Categories
Musings

Hobnobbing with Literature

By Ketaki Dutta

A fresh morning with a generous sun awaited me on the balcony outside. It was flooded with birdsongs — the caws of the crows, the chirps of the sparrows and the continual trills of a magpie. As my south-facing balcony door opened on a pond and a meadow that stretched up to the street lining it, leaving at least 90 feet to 100 feet in between, I had no dearth of morning breeze or late afternoon gusts of wind in summer. The time of this corona-scare was quiet and soundless. All these birdsongs, whoosh of a car-engine on the road 70-100 feet off my balcony were soothing to my ears.

As I stay alone, there is no one to talk to me. Sometimes, just to feel companionable, I talk to my nephew, imagining his presence beside me, mostly the ‘little nephew’ who was my constant company almost 10 years ago, when he was just 4-5 years-old, a wisp of a boy. You may regard this as a sign of being an inmate in bedlam, but this conversation refreshes me, keeps me healthy and going. This does not however mean that I crave company. On the contrary, when after my usual hours in the college, I come back to my apartment, I love to enjoy my own company, clicking away on my laptop — a story, a poem, a personal piece or just scholarly writing.

I do not even have the need to call anyone up and while away my private hours by talking my heart out. That I hardly do. I sit with a mug of coffee by my writing desk, a wheeled one, which I love to drag to the balcony, especially on peaceful Sundays. It overlooks the greenery of the open space, facing it and whiffs in the pleasant presence of the feathered beings with whom I have already struck friendship since the last four years. In fact, I chose to buy this home, only because of this south-facing balcony and this open space. A few of my friends objected to my buying this flat, as I would be staying alone and this serenity, they felt, could compromise my security[!] and again, this tranquility would give a fillip to my solitariness. I could not make them understand that I am a private person and I love to commune with the calm nature outside my balcony. My solitariness is not ‘so-called loneliness’ but my aloneness, which I love madly and would never compromise with anything, however precious that may be.

  I am just trying to say that this imposed isolation, during lockdown, is something I love. I feel cocooned in the warmth of my home. In the afternoon, I gave in to an occasional siesta. In the evening, I get up fresh, have a cup of tea and go into meditation for some few minutes.

The glow of the evening outside is really alluring, and hence, I to stand in the balcony for some time. One day as I returned to my bedroom, adjacent to the balcony, I found a gecko-like lizard, hanging from the wooden beam on the balcony door. I was so terrified to see its enormous size that I rushed into my bathroom and came armored with my mosquito-repellent spray. I sprayed it and to my utter surprise, found the creature giving in to its poison. In an hour, it writhed on the floor and breathed its last. I felt so guilty! However, I had a skimpy supper and went to my desk to read a few pages from Literary Occasions by V.S. Naipaul.

   Lockdown is really a blessing in disguise to me! I am getting to read so many books, which I kept aside for reading but could not read as my regular schedule on a work day with all the commuting left me fatigued. I was really disturbed to find Naipaul’s take on R.K. Narayan, one of my favourite authors. I love his narration, his way of describing things, his making inroads into the hearts of his characters. I love him blindly. In my class too, I praise Narayan to the skies. Even some years ago, I taught The English Teacher by him! But times have changed, old three-year-graduation structure has been replaced by semester system. And, UGC (University Grants Commission) is keeping an eye on the ‘quantity’ rather than quality of teaching. Everything said and done, I cannot downplay ‘quality’ of my teaching. Hence, be it Narayan or Lewis Carroll, I try to put forward my best. Anyway, let me stop the digression and give you Naipaul’s observation on Narayan is something I will share with you.

To Naipaul, he (R.K. Narayan) ‘appeared to be writing from within his culture…He truly possessed his world. It was complete and always there, waiting for him.’ But that world proved on closer examination to be static. Narayan’s characters seemed to Naipaul ‘oddly insulated from history’– a history of defeat and subjection that was so oppressively present in India that Narayan’s fictional world could only reveal itself as ‘not, after all, as rooted and complete as it appears.’ As Naipaul saw it, the novel in India, and specifically Narayan, could ‘deal well with the external of things’ but often ‘miss their terrible essence’.

What do you think?

Ketaki Datta is an Associate Professor of English at Bidhannagar Government College, Kolkata, India. She did her Ph.D. on Tennessee Williams’s late plays and later it was published, titled, “ Black and Non-Black Shades of Tennessee Williams”. She has quite a few academic publications along with two novels, two books of poems and quite a few translations. She had been interviewed by Prof. Elisabetta Marino, University of Rome, archived by Flinders University, Australia. She won grants for working at American Studies Research Centre[1993,1995], Hyderabad, India. She presented academic papers at IFTR Conference[Lisbon], University of Oxford and University of California, Santa Barbara. Her debut collection of poems, Across the Blue Horizon, had been published from U.K. with the aid of Arts Council, England. Her latest poetry-book, Urban Reflections: A Dialogue Between Photography and Poetry has been published by KIPU, University of Bielefeld, Germany, with Professor/Photographer Wilfried Raussert [photographs of Street Art of Americas]. She has interviewed American novelist, Prof. Sybil Baker, recently for Compulsive Reader. She is a regular reviewer of poetry volumes with Compulsive Reader, USA. She interviewed poet Lucha Corpi of San Francisco, in 2018. She is the Regional Editor, India, of thetheatertimes.com, headed by Prof. Magda Romanska, Emerson College, Boston, U.S.A.

Categories
Musings

If all time was eternally present …

By Ketaki Dutta

After almost fifteen days of this ‘lockdown’, I drew a long breath and took up my laptop to scribble away my thoughts. Know not why! Just a way of keeping myself busy, just a mode of whiling away the ‘time’ which otherwise might lie heavy on my heart, cannot say exactly why. Or maybe, being inspired by the ‘lockdown diaries’ penned and shared on Face Book by my friends! Cannot tell you the reason exactly!

 Last night, I sat up till late. Sleep eluded me. Dreams kept streaming in, whenever I was trying to catch forty winks! I gave up my futile attempts to fall asleep and went on reading! A metallic noise vibrated my cellphone. The noise usually cuts through the stillness of my room, in vacant hours when messages, especially ones on WhatsApp, pour in. I felt lethargic. Did not check the messages, went on going through Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium instead. A beautiful book. It opened up casements on many unknown terrains, quite interestingly. I read and was being informed subsequently.

However, before dozing off finally for the night, I went to check my incoming messages. There was a video-clip sent by a friend, who used to burn midnight oil during school days. I am sure, the habit of staying up late into the night, talking to the moon and stars, is still very much with her. I ignored it and checked the other messages, navigating off. But somehow, some inadvertent press on some button began playing the clip. I did not stop it. Went on watching instead. It was a short film with not more than three small scenes. But believe me, I found myself in a pool of tears when it ended.

You are wondering… I know. For that, I have to share the story, I am afraid, there’s no well-formed story at all, but just a simple narration. Naturally, how can you expect a story to be told in such a narrow compass of say, some 7 minutes or so? Well, let me tell you what happens there actually… 

A little boy rushes to school to attend his classes. Every day, he finds to his utter dismay, that the teacher has already entered the class before him. As he raps on the closed door of the classroom, the teacher asks him to get in. And each day, he feels irked to find himself late for the class. The teacher daily drubs him loudly with a measure-scale on his right palm and the boy never whimpers nor groans in pain. With pain writ large on his face, he takes his seat instead. Tears glisten at the corner of his eyes, but they do not spurt out or course down his cheeks.

He sits at his desk, driving his pain down his gullet. One afternoon, as the teacher cycled through his neighbourhood, he spotted the boy behind a wheelchair. The young boy was pushing the wheelchair with a man with deformed limbs seated on it. The man looked sad.

The teacher felt sad, cast a glance at his watch and paddled off. He could feel the boy’s pain, it seemed. He sighed aloud. Next day, the boy was late to the school as usual. He found the teacher standing with the scale, calmly. He was just looking at him. The teacher had forgotten to utter the curses with which he used to snub him before. He stuck out his hand to his teacher. The teacher put the scale on the boy’s palm, lightly, knelt before him and took him in an affectionate embrace.

The boy was puzzled. He did not comprehend the reason.

The film ended here. A soft piano went on playing in the background. It was soft, but so evocative of many untold emotions!

I shared this clip on my Facebook page with a note saying, “Cannot say why I loved it so much! This language is Latin and Greek to me. I do not teach little kids. But somewhere, somehow, the inner chord felt a tug. A plaintive note issued. A drop or two coursed down my cheeks, unawares!”

Many comments poured in. Many likes and loves followed. I answered only one from among them, delving into my feelings, rather I tried to justify my emotions, “Pain has its own language, expression of love too has. No langue and parole divide can stand in its way! The message rings loud and clear through it all.”

  After downing a few cups of green tea and coffee down my oesophagus, I sat with Italo Calvino. Read a few pages. Was being charmed by his take on poetry. I was really carried away by his notion ‘lightness in poetry’.

I remembered Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being and was trying to imbibe the thought as propagated by Calvino. On the 6th June 1984, Italo Calvino was welcomed officially by Harvard University to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton Poetry Lectures. He divided his lectures into six talks of which I was going through ‘Lightness’ first. While talking about ‘lightness’ he named Cavalcanti and went to talk in length about his poems, at the first place, ‘lightening of language by which meanings are carried by a verbal fabric that seems weightless, until they take on that same rarefied consistency’, secondly, ‘the narration of a train of thought,’ and ‘a visual image of lightness that takes on symbolic value’. I was trying to fathom deep into these notions of ‘lightness’.

Suddenly, I looked out through my open window and the world was getting ready to usher in evening in myriad hues. I was lost somewhere.

Cutting through the silence of my room, the phone rang. I received and at the other end a voice commanded, “So, when are you going to send your essay on Lawrence?” Oh yes, by this evening… I hate to renege on a promise. Hence, after a frugal supper, I sat with the paper on Women in Love by Lawrence and sent it by 1.40 a.m.

  Dog-tired, on a lockdown night, I lay straight on my bed to get transported to the much-desired realm of dreams…surrendering slowly to the inviting arms of the eiderdown…losing myself…drifting into dreams…

Ketaki Datta is an Associate Professor of English at Bidhannagar Government College, Kolkata, India. She did her Ph.D. on Tennessee Williams’s late plays and later it was published, titled, “ Black and Non-Black Shades of Tennessee Williams”. She has quite a few academic publications along with two novels, two books of poems and quite a few translations. She had been interviewed by Prof. Elisabetta Marino, University of Rome, archived by Flinders University, Australia. She won grants for working at American Studies Research Centre[1993,1995], Hyderabad, India. She presented academic papers at IFTR Conference[Lisbon], University of Oxford and University of California, Santa Barbara. Her debut collection of poems, Across the Blue Horizon, had been published from U.K. with the aid of Arts Council, England. Her latest poetry-book, Urban Reflections: A Dialogue Between Photography and Poetry has been published by KIPU, University of Bielefeld, Germany, with Professor/Photographer Wilfried Raussert [photographs of Street Art of Americas]. She has interviewed American novelist, Prof. Sybil Baker, recently for Compulsive Reader. She is a regular reviewer of poetry volumes with Compulsive Reader, USA. She interviewed poet Lucha Corpi of San Francisco, in 2018. She is the Regional Editor, India, of thetheatertimes.com, headed by Prof. Magda Romanska, Emerson College, Boston, U.S.A.