Poetry from the Innermost Recesses of the Heart: An Interview with D. C. Chambial

[lang_en]D. C. Chambial, one of the significant contemporary poets from Himachal Pradesh, started writing poetry right from his school days. He has won the prestigious Michael Madhusudan Academy Award for his poetry. He has six books of poetry to his credit. A number of students have written their Ph.D. and M. Phil. dissertations on his works. His poems have been translated into Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, German, French, Greek and, Bengali languages. He also edits Poetcrit, a bi-annual journal of literary criticism and contemporary poetry. This poetic genius, who is called ‘a very promising poet’ by Prof. Shiv K. Kumar, is engaged by Dr. Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal in an illuminating interview.

NKA: You are quite a prolific poet with six collections. In your poetic corpus, do you think all the poems are from the innermost recesses of your heart? Or, at some times, is head more dominant than the heart? What are your views about the origin of poetry in a poet? I think poetry is the bubbling of the excessive emotions in the poet’s heart. But, if a poet is highly versatile, does every poetic creation come out of the heart? Is this process possible throughout the career of a poet? Or do you think at some moments, poetry is created by intellect and scientific reasoning of the poet? Your ideas, please.

DCC: Once again, you have also asked the same question which other interviewers have often asked. These collections have come out after I took to writing poetry about four decades ago. Then I was still in my High School. The poems which were included in our syllabus, their themes and music attracted me to compose my poems. Since then there has been no looking back.[/lang_en][lang_en]

Yes, I very much believe that the poems evolve from the deep recesses of one’s heart. Absolutely, I agree with your observation that “poetry is the bubbling of excessive emotions”. So is the case with me. All these poems have come up from the deeps of my heart. I have often heard people saying that poems can be written at any time about anything. Some workshops are also organized by some people/universities, though little in India but very frequent overseas, about creative writing. In my case, some idea, word, or thought strikes mind and it sets into action in association with heart and poems are born spontaneously. There have been moments when I tried to write without any emotional leaven, the result has been futile. On the contrary, when supported by emotional back up, I have composed even 3-4 poems within very short span of time. The image/picture appears on the canvas of mind, hand moves on paper and the result is a poem or poems. Whenever I have deferred composition, because of fatigue or ennui for some later time, it has always completely disappeared from my mind and I could never capture that idea/image with the same vigour again. When emotionally charged, I have composed about a dozen poems within a week: two to three at a time. There has been a non-fecund period ranging over several months. There is no bar to imagination, yet mostly the spring and summer months have been more fertile in my case. As the winter begins to fall, my creativity also becomes passive.

Creative process, in my case, has always been like a river flowing without any pause. No time to think anything besides concentrating on the images that flash upon my mind. This process is so continuous that sometimes pen lags behind the movement of the mind, but once the image has been captured, the words can be taken care of after finishing the composition. Later on when I go through the poem the whole image reappears and the missing word/words are given their due place.

Poetic creation, in my case, always comes out of the heart. It has happened with me till date. About future, I can’t say. However, I can say it with the potency of certitude that so far I have never composed any poem only with my head.

Intellect and scientific reasoning do play their role but later on. When one sits to revise after composition in one’s leisure and if one also happens to be a critic then one weighs the composition with intellectual and scientific parameters.

NKA: Why do you write poetry? Is it to reform the society or for self-pleasure? Or, is there no reason in the creation of poetry? I suppose, it comes quite naturally and spontaneously to a poetic heart. What do you think?

DCC: Why do I write poetry? Ha! Ha! Ha! Have you ever asked any prospective mother/woman why does she give birth to her child? Poems are poets’ children. Poet is the mother. As a mother can’t help giving birth to her child in her womb, likewise, a poet also feels restless unless he has delivered his poem conceived by some image/spectacle/idea, matured in mind and nourished by heart. Since I started writing poetry, my idea about creative writing has been out and out procreative.

The creative process is spontaneous without any inkling of society. However, it is the pleasure that one gets while creating remains supreme. One forgets everything else even one’s own self. One merges with the thought, with the image and work of creation is the result. Social reform, though it is one endemic in the process, if the work aims at it, remains subaltern objective. Reformation by poetry is one of its aim. Creation seen from the viewpoint of the artist gives joy/pleasure first to the artist, at the time of composition, and second, to the readers later on.

Yes, verily. Poetry, no, all work of art, comes quite naturally and spontaneously to a poet/artist. Everything is poetic provided we have that intuitive eye to see through the scheme of things in nature. Tragedy and comedy are the two sides of life: they, when viewed with discerning eye, also manifest the inherent poetry in it. Poetry is not only a composition, metrical or based on its rhythm, but in its totality and brings within its compass the whole creation, animate or inanimate.

NKA: Why do release your poetic creations in English language? Can an alien language express the native experience spontaneously? How will the natives of Himachal Pradesh—not well versed in English language—comprehend the poetic upsurge of your heart? And how will the English speaking people of alien culture/ other countries understand the poetry suffused with Indian mythological references? My point is that Indian poetry in English suffers from a terrible lack of readership. It can not be easily comprehended both by the ordinary Indians and Englishmen. It is a poetry to be enjoyed, chiefly by the elite class of Indian metros. What do you say?

DCC: Why to write in English, an alien language? To me language does not belong to a particular place, confined within geographical boundaries; or to specific group/community of people who have learnt it in the lap of their mothers, but to those who can use it in their communication whether oral or written. Good language is always learnt whether by the native or alien speakers.

So far as the natives of Himachal Pradesh [or any part of our country] are concerned , a writer writes to give vent to his own emotions and ideology without caring for whether majority will understand or not. Even if the idea comes home to a handful of men and women it is far better than to scatter it among the multitude who fail to grasp its quintessence. [So far as English, as a language, is concerned, there is mushrooming of English medium schools; every Tom, Dick and Harry wants his children to be educated in such schools.] When an artist paints something, does he care for how many of his neighbours or countrymen will be able to comprehend/appreciate it? So, it is a relative question. Those who know will appreciate. Similarly, those, who can read, explore and interpret, (not paraphrase) a poem, will certainly appreciate it. People in Himachal, as elsewhere, do read, comprehend, and appreciate my poetry.

When it comes to English speaking people of alien cultures of other countries, the basic tenets, the truths of life everywhere remain the same, from prehistoric times to the present technologically most advanced age; the technology is ever advancing. It makes little difference to an artist/poet/writer. How do we, in India, while reading/studying the poetry of British/American poets, comprehend them? Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Browning, Hardy, Whitman or Frost, I think never been to India, yet we study, explore and comprehend them as well as their countrymen do. Their works have British or American ethos and mythological references. Similarly, those Indian writers who are being studied in British or/and American universities, as a part of their curricula, are being comprehended. I construe that Indian ethos or mythological references do no stand in the way of understanding the works. My foreign friends understand my poems as well as the people of Himachal or India. Do you have any qualm?

Readership. Yes, readership is certainly less but that does not hinder the imagination of a poet/artist. This idea for whom or how many one is creating/writing never enters the mind of the artist. One creates because one has to create. Nothing can impede creation. Here, I recall that all poems of Emily Dickinson were found in her box after her death. She did not tell any body about them when she was alive. It is only after her poems and their worth came to be known, her poetry is being explored and enjoyed by the earnest students of literature as well as the general reader alike.

Any work of art is understood and interpreted only by the elite class or a few only. How many of the common men know or comprehend Greek, Roman, or Byzantine architecture; the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh, or Raphael; Webster, Shaw, Ibsen, Eliot, Rimbaud, Patanjali, Bhartrihari,or Kalidas? It is always one’s learning and interest that matter. A man of less academic qualification can be interested in the classics, while even a doctorate may be disinterested. … Interest and one’s inclination are the foremost ingredients to enjoy any work of art. There have been writers/poets, like Kabir and Tulsidas who never went to school, yet they are everyman’s writers. While Eliot, Pound, Yeats and Sri Aurobindo are the centre of interest to the only few. …

NKA: What is the significance of nature symbols in your poetry?

DCC: Symbols play significant role in poetry. In poetry, the poet does not state something directly in plain words; if one does so, it becomes flat. The poet uses economy of words and says, what he wants to say, indirectly; then leaves it to the imagination of the reader to capture his point of view. It has often been noticed that various readers/critics interpret the same poem/work of art differently. This imparts kaleidoscopic beauty to the poem or work of art. Herein lies the beauty of any creation. Why diamond is held so valuable? Certainly, for its quality of dispersion of light seen differently from different angles.

Symbols, on the one hand, impart economy to the work, and, on the other, imbue it with plurisignation and ambiguity [Philip Wheelright & William Empson]; the charm of any poem lies in its mystery and/or ambiguity. The pains, that one puts in in demystifying this riddle, give immense joy to the student/reader in unravelling that mystery or making sense of that ambiguity.

Human life is integral with nature. They complement each other. One is incomplete without the other. One cannot be severed from the other. Thus, nature symbols go down in my poetry as naturally as “leaves to a tree”. I think it hard to live in the absence of nature. I think poetry jejune without nature. I live in the lap of nature and cannot estrange myself from it. Do you remember Wordsworth used to wander in nature whenever he got time to be one with it, to enjoy it, to know it? While using nature symbols, I, in my consciousness, thaw into nature and become one with it. Transcendental mysticism also teaches so. Animate and inanimate all are one in the Greater Consciousness.

NKA: Titles of some of your collections are highly symbolic. For example, mark the titles– Broken Images, The Cargoes of the Bleeding Hearts, Gyrating Hawks and Sinking Roads and Before the Petals Unfold. They are steeped in deep symbolism. What is the role of symbolism in poetry? Do you think that poetry is a curved or pseudo statement, where artistic excellence can be achieved through indirect communication of symbols and myths? Please make a point.

DCC: Yes. I do agree with you. Most of the titles of my poems and almost all collections are symbolic. These symbols, particularly for me, give pleasure. They make the reader sit up and think about the exact thing that the poet wants to suggest by using such symbols. In their absence, I feel, the reader remains relaxed because what a writer is saying goes directly to his mind. Symbols not only make the reader alert, insinuate him to track the poet’s thought and derive pleasure from that. It is a basic human nature that when one gets something after hard-work, one feels greater sense of joy and satisfaction than what one gets when everything comes easily.

In this manner, I think, symbols give more delight and the bliss that results from it and play a vital role in fulfilling one major objective of giving pleasure. I personally do not relish a direct or flat poetry.

So far as calling symbols a “pseudo statement” is concerned, the very nature of language is “curved” or “pseudo”. In all languages of the world, all words signify the things/emotions/associations for which they are used. For example “Maranda” or “Rae Bareilly” are the words [sound symbols] used to suggest these two places; these could easily be given or could have also been given to some other places. But the sounds, when spoken/heard, and their written forms have since long been associated with these places and such sounds or written forms immediately bring to mind only these two places having, thus, become “conventional” or “public” symbols. “A symbol, in the broadest sense of the term, is anything which signifies something else; in this sense all words are symbols” (MH Abrams).

It is, positively, an artistic device to achieve “artistic excellence” as you have said. It is not the only artistic device but it is without doubt one of the other artistic devices used by artists to attain creative brilliance and quality in their art besides imparting pleasure to the artist at the time of creation and later to the reader/audience. Use of myths, allusions – literary or historical – similes, metaphors are some other devices used to realize this effect. Each artist/poet uses his own device with his own preference and liking. As no two individuals are alike, similarly the styles and devices that various artists use differentiate them from one another and impart individual character to their work. This is how I look at it.

NKA: How will you describe your Haiku poems? Are they close to your heart? Are they suitable for Indian readers? Please comment.

DCC: Haiku poems: yes, I do compose haiku poems but very rarely. There are poets, like Dr Ameeruddin, Dr. R. K. Singh, and Mrs. Urmila Kaul besides others, who compose haiku poems copiously. Haiku writing, basically a Japanese genre of poetry, is epigrammatic in manner and describes an instantaneous response of the poet. More and more Indian poets are following it. As an editor, I receive so many haiku poems from so many poets who divide any thought, at times, even a sentence into three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables and call it haiku. If one wants to write haiku, one has to imbibe the very spirit, besides technique, of the haiku. POETCRIT has published articles on haiku in its some past issues with an aim of apprising its readers with haiku.

So far as haiku composition is concerned, I am trying to learn how to write one. Sometimes, I, myself, feel that I have strayed away from the spirit of haiku and failed to furnish a perfect one.

Haiku is an imported, yet important, technique of composing poems. Certainly, it will take its time to get home in India among readers and writers. It is only the beginning. Maturity is to come with time and practice. Now, if we remember, it is after a practice of about 180 years that Indo-English writing has become Indian English writing. So haiku, too, I am sure, will attain native colour in India. Suitability does not matter much. When the readers will get excellent haiku poems, they will like them. By the way, who does not like something, good, something beautiful and something true? The spirit of satyam, shivam, sundram is always in demand.

I have always been optimistic in everything. Change is the law of nature. “Old order changeth yielding place to new ….” otherwise even good things of this world would become stale and monotonous. It is the change that keeps interest alive not only in art but also in life.

NKA: As editor of the prestigious journal Poetcrit, what do you think are the major problems, faced by the creative poets and critics in India?

DCC: Creative poets and critics, I think, don’t have any problem, so far as publication in magazines and journals is concerned. Editors only seek subscription to keep their journals alive. There is only one criterion that poems and critical writings should conform to the publication standards of such magazines and journals.

NKA: What will you say about the publisher-author relationship in India? Is it cordial? Or do you think that there exists a sort of troubled anxiety in that relationship? If there are some problems in that union, what are the factors responsible of the growth of them? Will you suggest some remedies?

DCC: Publisher-author relationship has never been cordial. Publishers demand money from the author, who is not so well off. Second, they do not accept matter for publication on its worth but on the popularity of the name of the author(s). One thing, these publishers should keep in mind, that all those renowned names were not born famous.

There are some problems, mainly on the part of the publishers: they should, in stead of flatly refusing the new authors or asking for huge sums of money from them, weigh and consider the worth of the matter submitted for publication. If there are certain flaws or short comings that should be pointed out to the author(s), then they (authors) will not feel affronted and try to improve their worth. In case the matter is worthy of publication, it should be published. Here, I can cite the example of Mulk Raj Anand’s world famous story ‘The Lost Child’ was turned down by seven magazines but was later considered one of the best stories of the world. His first novel, Untouchable, whose publication was rejected by 19 publishers for more than four years and the 20th also accepted it only after E. M. Forster agreed to write Preface to it. After publication, they became classics of their own kind. It is universal problem and not confined to India only. As we, Indian writers, face this it in India, we think it is only Indian problem.

The problem with publishers is that they, first of all, say yes and demand huge amount from the author for the publication of the matter/book saying that this amount is only a part of the total expenditure worked out. With that amount the author himself can publish the book. Those writers who make payments after being lured of after-sale royalty, they either never get that or get only a fraction. The publisher enjoys the lion’s share and deceives the author.

NKA: In the contemporary era, INTERNET has entered into every sphere of life. Can this wonder of Information Technology provide some avenues for the authors? An author can easily get his work published on some websites and blogs. What are your views about this e-publishing? Do people take it seriously? Please explicate.

DCC: Yes, it is now beyond doubt that the present times may well be termed as an era of Information Technology Or, precisely, an age of INTERNET. Well said, now an author can publish his works on websites and blogs. But, how many of us are able to do so? There are places where there is no access of this technology and where there is, it suffers because the service providers care only to charge their fee and bother little to provide quality service.

So far, I think, most of the authors are not well versed in this technique. If they ever try their hand at it, problems associated with computer hamper their work and dampen their spirit. However, the younger generation feels quite aflame about it. I personally feel, in the future e-publishing will completely take over this job.

Nonetheless, one feels that the joy one gets from books can never be got from e-publishing keeping in view the handicaps associated with it. One can pick up any book at one’s leisure at any time which may not be possible with e-publishing. Times are moving ahead and who would like to lag behind?

NKA: What are your views about contemporary literary criticism in India? Is it quality one? Or, is it merely repetitive? If it has some originality, can you mention those points to the readers along with the names of some of creative critics?

DCC: Present literary criticism has dwindled down to be repetitive one. Yet, quality criticism is not completely obliterated. Those who believe in quality are silently doing their job. Those who want to earn name by publishing a large number of papers/books do not hesitate even to borrow ideas from other critics and, at times, even shamelessly copy pages from other critics. I know a large number of those belonging to both categories, but it would be wise not to divulge.

NKA: Are the syllabi of English Studies in India proper? Should not we include some regional authors in English translation at the U.G. and P.G. levels? Your views about the syllabi of English Studies in India.

DCC: I do agree with you that regional authors in translation be included in the syllabi at the U.G. and P.G. levels. English literature does not now necessarily mean the literature of Britain or America. Where ever, it is being written in English it deserves its due recognition. New authors of Indian English genres should also be included. There is no dearth of quality in Indian English literature. Indian English has come off age. It is as good as other Indian languages. I think that the syllabi at all levels be revised to include good Indian authors whether original in English or in translations. There should not be any discrimination between author of one language and the other. Author is author. He must be honoured by giving him his due place. Literature by Indians, irrespective of its language, is all Indian literature as one.

The interviewer Dr.Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal is Senior Lecturer in English at Feroze Gandhi College, Rae Bareli, (U.P.), India. His interviews with a number of contemporary literary figures, as well as his research papers, book reviews, articles and poems have appeared in publications, including The Vedic Path, Quest, Pegasus, IJOWLAC, The Journal, Promise, The Raven Chronicles, Yellow Bat Review, Carved in Sand, Turning the Tide, Blue Collar Review, Bridge-in-Making, Confluence, Poetcrit, Kafla Intercontinental, Hyphen and South Asian Review. His book on Stephen Gill is to be published shortly. [/lang_en]

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