What are you working on at the moment, Debasish?
We are sailing through one of the most unprecedented, challenging and interesting phases in modern human history. As a poet, I have been curiously observing these changing realities and trying to document these realities through poetry and music. I am trying my best to adapt to the emerging virtual realities of the digital age. I am writing and reading something or the other almost on a daily basis. I am interacting with new poet friends from different corners of the world. I feel blessed to have been invited to read in some of the most wonderful literary festivals in Medellin, Italy, Serbia, Greece, London (Gronthee and London Welsh Center), Japan, El Salvador and Mexico, among others, during the pandemic. I am reading, collaborating with and publishing some wonderful voices in contemporary poetry and visual arts in Advaitam Speaks Literary. I am also reading and thinking along new directions to hone the craft of poetry writing. Recently, I ventured into writing introductions to other emerging poets, translating some of them and writing opinion pieces for various print and digital publications.
Do you write in different languages?
I enjoy reading poetry written in Spanish and in different world languages. Mostly, I read them in English translation. The colorful diversity of powerful voices and the passionate love for poetry in the Latino and the Hispanic worlds never stop fascinating me. Every language is unique and beautiful in its own ways. Languages are manifestations of humanity’s most primitive search for meaningful definites, despite the limitless uncertainties consequent to the odds of human struggle. A language is a man breaking a mountain or a Prometheus burning the sea. I am fascinated by the beauty of Sanskrit, because it is the language of ancient Indian philosophy, spirituality and mythology. I am a musician and I sing ghazals too. Ghazals are written in Urdu, and it is one of the most poetic languages, which I am aware of.
If I talk about poetry, I feel comfortable in writing my poems primarily in English and sometimes, in Assamese. Assamese is my mother tongue. As a translator, I translate from English and occasionally Hindi, to Assamese, and vice versa. I have translated some of my own Assamese poems into English as well. Translating my own texts turns out to be equally challenging as translating someone else’s texts. As if the chameleon dusts of the poet refuse to fall off when the translator gets drenched in some riotous showers of an Indian monsoon. Interestingly, It was more convenient for me to translate poems by Elizabeth Grech or Chandramohan S. From English to Assamese than translating my own Assamese poem ‘Dehing Patkai’ from Assamese to English. I have a feeling that another translator is in a better position to translate my poems, than myself.
Interestingly, when it comes to music, I feel comfortable in writing lyrics for my songs primarily in Assamese and in Hindi. My journal Advaitam Speaks Literary has recently introduced a new section on translation, called Kavyasutra, for which I translate selected poets from English to Assamese, and my wife Antaripa Dev Parashar recites those poems in Assamese. While writing Reviews, Opinions, Feature Articles and Academic Papers, English remains the preferred language to me.
You are an academic in New Delhi. Please, tell us how your academic work has influenced your books.
I teach English literature in MLNCE, a South Campus college under University of Delhi. In the last five years of my career as an Assistant Professor, I have been fortunate to have got opportunities to teach a variety of papers including British Romantic Literature, American Literature, Indian Partition Literature, Renaissance Poetry, Modernism, Literary Criticism, Literary Theory, Indian Classical Literature and Media Studies. I teach Creative Writing, especially poetry and drama and I am curious about the fresh developments in these fields. My experience as an academic has undoubtedly helped me a lot to evolve as a creative writer. I face new challenges with every new paper I get to teach and those challenges give me fresh exposure to brave new worlds of ideas, knowledge, critical perspectives, emotions and intellectual possibilities. Academics has helped me in making informed choices as a poet.
On the one hand, academic exposure and research help me in honing my craft and skill of poetry as a conscious practice. On the other hand, it creates latent pressures for me to not reduce poetry to mere showmanship of scholarship and academic skills. I constantly remind myself of the fact that creativity and scholarship are inter-related but different concepts. A good academic is not essentially a good poet. All talented poets are not essentially seasoned academics.
Also, as in the previous question, you are also a musician. Have you started as a musician or as a poet? Are these related disciplines?
Although I have been writing since I was nine, I started publishing my poems and writings from 2016 only. Interestingly, almost everything I have written till now, are published in wonderful journals, magazines, digital platforms and anthologies. A few Indian publishers have published me in India too. I have noticed my readers are primarily from outside India. As a musician, I have composed around a hundred songs and have worked in a few Albums, Films, Documentaries and Indie Projects. Two tracks from my debut EP ‘Project Advaitam’ has come out till now, ‘Pamaru Mana’ and ‘Shillong’ .I started as a musician and a poet almost around the same time, but I had started performing on stage much before I started publishing my poetry. People started recognizing me as a musician first, then a poet (Link to my Official Channel here)
I have been constantly searching for poetry in my music and music in my poetry since childhood. Music and Poetry are not two parallel worlds of creative existence for me, but leaves and roots of the same tree which is dynamically growing for fresh sunshine. A word evokes a song at times and sounds inspire a poem at other times. Lyrics always remain a major priority for my music. On the other hand, a reading of my poetry will be incomplete without reading the sounds and rhythm inherent in it. I play with musical imagery in my poems very frequently. I write my poems primarily in English and Assamese. I translate from English and occasionally Hindi, to Assamese. Interestingly, I feel comfortable in writing lyrics for my songs primarily in Assamese and occasionally in Hindi.
Could you please share with us one of your favourite poems that you have written in the past. Why is your favourite poem? I would love to hear the whole story of the poem.
It is really difficult for a poet to pick up a favorite one from among his poems. It is like choosing one of your own babies over the others. Yet, there can be poems which a poet finds closer to his heart than the others, poems which he like to read aloud and come back to a time and again. Since I have to pick one, I would like to talk about one of my widely translated poems, ‘This Evening is Not for Love Poems’.
This Evening Is Not For Love Poems
This evening is not for love poems
We can just sit quiet and indifferent
You know what I mean?
You know I know
It is fine even if you don't
I still remember that sweet December
You sitting by my side
Life was so beautiful
I still remember you holding a green umbrella against a sophist sky
grey with tales
And your eyes rainy with words
It did rain that evening
It really rained
This evening is not for love poems
This evening is not for love poems
This evening is political
This red river of blood that separates us
and unites You and Me is a political triumph
This indifference is strategic
A Panopticon of hope
Still imprisons me like the bronze statue from Harappa
buried for ages
Just to be alive
Let us rather dream
Like they do in love
Let us be rebels for a cause
Like they do in love
Let us doubt, disagree and deny
Like they do in love
Conflict is a hungry chameleon dancing wild in a puritan carnival
And a carnival is true
This evening is not for sweet love poems
This evening is too many and too much
Note: Spanish Translation of the poem here.
This poem has a very personal story behind it, which I have rarely shared with my readers. I was very close to my grandmother who used to love me more than any of her own children and grandchildren. Due to my professional obligations, I have been staying in Delhi for many years now, away from my place of birth in Assam in Northeast India. I could not spend much time in her company during the last years of her life, except for the last two weeks preceding her death. I saw her rapidly diminishing as a living person during those two weeks till 1st of January, 2017, on which she finally departed. It was as if she was waiting for me to be there by her side, without even hurting me with her death. The day I was on my flight back to Delhi, she died, hours after I had left her. Back in Delhi, I was emotionally broken, not only because of her death, but also because I was away from my family. I was in a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend who now happens to be my wife, which made my loneliness intolerable at times. On a foggy January evening of Delhi winters during those lonely days, I was having tea at my favorite tea-stall in GTB Nagar. That evening, I literally did not count my hours which passed with cups of tea one after another with a riot of thoughts in my mind. A nicotine-induced rush of flashbacks condensed by the mystic fog of that evening wet with mild drizzles made me travel through moments of chit-chat with my grandmother, her last smiles as well as the sweet December evenings of full of cozy conversations with my love. Interestingly, those sweet possibilities of love collided with the indifferent numbness of that evening and also with the bitter impossibilities of the traditional idea of love in a changing national political scenario at large. I was trying very hard to negotiate with those conflicting thoughts and emotions while writing ‘This Evening is Not for Love Poems’.
How’s your role as the Editor-in-Chief of Advaitam Speaks Literary journal. What do you enjoy the most about it?
Advaitam Speaks Literary is a bi-annual literary journal which publishes poetry, Visual Arts and Interviews. It’s a baby born out of creative zeal and poetic passion. It demands my special care and love despite my packed schedule due to a salaried teaching job, my own writing assignments, collaborations, family obligations and music projects. As the Founder of ASL journal, I am aware of what it stands for. As the Editor-in-Chief, I have at times been unable to stick to the formal constraints and public expectations, due to my multiple professional and personal obligations as well as our limited team strength. We are gradually expanding our editorial and management teams for better functioning of the journal.
I enjoy being a part of this project. We are spreading our wings and in 2020 itself, we have introduced fresh sections as part of Advaitam Speaks Literary for curating Poetry originally written in a language other than English (Hengul-Haitaal), Poetry in Translation (Kavyasutra) and Visual Arts (RasaNyasa). I love to see the trust bestowed upon us by our wonderful contributors and collaborators from across the world. Interestingly, majority of our contributors till now have been from outside of India. Poetry and Visual Arts have a universal language, and that is humanity. We are open to read poets and visual artists from anywhere in the world.
The most enjoyable part of this journey is how we are learning every day from our strengths and mistakes from time to time and growing.
What messages would you like to share with our writers from all over the world?
Let there be poetry, there will be light.
Do you have any projects for the future?
Yes. I am working on a number of upcoming projects. Advaitam Speaks Literary has a number of upcoming collaborative issues dedicated to poetry in Hebrew and Spanish among others. I am working on the pending publications of a number of talented poets and visual artists for Advaitam, and also translating some of them into Assamese for Kavyasutra. I have a few Interviews, Reviews and Poetry Readings in the pipeline. I am gradually working on my debut poetry collection as well. I hope for the best to release two new songs in 2021.
Debasish Parashar (India) is a Multilingual Poet, Creative Entrepreneur, Singer/Musician, Lyricist based in New Delhi, India. He is an Assistant Professor of English literature at the University of Delhi. Parashar is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Advaitam Speaks Literary journal and is associated with the World Poetry Movement. With his debut song ‘Pamaru Mana’ (2018), Debasish became one of the first Indian singer/composers who dared to experiment with the idea of fusing 500-years-old Borgeets of Assam with Western Orchestral feel, challenging the religious and ritualistic conventions of the Satras. His debut Music Video ‘Shillong’ from his debut EP ‘Project Advaitam’ released in the month of September 2018. He has sung for Raag, In Search of God, MUSOC XXV and elsewhere.
His literary works have appeared in Kweli (New York), Sentinel Literary Quarterly (London), Atelier (Italy), Vallejo & Co., Santa Rabia, Revista Innombrable, La Raiz Invertida, Voices de la Luna (USA), Ginyu, Red Door, Contemporary Literary Review India, Enclave/Entropy (USA), La Experiencia De La Libertad (Mexico/Spanish), Expound (Africa), Asian Signature, Kitob Dunyosi (Uzbek), SETU, Five2One (USA), Moonchild (USA) and elsewhere. Debasish’s works are featured in international anthologies such as World Poetry Almanac 2017-18, Epiphanies and Late Realizations of Love (USA), ‘Where Are You From?’ (New York), ‘Apple Fruits of An Old Oak’ (U.S.A),‘22 Wagons’ (Serbian) andmultiple anthologies from Demer Press(the Netherlands) among others.
Debasish has read or received invitations to read in various national and international literary events/festivals including the 30th Medellin International Poetry Festival (the youngest Indian poet till date and the first from Northeast India), 4th Indija Pro Poet 2020 (Serbia), Dylan Day Project 2020 by London Welsh Centre, Gronthee, WPD-2020 Reading of Festival Internazionale di Poesia Civile e Contemporanea del Mediterraneo (Italy), 3rd Patras World Poetry Festival (Greece), International Poetry Festival of Mexico, International Poetry Festival Amada Libertad, 9th World Haiku Seminar by World Haiku Association (Japan), Project ‘Building Smiles’ by Fisdace Foundation & CACB (Equador), 12 th International Writers Meeting organized by UNESCO affiliated Writers and Artists Union of Tarija (Bolivia), and 12 International Writers’ Festival-India by India Inter-Continental Cultural Association (India) among others.
His write-up on Majuli has been listed amongst top 100 online #worldheritagesites stories globally in May 2016 by Agilience Authority Index.
Debasish Parashar was honored with the ‘Festival Charter for Interpretation’ award at the Indija Pro Poet-2020 International Literary Festival. He has received an Honourary Diploma (Diploma de Honor) signed by the Consul of Isla Negra, Chile by Movimiento Poetas Del Mundo (Movement of Poets of the World). Red Door Café and Art Gallery, Denmark, has permanently curated his poem ‘Fundamental Right to Dream’ in his own voice as part of ‘Poetic Phonotheque’, a classic collection of contemporary world poetry. The Poetic Media Lab, Stanford University has curated the cinematic video of his poem ‘Fundamental Right to Dream’, a few other poems and a letter for the ‘Life in Quarantine’ project.
The Indonesian translations of some of his poems were included in the English Poetry Appreciation syllabus of Makassar Islamic University, Indonesia for the year 2017-18. Parashar has been/is getting translated into more than 30 world languages including Italian, Russian, Dutch, Spanish, Czech, French, Romanian, Serbian, Albanian, Bulgarian, Persian, Afrikaans, Indonesian and Arabic. His poetry has been featured in more than 15 different books/anthologies from renowned publishing houses in India, the USA, Latin America, Russia, the Netherlands, Serbia and Mongolia. Overall, his poetry has appeared in more than 30 countries of the world.