Thank you so much, Animikh Patra and Sanghamitra Halder, for agreeing to this interview in spite of the stressful situation we are going through internationally with the pandemic and the lockdown. As The Dreaming Machine and Duniyaadaari have been in a partnership for some years now, it is a great pleasure for me to have this opportunity to discuss some of the issues, concerns and common visions we share and learn from one another.
TDM: For those of us who have been active for years in promoting and disseminating literature through online journals, these early months of 2020 have also been a time of deep reflection as to value or potential of our ‘mission’, whether we need to make some drastic changes to the way we have been operating so far, etc. In the context of some of the clarity that we may be achieving due to the magnifying lens that the coronavirus is turning out to be with respect to our times, I would like you to give a brief introduction of your journal to our readers- please tell us about Duniyaadaari….
DUNIYAADAARI: Thanks Pina for providing this invaluable opportunity to talk about our visions and workings and thereby reaching out to a broader audience. This is gem of a bonding undoubtedly between two online journals The Dreaming Machine and Duniyaadaari – both working with quite similar literary ethics and temperament although venturing in absolutely different environment as well as two starkly different continents.
Now, to give you a picture of Duniyaadaari’s history, connotations of its name, profiles of its editors, we have to talk in detail about our goals and perceptions first. For long we had been thinking of a literary platform which might be instrumental to make the worlds meet. Bengalis are a literarily enthusiastic race. And there’s a saying that every Bengali individual has tried his/her hand to write poems at least once in their lifetime. In spite of this we have a little access to the contemporary world literature. Books of the literary canons or Nobel / Booker Prize winners do reach us, yes, but we don’t have a clue at all how and what our fellow young authors elsewhere in this globe are writing. And we do feel that despite our cultural heritage and literary profundity, Bengali literature, especially poetry is not presented to the world readers as it should be. Despite the fact that our very own Rabindranath Tagore won the first Nobel prize for literature in Asia. We have been increasingly suffering from localism and self-complacency. Therefore, we thought of an online journal that can bridge this communication, where boundaries may dissolve, cultures may mingle, alternative thinking may find a right space for discourse and we become able to present contemporary Bengali poetry to the world through translation. Though we admit that we couldn’t do this job very consistently. So, the name for such a journal could never be anything other than Duniyaadaari – it’s difficult to interpret it in English but our English tagline may give you a hint – World Gaze. ‘Duniyaa’ means world, ‘daari’ is a kind of suffix attached to it, roughly making it ‘business with the world’. We are a bilingual journal, chiefly operating in Bengali language and we have an English section named ‘World Window’.
We are an all-poets team till date – Sanghamitra Halder, Animikh Patra, Saibal Sarkar, Debabrata Kar Biswas and Saikat Sarkar. In the initial days Heidi Lynn Staples, a US poet and professor of English at Alabama University worked with us as a co-editor for the World Window section, but due to her heavy work-stress it became difficult for her to contribute and communicate regularly. We have still kept her name in our editorial team hoping that someday again she would be able to join us. Basically, Duniyaadaari was Sanghamitra’s brainchild. She was the most enthusiastic and instrumental in bringing this journal to light. Animikh readily joined her and the title and sections were thought of. Saibal, Debabrata and Saikat joined the team one after another. Apart from being poets, they contribute in many ways – Saibal with his technical expertise, Debabrata with his unique campaigning techniques and Saikat with his soothing illustrations. All of us have several books to our name.
TDM: That is a very rich and stimulating picture of how the journal’s mission was conceived and its process of development, its relation to the poetry of India and West Bengal both in its present and legacy. Could you please provide a sampler, medley, even few lines each of the poetry that you Animikh and Sanghamitra, your collaborators and contributors have showcased in the journal so that our readers can have a flavour of the styles and substance, especially because as you were saying in the West there are plenty of misconceptions about it.
DUNIYAADAARI: Now, here is a technical problem. To give a sample of our contemporary poetry translated into English we’d have to heavily rely upon The Dreaming Machine, especially the content about the Zero generation of poets in Bengal published in your journal here, here and here . We took up the project of translating prominent and unique Bengali poets, but only could complete and publish the works of two veteran poets. Readers can find the link to our English section here so may check for themselves.
So far, it may be said that our signature works have been done chiefly in Bengali. We wouldn’t say that the West has plenty of misconceptions about our literature rather we would say that they’ve no proper conception at all. And it’s not their fault, it’s because of the lack of translations. Though books from Indian writers writing in English are quite popular and we suppose authors like Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Arvind Adiga or Jhumpa Lahiri enjoy a popularity worldwide. But we are nowhere near the truth if we form an idea of Indian Literature from them only. Even we feel despite winning Nobel in 1913, Tagore could hardly achieve Western readership. His major body of work is not translated and on that account couldn’t be added to the bulk of world literature. It would be a major valuable addition. A rare genius like him doesn’t appear on this planet quite often.
Anyway, we will not let go this opportunity to talk about some of our editorial policies. We do not issue any submission call. Rather, we search for young poets with unique voice, we try to avoid those who cannot avoid the beaten path. We request them, once a poet catches our eye, to send us a bunch of poems, along with the condition that they will only be published if we really like them. So, not the names but the content is the key. The same applies to the short story section. It’s the prose section or essays that justifies our journal’s claim to be the freshest, thought-provoking and intriguing. We do research and discuss about every possible author in our vicinity in Bengal and Bangladesh (for the convenience of your readers we would like to point out some geographical and historical inputs here – our state/province is officially called West Bengal which we frequently mention as Bengal and it’s a state among 29 others in India. Our state capital – Kolkata – had been the capital of British India till 1911. We got our independence in 1947 from the British but one country was torn into three pieces. The major piece of land remained India and Pakistan and East Pakistan were formed on the two sides of India. Again, East Pakistan became Bangladesh after a bloody war against Pakistan in 1971. Now, Bangladesh is the solely Bengali speaking nation. So, Bengal and Bangladesh share the same language. We often refer to it as East Bengal or the other part of Bengal still.) We think of particular prose topics for each individual writer of our choice. We discuss with them, inform them about our choice of topics and ask if he/she has any other interesting article in mind and thus we decide. Nevertheless, the cherry on the cake is our Interview section which is rather a profound and elaborate tete-e-tete. They have gained so much popularity among our readers in both Bengal and Bangladesh that we have got several offers from both lands to publish them in book forms. We may hope, once this pandemic is over, we will start our venture in book forms as well.
And we have been sincerely publishing world poetry in Bengali translation since the day one. Animikh has been especially working with contemporary Italian poets, thanks to you Pina. We have thought of an anthology of Italian poetry to be published in Kolkata in the near future.
TDM: How does your English section ‘World Window’ work in a country where English is the colonial language and as such carries a lot of baggage?
Duniyaadaari: That’s a very profound question which needs to be addressed elaborately with socio-political references. And we need to step out of Bengal and pose a pan-Indian outlook here.
Yes, India had been ruled by the British for nearly two centuries and there is an interesting speculation – if Napoleon hadn’t been defeated in the battle of Waterloo, we, in India would have been learning French now instead of English. Everyone tried their share of luck here – the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French – but none did succeed like the English. If you visit India someday, you will have no language or communication problem at all in the streets, markets, rails, offices or anywhere, your English would suffice. Here in Bengal, we sometimes revolt against the overuse of English, there are organizations or Bangla Bhasha Samity (Bengali Language Organization. Bengali is the English word for Bangla) which demand to put down English signboards at the shops and to make Bengali mandatory there. The bleak picture is that a lot more people have been preferring English over their vernaculars in school each day. From a national perspective, this battle of languages is complex. If this is a baggage for us, then we would like to see it as a boon as well.
You know, India is unique – diversity and pluralism are the core elements to her. There are many points to make, but we have to restrict ourselves to the few which are concerned with the literary discourse. If you Google about the languages spoken in India, the number will amaze you – it says 122 major languages! Though, Sahitya Akademi (India’s National Academy of Letters), the highest governmental organization for literature, confers its literary awards in 24 languages including English as a non-native language. Therefore, in this bewildering set up, English provides us with the essential lingua franca. A common formal and communicating language that can be used without much ado. And here is a twist – the central government, whoever sits in power in New Delhi, has tried many a times to impose Hindi upon other states. Now, you may say that we are fighting against Hindi colonialism linguistically. Bengali is a strong poetic language, it ranks as 5th or 6th in the world and it’s the language for the love and prestige for which people have embraced martyrdom. Now, 21st February is observed as International Mother Language Day in view of this incident that happened back in 1952 in Bangladesh.
Hence, when we try to communicate with the fellow poets from the other states of our own country, English becomes the only help we get. Nevertheless, it opens the door to the world literature. We believe, and we experience this as editors of Duniyaadaari, that literature, especially poetry, has its own language. No matter in which language it’s written first, the creative vibes do connect universally.
TDM: How does Duniyaadaari see itself as a window on the world? In La Macchina Sognante one of our pressing concerns has been to connect writing to social action, in a country that in the past decades has been less inclined to do so, especially in the world of poetry. What have been some of the issues for you? I have seen videos of readings you have made filming poets reading on CAA; we know of important social movements that are rooted in India and have come to appreciate your high caliber intellectual figures and leaders, such as Arundhati Roy and Vandana Shiva. Do the trends of society they represent come up in the literature you publish? What are some of the promising trends in Indian literature that we in the West have not been exposed to and that you think we should familiarize ourselves with?
DUNIYAADAARI: Well, again the starting point of the talk should be the socio-political structure of India and how the concept of India as a nation came to be. But yet again, let us restrict ourselves to the very present we are dealing with. You know we have been vocal and on the streets since our college days, almost whenever there were governmental atrocities, genocides, marks of Fascism or acts of discrimination. We have already talked about the variety of languages and the efforts of imposing one language above others. Now, India is diversified in every aspect possible – be it ethnicity, religious beliefs, rituals and social customs, food habits, accents, garments and fashion and so many others. The difference is so stark and evident if you travel from one state to another it may seem you are entering into a different country. India is an amalgamation of so many foreign and native races that you can rarely dissociate who were who in distant past. Moreover, there was no concept of ‘India’ before the resistance to British rule began and it’s only recent history. This vast land was divided into several princely states i.e. kingdoms of different clans of kings. Therefore, we, same as the progressive and conscientious section of the country, feel that it’s this very pluralism where our India thrives. But the government by hook or by crook has been championing singularism and a majority oriented politics. We feel that we are at a very crucial juncture of history. If we don’t resist now, our beloved country will forever slip into an engulfing darkness of religious fanaticism, superstitions, regressive and dumb way of interpreting things. The situation is already pathetic – people are being brainwashed by IT Cell machineries (by spreading false or mutilated truths through social media very much in the infamous Goebbels technique), they are believing rumors and WhatsApp forwards over books, they are losing their reasoning capabilities, becoming increasingly intolerant of each other and giving way to hatred. They have become puppets in the hands of cunning politicians without knowing it. They are losing rationality as they are fed the intoxicating tonic of narrow nationalism. Can you imagine, even some have started hating Gandhi and a temple has been erected in the name of Gandhi’s killer? And the number of these people is rising. Tagore was a prophet, a seer, he warned us about this harm of nationalism long ago. We want to share with the readers this poem that has recently come to light again as Climate change activist and famous actor Martin Sheen recited it before his arrest:
WHERE THE MIND IS WITHOUT FEAR
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Amidst this situation came this discriminatory CAA –Citizenship Amendment Act where one of the basic strata of our Constitution is violated through a legalised process. You cannot discriminate anyone in respect to religious identity. And it’s so absurd that all of a sudden everyone in this country has to prove once again that he/she is a citizen. The very countrymen have to prove that they are countrymen. Those who would fail due to lack of proof or whatever reasons would go to Detention Camps. It very much sounds like Nazi Germany, a modified version, of course. Hence, fear and confusion wrought havoc in the country. And at the same time, India has woke up in resistance like never before. Now, we cannot sit back and idle away. Our journal should play whatever part is necessary even if it’s only to record that we tried. We mean we really don’t know whether literature helps at all in times of atrocities and fascism. But we have seen in wonder that poetry and songs along with witty slogans flooded in. Arundhati Roy had been a long time critic of the system but legendary actors like Naseeruddin Shah became vocal like never before. It’s being said that it’s so bad that even scientists, engineers, housewives, Bollywood actors – all are here. You have heard of Amir Aziz’s poems which are translated into many languages, reached immense popularity and one poem ‘Sab yaad rakkha jayega’ i.e. ‘Everything will be remembered’ was recited by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. Many songs have been composed among which one with the tune of your famous ‘Bella Ciao’ has become particularly favourite. We have published special essays in Duniyaadaari scanning situations, expressing solidarity and concern and explaining all these in the light of economics and history. We have published poems and cartoons on these upheavals too. We have a long term plan in mind, though difficult to execute – readdressing religious texts and thoughtful readings of our epics, so that we may combat every twisted tale spread by the instigators and hate-mongers. There is a large section of people who actually believe mythological tales and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata to be true. Our notion is to present a deeper and insightful reading of these texts so that they can’t be misread. We don’t know if this will work at all.
Now, in this time of pandemic, we are again proved to be right. We needed hospitals, job security and food for all instead of erecting sky-high statues or gorgeous temples. We hope that people will learn to remember again that we elect a government to provide governance and welfare, not to unsettle and divide its own countrymen and promote fanaticism.
TDM: Thank you so much for providing such a nuanced picture about what it means to be living in a subcontinent, the advantages and the challenges that derive from its diversity, long history and literary tradition. One that is rich in mythology which is still present in people’s minds and actions. Some of those ghosts from the past haunt us in the West as well, maybe in different forms, but equally a challenge for those of us who would like to make a difference in the world of literature as it impacts at the social level. As the world is drawn closer together through technology, commerce, viruses and concerns about the environment, what do you think may be some fruitful ways that Duniyaadaari and LMS and TDM may collaborate in the future? and what do you think are some of the developing trends and opportunities we should seize? What pitfalls should we avoid?
DUNIYAADAARI: Thanks for the appreciation! But it’s hell of a task to present you the proper scenario in a nutshell!
Well, literary projects for future may come up as a poem comes up to a poet from a clue or a cloud of thought! As for now we can think that we should definitely focus more on translations. We are more than eager to present contemporary world poetry in Duniyaadaari. We have already begun translating a series of contemporary Italian poets, thanks to you. This may stretch more with access to literature from other corners of the world. We have been thinking of a book – a collection of contemporary Italian poetry in Bengali to be published here. We would like to share contemporary Bengali poetry in the same way in TDM. Launching a YouTube channel in the name of Duniyaadaari is also in our mind. There, we can collaborate as well in audio-visuals. We can create multi-language poetry readings.
You must be more aware of the pitfalls – with the loads of experience and finer expertise in managing international literary connections. There is a crooked politics omnipresent in Bengal’s literary arena – a rat race for fame and light, monopoly of some literary tycoons, fishy manipulative tug-of-war around awards and accolades and so many. But this is not what affects our journey ahead. We should only be guided by the ‘ever-widening thought and action’ as Tagore tells us to do.
We express our gratitude to Aritra Sanyal for introducing us to you both – Pina and her The Dreaming Machine! Thanks a lot.