Monday, January 20, 2014

LIFE OF A POET - SUMANA ROY

I have a lovely treat for you today, kids: a visit to Sumana Roy, who writes so beautifully at Vision. Sumana lives in West Bengal, on the India-Bangladesh border, so once again we are zooming the skies and landing in a wonderfully exotic locale. Our hostess is waiting for us on her garden terrace and has prepared a lovely tray of aromatic tea for us, with the gracious hospitality the people of India are so noted for.



P.U.: Sumana, I am so happy to meet you! I couldnt find many clues about you on your site. Would you like to give us a snapshot of this poet's life?


Me, at home


Sumana: Balurghat, tucked away on the India-Bangladesh border, and the headquarters of the Dakshin Dinajpur district of West Bengal in India, saw me first almost twenty-eight years ago. I had left behind my doting parents, grandmother, friends and relatives, hundreds of miles away to start a new life of my own with my husband.


Hubby and me

Ours was an arranged marriage, and I had neither known the boy nor seen him, save on the wedding day. My grown up daughter now tells me that it was a huge risk! But it wasn’t all that odd to me. After all my parents, my husband’s parents, my grand parents, began their blissful conjugal life in the same manner.



My parents

Generally prior to the wedding bells, there is a ‘seeing the girl’ affair when the two families of the boy and the girl meet. If the match proceeds to marriage, the future spouses often meet, go on dates and develop a romantic relationship in the period between this ‘seeing’ and ‘wedding’. In my case, as the boy stayed away, I only got to see him on my wedding night amidst flowers, the sacred fire, and vows. 

Feminists sometimes sneer at ‘arranged marriages’ as ‘a classic instance of gender-bias and objectification of women’. There may be some truths in it, but I have only fond memories of my special day.


Me on my wedding day

P.U.: Sumana, you were a very beautiful bride!

Sumana: When I came to Balurghat, the sparsely populated region was connected to other places only by roadways. Coming from quite a crowded place, I found Balurghat weirdly quiet. My husband tried to eulogize Balurghat by telling me about her strong thespian traditions, and the local artists’ consistent and collective effort to promote art and culture. After all, a place is more about her people. We had seen productions by renowned theatre personalities of Kolkata during the week-long fest, especially in the pleasant winter. 

I was gradually settling down and tuning myself to the peaceful aura about the place. The riverside was enchanting on a moonlit night with the quiet flow of the shimmering Atreyee across the town towards Bangladesh, completing her journey of 240 miles. Balurghat sometimes seemed to be like those little boats gliding on the Atreyee with no hurry at all. Bird-chirps and occasional mild honks of the cycle - rickshaws were the only sound during the days, and the nights were even quieter barring cricket-songs, owl-hoots and jackal-howls! However time never hung heavy on my hands as I landed a teaching job soon after my arrival here.

P.U.: It sounds as if you made a lovely transition. Tell us about your life as a teacher, what you love about it. Do you share your love of poetry with your students?


A bronze-bust of our former headmistress-
school was her life

Sumana: When I joined Balurghat Girls’ High School, I was in seventh heaven, I suppose! With new excitement, I began a teacher’s life. Soon I realized that in reality I was undergoing a learning process. And I began to enjoy my job. I am most gratified to watch the gradual opening up of petals of myriad minds from all walks of life. I do share my love of poetry with them when I take classes on poetry, but they haven’t the slightest clue that I try to scribble rhymes.

P.U.: Why  do you feel it is important for girls, especially, to be educated?

Sumana: I think proper education is the single panacea for all the social maladies. In every human being there is an intuitive desire to evolve, and our entire endeavour is aimed at improving our life by acquiring knowledge and happiness. If the yearning is suppressed what is there left, except lower levels of joy and animal existence? 


School annual exam is going on

Moreover, Women have always been the driving force in motivating and guiding an individual, a family and, indirectly, the society. As a mother, she is the first mentor, tutor and teacher to her child. So education is a must for girls especially. The great 19th century Indian monk Swami Vivekananda used to say : "There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. ….It is not possible for a bird to fly on one wing.…."

P.U.: I love that! In your area, do families in general  feel it is of equal importance to educate daughters as well as sons?

Sumana: It would be wrong if I say there isn’t any gender inequality in education in India. It is seen that girls belonging to marginalised social and economical groups are more likely to drop out of school at an early age. Either she is married off or forced to help with domestic chores. This curse of gender disparities still persists in our society, despite government’s attempt to implement various schemes to do away with this practice.

However this kind of discrimination is not rampant in our area. In our school not a single drop out case has been registered in the last two decades. Who wants to stay socially and financially hobbled these days? Parents of a girl-child now realise how education boosts a woman’s self-esteem, her employment opportunities, and her ability to deal with the world. So the perspective is changing for the better, no doubt.


The museum, housed in Balurghat College,
where my husband teaches

P.U.: That is wonderful! Why did you dream of becoming a teacher?

Sumana: I had seen so many in my family in this profession that I did not want to look beyond it. Moreover the teachers I have come in contact with more than inspired me. Their personal interaction with the students as mentors and friends helped a lot to grow as an individual. One thing I have learned all these years is that a teacher is a lifelong learner. And it is a wonderful legacy to pass on to a new generation. 

In the 70’s my parents shifted to Zambia, my father taking up a job in that country. We stayed in Luanshya in the province of Copperbelt. As a student, my experiences there tell me that teachers everywhere are eager to give you knowledge. And learners are talkative as ever. Sweet chatterboxes!

P.U.: I am smiling! I love "sweet chatterboxes". Tell us about your childhood, Sumana.

Sumana: I was born in Kolkata, and raised up in Chandannagar, a small city, some 30 km. north of Kolkata, in a relatively small family of grandparents (my father’s parents), parents and my younger brother. My grandfather was a treasure trove of stories, and he would spin on never-ending tales, mainly based on his life experiences. He spent his working-life in Rajasthan, a state in the west of India. We were fascinated to hear about formidable fortresses, magnificent palaces, temples, forests, mountain ranges and bone-dry deserts.



My grandparents, me and my brother

All his stories were located there. My mother came from East Bengal with her siblings and mother in 1946, just before Independence and that infamous vivisection of India and creation of Pakistan. My maternal grandfather migrated to India in his fifties, leaving home and hearth following Independence. He was among the uprooted 14 million to take up residence across the border and struggle hard to gain a footing and a decent living. I always found my mother very graceful and resolute. She was and still is never tired with domestic chores, attending spiritual retreats and social work.

P.U.: What amazing stories there must be to tell, of people in your family! I'm thinking: a book! Was there one person in your childhood whom you feel had an influence on your becoming a poet?

Sumana: I was fed on Rabindranath Tagore’s poems (for children) like most Bengali kids of my generation. I learnt most of those wonderful poems by heart, listening to my mother reciting them. What a magical and charming world Tagore created for the children of his land. It was like, he was uttering your dreams in an enchanting rhythm. The Bengali polymath has enriched the language and literature with his huge volumes of poetry, short stories, novels, plays, essays, travelogue, and more than 2500 songs. And in the twilight years of his life he turned his hand to painting and gifted us more than 2000 pieces of sketches and paintings in strange color schemes and offbeat aesthetics, revealing artistic excellence. I am not exaggerating, but I must say there isn’t a moment in a man’s life that hasn’t been etched in his soul-stirring songs. 


Students performing Chandalika,
Tagore's dance-drama based on a Buddhist text

In this context I would like to mention a letter written by Wilfred Owen’s mother to Tagore. Here is the excerpt: "……It is nearly two years ago, that my dear eldest son went out to the War for the last time and the day he said Goodbye to me – we were together across the sun-glorified sea- looking towards France with breaking hearts – when he, my poet son, said these wonderful words of yours ‘when I go from hence, let this be my parting word…’. And when his pocket book came back to me – I found these words written in his dear writing with your name beneath. Would I be asking too much of you, to tell me what book I should find the whole poem in?"

So here I am including the poem of Gitanjali - (Song Offerings in English) the bereaved mother so eagerly enquired about:

When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, 
that what I have seen is unsurpassable.
I have tasted of the hidden honey of this lotus that expands on the ocean of light, and thus I am blessed – let this be my parting word.
In this playhouse of infinite form I have had my play and here 
have I caught sight of him that is formless.
My whole body and my limbs have thrilled with his touch who is beyond touch ; and if the end comes here, let it come – let this be my parting word."

Tagore was my idol, and he inspired me to at least enjoy reading poetry.


The untouchable girl quenching the thirst
of the Buddhist monk in Chandalika
P.U.: What a  fantastic introduction to poetry!  When did you first begin writing? What  occurred that sent you for pen and paper to write that first poem?

Sumana: Inspired by a Russian folk-tale about a yellow crested rooster, I wrote a Bengali rhyme in my notebook. From then on I would scribble poems or one-two page long stories in Bengali. The little book even accompanied me to Zambia and like a faithful companion captivated my feelings and emotions triggered by a foreign land. Now I cannot remember how that buddy of mine went missing. I was so grief stricken that I had no faith in paper and pen and did not write another poem ever. I only read.

P.U.: Oh my! I am so happy that  you began again. What do you love about poetry?

Sumana: I think when I was a child I must have been fascinated by the rhyme, rhythm, sound-play of words, clear, direct word pictures and also the story element of a poem, if it had any. And Tagore’s poems for children had these in abundance. All poems, I feel, have a distinctive individuality of their own. While I don’t go for an exhaustive analysis of a poem, I am not a lazy reader either. 

I believe in retaining that commitment and energy a poem demands. Sometimes in the garb of simple dictions, poetry could be so uplifting and sometimes ambiguous, layered maze of a poem could give you some fun time, you know. Then suddenly one or two words act as the known password and you have the entry into this enchanting world and stumble upon the infinite treasure. I find the world of poetry  deep, intriguing, magical and uplifting.


The Atreyee

P.U.: A well, at which we drink deeply. How did you discover the blogging world and how has it impacted your work?

Sumana: I had heard about blogging but could not muster up enough courage to start a blog of my own. One reason may be I had never written poem in English. 

P.U.: Wow! You write so fluently in English! 

Sumana:  I found the keyboard to be more convenient, faster and economical than pen and paper. It was only this year (2013) that, as a curious onlooker in the blogosphere, I discovered some great poetry-communities, poets and wonderful prompts. It was a whole new world to me. And all those words buried in me more than three decades started gasping for breath in a new language and form. I was amused at the trick of the Muse !

P.U.: I know all about the releasing of the damned-up torrent of words! The same thing happened to me. Is there a poem, written by you, that you especially like, that you might like to include here?

Sumana: I wrote a few lines on Binod Behari Mukherjee, one of the pioneers of Indian modern art, both as a painter and as a muralist. He continued to paint and do murals even after he lost his eye sight completely.

                                 VISION
He painted murals
Walls and ceilings reflected his light
Sometimes he would be found strolling in the garden
Soaking up all the fragrance and colors inward
His brush moved so fast………..
In split seconds his canvas spoke
Though his world was getting blurred day by day
He never lost hope and grew a strong inner eye
His brush didn’t stop though his vision did
He turned his hand to sculpture
And he did bring life to stones
Smilingly he would say
“Leaving the world of color
I am now enjoying this world of shape”


P.U.: What a remarkable story, and artist! What other interests do you pursue when you are not writing, Sumana?

Sumana: I have to remain so busy from Monday to Saturday in school that I don’t have much time left for pursuing any special interest other than writing poems. However I am attached to a spiritual organisation, Ramakrishna Sarada Mission,  where I often visit to recharge myself. It is a monastic order exclusively for women. There’s a meditation hall there and the nuns are affectionate like your own mother. I can feel the wonderful uplift when I am in the little shrine in my home.     


Me, my Ma and daughter, in front of Sun Temple,
built in the 13th century at Konarak in Orissa, India.
The temple was conceived as a chariot of the Sun-God.
                                                                                                
P.U.: It is wonderful, Sumana, to have a source of spiritual replenishment close at hand. Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

Sumana: ‘Poets United’ is truly a forum of talented poets who constantly motivate and inspire in their work and words of appreciation. Even when I couldn’t get my comment box working properly, my fellow poets spent their valuable time leaving comments on the community page. I am so touched by their generosity. It’s amazing how supportive you all have been to me and to every one. And now this interview ! I feel so humbled…….

I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Thank you,  Poets United……

P.U.: It is we who thank you, Sumana, for so graciously allowing us this visit. We loved hearing about your life, your teaching, and your love of writing, and we look forward to reading much more of your work. I am still thinking that, among your family history, you have the makings of the most incredibly interesting book. I would be first in line to read it!

We zoom across, we touch down, and an entire beautiful life unrolls before us on this magic carpet we ride every week. Come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you! 


52 comments:

  1. I have read quite a bit of Sumana's poetry on her blog but I never realized what an interesting life she lived.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the lovely comment. I also love your writing.....yeah, life's journey IS interesting...

      Delete
  2. Sumana, it is so interesting to learn more about you. I enjoyed reading about your teaching, your thoughts on the importance of education, and your love of poetry. I have one question for you. You had an arranged marriage, but your daughter thinks this must have been a great risk. So I am assuming then that this tradition is changing now & that there are some marriages that are not arranged? Is that the way it is now in 2014? It is good to read that you have a place where you can be spiritually replenished. Definitely a necessity for all. I am glad, Sumana, that you are part of the Poets United community, and I also commend you for being so very supportive of other poets as well. Sherry, thanks for another stellar interview!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was my pleasure, Mary. Sumana, you are a fascinating poet! I loved my "visit" with you. I, too, am so happy to have found you at Poets United.

      Delete
    2. Thank you so much Mary for your wonderful words....now, as to arranged marriage I must say that times have changed....present generation desperately seeks financial independence and very keen on having a separate identity, and much more exposed to world cultures than we were.
      May be for that reason love-marriages are on the increase. So are the divorce rates. In the last ten years society has changed radically.
      Though I am not sure inspite of this change in attitude to life if this custom will die out because many in our country still prefer to stick to the tradition.
      I am so much grateful to you all for being so supportive from the first day.....
      It's been a great journey along with all of you....

      Delete
    3. Hi Sherry, thank you so much for giving me this unique opportunity to read about myself...it's an incredible feeling..thanks a bunch Sherry :)

      Delete
  3. Thank you Sumana for sharing so much of your life with us. How interesting that you moved to Zambia for a while! I wonder how you felt discovering such a different country. I like what you say about the importance of proper teaching. As a teacher too, I can totally identify with your ideals. Thank you Sherry for such a captivating interview of Sumana.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So happy you enjoyed it, Gabriella.

      Delete
    2. Thank you Gabriella for your heart warming words.... I am really lucky to have set my foot on the African soil...Zambia is a beautiful country with her wonderful people ... so glad to know that we're on the same boat and teachers everywhere are alike I think.... :)

      Delete
  4. wow. no drop outs in two decades...that amazes me...we have 8300 a day here in the states....

    you made a lovely bride as well...i am so intrigued by the arranged marriage...you are right in the prejudice toward it, thinking it oppressive, but...its pretty cool when it works...smiles...

    it is a pleasure to meet you all the more...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Brian for the lovely comment...drop outs in my school is nil but it's not so in our vast country...the figure is quite staggering...
      I appreciate your wonderful feedback that's so inspiring ... :)

      Delete
  5. So glad I stopped by today. Sumana is so very interesting. Thank you Sherry for exposing us to her story, her background and her poetry. I'll be sure to check out her blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Myrna for the wonderful words...I feel humbled...

      Delete
  6. Sumana, your poetry is always full of grace and beauty. Thank you and thank you, Sherry, for allowing us a glimpse into your amazing life. Amazing photos and an amazing life. It's a pleasure getting to know you.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I so love coming in here on a Monday and joining in the fellowship and good feelings among the poets in our community. I always say - and it is true every time - I have the best job in the world!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. You've also been a wonderful source of inspiration for me Kim...lovely to see you here again...and I must say Sherry has been so nice to me all through..Thanks again Kim for your precious words.. :)

      Delete
  8. Lovely interview and beautiful photos. I enjoy Sumana's work, so graceful and uplifting. Thank you for sharing with us :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Loredana for the wonderful comment....I am so touched...

      Delete
  9. Thank you for the wonderful interview Sherry ~ I am always amaze by the story, face & journey behind the name ~ Sumana, thank you for sharing with us your words & growing up years ~ Very interesting to read ~

    Grace

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So good to see you here Grace and thank you for these sweet words... :)

      Delete
  10. Sumana, if English is your second language , I am truly humbled .May I say that your written English expression is vastly superior to the level of native speakers professionally or otherwise that I have known in recent years and a sheer joy to read.
    Your students are indeed fortunate.I enjoyed your article immensely. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a good point, Rallentanda. I am always impressed too at Sumana's proficiency in English. And many of our other poets, too, for whom English is a second language. It is humbling.

      Delete
    2. Oh Rallentanda I feel so humbled...I've been learning this great language all these years... Thank you so much for the wonderfully inspiring words... :)

      Delete
  11. Nice to know you better Sumana! and a very different profile pic greeted me whom I had pictured based on the display pic on your blog! but so akin in spirit, both of them! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aww I love that display picture collected from the net....thanks Akila for your
      lovely comment...love your writing .... :)

      Delete
  12. :) The beauty in your writing ......now I know the source:)!! lovely to know about you more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice to see you here again Vandana...thank you for your sweet words.. :)

      Delete
  13. Sumana, so interesting to read about your life. How lucky your students are to have such an enthusiastic teacher!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Robyn for your warm comments....I am deeply touched...

      Delete
  14. Sumana di, you're such a nice and elegant lady and so are your lines. Loved the interview.Great to know about you . Bhalo theko :-)

    ReplyDelete
  15. Oh thank you Maniparna for your nice comments and your visit to my blog...you're an amazing poet...love your lines ...tumio bhalo theko.. :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Sumani, now I understand more the source of the spiritual beauty that draws me to your poems. It is here in your prose as well. a perspective on life that is a learning, a joy, a gift. I am happy that you teach and inspire.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Susan for your kind, gracious and inspiring words....ah the more we live the more we learn...the poetry blogosphere has infused life into so many creative souls and how we have bonded...it's been a fascinating journey for all of us....

      Delete
  17. Sherry, Thank you again for how you invite poets to speak.

    ReplyDelete
  18. What an inspiring story both yours and the blind muralists!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you Sam for reading the lines....I am so touched....

    ReplyDelete
  20. So nice to read about your life Sumana. Tagore is one of my favourite poets and his Unending Love is one of my favourite poems. My dad I often sat together and recited his When the mind is without fear. Hugs.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Tagore's words always light up the heart,uplift and inspire the soul....glad to know that both you and your father enjoyed Tagore's poetry....Thank you Suzy for reading the interview and nice comment... :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. Sumana it was so great to know about you and your beautiful world! I have recently started reading Tagore and it is food for soul indeed...
    Keep writing...your poems always inspire and leave us smiling and reflecting :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thank you Aditi for the beautiful words you grace me with....nice to see you here..yea
    Tagore's words enrich our life and guide us along our uphill journey...so nice to know that you've entered his world....may you find bliss there.... :)

    ReplyDelete


  24. Sumana, it's a pleasure to know you and your poetry through this community. it's amazing what interesting people we meet here.
    ah, teachers. i am blessed to have good teachers, they made great efforts to make me a better person. without them, i guess i won't be writing this post today.:)

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thank you so much for the precious words...you are right, teachers play great roles in moulding our characters just like our parents...like you I also had the fortune to come into close contact with some great persons, my teachers... thanks a bunch for reading the interview and visiting my blog :)

    ReplyDelete
  26. Words are vehicles for bringing something into being!! So, now I know why I really look forward to reading your mentally stimulating and creative blogs/poems. Came back to blogging after a while...and I am glad that I didn't miss this insightful interview.
    Great questions as usual, Sherry!! Your imitable style stands out and one can see the reflections coming in the voices of all writers, be it States or India or any other place. Lovely...
    Thank you Sumana! It was a great way to learn more about you, Tagore and Binod Bihari Mukhopadhya.
    I intend to come back to blogging soon....Missing all in Poet's United :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We miss you, too, kiddo. Do come back!!!!

      Delete
  27. Oh Panchali di we are all missing you in the blogosphere....we are looking forward to your wonderful poems and those little haiku-gems...love your words...and thanks for the sweet words you've greeted me with...You are absolutely right about Sherry.. She is such a wonderful person and so supportive...she has helped me all through
    By the way..saw fabulous photos of your 'grihoprobesh' on facebook.. :)

    ReplyDelete
  28. Sherry, you always share treasures in the form of poets. Tagore is a recent favorite ( I wish I had read him as a child. Sumana you have shared so many wonderful pieces of your life with up. Your life is full of many wonderful stories :)

    ReplyDelete
  29. Thank you Leslie for your wonderful comment....so glad to know that Tagore is your recent favorite....as I am aging his songs are becoming more and more my refuge.......

    ReplyDelete
  30. Sumana, Sherry, I truly enjoyed this interview. Thank you. K.

    ReplyDelete