Bengali author Ramaprasad De on his books, poetry (Interview)

Ramaprasad De-Bengali AuthorSept 12, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): Prof. Ramaprasad De, professor of Bengali and author to several books of verses and the current editor of ‘Sondhitsa’ published by Aurobindo Bhavan shared his thoughts with Calcutta Tube where he speaks of his endeavours in the field of literature. Besides his original works, he has also co-edited many books of poems including translations of some famous works of Derozio and his literary versatility extends to the field of children’s books too. Attracted to Semiotics – the study of signs, symbols and everything related to then – the apparent abstractions of these has been central to his new book “Bhashar Janala Theke” where he has analyzed the linguistic aspects of poetries.

Books by author Ramaprasad DeCalcutta Tube: You are the author of so many books. What was your staring point?

Ramaprasad De: It was in 1957, at the age of fifteen, just before my appearing at the School Final Exam, that my first book of verses, named “Aek Pakhi” was published.  The golden jubilee edition of the poetic elation has been published in recent past.

Calcutta Tube: You taught Bengali at the university.  What advantages you have as a writer when you are also an academic?

Ramaprasad De: At the university level we face matured youth.  The immense quest and unbound love for poems and other literary creation of most of them make for us a congenial atmosphere to communicate with them successfully.  Particularly those who have in themselves a somewhat creative mind, feel it advantageous.

But in a syllabus-oriented or rather syllabus-centric education system, the pressure is always there on the creative academics to bring balance between emotions and reality.

A Poem from the book ‘Webcam’

A Poem by Ramaprasad De

Calcutta Tube: Most of your works are non-fiction.  Why?

Ramaprasad De: Basically I am a poet.  I feel free to communicate my ideas and beliefs through poetic embellishments.  Moreover, in poetry, with the help of symbols, metaphors, etc I can express myself in a much more sublime tone of language.

Another space of my love and choice as well as urge out of proximity to my heartfelt feeling is linguistics, particularly semiotics, a developed modern theory of Saussure.

Writing fiction demands much more affluence of the experience of life, human society and contemporaries and obviously, a different type and style of creative diction of which, may be, I am in wanting.

Calcutta Tube: So, what are your favorite topics in non-fiction?

Ramaprasad De: Poetry, linguistics, particularly semiotics; Derozio (1809 – 1831 one of the great talented, rather genius to have caused the Renaissance in Bengal in early 19th century) and last but not the least, the great poet – Nobel laureate and linguist of the top rank, Rabindranath Tagore.

Calcutta Tube:You are author of some poetry books. Please share your thoughts on poetry?

Ramaprasad De: I have many a book of poems including translations from Derozio, etc. I have co-edited a few ones also.

Since the advent of civilization, poetry appeals better to the people.  The music, meter, rhyme and transcendence in poetry mesmerize one and all.  Earlier, a poet or bard would often be a man of enormous cultural exponent living on a higher strata of society delivering poetic sermons, morals, and ‘plaintive numbers’ ‘for old unhappy far-off things and battles long ago’.

But, at present, writing poetry is no more a ladder into the aristocracy. Particularly since last two wars, the world has totally changed into a very complex one where the real victim is humanity.  And here lies the role of the poets and their creations. From the ‘higher’ level of myths and metaphysics, heroism and romanticism, transcendentalism and mysticism, poetry has come down to earth, to communicate with the people in distress.

Calcutta Tube: Being the author of a children’s book, please share your thoughts on children’s literature?

Ramaprasad De: Generally childhood days are full of imagination, dream, unbound joy and unhindered love for everything on earth.

A poet or else can often communicate with the children in somewhat non-communicating language and style as in rhymes, non-sense verses, fantasies, fairy-tales, etc.  Again, sometimes, different tone and fiber of language are necessary to make them acquainted with their surroundings, time or age.

No doubt, writing for children is rather a distinct style and task.  Today we may try a different path including science- fictions, recreating myths etc.  But all is to take into account the changing phase of the childhood nowadays.

Video Clips: Prof. Ramaprasad De speaks on Michael Madhusudan Dutta’s MeghnadBadh Kavya at Kolkata’s Park Street cemetary on ‘Madumela’ 2010




Calcutta Tube: What is the concern for studying literature nowadays?

Ramaprasad De: Life is faster than ever before on this earth.  Man is always busy concerning his career.  Urge for huge earthly sensualities and lust for more and more cause different psychological diseases like stress, panic; sometimes its manifestation in drug-abuses and even suicides.  Hence studying literature can solace one, I think, in his distress and regain confidence in life.  It gives one a space for thought-provoking ideas and also helps realize the actualities of the people living in every nook of our beloved earth.

Expectedly not everyone is very much concerned about the effectiveness of studying literature.  But, we never give up hope.  We must preach this message continuously: Rabindranath Tagore says, ‘To lose trust in man is sin’.

Calcutta Tube: Are computers, internet, etc. hampering our habit of reading books?  If so, how do you think the youngsters these days can be encouraged to read more books?

Ramaprasad De: We agree with this view to some extent.  But actually the stress, strain and pressure of the fast life of this century are desisting people from daily habit of reading.  The fact that the present system of education is mostly dependent on modern electronic gadgets is no denying also.

I am always a man of positive thinking and optimism to the end.  The youngsters can yet effortfully be encouraged to read literary creations other than their syllabi.  The literatures also should pay more attention to their changing and escalating need and taste while creating.

Calcutta Tube: How does it feel being the editor of the magazine of the Aurobindo Bhaban?

Ramaprasad De: As an editor, this is obviously not my first and only venture.  But doubtlessly, editing the high-standard magazine (‘Sondhitsa’) of Aurobindo Bhaban gives me a different and better taste of editing.  I am really very much concerned about the serious contributors and the trust bestowed upon me by the authority of this organization.  Concern is also there for the hundreds of intelligent and highly educated and also well-informed readers.

Calcutta Tube: What are your upcoming projects? Esp, the one of Michael Madhusudon Dutt that you were planning to write, how is it coming along?

Ramaprasad De: Perhaps all concerned people know that there are several versions and critical appreciations of the Ramayana in Northern and Southern India and in South and South-East Asia.  And also everywhere, Rama is the hero, who with the help of the heaven punishes the sinner and makes the earth (read, India) livable and peaceful.

Michael, overwhelmed with the ideas of Western Renaissance ‘transcreated’ the epic, making Ravana (and his relations and followers) the tragic hero and Rama an ordinary man with immoral and selfish actions, who  opts for very opportunity and hypocrisy to fulfill his mission.

I am thinking the episode from a different angle. I feel Rama and his followers are in fact Colonial Arya rulers who are cornering and trampling all indigenous resistance.

I have not yet written the article that I planned to write.

A poem from the book ‘Webcam’

A Bengali poem by Ramaprasad De

Calcutta Tube: Please tell us something on your recent book ‘Bhashar Janala Theke’ that was published at the Book Fair.

Calcutta Tube: The central theme of this book is ‘Semiotics’, where the terms like ‘Sign’, ‘Signifier’, ‘Signification’ and ‘Signified’ are used.  The theory that the relation between word and its meaning is ‘arbitrary’ was pointed out in a colloquial and non-technical rendition by Greek Philosophers. Later on, it got its theoretical base by Ferdinand de Saussure. He draws one’s attention to the synchronistic attributes of the language.  Semiotics is developed recently and is being used in literary and linguistic discussions and appreciations.

The theme of the first article (Page 11 in the book) is to show the semantic relation between sound image or sonority and concept, which has been named by me as phono-signifier. Edward Sapir named it ‘Sound Symbolism’. Tagore’s ‘prothom diner urjo’ as envisaged by Sankho Ghosh and Abu Syed Ayub is discussed depending on semiotic theory.

In the second article (Page 22), we have tried to explain that ‘Sonority in a syllable rises maximally at the beginning and drops minimally at the end’. Traditional ‘open and closed’ classification of syllable in now replaced by SYLLABLE WEIGHT.

The theme of the third one (Page 39) is to view Jibananda Das’s poems by justifying the distinctive features of sounds. We have started with AlokeRanjan Dasgupta bowing to Saussure for his semiotic principles. The contradiction/contrast between light and darkness and stability instability in a poem are related to the distinctive features of acute-grave and compact-diffused respectively.

In the next endeavor (Page 48), referring to SibNarayan Roy’s essays, I have tried to show that poetry can never be pure music. Music is possible without word-support.  But without words, poetry is nothing.

In the article on Derozio (Page 57), his poetry has been analyzed, perhaps the first time, from semiological viewpoint. Here we have denied a timeless, cultureless, universal human essence of the poetry.  In Derozio’s ‘Freedom to the Slave’ we show that ‘as the slave departs the Man returns (with the help of a diagram). Here the position of the slave and the Man is opposite on the scale of conjunction and disjunction. Derozio here resembles Maxim Gorky’s saying that ‘our art must rise above reality and raise man above it without detaching him from it’.

In Derozio’s prose, we can visualize a lyricist.  His ‘muse’, we feel, the inner voice of imagination’ of the romantic poets, or Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Jibondebota’.  He was a true patriot, a great rationalist, again by heart and soul a profound lover of romanticism. Everywhere in his writing, we find an ‘echo of a great soul’, which has attained a remarkable sublimity through conscientious reasoning, the basis of modernism.

On the next article (Page 77), the stylistics in literature has been emphasized with N. Chomsky’s generative grammar.

In the next article (Page 85) it has seen said that sound, as we have indentified as phono-signifier, is itself a signifier, other than a word.  Saussure identified the word as the signifier.

In Page 97, a short story written by Puronjoy Mukhopadhyay has been taken into discussion.  ‘Motir Maa’ has been depicted with the help of ‘Basujaya’. Here real conflict is between these two nouns. The momentum here is at the utterance of a shortest sentence, ‘haě alla’. Then we witness the fall of the urban cosmetic and artificial life and the sublimation of the ‘native rustic’, Motir Maa.

On the translation of Rimbaud’s poem, we have taken the theoretical support of Roman Jakobron’s three types: intralingua, interlingua and intersemiotic.

In the last article, the Nobel – laureate Doris Lessing- her life and experiences have been discussed.  In Lessing the rift between the patriarchal and matriarchal system is reflected (The real revolution is women against men). She was very much conscious that in the society, women are just a bearer of patriarchal system and elaborated that, the liberty of women lies in her self-identity.

Calcutta Tube: Some of your all-time favorite authors are….

Ramaprasad De: Derozio, Michael M. Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore (the poet and linguist), Sri Aurobindo, Subhas Mukhopadhyay, Dinesh Das, Nirendranath Chakravarty, Samsur Rahman, Alokeranjan Dasgupta, Pabitra Sarkar, Shyamaprasad Bhattacharya, Robin Pal and Puranjoy Mukhopadhyay (Short story writer).

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