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An in-depth conversation with Kuntala Bhattacharya about her poetry collection The Treasures of Life

The Healing Power of Poetry

by Vaishnavi Singh


Kuntala Bhattacharya is an IT professional. She has been working in the IT domain for over twenty-one years now. Her second passion lies in creative writing. A poet, short story writer, and travel blogger, she is a fitting example of the fact that a person can develop their creative faculties even when their primary profession is not exactly artistic in nature.



In an author interview with Ukiyoto, Bhattacharya talked about her latest book, The Treasures of Life, which is a poetry collection. Despite the self-explanatory and quite familiar meaning behind the title, it perfectly reminds us how often we take life for granted. It is easy to ignore the beauty of life, the essence of the little moments that make up our days, amidst the hustle and bustle of work and routines.


Bhattacharya is fascinated by the different emotions that become a part of us as we move through life. These emotions, she believes, "define our life.” She pointed out that “life is not always sweet; it is full of challenges we need to overcome." It is as Abigail Adams wrote in her letter to John Quincy Adams back in 1780: “It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties.”


Even in our darkest and loneliest moments, there is always something worth living for. The fact that we exist is enough. The Treasures of Life portrays the smallest of human feelings and explores the different ways in which we respond to our surroundings and loved ones. Our actions are driven by emotions, and thus, understanding emotions is essential to understanding life.




  • On the inspiration behind the poetry collection


Kuntala admits that there was nothing in particular that inspired her collection, other than her love for poetry itself. She has felt a special affection towards poetry ever since she was a child. The muse of a poet is usually other poets and inspiration is often handed down from one generation to the next.


With the verses of Romantic era greats like Wordsworth and Keats and Indian talents like Rabindranath Tagore, Kuntala loved being in the company of rhymes and metaphors. “I used to write short snippets,” she recalled. Once she recognized her poetic skill, she was encouraged by her family, friends, and other celebrated writers to publish her own book of verses.


  • On working with different styles of writing


As a poet and a blogger, Kuntala inevitably finds herself handling multiple writing styles. The key, she disclosed, is to find the perfect mental space as per the work at hand. Travel blogging, for instance, is about a whole new breed of experiences. “It is about tangible things,” she said, “people, roads, nature–you’re writing something factual.” Travel blogging requires Kuntala to strike a balance between reality and imagination. You can read her blogs at travelogueofkuntala.com.


Poetry, on the other hand, allows her to give in to her imaginative impulses. Her poems are still about her life but they are created in a language that originates in the soul. Poetry is a soulful medium of expression; this is what gives it an almost therapeutic quality. To write poems, Kuntala has to disconnect and get in tune with what she called “the divine world.” It is a world away from the material obsessions of life.


  • On poetic forms and the art of poetry


Poetry, like everything else in an ever-changing world, has evolved much and continues to evolve. Being an emotional medium, poetry cannot be static. It is fluid and dynamic, always shifting to accommodate our needs. Kuntala drew our attention to the fact that modern poetry is unlike the works of older poets. From Chaucer to Tennyson, classic poets used to focus extensively on rhyme and metre. Modern poetry, however, has no hard and fast rules.


That does not mean a modern poet cannot use rhyme and metre, but that people are free to choose their forms. Free verse is a popular form practised in today’s times. Contemporary greats such as Margaret Atwood and Ocean Vuong, including Indian poets such as Kamala Das and Nissim Ezekiel, never shy away from employing free verse in their streams of consciousness.


Kuntala herself prefers a glimmer of rhyming, but she embraces all forms of the poetic art. Nevertheless, there are some aspects which distinguish poetry from prose. To this day, the appeal of poetry lies in its images, metaphors, and ability to say a lot in a few words. For Kuntala, “a poem that evokes no feeling is not effective.” She always tries to give equal consideration to her feelings as well as the “technicalities of poetry.” While writing, it is important to remember the readers. After all, poetry connects, and to accomplish that one must write in a way that reaches the most number of people.


  • Writing routine and a few tips for aspiring writers


Kuntala sits down to compose her verses at the end of the day, “when everything is quiet and peaceful.” Poetry, she said, needs silence. It requires a person to tone down the noise of the outside world so that the inner voice may be heard distinctly. Kuntala finds it difficult to write on the go; she needs her hours of solitude. The time she devotes to writing poetry is the best part of her day.


She encourages other aspiring writers to read and write regularly. One must learn the usage of different words and strive to expand their vocabulary. Above all, one must be a dreamer. Kuntala’s counsel is: “Open your eyes and see everything around you.” Her emphasis on fostering imagination echoes the ideas of the Romantics whom she grew up admiring.


In his poem ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood,’ Wordsworth looks back at the imaginative power of his childhood self. He fondly recalls the time “when meadow, grove, and stream, / The earth, and every common sight,” seemed to him “Apparelled in celestial light.” The struggles of daily life try their best to separate us from this imaginative power, but we can reclaim our imagination by reading and writing poetry.


  • On her future plans for writing


Kuntala is working on her next project which will be an anthology. Poets from across the globe have collaborated on this project. Her next solo project promises to be an interesting one as she plans to write in the form of a poem. Such a write-up is called a ballad, which was a popular form of narrative poetry up until the nineteenth century. It will be fascinating to witness a twenty-first century poet compose a ballad.


With a number of projects lined up one after the other, we can expect Kuntala to continue writing for as long as she finds pleasure in the skill. To give her live audience a glimpse of her current poetry collection, The Treasure of Life, Kuntala read aloud two of her poems during the interview. ‘The Solitude’ is a lovely exploration of our relationship with solitude. Not to be mistaken for loneliness, solitude is a human being’s friend. As Kuntala very rightly said, “Sometimes we need to be alone to discover ourselves.” Her personal favourite, ‘The Inner Strength,’ celebrates our innate desire to survive, fight back, and live. Strength is not something that can be measured physically; it is found within.


Indian poetry in English has come a long way. As Bruce King has noted, it is one of the many “new literatures” that have emerged since the end of colonialism. It has largely been neglected because “it has no obvious direct relationship to the cultural movements which led to national independence.” Our poetry in English, instead, is about our lives and the conditions of life. It alludes to “local realities, traditions and ways of feeling.”


In a society where feelings are always secondary to money and objects, it is a blessing to be an artist for poetry is a form of art. To quote Kurt Vonnegut, the arts “are a very human way of making life more bearable.” We must not only encourage poets like Kuntala Bhattacharya but should also strive toward adopting the practices of an artist. We should sing, dance, tell stories, and write poems, even if they are lousy poems. We must encourage the arts because we are human.


[Watch the interview with Ukiyoto publishing here: LIVE WITH KUNTALA BHATTACHARYA]


Get a copy of The Treasures of Life by Kuntala Bhattacharya.


References:




King, Bruce. Modern Indian Poetry in English. OUP India, 2005.


Vonnegut, Kurt. A Man Without a Country. Seven Stories Press, 2005.



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