Interviewing Kushal Poddar and Amit Shankar Saha about Woman Scream 2016, and their role in the International Movement
Interviewing poets of Rhythm Divine about Woman Scream International art and Poetry Festival 2016
‘Rhythm Divine’ in Kolkata, is an assembly of strong poetic minds who work for poetry and art as vehicles of social change. In the wake of the persistent violence, sexual objectification and ruthless magnalization of women which has taken its toll on the world since a long, long time, Rhythm Divine has collaborated with the 6th Woman Scream International Poetry and Art Festival to raise their collective voices and tell the world that all is not lost. A rejoinder to the worldwide chain of events commemorating on the cause of eradicating violence against women, the Kolkata chapter of Woman Scream 2016 is being spearheaded by Rhythm Divine on March 26, 2016. The event will celebrate the power of womanhood through the celebration of poetry, art and dissent by various empowering voices comprising of the artistic and also the academic fraternity of Kolkata.
In an intimate conversation with L&C, co-founder of Rhythm Divine, Amit Shankar Saha, a poet and an academician and Kushal Poddar, an internationally published poet, author, speak about the international movement of Woman Scream 2016 that has made waves in the global literary and artistic community, and also about their involvement in the cause as part of Rhythm Divine, the Kolkata chapter of the worldwide event.
Lopa Banerjee: Hi Amit, Kushal, it is such a pleasure to connect with you regarding the wonderful cause of the 6th Woman Scream International Poetry and Arts Festival 2016. This year, the theme of the festival held internationally is “Desert Flowers’. While Sufia Khatoon, in her interview, has shown us some light into the Kolkata chapter of Woman Scream 2016 spearheaded by Rhythm Divine, can you share with us what this particular theme stands for both of you?
Amit Shankar Saha: The theme of Desert Flowers highlights the various forms of violence perpetrated on women. Going through the concept of Desert Flowers in the Woman Scream blog, I felt ashamed to call myself a human being. Such monstrous and manifest barbarity goes on against women around the world that the collective guilt of it is a huge burden for us as well as generations to come. When we stumbled upon the call for coordinators of Woman Scream we at once knew that we had to do this, especially in Kolkata, which has always spearheaded social changes through artistic pursuits in the country.
Kushal Poddar: Well Lopa, the theme always paints me a picture of survival. As such, patriarchal society is a recent development in the history of mankind. The advent of women in patriarchy is as fascinating as the survival of a wild flower in a desert.
Lopa Banerjee: We would want to know a few words about your association with the Rhythm Divine Poetry group in Kolkata and how do you think, since your association, you have been able to serve poetry as a form of art and also for greater social causes? In that respect, how would you define your association with Rhythm Divine, especially when it comes to socially sensitive causes and events, like the Woman Scream 2016?
Kushal Poddar: This group is an application of theories of collective unconscious. In this small group we see people picking up the tools of art and poetry to repair the social justice system. And of course Woman Scream is our most ambitious project until now, except Taking Back The Streets and Sufia’s Santa On The Road and Art Fair
Amit Shankar Saha: Rhythm Divine Poets group germinated as an idea when a year ago I met Sufia and Anindita and we thought of forming a group where we will add our friends and acquaintances who are interested in the fields of creative writing, especially poetry, and allied arts and where we will help each other to grow as creative artists. So as a co-founder and coordinator of the group it is a privilege to be associated with it since its inception. What we have tried to do in cultivating the art of poetry is to create awareness about an art form which seems to have lost its relevance and importance in the common psyche of the people. Poetry has become too niche to be considered saleable and hence its existence or non-existence is often perceived not to make any difference in the lives of people or society in general. When poetry is married with socially sensitive causes it provides an opportunity to show how this art form can be used to productively and in a more meaningful way highlight the burning issues of the day. In a world where time is at a premium and where attention has to be grabbed it is the untapped potential of poetry that will ultimately provide us the moment of pause where we will be forced to reflect on what damages we are leaving behind in our mad materialistic pursuits.
Lopa Banerjee: In a society highly structured on patriarchal conditioning, how would you define/explain violence and its manifestations on women? When we speak of poetry, or art, the subject becomes a highly rhetorical discourse. But what about real life violence perpetrated and perpetuated as a tradition, or as a legacy of hegemony? What are your individual views on this, as academicians, as poets, as artists?
Amit Shankar Saha: Violence is everywhere. There is violence in the language some people may use to intimidate, there is violence in the order in which social hierarchies are made, there is violence in the manner some families are run by dominant heads, and so on. Only when the violence is physical it is manifest. Women, who have been conditioned since ages in a patriarchal society, are the prime recipients of these forms of violence and sometimes even accepting it as a norm. You talk of rhetoric and it is rhetoric that makes values and morality in a society. If you can rob a subject of rhetoric you can dominate the subject, impose your views, and make the unjustifiable justified. Poetry gives back to women the rhetoric that was robbed by the patriarchal system. There is rhetoric of dominance and oppression and there has to be rhetoric of protest too. Poetry is the proper medium for it in a postmodern society. Real life violence perpetrated and perpetuated as a tradition or as a legacy of hegemony is addressed variously by laws and the enforcers of law, by NGOs, by the judiciary, and by other corrective mechanisms. But to question the very germ of unacceptable traditions and the illogicality of its perpetuation can best be done by poetry. Most instruments of social change impose on monolithic thoughts but poetry exposes such thoughts and brings about a change within.
Kushal Poddar: The mind, as you know, depends on various variables. Gene, Environment – both pre and post natal, education. We cannot and should not, unless we risk a Fascist situation, control gene pool, but we can always create a better environment and social education system. The violence against woman is a result of recent economic sway, however little, towards the women and poor education.
As a poet, artist and an academic I shall long for the spread of sooth and greater acceptance amongst human beings. If sound was what everything was born from, words do matter. And if words matter, we should change people.
Lopa Banerjee: Jael Uribe, the poetess and social activist of The Women Poets International Movement (MPI) has famously titled an article published in the Woman Scream official website: “All it takes is a SCREAM to lit up the world.” What are your individual reactions to this quote of hers?
Kushal Poddar: I shall further quote Maya Angelou
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside.’
Amit Shankar Saha: Silence and endurance are also forms of protest but they are imperceptible. But being imperceptible does not imply non-existence and all it takes to perceive it is a scream.
Lopa Banerjee: What would you say your reactions are to the word ‘Scream’, when it comes to gender stereotyping, and objectification of women in our society?
Kushal Poddar: Don’t we all need a good scream? How did a journal entry come into being? How an art was born? Why do we update our social status? Why I tell my best friend, “I don’t care” and lose a chess game immediately after and throw away all the pieces from the chest of that board? There are many ways to scream. We should all do that. Women more so? Probably yes, as still we are in a society that likes to hush.
Amit Shankar Saha: The very word scream has an implication of some violation. And whenever there is a gender stereotyping and objectification of women there is a violation and hence a scream.
Lopa Banerjee: How do you react to the popular media representation of women, especially in cinema, advertisements and TV serials? How do you think they feed into the concept of patriarchal conditioning and gender stereotyping? How do you think the collective consciousness of poets, artists can be a subversive voice in breaking such gender stereotypes and objectification of women?
Kushal Poddar: On the contrary in recent times media has risen up to meet the demand of changing economic situation and slightly better woman education and awareness. The recent movies, stories, advertising campaigns show strong women. Sensational? Yes. But even representation of sensuality has changed to a position where woman can ride on top.
Amit Shankar Saha: The very idea that something is popular is that it is feeding something that is acceptable. Patriarchal conditioning has made gender stereotyping acceptable. The representation of women in cinema, advertisements and TV serials are more often than not regressive but are justified again by the rhetoric of acceptability in the name of tradition or sometimes under the guise of liberalism. There are, and often subtle, distinctions between the usage of a body as a site of critical intervention in a patriarchal society and using it as a site of exploitation. A society that has not cultivated poetry can definitely not understand such subtleties. Poetry has been on this earth since the first birds chirped and the first human used rhyme as a mnemonic device. So it is always there in the collective consciousness of the population but it is latent. Poets and artists have an awareness of it and they just have to spread this awareness.
Lopa Banerjee: Keeping in mind the broader discourse of a woman’s body and soul, what do you think is the women’s role in perpetuating sexual objectification? Is it only a male nexus in the name of parochial cultural values? If not, how and why do you think women themselves feature in it, consciously or unconsciously?
Amit Shankar Saha: As I said earlier the whole patriarchal system has been formed with the motive to deny the agencies of rhetoric, critical thought, and inquisitiveness to women. They are conditioned to accept their lot as the norm and hence they themselves often participate in their own exploitation. They are often fed with the idea of a comfort zone and shown the disadvantages of coming out of it. The advantages are never weighed and never considered. And if they are at all, then there is always hegemony to impose silence on women.
Kushal Poddar: What is sexual objectification? Do we look at De Beauvoir, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Ismat Chughtai and think them or their lives as sexual objects? They became icons of emancipation in various ways. Objects of mellow dream and inspiration. Do they instigate other women to lead a life like them? Perhaps. Is not that a good thing?
All other things of woman placing themselves as a sexual object are half-truths. If there is a power why not use it?
Lopa Banerjee: Finally, we would want to know about your own personal feelings and experiences about participating in the Woman Scream event, as representatives of the Kolkata chapter. How do you feel the responses of the literary and artistic community in it have been so far? Any insights that you would like to take home, following the event?
Kushal Poddar: This event came to fill a void in me at the right moment. I began to sketch and paint along with writing that has always been my life. I came to know co-organisers, especially Amit and Sufia, well.
We need more of these events. More with a purpose, not just an act of selfish gratification attained by reading out poems written by ourselves.
Amit Shankar Saha: The experience of organizing such an event in Kolkata has been fantastic. With so many like-minded individuals and organizations, Learning and Creativity being one of them, joining in it feels great. The movement that Jael Uribe started in Dominican Republic and coordinated by a number of groups like us all over the world in the month of March, which is women’s month, is not just any other movement that uses the hashed topic of women to find a toehold as a poetry and arts festival. It is a belief and a conviction that poetry and art are essential to social change and nowhere is it more important than in the issue of women.
Read more poems as part of the Art and Verses: Rhythm Divine Collaborates with Woman Scream 2016.
Bio of the poets:
Kushal Poddar, widely published in several countries, prestigious anthologies included Men In The Company of Women, Penn International MK etc, Van Gogh’s Ear, been featured amongst the poets for the month December by Tupelo Press, Vine Leaves Literary Journal’s Best of 2014 and in various radio programs in Canada and USA presently lives at Kolkata and writing poetry, fictions and scripts for short films when not engaged in his day job as a lawyer in the High Court At Calcutta and an English Language Trainer in various universities. He is editor of the online magazine ‘Words Surfacing’ He authored ‘The Circus Came To My Island’ (Spare Change Press, Ohio), “A Place For Your Ghost Animals” (Ripple Effect Publishing, Colorado Springs), and “Understanding The Neighborhood” (BRP, Australia).
Dr. Amit Shankar Saha is an autodidact amateur in a world of career professionals. His love for literature led him to obtain a PhD in English from Calcutta University. His thesis was titled “The Indian Diaspora in Transition: Reading Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Sunetra Gupta and Jhumpa Lahiri.” He divides his time between postdoctoral research work and creative writing. His research articles, short stories and poems have been published in many books, journals and magazines both in India and abroad. He is the co-founder of Rhythm Divine Poets group. He blogs at http://amitss6.blogspot.com and runs a website.
About Rhythm Divine Group
Rhythm Divine Poets” is a poets’ group founded by three poets, Sufia Khatoon, Anindita Bose and Dr. Amit Shankar Saha. The poets of this group, from all over India as well as abroad, primarily share poems on a daily basis over Whatsapp groups and inspire each other through their poetic creations. They have an intention to serve poetry as a form of art as well as to use poetry for aesthetic, therapeutic and philanthropic purposes. The group meets regularly in Kolkata.
Birth and Growth of Rhythm Divine
When three poets, Sufia Khatoon, Anindita Bose and Amit Shankar Saha, met on 12 March 2015, there arose the vision of forming a Whatsapp group of poets who will share their poetic creation and get inspired by each other. With such a vision was formed “Rhythm Divine Poets”, the Whatsapp group and followed by “Rhythm Divine… a poet’s poetic journey”, the Facebook page. Sufia Khatoon, an avid social worker, painter and art curator, has involved poetry reading as part of her Art Fair even before the foundation of Rhythm Divine Poets group. So it was quite natural that after the foundation of the group such activities got an added impetus.
Rhythm Divine Poets group share their craft together over various fields both real and virtual. They have an intention to serve poetry as a form of art as well as to use poetry for philanthropic purposes. Rhythm Divine Poets group intends to use poetry as a therapy and in that direction they have visited old age homes to spread the effects of poetry. It was started with the intention of sharing poetry on a daily basis, especially amongst poets and poetry lovers. Soon it grew and we had poets from Germany, Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore and various other places joining in and sharing their work. Dr. Amit Shankar Saha, an editor and postdoctoral researcher, who likes to run things quietly in Rhythm Divine Poets group, is all excited about poetry doing so well. He says that anyone who is passionate about poetry will love to be here and just focus on writing poems and improve their skills by reading other poets’ works also.
One of the best moments was when Rhythm Divine Poets went live on air on 94.3 Radio One. Every week on Fridays from 1 pm to 2 pm Rhythm Divine Poets session on 94.3 Radio One with RJ Arvind was held for over two months (May-June) featuring one poet in each episode. Another moment to cherish was to organize the 100 Thousand Poets for Change event in Kolkata (8th Day Café and Bakery) as part of a global poetry@heritage.
Sufia Khatoon, the curator of Art Fair, an artist, poet and social activist who has published widely, wanted to have a platform where likeminded creative people could meet and work on forms of poetry with other art forms. The journey has been really satisfying with the group doing so much in the field of poetry. They want to experiment performance poetry as much as possible.
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