Interview of Author Kiriti Sengupta
“If there is a will, there is a way.” The maxim is true about Kiriti Sengupta, who is an established dentist on one hand and a bestselling author on the other. He has an equal grip on both Bengali and English. A linguistically sensitive person, Kiriti Sengupta is a bilingual poet and translator. The author of such bestselling titles as My Glass of Wine, an autobiographical poetry based novelette, and The Reverse Tree, a nonfictional memoir, he has recently launched Healing Waters Floating Lamps, an anthology of self-composed poems. SliceofRealLife catches up with author Kiriti Sengupta to share with you how challenging it is to translate someone else’ work, what motivated him to nurture his passion for literature, and something about his literary achievements. The excerpts from the interview of Kiriti Sengupta are here:
Share something about your recently launched collection of philosophical poems Healing Waters Floating Lamps.
Although I’ve authored and edited more than ten books until now [including one in Bengali], Healing Waters Floating Lamps is my first exclusive collection of verses in English-language. I never planned to publish one, for there are plenty of poetry collections in the market. And I did not want to add to the burden. Please, don’t be surprised as I said “burden.” Perhaps you are aware that poetry books don’t sell much, and they are read only by the poets. Sounds ridiculous, right? Poetry never enjoyed wide readership; it is one genre of literature which is cherished by a certain segment of readers, and does not quite appeal to the general readers. The situation is grimmer now.
Healing Waters Floating Lamps would have never materialized had I not been inspired by Gopal Lahiri [one of my critics — a poet and an earth scientist based in Mumbai] who strongly suggested that I should bring out an exclusive collection of my poems that were first included in my other books like My Glass Of Wine, and The Reverse Tree. You need to note that those books belong to the genre of nonfictional memoirs, or you may prefer to call them hybrid literature. My recent book is actually a collection of my older poems mixed with a few fresh ones.
Finally, my editors and friends: Don Martin, Eileen Register, and Mary Torregrossa. They have spent days and even weeks on my thin-volume work, and made sure the verses were perfect for the global readers.
What motivated you to write philosophical verses?
The biggest motivation happens to be life in its entirety! What is poetry if it does not reflect the philosophy of one’s living? My verses, I think, evolved from my vision — the way I look at my life. The poems included in Healing Waters Floating Lamps reflect Indian culture, especially my Bengali being. I’m a born Bengali, and I have no intention to eliminate my traditional cultures even when I write verses in English. I believe, my writing should necessarily mirror my soul.
You are a dentist by profession. How did the transition into the world of literature happen?
I won’t refer it to as a “transition.” I have been professionally trained to serve as a Dental Surgeon, and “writing” has been my passion since my childhood days. You can say, I am looking after my passion carefully nowadays!
What is the most challenging about translation of literary works in general?
An efficient translator delivers the thoughts to the target readers in a creative way. The most challenging aspect being the nuances of the original language, and there are times when, in spite of all efforts, the appeal fails to reach the readers. Translating poetry is perhaps the most difficult work as far as “translation of literature” is concerned.
Have you ever faced any challenge while translating multifaceted, intense Bengali poems into English?
Bengali is an immensely rich language, and Bengali poetry enjoys its distinct place in world literature from being multi-layered, philosophical, culture-specific, and engrossing. We must understand our great lineage of poets, ranging from Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Bishnu Dey, Jibanananda Das, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Binay Majumdar, Shankha Ghosh, Joy Goswami, among others. And I have my personal favorites, I must tell you. They are Bibhas Roy Chowdhury and Ranadeb Dasgupta. I don’t have the slightest intention to compare them with others, but given a chance I can explain that works of Roy Chowdhury and Dasgupta are as excellent as that of the stalwart poets of Bengali literature. Until now I have translated poems by Sumita Nandy, Joya Mitra, Suddhasatwa Ghosh, Bibhas Roy Chowdhury, Uttam Dutta, Ranadeb Dasgupta, and a few others. Most of those translated verses have been anthologized and appreciated by the critics. Let me cite an example where I had to reflect upon the vision of the original poet, and I did not opt for a word-to-word translation. In a poem [dedicated to the legendary Rabindranath Tagore] Bibhas Roy Chowdhury wrote: “Torun kobir / anne bish // hey ponchis / ki bhabchis?” Had I translated the third line as “Ye, twenty-five,” it would have made no sense at all. I prefer to translate verses of the living poets, for I get a chance to communicate with them. Understanding of the poetic vision is extremely important in order to restore the right nuances of the original language.
Your translation works are The Reciting Pens, Desirous Water, and Poem Continuous – Reincarnated Expressions. You look into yourself while writing something new. You step into someone else’s shoes while translating a work. Which one is more interesting, more difficult and more fulfilling?
Your question made me think of one of the chapters that I wrote in The Reverse Tree. The chapter was entitled: “In Others’ Shoes.” I can remember I ended the chapter with a question: “How does one get into another being so effortlessly?”
Translating poetry is a challenging task, but this is a thankless affair. Generally, you won’t get paid for your efforts, and you can never enjoy the credit of your work as the verses originally belong to someone else. On the other hand, when you write something new, you have an absolute control on the delivery of thoughts. I won’t say that I don’t enjoy the tag of a translator, but I enjoy more when my readers recognize and appreciate me for my original works.
My Glass of Wine and The Reverse Tree are the brightest feathers in your cap. How did these two happen to you?
My Glass Of Wine has been a bestselling title here in India, while The Reverse Tree has been a bestseller at Amazon [United States]. In MGOW my objective was to fetch more readers to Poetry. I have been considerably successful in my aim, and finally, the book has been placed in the Ryerss Museum and Library, Philadelphia. I’ll describe MGOW as an important landmark in my literary journey, and my readers often refer me to as the author of this book although I have quite a few titles in my credit.
The Reverse Tree is a nonfictional memoir that includes a few of my poems. In this book my motto was to present literary nonfiction to the general readers of literature. TRT has been widely appreciated both in India and in the United States, and I am awaiting further reviews of the book.
In a nutshell, I have worked upon “hybrid literature” in these books, and I think, this literary genre deserves much attention and more academic research globally!
These days, there are many courses on literary translation. Do these courses really help one build career as a literary translator? Or, it requires something more…
I can only comment on translation of poetry. You can teach languages, you can learn languages, but you have to have a poetic soul if you wish to work as an efficient translator. You need to appreciate poetry if you are serious in translating the works of other poets. I really don’t buy the notion that by pursuing a course a translator could build a career as a literary translator.
I would rather advice the translators to get in touch with worthy editors of the target languages in order to polish their works for their target readers.
How is the current scenario of Bengali Literature at home and abroad?
We have a handful of extremely talented poets and writers here in Kolkata, West Bengal, and in Bangladesh. I must tell you a few names from the current breed: Binod Ghoshal, Sujan Bhattacharya, Sayantani Putatunda, Kishore Ghosh, Sanjib Chattopadhyay [Bankura], Nirmalya Mukhopadhyay [Midnapur], Debraj Chakraborty, Masudar Rahaman [Bangladesh], Mujib Erom [Bangladesh], among others. The biggest problem in India is: most of the budding writers/poets opt for vanity presses, for the big houses rarely support the upcoming talents. They are mostly focused on established names in literature. The big houses don’t tend to support talents; they are here merely for business.
What is your next move as author?
I’m planning a new collection of my verses, but this will take time. In the meantime, I am working on the poems of Bibhas Roy Chowdhury again, so we can publish a new edition of Poem Continuous soon. I’m sure that the second edition of the book will be accepted and appreciated by a bigger audience.
Thank you so much!
SliceofRealLife.com thanks Kiriti Sengupta for the opportunity to interview him and wish him all the best for his next venture!