Bibhas Roy Chowdhury was born in 1968 in Bibhutipolli, Bonoga, and from his early life he began to show keen interest in Bangla Literature, Drama and Poetry. His first publication was for the Bangla newspaper “Doinik Boshomoti”. His first book “Noshto Projonmer Bhashan” was published in 96’s Book Fair. He was the first ever to receive the prestigious “Kritibash” prize in 1998. He had also been honoured with prizes like the Bangla Academy Award, Nimli Acharjya Gold Medal, etc.
From just a ‘roll number’ at Gobardanga Hindu College to a published poet of innumerable literary works, how did it all begin? When and how did you realise that you are a ‘poet’?
I was born into a refugee family; my parents were refugees who, like many others, suffered the facts and turbulence of the Partition of Bengal. I was born in Bongaon, and I live here even now. As you know Bongaon is a terminal town of West Bengal, being located in the district of North 24-parganas. Since childhood I was attracted to music (especially singing) and drama. But we were extremely poor and could not afford to learn music traditionally. I started writing poems under the impression that poetry-writing needed no formal training. Bongaon has its share of several literary magazines, and noteworthy poets. In those days a few of my poems got published in local magazines and it gave me a high, but only temporarily.
I took admission in Gobardanga Hindu College in spite of the fact that we had a college in Bongaon, but it was very near to my home. In the college I met Sri Usaprasanna Mukhopadhyay, who taught us Bengali literature. He gave me a chance to learn the basics of poetry, and later it was Subhankar Patra, a well-known poet, who made me aware that poetry was not merely a collection of words. Poetry is essentially a collection of thoughts, and one has to learn the intricacies of writing good or honest poetry. Bengali poetry hypnotized me gradually and I surrendered my being to its core.
During the early ’90s my poems were published in several distinguished magazines and journals, and I received rave reviews of my work. There was no looking back, honestly!
What was the reaction you got from your parents when you told them that you want to dedicate your life to poetry?
My parents were labourers and they wanted me by their side, so I could contribute towards my family. Obviously, they were not happy with my decision in the first place.
What did it feel like to be a poet in the 90’s and what it feels like in this age of social media?
We did not enjoy electronic or social media in the ’90s. We had to send in submissions through postal service. I can remember, I had to walk down to the offices of the magazines to drop my submission.
In a recent interview (published on Word Riot) I said, “Facebook is an alternative society. It is a silent revolution. Here the users can freely share their opinions about anything and everything. This is a dream-land where governmental restrictions are negligible, except for a few countries of course! Facebook has its share of poets and their readers. I’ll say, here poetry is present in search of its readers. Neglected, but talented poets of yesteryears are now present on Facebook and they are being appreciated adequately by their fans and followers. Having said that I must add nurturing poetry is extremely important, and Facebook can only compliment the tradition of poetry.”
Tell us about your book Poems Continuous and the journey behind it.
Poem Continuous — Reincarnated Expressions is a collection of translated poems that I wrote originally in the Bengali language. I’m grateful to my publishers, Inner Child Press, Limited (New Jersey, USA) and Hawakaal (Kolkata, India) that they have agreed to publish the expanded second edition of Poem Continuous. In this expanded edition there are fifty poems along with a few reviews of the first edition of the same book.
Undoubtedly, Poem Continuous has given me a new lease of life, and I find myself more enthusiastic towards writing poetry. I’m thankful to Kiriti (Translator), and Don Martin (Editor); they have wonderfully shaped the new version of my book.
What is your stand on translation of literary works? Do you feel that some essence of the original work is lost in translation?
I have shared my thoughts on this in a recent interview that was published on Word Riot: “I don’t believe in translating poetry into other languages. A poem not only belongs to the poet, it belongs to the language as well. The language that a poet uses to write his/her thoughts, feelings, and reactions, has its own characteristic features like flexibility, rigidity, lyrical quality, et cetera. All these affect the construction of a poem. During translation the language changes, and as a result the translated poem differs from the original poem. Yes, the thoughts are conveyed to some extent! This is why documentary, social, and subject-based poems are most commonly translated into other languages. A poet rarely has any demands. Poetry remains localized within the domain of the concerned language.”
But, translation is indeed essential to reach out to a wider section of readers.
What is your inspiration for poetry?
My life that I got from my parents, my friends, and of course Mother Nature!
What would be your message to budding poets?
My message will be such—
Only you are aware if you have been honest when you write poetry. And if you are not honest, you won’t survive as a poet. Honest poets can never die!
The above interview had been given in bengali and was translated into english courtesy of Kiriti Sengupta.