she is not merely a poet, writing in a particular language but actually are Indian poets, writing in our own mother tongue, sinks within.