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?

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI: Poetry as we understand it in conventional and traditional ways is in no way essential to our life. A man can survive without reading a poem throughout his life. Writing or reading habit for poetry is not the instinct for self-preservation. There is no apparent relationship between the Survival of the fittest and poetic sensibilities. I do refer in this context not only to the Biological evolution but also to the Social evolution or Social Darwinism. Human life is a relentless struggle not only at the physical and environmental level but also at the ethical, intellectual and social level.  Let me refer to Herbert Spencer’s ethical evolution and particularly Spencer’s pure Laissez-Faire ideology that is of minimal governmental interference in the financial and societal relationships among individuals in a society.  In this connection let me refer to the name of Leslie Stephen who was an offshoot of Comte’s Positivism in England. The Science of Ethics Stephen wrote. This overwhelming policy of the 19th century England also influenced the other side of the Atlantic. For example, we can refer to the deregulation of the postal services in the Unites States. The implementation of this policy has result in the all-out growth and the development not only of individuals but also of society. It is the ideal Government “that governs least”. Apparently, it has nothing to do with poetry. I do hereby underline the adverbial word ‘Apparently’.

But a careful study of Spencer’s Laissez Fairie principle shows that a man from the time immemorial loves to lead his life following dictates that come from his within. It is man’s intuitive desire that helps a man develop.  And this dictate in broader sense creates the poetry. Poetry is the rhythm of life. Rabindranath has made a comment in this context. Everyone in this world is a “silent poet”. Those who can encode into a language are poets and those who can’t are not poet in the conventional sense. If poetry means the “flight of Imagination” (Shelley), life is poetry. Man’s love for imagination is instinctive. Civilizations, past or present rests on imagination. Without imagination and other related endowments, man’s civilisation cannot progress. Man’s love for aesthetics, man’s artistic sensibilities, revealed in different artistic genre, is poetry. Pre-Raphaelite Painting and Painting after Raphael were inspired by painter’s zest for life. Even in the primitive society, human beings were poets. The idea of even distribution of food among the members of the primitive society originated from primitive man’s imagination. Uneven distribution of wealth is not just. This idea is man’s most genuine and lofty imagination. ‘All the five fingers of a man’s hand are of equal size’ may be absurd. But nobody can deny poetry in it. At the same time, it is a fact that poetry is not impossible and non-sense in human life.

Naturally poetry in a greater sense is essential in human life. But everything in this world is illusive. Even the truth, that seems to be sacrosanct, is illusive. The society tends to believe now that everything is neither indispensable nor redundant. Poetry plays an important in our life, and it is indispensable in every sphere of man’s research and development.

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?

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI: This question set here demands elicitation of my two views. My response to the statement “Our readers would like to know your own personal experience regarding the importance of literature and poetry in your life” and “Why literature or poetry in specific interests you so much?” may be highlighted by my personal experience while I was a student of the graduate programme of one American University sometime in 1979. All most all A and B-grade universities in the United States decide to offer altogether 12 Credit hours on American history, American Constitution and literature in English to all Science, Engineering and Medical students as their minor subjects. It was a total surprise to us.  I was elated with the joy because every student, irrespective of his Major subjects, should read at least some poems of Walt Whitman and at least some basic beliefs of American Transcendentalism. We the students of Master’s programme in Liberal Arts and Social Science arranged a snack party for the Deans of all faculties and departmental Chairs in our campus beer pub. University authorities in all most all States wanted these two areas of human knowledge, to be included in every faculty, simply to encourage students not to be dehumanised. The idea behind this move was that every segment of the student community should be exposed to literature and social sciences. The Federal Government also detested the trends of dehumanisation in the society though in the recent past one of the universities in Europe stopped funding to the departments of so called literature, History, Philosophy, etc. The source of my information on one of the European universities in the recent past is the Indian Newspapers. I don’t like our society to be dehumanised on the whole. This is one of my responses to your first question set. The second reason is very private. Pathologically I love to take refuge in the world of colourful imagination. For this reason, as an example I mention that I love the Futuristic novels of H.G. Wells. The novel, In the Days of the Comet (1906) is my favourite science fiction. So I do love to read literature.

NILAVRONILL: Do you think society as a whole, is the key factor in shaping you up as a poet, or your poetry altogether?

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI:  Literature, art, music or any cultural manifestation of any society in any form is not in the outside of any social group to which it is produced. A poet does definitely belong to any particular society in which he is born and brought up. Even language is not genetically transmitted. Human language is culturally transmitted. ‘Psychologists often make a distinction between instinctive and non-instinctive behaviour. Let us consider an example the difference between bees constructing houses and human beings building houses. Beehives are built in hexagonal shape, and geometrically these are very much economical. Bees however, do not study Geometry. For them the knowledge about the hexagonal shape is inbuilt; it is genetically transmitted. We can say that in the case of bees, making use of hexagons is instinctive. Human beings, on the other hand, have no such instinct about building houses. In the primitive society man built his shelter being prompted by his instinct of self-preservation.  They have to learn how to build houses because nature has not supplied human beings with an inbuilt knowledge of engineering’ (It has been taken from CIEFL Teaching materials and class room teacher’s hand out). A desire to write a poem and finally the writing efforts of the poet’s feeling encoding into any language is a cultural expression of a society. We cannot even conceive any culture without any society in its background. Society shapes the mindset of a poet or any artist.

In Victorian England let me refer to a critic, Walter Peter Who made an epoch-making dictum, “Art for Art’s sake”. D.G. Rossetti, Swinburne, Morris, Ezra Pound Oscar Wild and many others wrote poems for the sake of art, beauty and poetry. Contemporary social problems were not the subject matters of their poems. Indeed, this idea was in the air of the Victorian social England. Practically this tradition began from Alexander Pope’s Mock epic, The Rape of the Lock. Even this tradition also was followed by Keats who believed that a poet “must serve Mammon”. In France Surrealism became popular in 1920s and this tradition continued for some decades. ‘The aesthetic philosophy’’ which also influenced poetry not only of France but also every country of the European continent for subsequent decades was propounded by Andre Breton in 1920s. Breton discarded “the disinterested play of thought” and promoted the “omnipotence of dreams” ignoring “reasons and logic”. The names of Baudelaire, Pablo Neruda and others in Latin America may be referred to this context (from Google Search).  Later in 20th century, a Norwegian Playwright, Henrik Ibsen contesting Walter Peter’s literary theory, said that it is “art for life’s sake”. The British playwrights, George Bernard Shaw, Harley Granville Barker, John Galsworthy and an American dramatist, Arthur Miller wrote plays using the certain social problems in their plays. Let me refer to Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession, Heartbreak House, Galsworthy’s, Justice, and Arthur Miller’s The Death of A Salesman. According to them a piece of art with no reference to life and society is impossible. Naturally, the demand of the present time everywhere is that art, literature and culture, everything needs to be life-centric.

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?

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI: A straight answer to these questions is ‘No’. In the world of consumerism, people in general cannot afford art and literature. In this context, let me refer to a poem “The Unknown Citizen” written by Auden, where the narrator pinpoints that in a highly industrialised society, a man is known by the number the administration allots to him. He is not known by his name. His identity lies in the number. I also refer to Tagore’s Red Oleanders where the administration of the King, Yaksha Raj addresses everyone by the number he confers upon them. When the nations will bid farewell to abject poverty and dreadful hunger from the world, the common people will love poetry and sing the song of their hearts. Moreover, the principle of Globalisation and Market economy is not properly followed by the developed countries. International labour and labour market has not yet been globalised. Every policy or direction, even if it is followed properly and carefully, it will have certain good and bad aspects. Consumerism is an aftermath of Market economy.  Common men and women cannot play flutes if they cannot do anything of their choice.

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?

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI:  I belong to the privileged class drawing an amount of monthly pension in our Indian context. I am proud of my role as a Middle-class opportunist. Naturally I know how to make the balance in my life. So I don’t have any problem in relating my own self existence with my literary and academic life with the present time and the socio-political space around me. Thank you very much.

NILAVRONILL: Please give us some idea about your own views on the contemporary Indian literature written in English.

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI: I repeat what I have said earlier: In France Surrealism became popular in 1920s and this tradition continued for some decades. The aesthetic philosophy which also influenced poetry not only of France but also every country of the European continent for subsequent decades was propounded by Andre Breton in 1920s. Breton discarded “the disinterested play of thought” and promoted the “omnipotence of dreams ignoring reasons and logic.

Most of the Indian poets in the first quarter of the 21st century are influenced by the French Surrealism (1920-1953[?]). Even Dylan Thomas may be considered a Surrealist poet of England. Maybe, Surrealism is the syndrome of the loss of interest in material life and of the last two World Wars, the Irish Freedom Movement and The Spanish War. Let us see how and how long this trend in Indian poetry in English continues. Better we should wait.

Second, in this context I do not refer to the grammar of English language.  A poet may depart from the regular track of prescriptive or descriptive grammar of English language. I do mention here ‘the Grammar of Poetry’. Everything in its planet has a grammar of its own and following certain rules does not necessarily mean any loss of individual freedom. That grammar is not prescriptive. That grammar is definitely descriptive. I do know that only few poets in the domain of Indian poetry in English know the grammar of poetry. Absurd principle of similarity, intolerable and cockwomble flight of imagination, the lack of the cogently realised arrangement of stanza and sometimes incongruous ways of expressing affected feelings are the characteristic features of most of the Indian poets in English. After all, English is not a foreign language to Indians; English is a second language because of certain historical and political reasons. Poetry is involved with the cognitive role of poets’ innermost feelings primarily. At the same time a poet may also depersonalises his own feelings. These two diametrically opposite opinions are the basis of poetry.

If I try to make some comments on different contemporary genre of Indian Writings in English, I will definitely refer to Indian Novels in English. More or less the use of Standard British English is our historical legacy. Ordinarily any language in prose is related to the reason. Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia or Francis Bacon’s essays are exceptional. Prose works primarily on cerebral level. Indian fiction and non-fiction are written in Standard English. In this context I am not going to state anything on ‘Received Pronunciation’ of Indian speakers of English. There are some Indian Narrative Writers who are acceptable to everyone in the world. I mean here specifically the writers of American Diaspora of Indian origin. The language they use is internationally intelligible. In this context let me refer to a non-fictional edited book with an acceptable and almost appropriate Introduction followed by eminent Indian writers of the past. (Ramanan, Mohan, Nineteenth Century Indian English in Prose.  Sahitya Academy: New Delhi, 2004) The Introduction is full of with hundred percent readability.

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?

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI:  Yes, it is. If society changes, poetry also changes. This is law of nature.

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?

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI: The concept of Nation, Nationality and Nationhood is a tricky one. If one of the connotations of Nationality refers to landscape culture-scape, social scape etc., it is sure that every artist is primarily a product of his Nationality. Let me refer to some immortal Classics (Everything is illusive and nothing is sacrosanct [Post Truth Era]. There is no truth everlasting.) Nathanial Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter, Melville’s Moby Dick, Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Lake District in Wordsworth’s Poetry or Rabindranath Tagore’s Sadhana: The Realisation of Life or Jibananda’s Gram Bangla (Banglar Mukh) are being cited here. An artist without his tradition, society and Nationality is like a man in a boat without a sail or a navigator. Shakespearean dramas also stand on Anglo-saxon tradition. I refer to Holinshed’s Chronicle and Plutarch as examples, in the context of researches on sources of Shakespearean plays.

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

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI: Humanity has been following the path of a catastrophic end particularly in the 20th and 21st century because of two World wars in the past and the threat of impending World War 111. The path to destruction of Man’s Civilisation and Mankind is becoming gradually smooth by the environmental disaster and by the war mongers. My knowledge of International Relations is very meagre. What I understand after reading and understanding of the main thrust of your question is that economies of developed and developing countries are largely based on War industry. Naturally, at least, local wars in our planet will sure to continue in the decades ahead unless the foundation of the economies is changed. I repeat again I am not a specialist in International Relations. I am neither a political activist nor a social reformer. So how can I make a specific comment? What I feel theoretically in this connection is that the most important issue in this area is the variations of perspectives. Let me refer to one epoch making event in Indian history. And that is popularly and wrongly known as Sipoy Mutiny (Indian Rebellion 1857). From the Colonial ruler’s perspective, it was a revolt but from the perspectives of the Colonised, it was the first Indian War of Independence. From the perspectives of the British rulers, Subhas Chandra Bose, Surja Sen, Khudiram Bose, Bhagat Singh and many others were terrorists but to Indians they were patriots. Even Subhas Chandra Bose after the end of World War 11 was declared by the Allied forces as an International War criminal. Indians’ perspective was different and so as an Indian we cannot uphold this unjust declaration.


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?

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI: I do not think that at present our individual rights are at jeopardy. We have our Indian Constitution that will safeguard our individual freedom, though in some sectors of Indian life, there are certain violations.

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?

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI: Yes, I’m an optimist. I hope the political and economic hegemony, military supremacy and others including the gender bias which is a construct of society will be over in the future. A large number of World populations are in favour of World Peace. An environment friendly World will emerge soon. In this connection, I remember a poem Snake, written by D.H. Lawrence. And this poem is very much relevant to this question. Ethnic differences, religious fundamentalism, racial animosity, jingoism and parochialism will disappear soon.

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?

BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI: Bernard Shaw on occasion said if a man was complacent, he would be dead. I have no ambition at this stage of my life. Maybe, there is one which is dormant in my unconscious mind. Consciously I do not want to be aware of that. I hope the people of the young generation will deviate into the sense soon. Thank you, my friend.

Professor BASUDEB CHAKRABORTI, M.A. in English (Calcutta and Houston), M.Phil. (Nagpur), CIEFL (Hyderabad) Ph.D in English (Kalyani) is Professor of English (retired), University of Kalyani. W. B. Former Founder Professor of English, Sikkim Central University at Gangtok

Chakraborti’s books on literary topics

1) Basudeb Chakraborti, Thomas Hardy’s View of Happiness. (Minerva: Calcutta, 1997)

2) Basudeb Chakraborti, Some Problems of Translation: A

Study of Tagore’s Red Oleanders. (Papyrus: Calcutta 2005)

 3) Basudeb Chakraborti, Indian Partition Fiction in English and in English Translation (First published by Papyrus, Calcutta, Reprinted by Today & Tomorrow’s Printers and Publishers: New Delhi, 2020)

4) R.K.Narayan: A Talent for the Particular, Ed. Basudeb Chakraborti and Raymond Jean Frontain (World View: New Delhi, 2012)

5) Basudeb Chakraborti, Gender Perspectives: South Asian Writings in English and in English Translation, (Today & Tomorrow’s Printers and Publishers: New Delhi, 2013)

Professor Chakraborti published three anthologies of Indian poems in English. They are:

1)       The Confession of an Indian Opium Eater: A Collection of Indian Poems in English. Today & Tomorrow’s Printers and Publishers: New Delhi, 2018

2)      Pan Indian Poetry Spanning First Two Decades of 21st Century, 2018. (By the same publisher)

3)      My Mind and its By-lanes: A Collection of Indian Poems in English,2021 (By the same publisher)

International Citations


1)Professor Noelle Brada-Williams of  the department of English, St. Jose University, California has cited my article on Jhumpa Lahiri in her article “Reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies as a Short Story Cycle, published in MELUS, Vol 2934, (Fall/Winter2004) p.454.

2) “Context: A Comparative Study of Jhumpa Lahiri’s A Temporary Matter and Shubodh Ghosh’s Jatugriha” Published in The Journal of Indian Writing in English, Ed. G.S. Balarama Gupta, Vol 30January 2002 No 1.

Indian Partition Fiction in English and in English Translation: A Text on Hindu-Muslim Relation. Reviewed by Professor Gautam Kundu in ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, Vo.24, Number 3, 2011(pp.193   200). Another Review on this book is made in Jstor.

The book, Some Problems of Translation: A Study of Tagore’s Red Oleanders. Reviewed by Professor Raymond Jean Frontain in West-West Connections, ed.David Jones, 2006 (pp.221-223)

1)       International Workshop:  Attended International Shaw Festival as Script writer (Major Barbara) in Boston in1981.

2)      Two Week Visit to the University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas, U.S.A. as Visiting Humanities Scholar in February 2003.  Professor Chakraborti conducted a weeklong workshop for English department faculty on the poetry of Tagore.  He also lectured to Writing and Rhetoric classes on the problems of translation. Delivered lectures on Language Variations to Graduate Students of University of Central Arkansas. I delivered lectures on Indian Freedom Movement and the Hindu Religion.


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