My friends, each week you likely visit Panchali, who writes at pancholibochi, in the Poetry Pantry, or at Midweek Motif. Panchali is one of our long-standing members. We last interviewed her in 2013, ( a truly fascinating interview, full of customs, traditions, and wonderful photographs). It occurred to me that far too much time has gone by, and we need to pop back over to Kolkata, India, to get up to speed on all that is happening in our friend's life, which is always busy and interesting. A cup of chai, a grin and a wag of the tail from the beautiful Mawgli, and we are all set to begin. For certain, this will be interesting!
Sherry: Panchali, our interview in 2013 was such a wonderful visit. But reading your About page recently, I found I missed knowing some amazing
things about you. I am so happy we can do an update and rectify that, LOL!
Panchali: Hello everyone!!
Thank you, Sherry, for giving me this platform once again. I had never given
any consideration to the importance of the “About Me” page on the blog space
till I read this. Details were typed in a random manner without much thought.
Maybe I’ll need to update it again.
Sherry: Do tell us how your family is doing. You describe yourself as “the mother of canines,
cockatiels and fish”. How is everyone? Has
your family grown any larger?
Panchali: “I sustain myself with
the love of family.” ―I think that’s Maya Angelou. Nurturing a happy family is
one of the things I got around to quite easily….so those words resonate with me.
Family isn’t always
blood....it consists of members who foster warmth, security and love, as well
as feelings of belongingness. My pets are part of me, like my human child… (I
never bother to rationalize it, though!) We co-exist, love each other. I have
the blessing to feel the beautiful connections with animals, Sherry…!!
In the immortal
words of Louis C.K., bringing home a pet is a "countdown to sorrow."
And, when the inevitable happens it's very very sad. My two cockatiels, both
about seven years old, died suddenly within a span of nine months in
2013. Heavy …heavy… sigh!! I still mourn…and grieve.
Sherry: You know how much I resonate with your feelings for animals, my friend.
Panchali: In January, 2014 we
shifted home. From South-west fringe of the city to the North-east corner.
Along came the entire family: six gold fish, 4 sharks and my sunny boy Mawgli.
Relocating them was an experience. The scene around was full of chatter and
laughter. I must write about it one day. J
Sherry: I always love to see the beautiful Mawgli, when he pops up on facebook! It sounds like a busy move, full of chatter and laughter. And how is your beloved "dotti"? I know you and she are very close.
Panchali: An emphatic, YES!! ... when you say, I am close to my daughter...(oh, that’s my pet subject…LOL). Her workplace being nearby, she moved near our condominium with her husband recently. As a result, her after-office visits have improved numerically and I am so happy. Sometimes, my son-in-law joins in too. I’m blessed to have the best son-in-law on the planet. I’ll never be able to claim I’m perfect, but I am so grateful to have been saved…
Oh, we are still ‘four’ of us... the new bundle is taking a bit too long to arrive. :D
Sherry: It's lovely they now live closer to you, and visits are easier to manage. On your About page, I was very impressed to discover you have a
Masters of Philosophy in Existentialism. Wow. Tell us a bit about your interest
in this topic, and what you take away from your studies. How do your
spiritual/philosophical beliefs help you bear the sorrow you see all around
you, in this world that is so out of balance?
Panchali: Philosophic thought is an inescapable part of human existence.
Almost everyone has been puzzled from time to time by many essentially
philosophic questions about life, death etc. Immediately after I left High
school, my brush with philosophy started from the undergraduate course. After
my Bachelors, I kept my date with philosophy for my masters and then for the
Pre-PhD credits. Year after year, I turned a new page with an increasing
interest and never felt disappointed...From speculative metaphysics, I went on
to analysis and finally to existentialism! That was the journey.
Sherry: A very depthful journey.
Panchali: Philosophy of
non-cognitive man, but "man" nonetheless , was gradually influenced
by Darwin , Marx and Freud. Man was no longer a fallen angel but a descendant
of the apes ; the paradoxes of his life became stark contradictions in society.
This was hugely appealing to our growing up minds. My outlook of life, to
an extent , has been influenced by this philosophy, which talks about man and
Sherry: I can imagine so. I was even more amazed to discover you have a Masters in
Hindustani Classical (Vocal) Music, and were a disciple of the renowned
classical musician Pandit Vinay Chandra Maudgalya. I am seriously impressed. Tell us a little about your musical journey, my friend. Do you still sing?
Panchali: Hindustani classical
music is a very complex and beautiful tradition of music that goes back over 3,500
years. Ancient Indians were deeply impressed by the spiritual power of music,
and it was out of this that Indian classical music was born.
In Hindustani classical
music, once you have learned the basic notes, you are introduced to ragas
(which are like musical themes), and then you are encouraged to start
improvising and making your own melodies within the structure of that
particular theme. Today, I am nowhere near the level of talent it takes to
become a performing artist, but I can still make some musical murmurings, and
that gives me an inexhaustible source of delight.
My love affair with music
started very early in life. Bengali children grow up learning music ...
Likewise, I was initiated to Music by my father. Later went under the wing of
Pt. Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, in 1975…later on, I became a “B” grade artiste of
AIR Delhi. Yes, I have given a few ‘light classical recitals’ in Delhi
Doordarshan as well. As a teenager, growing up in India in the mid-70s, we
didn't have coloured televisions. There was only one television channel those
days called Doordarshan. It was broadcast in black & white. No one owned
color TVs or VCRs. So, I have no samples of the broadcasts/telecasts
Sherry: I would have loved to include one here. But we can imagine!
I note you have volunteered
with the Action for Community Empowerment organization. You say you have seen a
very suffering side of life, and that when you sit to write “those faces haunt
me.” Tell us a bit about this work, Panchali, what you have seen and how it has impacted your heart.
Panchali: Life abounds around us with almost
daily accounts of meaningless violence, poverty and discrimination, and more often
than not women and children are the victims, and more often than not citizens, as individuals, remain indifferent. It is a fact that woman is victimized and
subjugated by the male community everywhere. And while exploring the cracks of
these dark caves, I came across some real horrifying facts…it was like:
I always had been a vocal protester
against discrimination and abuse in public life. One day, I realised that it
would be worthwhile to be a part of a group. Opportunity came after my
marriage. My husband worked for a public sector organisation under the federal
government. There was a formal platform which provided opportunity to work
among woman and children: empowerment through education, vocational support and
public health. I recall with satisfaction my happy and long hours in the Adult
Literacy Centre and Women's Empowerment Centres for women. I also recall my
association with a blind school where I apprenticed for a few weeks.
Sherry: That is very meaningful work. Bless you for doing it. Your feelings around social justice issues often show up in your poetry. I would love to include one of your poems about this work, Panchali.
Panchali: Of all the discrimination in our
society, child labour works among the worst. While there are legislations on
the subject, enforcement is inadequate, for the laws in force do not take
cognizance of the economic compulsion of child labor.
After seeing a small boy breaking stones
in a construction site, I wrote this poem in 2010.
a boy stood up on his two feet
Black, beady eyes staring at
Blazed hate, his bruised
fingers lit slanders
Spasms of the righteousness
-ah, human insufficiency, I cringed:
So shameful so appalling.
His face streaked with dirt
I stuffed paltry coins in his hand
He slumped on the
bench near me
Forgiveness seemed too far.
but his movements
---in precarious undertones
“I need necessities. Build a happy world
A low rumble insinuated into my mind
Not all people are gallant enough
A benevolent NGO was fighting
for his dignity and justice...
very slowly,….deeply…and mumbled:
“Here we go... such deprivation cannot go
Sherry: Oh, my goodness! This poem. The child. "Build a happy world for me." We need to build him a much better world.
I also really loved your
poem for the endangered Ridley turtle and would like to include it........would
you like to say a bit about what inspired this poem?
Panchali: My growing up process during 1970s exposed
me to the Chipko Movement - a sustained resistance by the Himalayan peasants
against clear-cutting of forests, and it saved thousands of trees from being
We realized that 'environmentalism' is meant not only to protect endangered species, but to resolve natural resource-conflicts as well. In 1980s and 19990s...we witnessed the popular effort to protect the natural breeding-ground of Olive Ridleys on the Eastern Sea coast of India. Turtle consumption was banned and successfully enforced. My love and affection for the animal kingdom and flora was, perhaps, an outcome of all these.
Ah, silence too deep to unscroll
On these polluted shores…
Battling shadows, lights and noise
Wonder, how long can a small creature
hum and heave and gasp?
Or, fight to stay alive....
when the blood pulse a mating call!?
This is a pathetic death that manhood spills
The rule of Life speaks to me...
…. where there is Life, there is Death too!!
Someone dies for someone to live. Ah!
Who will solve this Existential Paradox of Life?
I see the wreckage of the 'Olive Ridley turtle'
lying on the sand-muddied shore
at the edge of bay of bengal...
On this grave... the sun falls every morning
chunk by chunk,
making the sea fly high and low...
the water rips and breaks in the dark...
The red wave of turtles
lumber out of the surf on these balmy nights,
and enter the human domain
looking for a spot to nest;
.....meaningless human disturbances
sing the blues; disturb the mating mood
The speed of life stumbles
deep filth fills the body in itch....and slowly decay
This is the Industrial Age's gift to these mortals
Let's not waste time asking...
'Can’t these little turtles
Borrow a small passage from humans
To lay their eggs without human interference,
when we have the earth for both of us!'
I stifle a sob,
place my hand on the wet turtle...
Wheeze a while on the dry sand
Lament loudly: We know the earth's a woman
Let there be some charitable
disposition on the part of human beings.
I, as a mother know
that to give life,
….is the gift of god.
Let fortune drip
before it leaves
the human eye for good.
But, I am no activist. For all I care is
life, that I led with my k9 babies--Bibi, Misha, Bozo, Mick, and Mawgli ( my
eleven years old fur-baby who is still a warm puppy). And then Tweeky, Tusky and Shanku, the hermit, (a turtle picked up from my
rain-splashed garden), and of course, my sharks and gold fish. I am also blessed
with sixty+ potted plants which are with me from 1993.
I came across these poignant lines from Milan Kundera: “ Mankind’s moral test, its fundamental test, consists of its
attitude towards who are at its mercy: animals”
Sherry: I absolutely agree, and we are not doing well. Is there a third poem you would like to
include here? And tell us a bit about it?
Panchali: In the flurry of modern-day life, our ears
get used to the background noise- a period of silence can be oddly deafening
and very comforting too. Personally, I love such moments of complete silence. I
love the opportunity it provides for quiet, contemplative reflection…
This poem was written on Mary’s prompt in
2013. I would love to share the poem again with the poets here.
Walk into an anechoic chamber
Settle in the swivel chair
Exclude all external sounds
‘Tune to the Sounds of Silence’
Often buried in the depths of noise
Cacophonies stitch the senses…
And it strays the awareness
The soft rustle of leaf on leaf
falling flowers against weight of air
The steam rising from a pot of tea.....
….mind hovers around inanities
Its an intimate moment, meditative
Go ahead, touch them
They are overflowing...
Sherry: So beautiful, Panchali. I love capturing those lovely moments. What other activities do you enjoy
when you’re not writing?
Panchali: Gone are the days when a woman only
used to look after the kids & home. Due to internet evolution now there are
many business ideas for homemakers as well.
I always had a flair for good colours and
eye for good fabric; so, I decided to get into a saree business with my own
label- Raag Raagini. I knew nothing about designing when I started off in 2012.
All I knew was that, I wanted to design the kind of sarees that I loved wearing.
I am a self-taught designer, and have
become a “designer” in my own right. I’m still nervous about
each piece as I have been with my first one; I personally handcraft each saree
based on the trends. I keep it simple and just play along the six yard fabric…
Krishna the Flute Player
mural painting on six yard canvas
Sherry: Your work is vibrant, colorful and so original, Panchali. These are just Stunning. Gorgeous. What a treat to see them. Kids, check out Raag Raagini on facebook. So many beautiful things to see!
Panchali: I am passionate about music and grab any
opportunity to go to classical music concerts. I love vacations; it is what
keeps me sane amidst my busy life. Each country is beautiful in its own way but
I am a wildlife person, so my favourite destination is Forest…
Sherry: A busy, happy and fulfilling life. It sounds so wonderful! In closing, is there anything you'd like to say to Poets United?
Panchali: Yes! I like to
say thank you to the Poets United Team for making this beautiful community
where we can share our thoughts with one another.
everyone for supporting a small-time blogger, a struggling yet striving poet
like me. You folks give me enough motivation to continue my pursuit of
writing…. It's truly an honour to be among you all. This is more than I wished
in a lifetime.
And a special
word of thanks to you, Sherry for this finely tuned interview. May God bless
you, my friend.
Hasn't this been a wonderful visit, my friends? So varied, interesting and inspiring. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!