SONGSOPTOK: Do you think literature is really essential in our life? If so why? In your opinion, what is the true relationship between life and literature? What is your own experience? And how does this relationship relate to the general history of mankind?

SANTOSH: Of course, literature is very essential in our lives, in fact, it exists in every walk of life, with interesting characters scattered all around us. One doesn’t need to be a professor of literature to understand literature, I have come across many illiterate people having an incredible grasp of literature, because literature springs from life, literature is life.   It is a repository of wisdom, from which we can have our pick of whatever suits our literary palate. Literature, with its emotive, universal appeal has an immense potential to bring drastic changes in people’s lives. There are significant words of literary greats, which have a certain timelessness about them. In my life, I have drawn strength from literary characters .All of us are very vulnerable and fragile, and delving deep in literature can be very helpful in times of crises.  Many a time, Dickensian wisdom has come to my rescue, at times nuggets of prudence from Lewis Carol have kept me grounded. Literature keeps us rooted, literature keeps us human. Literature should ‘free, arouse and dilate the human mind “, Thus spoke Walt Whitman. Literature enriches, stimulates and invigorates in all stages, be it rambunctious childhood or doddering old age. Mankind would be impoverished, had it not been for the spectacular power of literature.

SONGSOPTOK: We would like to know the beginning of the story, i.e. how your upbringing contributed to your own writing. Who were your favorite literary figures during the early period of your life? How they have paved your early routes in literature?

SANTOSH:  Well, my upbringing has indeed helped my writing, because my dad was a professor of English, and our house was a bibliophile’s paradise. He saw to it that all of us read all the classics in the house, and the dining hour also doubled as a discussion hour, during which we were expected to discuss the books that we had read during the week. I remember, discussing Dickens endlessly, as I was enchanted by his intriguing characterizations. My dad had a very impressive baritone, and my first impressions of him are the way he recited Edward Lear’s ‘Owl and the pussy cat’, and I got so hooked on  to Lear’s limericks, that I wrote hundreds of mine own.  When I wrote Ballad of Bapu, which was published by Vitasta publishers, Delhi, it was the rhyme scheme of a limerick that I followed.  When I was in school, I had managed to read all the novels of Dickens who impacted me in such a powerful way, that his style crept into my writing style. The die-hard optimism of Wilkins Micawber in David Copperfield with his guiding principle, that ‘something will turn up’, was my father’s guiding principle too, and I inherited it from him. Atticus Finch’s sense of fairness and justice in TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD, also greatly influenced me.

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you think that literature also bridges the human world with the Mother Nature? As well as with the present time of our surroundings?

SANTOSH: Of course, the nature poets have enthralled us with their nature poetry. We grew up, weeping with the fair daffodils of Robert Herrick, for hasting away so soon, and matched steps with William Wordsworth, as he “wandered lonely as a cloud “, and gasped in joy, when he espied ‘a host of golden daffodils ….. Fluttering and dancing in the breeze”. One has only to close one’s eyes, and they flash before our eyes .The high visual imagery of Keats, never fails to enthrall us.  Emily Dickinson, with her gardener’s heart, beautifully glorified nature in so many of her poems.  Shelley’s ‘Ode to the west wind’ has a certain unforgettably mesmerizing quality about it ,  who has not read the four time Pulitzer Prize winning poet Robert Frost’s intriguing , ‘Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening’, the Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge and inhaled the ‘sweet fragrance’ emanating from Coleridge’s ‘To Nature’ ? All these poems have enchanted us sometime or the other. Who can ignore the calming, soothing, dreamlike, sublimating, spiritually enriching, and edifying quality of nature?  Who is not spell- bound by the glorious explosion of colors, the spectacularly jaw-dropping sunsets and sun rises, and the feisty fervor of fluffy clouds? In the present cacophonous world, where everyone is lashed by the chilly winds of hate, it is only Mother Nature that can provide the required maternal warmth.

SONGSOPTOK: What are the main events that you think are the major issues that have influenced present day literature?

SANTOSH:  The present day literature has undoubtedly been influenced by the upheavals that are going on in the tumultuous world. Way back in 1922, TS Eliot, in   his phenomenal 434 line poem, The Wasteland, wrote about the devastating destruction, desolation and despair left behind in the aftermath of war, proclaiming, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust”. In the present scenario, the refugee crisis, displacement, environment degradation, war, destruction, racism, and rampant injustice are influencing literature.  I have come across many poems penned by poets from different parts of the world on the three year old Aylan Kurdi, who was washed on the beach while trying to flee Syria. In ‘A thousand splendid suns’, Khaled Hosseini has very poignantly depicted the war – ravaged Afghanistan, and the plight of the women of Afghanistan. The violent world that we see unfolding before us, has also triggered poems against war and violence, advocating peace.   Immensely pained by the rampant death and destruction, I recently wrote WHERE ARE THE LILACS? [A collection of 111 peace poems]

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you think in this age of information and technology the dimensions of literature has 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

SANTOSH:  Yes, the dimensions of literature have largely been extended beyond our preconceived ideas about literature. The social networking sites have proved a bane as well as a boon for writers. Many good writer groups have been encouraging and supporting emerging writers. But because of social networking sites, cases of plagiarism have also become very common. It is with a sense of immense horror that I have seen my own poems coming back to me as unacknowledged Wattsapp messages, but then, may be, this is the corollary damage of open walls.  But Facebook is there to stay, no matter what the cynics say. As a result of the stimulating interaction of like-minded creative souls, in the virtual world, many excellent, literary collaborative projects have  seen the light of day.

SONGSOPTOK: Now if we try to understand tradition and modernism in literature, do you think poetry can play a pivotal role relating the two? If so, how? What are your opinions about the role of the poet in bridging the gap, if any, between tradition and modernism?

SANTOSH:  The poet is an integral part of society. Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words, thus said Robert Frost, and the poet has the words and the emotions to bridge that gap. A poem is born after a poet burns in existential fire .These days, Romanticism, is equated with sheer lyrical sentimentalism, but Hardy was a poet of romantic longings, whose poems spoke the modernist language and could merge various experiences together. Traditional poetry followed a particular rhyme scheme and metre, modern poetry gives itself a free hand, but even in the modern times, we have poets willingly using the traditional form and metre. Robert Frost, despite being a modernist, adhered to some traditional characteristics, often using traditional rhyme and metre.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that society is the key factor in shaping you up as a writer. What about your own country? What is the influence of your country & your culture in your writing? Do you believe that all writers are by and large the product of their nationality?  Is it an incentive or an obstacle for becoming a truly international writer?

SANTOSH:  Yes, the society is the key factor in shaping me up as a writer, and of course, this society also includes my dad, who was a powerful influence on my writing. In all my writings, one can always glimpse the inescapable influence of the surroundings I am born in. The heat and dust, the, flora and the fauna and the people of my country have influenced me in subtle ways. All writers are, by and large, the product of their nationality. Just to cite a few examples. Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore‘s immense oeuvre of work, was internationally acclaimed, but was woven from the cultural strands of his country. Charles Dickens wrote about the pathetic conditions of his country in the Victorian age. In the classic, Oliver Twist, his depiction of the macabre childhood of orphans and derelict slum houses was immensely heart-rending. Oliver Twist’s request, for more gruel, “please, sir, I want some more”, pricked the comatose conscience of his country   , galvanizing it into reformative action.   In the present century, Khaled Hosseini’s novel , The kite runner , received world-wide reception ,  people from India , Paris, Arkansas, Sydney , London , wrote to him asking him how they could send money to Afghanistan,  many were keen to adopt an Afghan orphan . So, although a product of his nationality, his fiction had the potential to impact the entire world.  In the present era of globalization and worldwide connectivity, I don’t think that can be an obstacle.

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you believe creative souls flourish more in turmoil than in peace? Why? Are you a protagonist of "art for art's sake"? Can you please present us with your point of view?

SANTOSH:  Although, talking of turmoil, indeed is heart –wrenching, especially when the reference is to the place from which one hails.  Yes, I am talking of Kashmir.  I have seen creative souls flourishing more in turmoil, I have read heart –rending poetry, coming from the pens of poets of Kashmir in the past and the present period of turmoil.  Dina Nath Nadeem, the famous Kashmiri poet wrote, “I will not sing today, I will not sing of roses and of bulbuls of irises and hyacinths. I will not sing those drunken and ravishing Dulcet and sleepy -eyed songs. No more such songs for me! I will not sing those songs today. Dust clouds of war have robbed the iris of her hue.”  In the present times, I have come across poetry of young poets like Shabir Ahmed Mir and Pervez Ali, triggered by the presence of turmoil.  A few lines from Shabir Ahmad Mir’s heart – wrenching ghazal:

Where to, shall we now row in Kashmir
No more does the Vyeth flow in Kashmir.

See how we are smiling in sepia tones
 Ah ! It is just an old photo in Kashmir.

Lest it bring the memories of peace
They no longer allow snow in Kashmir.

 Saffron does not grow in blood and tears
What should they then sow in Kashmir?

How can you tell a lost son is dead-
The mothers should by now, know in Kashmir.

We don't have springs after winters
 Winds of change do not blow in Kashmir.

 Not everything is lost, do visit us
If not peace you'd find woe in Kashmir.

 Tis just that our prayers don't leave mountains
Otherwise we do bow in Kashmir.

If grenades could burst into seeds
Where should they but grow in Kashmir.

Death may mean so many things to you
But it is just an echo in Kashmir.

"Why should you tremble at every knock ?"
'Doors don't open but blow in Kashmir.'

They are not yet done with our slaughter,
 The vultures are so slow in Kashmir.

All land has now been sold out for graves
What should they now plough in Kashmir ?

Art and literature cannot ignore the social ethos of the times. For Dickens, the novel was a repository of the social conscience, and in his novels he very effectively dealt with the seamy and sordid side of the Victorian age, pricking the sleepy conscience of England. Many social reforms that followed there were the result of his commentary on the social evils like child labor, capital punishment , slums and the reprehensible condition of prisons .

On SEPTEMBER 6 , 1858,, Dickens wrote  to his friend Wilkie Collins about  the importance of social commitment: “Everything that happens […] shows beyond mistake that you can’t shut out the world; that you are in it, to be of it; that you get yourself into a false position the moment you try to sever yourself from it; that you must mingle with it, and make the best of it, and make the best of yourself into the bargain” (Marlow, 132).

But  the importance of social commitment: “Everything that happens […] shows beyond mistake that you can’t shut out the world; that you are in it, to be of it; that you get yourself into a false position the moment you try to sever yourself from it; that you must mingle with it, and make the best of it, and make the best of yoto the bargain” (Marlow, 132).

Although, when one writes, one does not believe that the artistic output will reform the world,   yet we have seen, many times, the works of writers have gone beyond just artistic expression, and creative satisfaction, to strike at the evils stalking the society.   

SONGSOPTOK:  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? And do you think poetry or literature can solve any problems in our everyday life? Why should we adhere to it?

SANTOSH:  Yes, the consumerist world is turning the average man away from serious literature .In this present topsy –turvy , consumerist world , who has the time to appreciate Dickens, go gaga over Hardy, or be captivated  by  Gerald Durrell’s , immensely interesting novel, ‘My family  and other animals’ ?  If you ask the youth to read the classics, their stock answer is, “where is the time?” They prefer to read the mediocre stuff which is glorified as literature these days. Yes, I strongly believe, that poetry can definitely address the issues of everyday life, if not solve them. It can at least stir the comatose conscience of people.
 Let me give an example. Just some time back, I wrote a poem, ‘Why did you do it, mom?” about a mother, who gives her fifth daughter up for adoption. Allow me to reproduce a few lines here:

“I would have loved to romp and roar
In our garden with my sisters four.
Happy wearing their hand-me –downs
Unfazed by the weird world’s wicked frowns.
With my sisters four, I would have danced and sung
But alas, away I was   flung!
Was I a curse?  A truncated verse?
In a cradle outside an orphanage I lie
Did you give me a tight hug when you bid me goodbye?”

Apart from the fact that this poem got the maximum number of likes, any poem of mine has got so far , on Facebook, many messaged  me admitting  that they also plead guilty to such an act  and could not sleep for many nights after  reading my poem , and many who were contemplating it , felt very bad after reading it .
There is no escaping literature and poetry, because they mirror life.

SONGSOPTOK:  Are you a feminist? Can literature play any decisive role in feminism at all? What role can literature play to make our lives better on a day to day basis?

SANTOSH:   I am not a die –hard feminist, definitely not the lobbying and sloganeering one, but I strongly believe in gender equality, and the fact that woman is definitely not the weaker sex, that woman was never frail, that she is an immense powerhouse, whose power, if tapped in the right manner, can transform the world, drenching it in positive hues. Literature has immense potential to transform our lives for the better.  Many strong women characters have been created in Indian literature and they have prodded the women into rebelling against the ingrained patriarchal mindsets, as a result, a new breed of women is emerging in India which has managed to carve a snug niche for itself in the present society.

SONGSOPTOK: Now if we want to look ahead, do you think that there is an oncoming crisis for literature in general? Will it bring new dimensions in our life ahead? Or do you think that the future of literature is not as bright as it should be?

SANTOSH: The future of literature is indeed bright, but it is with a sinking heart that these days, I have seen mediocrity being glorified as literature. In fact , it came  as a shock to me ,  that one of my students  , one day came to me with his just published novel  , beaming from ear to ear . “Madam, can you believe it, I have never read a novel in my life, and today I am a novelist! And you know, it is getting rave reviews.” He said, handing me the book, which had a beautiful cover. I flipped over the pages of the book, and my jaw dropped. The acknowledgements itself had more than a dozen grammatical errors!“It is the editor’s fault”, he remarked smugly. Some mediocre writers, with mind-boggling marketing skills, started the trend, and now every youth is a wannabe writer dreaming of churning out a best-seller. My only plea to these writers is that, no one can become a good writer, unless one reads, with a voracious appetite. One has to keep reading, the good, bad and the ugly, and then separate the wheat from the chaff. I only hope that the trend of glorifying mediocrity as literature is only a temporary phase and soon literature will be restored to its pristine glory.

SANTOSH  BAKAYA:  I am a passionate dreamer, an insane writer ,writing on anything that catches my fancy, and trying to see extraordinariness in everyday ordinary happenings . My poetic biography of Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi, Ballad of Bapu, Flights from my terrace [an E-book of 58 essays, on Smashwords] and Where are the lilacs? [A collection of 111 peace poems have been internationally acclaimed.  I have just completed editing my two novels, one a satire on higher education, and the other a frothy romance.

We sincerely thank you for your time and hope we shall have your continued support.
Aparajita Sen



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