NILAVRONILL: Do you think literature or poetry is really essential in our life? If so why? And how does it relate to the general history of mankind?
ANTARA BANERJEE: Definitely. Literature and Poetry are essential to civilized life. Because, it widens the mind and imagination, which is so necessary for establishing and maintaining a civil, progressive society. It is communication at its best. It gives us freedom of expression, of love, of harmony, of inspiration, of dissent… freedom of expression is the basic need for human progress.
Experiences and travels teach us all that there is to know. They make a human being civilized. Education gives us articulation. It is these experiences and learnings that literature and poetry capture. An educated human being articulates himself through literature and poetry.
Not everyone can travel everywhere, but the literature and poetry of a faraway land brings their way of life, their world view, environment and ethos, to the reader. Literature and poetry are the seed of other arts as well, music would be so incomplete without lyrics, which is nothing but poetry. Dance would only be physical performance if there was no story to tell through it. There would be no drama without a story!
You will find that more than anything else, it is literature and poetry that are custodians of our ideas, innovations, history and culture. We know so little about the Indus Valley civilization because its script is yet to be deciphered. So, there is no doubt that the general history of human kind is propagated by literature. Any great leader, prophet or teacher uses literature, stories and poetry to inspire and awaken the masses. Nothing is more enduring and encouraging than a good narrative.
NILAVRONILL: Our readers would like to know your own personal experience regarding the importance of literature and poetry in your life. Why literature or poetry in specific interests you so much? Who were your favourite writers during the early period of your life? And how they have paved your early routes in literature?
ANTARA BANERJEE: I am the only child of my parents and both have had busy careers. So, I was left to myself with books. My parents pampered me with a wealth of books since my childhood. I didn’t have many toys. But that did not bother me as I anyway had a great leaning towards books. I grew up on all kinds of books, comics, classics, children’s literature and even books that my parents read. I could create my own imaginary world around the stories I read. My life was built on these stories and poetry.
I loved Tolstoy, Gorky, Arkady Gaydar, National Book Trust Books, Parvda Press Books, Peking Press books, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, Satyajit Ray, Sharadindu Chattopadhyay, folk lores and mythology of various countries, and on the other hand, I loved Amar Chitra Katha, Tintin, Asterix and Calvin too. It is unfair to have a favourite writer, really. All were immensely engaging and delightful. I learnt something from all.
I do not know when I graduated from children’s literature to the books for grown-ups. Because, I had them around me all the time.
They have shaped my thinking and outlook towards life, my sense of right and wrong and reinforced my moral stand.
NILAVRONILL: Do you think society as a whole, is the key factor in shaping you up as a poet, or your poetry altogether?
ANTARA BANERJEE: Of course. A poet can never flourish in a vacuum. The society is the breeding ground of a poet, or for that matter, any artist. An artist’s inspiration comes from the society and he gives his creation back to the society. Even his inspiration and imagination have to be anchored to some social reality, only then, it becomes relatable and engaging. Same goes for me too.
There is a certain age till when you are engaged in poetry about personal emotions and experiences, as you mature, you will see that your poetry becomes increasingly socially-oriented. More so, in a turbulent and disturbed social milieu.
NILAVRONILL: Do you think people in general actually bother about literature in general? Do you think this consumerist world is turning the average man away from serious literature?
ANTARA BANERJEE: Yes, all human beings are tied to some kind of literature in some way. All cultures, all ethics and even lifestyles are shaped up by literature. Even the uneducated people in our country are conversant with some version of our epics, folk lores and scriptures. All people, in all cultures, across all religions, are conversant with their scriptures and mythology. So, no one is untouched by literature. And the more conservative the society, the more stubborn it is, to propagate the stories and narratives it endorses. All societies are very possessive about their own stories and shun stories they feel, threatens their narratives. Infact all societal, religious and political agenda are pushed through stories and literature. Even this consumerist society has a clear agenda. And trust me, it will push its people onto its chosen path through stories conducive to it. And yes, it will include serious literature as well. All said and done, let’s own it, that serious literature was never a common man’s cup of tea, and that is why intellectuals are regarded as propagators of such literature in the society. They simplify the sophisticated content and disseminate it into the masses. That is why intellectuals are persecuted in regressive societies and respected in progressive ones.
NILAVRONILL: How do you relate your own self existence with your literary life in one hand, and the present time and the socio-political space around you, in the other.
ANTARA BANERJEE: My existence is relentlessly engaged in asking questions and seeking answers in this socio-political space. As you know, sensitive people, especially artists, are constantly drawn to causes that disturb them, perhaps, seeking justice and parity is a congenital ethos for them. The anguish caused by injustice, the rage against repression, the suffocation created by loss of freedom is at the core of a poet’s/ author’s existence. This cannot be separated from their self-existence. I do not know, if there is no pain or injustice, what would we write about?
But then, there is also another beautiful side to our self-existence, love and peace. Our battle-worn souls return to such creations when we tire of rebellion and resistance. Acceptance and peace also feature in our creations and give us impetus to carry on again. We find myriad meanings
in life and shape them into words to soothe ourselves and others. The self and creation are mingled into one complete whole.
NILAVRONILL: Please give us some idea about your own views on the contemporary Indian literature written in English.
ANTARA BANERJEE: With the advent of vanity publishing, the space is diluted. It’s hard to choose. But I can tell you that, Indian literature is astoundingly rich and vibrant, because of the rich cultural and social diversity of our country. The current trend of looking at mythology, from completely different angles and putting forward unexplored issues in the narratives is a very welcome one. Given that mythology and religious narratives govern the way the society thinks and acts, this relooking at mythology holds immense potential to reform the patterns of thoughts and actions of the society, which is a very difficult thing to achieve. Only strong alternative narratives can undo the popular narratives, or at least the way people approach them.
NILAVRONILL: Do you think in this age of information and technology the dimensions of literature have largely been extended beyond our preconceived ideas about literature in general? Now, in this changing scenario we would like to know from your own life experiences as a poet, writer and a creative soul; how do you respond to this present time?
ANTARA BANERJEE: In the beginning, Information and technology was truly becoming a tool to connect people globally, to empower them with unity and inclusiveness. Social media had indeed brought the world close together. Not that it was meant that way, but it was organically becoming a major factor for cohesion. But as soon as the powers-that-be, realized that it is going against their agenda, they actively started hate-mongering on social media and IT became a major tool for propagation of false narratives and brazenly repressive ideas. Information technology, became misinformation technology. Literature, poetry and journalism were also made a tool for the same ulterior motive. But we still need to hold on to our sanity, through our steadfastness to our education, morals, virtues and human values.
As I said, the present time is turbulent and this turbulence churns creativity. It is also a time when creativity and free cerebral activity is concertedly repressed. I almost foresee a time when, all books will be burned again and a dark age will follow. We have to brace ourselves with the best of what we have and become custodians of the marvels that have already been produced, and the ideas that can sprout a new society again.
NILAVRONILL: Do you believe all writers are by and large the product of their nationality? And what are the factors which pay dividends and which become obstacles for your ultimate growth as an international writer even beyond your time?
ANTARA BANERJEE: Yes, all writers are by and large the products of their nationality/ culture. But that hardly has any contradiction with the potential to become timeless and becoming acceptable beyond borders. I have always believed that when we write about our realities earnestly, they inherently gather a universal appeal because the people who know your circumstances relate with them and those who don’t, learn new things. Both ways, it is interesting.
I believe, that the catch is in being truthful and engaging. Human beings are hypnotically drawn to a good story. The trick is in telling a good story that is inclusive and does not alienate anyone. Any narrative that challenges the mind and shows known truths in different light become successful.
NILAVRONILL: Humanity has suffered immensely in the past, is still suffering around the world. We all know it well. But are you hopeful about our future? How do you react when innocent peoples suffer immensely in Gaza or in Iraq, Syria Afghanistan or elsewhere? Whether it is state sponsored terrorism or sponsored by individual terrorist groups. Innocent peoples are the first victims. Your response.
ANTARA BANERJEE: These mindless crimes break my heart. But on second thoughts, I realize that these are not mindless at all. Innocent people have always been the first victims of such crimes. These are created and geared to kill and generate hatred for the benefit of a few powerful people. They extract profit, they extract pleasure and they extract satisfaction in playing with the lives of thousands of people. We have learnt about the universe but we are yet to learn to think beyond our benefits and greed, for the benefit of humanity.
Evil agenda does not surprise or worry me, rather, the gullibility of the people who uphold them, even at the cost of their own loss, worries me. The agenda is propagated through them and they don’t even realize. They are all around us and so self-righteously destructive.
NILAVRONILL: We all believe in individual liberty and human rights, yet these two are the constant targets of attacks from various quarter of power, even in India. How would you like to respond to this situation?
ANTARA BANERJEE: In these unfortunate times of ours, ‘Liberal’ has become a cuss word, ‘human rights’ are things to be flouted with impunity. The whole agenda of the present powers that control the world is to shatter the notion of humanity and goodness. There is a definite purpose behind this. The people to people connect has to be broken. Only then it will be possible for the handful of oligarchs to rule over the billions. This is true for the entire world, it is true for India too. Our country is only a piece in their malicious plan to gain control over the entire world.
NILAVRONILL: Dear poet tell us; do you believe one day may be in the distant future this world will be a safer place for every new born? When we will see each other as an equal in dignity and embrace everybody as human being overcoming all the differences of ethnicity, religion, nationality, racism? Bringing the world altogether?
ANTARA BANERJEE: I keep my hope alive, my dear friend. But standing where we stand today, it looks like a very very distant future indeed, when all that you say, can be expected to come true.
NILAVRONILL: Many thanks for spending such a wonderful time with us, we would like to conclude this interview with a personal note, are you satisfied about your own achievements in your life? What are your plans for future? And how do you evaluate your contemporaries and what are your aspirations from the younger generation?
ANTARA BANERJEE: Thank you so much Nil and OPA for this free-wheeling interview. I am very happy that it delves into my mind so much. It’s a very different sort of conversation altogether.
As a poet and author, I am just a beginner, I have a long way to go. But, one thing I am convinced about, that I am on the right path. In these challenging times, no plan is working, so I am not planning much.
I am no one to evaluate anyone. All I can say is that, I appreciate voices that rise consistently against social ills and injustice. They appeal to me. We are doing our due, I hope the next generation also keep sit up.
There is a child in me who wants to play in the sunshine, with the butterflies. But, I feel, it is a crime to dream of such things when children are dying of hunger out there, women are getting brutalized, raped and killed, people are becoming jobless, homeless… No, I don’t see any decent plan yet… Just staying afloat at the moment with whatever little hope I can gather.
ANTARA BANERJEE is an award-winning author of the books, ‘The Goddess in Flesh’ and ‘To be a Woman’. She is also a tri-lingual poet with the book, ‘Pieces of a Tormented Mind’ to her credit. She has contributed to many anthologies and read her poetry in various prestigious fora. Masters from Goldsmiths College, London and graduate from Presidency College, she is the recipient of Sanmarg Aparajita Award 2019, Young Achiever- Literature and Udaan Empowering Women Awards 2017, for her contribution in Women Centric Literature.
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Wow truly breathtaking