Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Life of a Poet ~ Abin Chakraborty

by Sherry Blue Sky

Kids, this week we are hopping on a magic carpet, which will whisk us away to the Land of Aladdin. We are flying to INDIA, to visit the very talented Abin Chakraborty, of Abin's Literary World, whose work you will often find posted at both Poets United and Imaginary Garden With Real Toads. We have just touched down,   have been ushered into a large stone building, and shown to a room full of books. The chai tea is coming to just under the boil, and the scent of cloves and cinnamon are in the air. Draw nearer to the fire with me, and let's meet the lovely poet, waiting for us in his book-lined den.

Poets United: Abin, thank you for allowing us to visit! I live vicariously, (if indeed I live at all), and India has long been one of the countries of my dreams. Tell us, what was your childhood like?  It must be wonderful to live in a part of the world  so brimming with a rich cultural heritage, landmark architecture and statues, the stuff of myth and history. A feast for the eyes, everywhere you look.

Abin and friend :)

Abin: I was born in Kolkata and have always lived in the city. My only acquaintance with the countryside was through visits and vacations. But I did have a wonderful childhood, full of fairy tales, folktales and legends, which I came to know through books my parents generously provided. So during my early years, I was as conversant with Indian epics and fairy tales as with the fairy tales of Europe and Russia.

And life in Kolkata, or more specifically the satellite township of Saltlake where I live, has always been nice for me. I understand of course that my city has its fair share of problems. But it is still my city. It knows all my firsts. And I feel at one with all the sights and sounds – even the cacophony and grime.

Poets United: Sigh. Already, I know this will be too brief a visit to your wonderful country. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your life of today?

University of Calcutta

Abin: I am now pursuing my doctoral thesis as a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of English, University of Calcutta, and I also teach at Presidency University, as a Guest Faculty. My days are therefore punctuated by academic assignments of one kind or another, sprinkled with seminars and conferences, as well as my personal reading.

Presidency College

Poets United: How absolutely wonderful! A dream life for a poet, for certain! In your recent interview at Real Toads, you mentioned having written since you were a child. Do you remember how old you were when you began? Was there an event that sparked that first poem?

Abin as a little one, with his beautiful mother

Abin: I started to read limericks in my vernacular Bengali when I was maybe three or four years old. I think that is what prompted me to start rhyming. I don’t exactly remember when I started writing, but it is probably around the time when I was six or seven. And those poems were on all kinds of topics – from the cricket or football world cup to local holidays and festivities.

Poets United: I knew it! A prodigy! Do you still have the poems written in your childhood? Would you like to share one?

Abin: I think they can still be found in some old trunks. But I haven’t seen them in a long time. Also, they were all in Bengali. Sorry.

Poets United: Rats! I'd love to poke through those trunks! What led you to choosing poetry as your means of creative expression?

Abin: Personally, I think it is difficult to be a poet consciously. There has to be something inside you which sparks you into writing a poem. Then you can consciously shape and mould it. But the initial impulse has to be something that is beyond your conscious control. In other words, poetry chose me, rather than the other way round.

Also, my mother recites poetry and I have heard her reading and practicing for a long time. That could well have been an influence for my choice of poetry.

Poets United: I so agree with you, that poetry chooses us.  People can manufacture poems, of course, but when you read the more inspired poetry that springs forth from a poet's inner life, the reader certainly can feel the difference.  Are there other writing forms you wish to explore, or are you content as a poet?
Abin's very talented parents

Abin: I am content as a poet. I love reading, writing and teaching poems. Since my father is a playwright and since I did write a couple of plays for inter-school competitions, I think there is a theatre bug inside me which might prompt me to write a play someday. But all that is too far in the future and rather uncertain.

Poets United: You have stated T.S. Eliot is your favourite poet. Is there anything about his work that you feel has had a significant impact on your own approach to writing?

Abin: Where do I start? Whether it is theme or technique – I owe a lot to him and nobody better captures the predicament of modern urban existence than Eliot. I have borrowed much from him – both consciously and unconsciously and as I continue to read him, I learn more and more. Some of his lines, such as “To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet” are so poignant and so true that I can’t help being overwhelmed by them.

Poets United: Who would you say has been the single biggest influence on your writing? On your life?

Abin: Again it would have to be Eliot. But as far as my personal life is concerned, I guess that the biggest influence is my parents.

Poets United: Yes, I can certainly see that! Abin, you have a very prestigious work background. Would you like to tell us a little about it, and what drew you to your chosen field?

Abin: Thank you. My mother did her masters in English Literature and there are many others in my family on my mother’s side who have all followed the same stream. In some ways, I guess I was predestined to take up English literature and the romance continues still. After finishing my graduation from Presidency College and my post-graduation at the University of Calcutta, I am now researching on three Indian playwrights, and that again is due partly to my familial background. My parents are part of a theatre group where my father is the playwright, and my mother, the leading actress. So since my childhood I have been exposed to the various aspects of theatre and have carried that love into my research.
Abin's mother during a performance

Poets United: You certainly lucked out in the gene pool, Abin. Wow! I can see why you began reading and writing so young. What is the best book you have ever read? And why do you love it?

Abin: I have many favourites for many moods. Shakespeare, Eliot, Agha Shahid Ali, Khaled Hosseini, Thomas Hardy…there are too many authors and too many favourite texts. However, there is one adventure story, by a Bengali author Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, called ‘Chander Pahar’ (Mountain of the Moon) which is the one book which I have probably read more than any other texts, especially during my school days. The world of thrill, adventure, excitement and imagination which the text opened up was absolutely riveting to my adolescent mind.

Poets United: Such riches between the covers of a book! What is your very favourite place to go in Kolkata?

College Street

Abin: It's College Street, which has two famous buildings: Presidency College (1817), my Alma Mater, where I now teach, and the University of Calcutta, where I studied and now research. The footpaths of College street are lined with bookshops, where you can get the rarest of stuff at the cheapest rates - delightful place for anyone like me.

Poets United: I could not be trusted there with a credit card, for certain! What are your personal criteria for good poetry, your own and others?

Abin: The kind of poetry which achieves maximum range of expression through minimum words and teases me out of my thought to unravel the multiple layers of significance. This can be done both with and without rhyme, but does require powerful images and symbols to passionately communicate the poet’s thoughts and feelings to the readers.

Poets United: What a wonderful description! When you are not writing, what other interests do you pursue?

Abin: I am an avid Manchester United fan. So I watch a lot of football/soccer. And I also devote enough time to Sachin Tendulkar’s batting, Roger Federer’s tennis and anything on tv that helps me laugh my heart out.

Poets United: What led you to the world of blogging? Do you hope to publish one day?  And does blogging bring you enough satisfaction, if you don’t publish?

Abin: I wanted to blog to share my poetry with others and learn whether what I wrote was at all worth anyone’s time. It is a satisfying experience and the encouraging remarks of you and many of my fellow online poets are obviously richly rewarding. Those comments convince me that what I write is worth reading and therefore worth publishing. So I do hope to get them published someday. But considering the apathy that publishers have for poetry, I am not that hopeful.

Poets United: Would you like to give a shout-out to some fellow poets whose blogs you visit often?

Abin: Definitely. Mary, you, Kerry, Kim, Marian of Runaway Sentence, Laurie Kolp…all of you have helped me to learn a lot of different things about the art of writing and the proficiency and frequency with which you write is absolutely awesome. And your feedbacks are very generous as well. My friend and fellow poet Sayan Aich has also been a big help as he is often the first reader of my poems. In fact, joining the two communities, Poets United and Real Toads has been a thoroughly enriching experience in various ways. My personal poetic output has literally tripled! All thanks to the wonderful poets and readers out there.

Poets United: Mine too, Abin. Is there anything else you would like to share with Poets United?

Abin: I hope it continues to blossom with many new members and I am sure that I’ll keep contributing and sharing as much as I can.

Poets United: We look forward to continuing to read your work, Abin. We're lucky to have you in our community. Thanks so much for this wonderful visit. I see the Carpet hovering, out the window, so we'll say farewell for now.

Sigh. Hop aboard kids, and we'll leave this magical land, and our visit with another gifted poet from our wonderful community. Isn't it true that the people behind the pens are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. I enjoy this forum. It brings into the forefront a cognizance that there is more to my little corner of existence. Worlds afar, others are also in a creative corner of existence that can be linked through this medium. A reminder to me that I am not alone.

  2. An interesting interview with a lovely introduction. Thank you for sharing it : )

  3. Sherry, what a wonderful interview once again! Abin, I appreciated getting to know you through this interview in a different way than I have gotten to know you through your poetry. You were so fortunate to have parents who encouraged you from young on. That is such a wonderful gift from parents to children. In fact, the BEST gift. Thank you for the 'shout-out,' Abin! I do so much enjoy your poetry.

  4. This interview was such a pleasure. I am already homesick for India, and keep thinking of the streets full of bookshops! Nene, yes, isnt it wonderful to be linked with other poets all around the world? It truly feels miraculous to me. It is a great blessing.

  5. Oh, I love this one! I've been out of commission as of late and have missed the creative support and inspiration all of you offer. This interview delights me because it beckons me back into the loop, and also because I have enjoyed Abin's work and have appreciated his feedback from our first encounter. Thank you both!

  6. Wonderful interview! Abin, you certainly have a very blessed and interesting life! My favorite book is by Khaled Hosseini and I'm glad to find you read his work as well. :)

  7. Sigh, doesn't he just make you long to hop on that magic carpet with him and travel to India? Sublime ... what a lovely man - good poet too and a very nice interview.

  8. Abin, it's great learning more about you!

  9. An enjoyable journey to see a fascinating poet in his place. One of my favourite books is Third Class Ticket by Heather Wood, which starts and ends ub Kolkata.

  10. Abin, I so enjoyed getting to know you a bit more!
    I loved this magical journey and look forward to more of your work! :D


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