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In Conversation with Ramakanta Das on His Poetry Collection ‘Grass Flower’

May 3, 2015 | By

The author and poet extraordinaire Ramakanta Das, speaks about the symbolism, the elements of mythology and the subtle Hindu philosophies represented in his poetry collection ‘Grass Flower’.

Ramakanta Das

Ramakanta Das

“Imagine me
A solitary and ostracized
Vegetative cell of a barren loin
On a limitless sandy habitat,
Where my virgin dream
Was sprouted.”

When I had casually stumbled on these lines of Ramakanta Das’s poem ‘The Cactus’ in his poetry collection Grass Flower, I had unknowingly stepped into his deep, mystic world of the imaginative projection of human consciousness. Later, as I proceeded to read one poem of the collection after another, his poetic vision and sensibility touched a chord deep within me. Through them, I discovered new, unique landscapes and an enriching new microcosm that he creates with an insightful mind and the various subtle nuances reflected in his poems in the collection.

Grass Flower, the second book of poems by Ramakanta Das, released in 2012, following Passionate Musings, his first book of poems published in 2005, is the window to his soulful mindscape. As we delve deeper into his poetic world through this window, we would see the intense aesthetic appeal through which he presents the emotions, rhapsody and pain of a common human at the grass root level and elevates those experiences and feelings with his highly poetic imagery and diction. Also, we understanding through his subtle, organic images that nature and its varied beauty are unending sources of inspiration for him. While reading his poems, one actually experiences what the poet describes—feel the fragrance, hear the sounds, see the beauty as he relates to it.

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The cover page of ‘Grass Flower’

A published author of three book collections of poetry, including Passionate Musings, Grass Flower and Canvas and Colours, Mr. Das has dabbled with various career choices, starting from teaching in a degree college in Orissa to working as a bureaucrat in the parliament of India. Currently he holds the rank of Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Indian Parliament. Also, his fourth book of poems, titled Anticipation has been published in 2015 and he is working on his next book of poems. In an intimate, candid interview to Learning and Creativity, he talks about what his poems in Grass Flower signify, about his poetic reflections and passionate musings in general.

Lopa Banerjee: You were initially an academician, teaching English in a degree college in Orissa. What inspired you to turn to a full-time poet and author? Do tell us a few words about your poetic journey, how and when it started. What were the very first of your poetry publications and how did they happen?

Ramakanta Das: I was a lecturer in English literature teaching to degree students in Marshaghai College in the district of Kendrapara, Odisha, India .Presently it is a very big college where about 2500 students are pursuing degree courses in Science, Humanities and Commerce. Teaching had always caught my fancy when I was a student in college. After I joined the college, I loved to teach poetry. Poetry as the finest form of literature always enamoured me. The very first publications of my poems were my poems in the college magazines.

Lopa Banerjee: Can you tell us a few words about your first collection of poetry titled ‘Passionate Musing’, were its dominant themes and also how your poetic vision shaped those themes?

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The three poetry collections of author Ramakanta Das

Ramakanta Das: The first collection of my poetry, Passionate Musing, was published from Delhi and it contained 32 poems of diverse themes including love, romance, death, mindscape. I have always been a lover of various kinds of poetry not only in English language, but also poetry of my mother tongue {Odia} Poetry in my mother tongue is very rich. Apart from English and Odia literature, I also studied Sanskrit literature during my degree as a subject in my course. The study of different literature and my interest in mythological literature shaped my poetic vision, and my poems have developed a lot from the beautiful amalgamation of diverse appreciation of literature.

Lopa Banerjee: The title ‘Grass Flower’ suggests intense symbolism that is presented in various nuances and refined with a deep aesthetic sensibility. In your poems in the collection, you have emphasized on some mystic revelations and also presented your perceptions of beauty, truth and glory in the common man’s simple, everyday insights. How did you integrate these two aspects in the poems?

Ramakanta Das: It seems that it is difficult to find mystical experiences in our busy life, but the fact is that anyone can have that sort of experiences anytime, anywhere because God is Omnipresent. One can rise to sacredness, once he feels the mundane and sacredness simultaneously. As I believe in this, it is very natural that these elements got integrated in my poems without my knowledge. The microscopic grass flower becomes the symbol of the cosmic image [vishyarupam] of Krishna  as the poet realizes that there are moments in our life when we tend to believe that people who were taken for granted and trivialized do gain an immense importance at the moment of discovery of their great mystic potential.

Lopa Banerjee: What would you say about the sensual and sensuous elements of your poems in the collection? Sometimes we see raw, visceral images like the transfixed spider in the poem ‘Autobiography’, “the chest torn apart”, “the bloody bog” and “the royal thigh broken” in ‘Draupadi’, and sometimes more subtle, sublime metaphors like “the still-born dream of nimble legs and wings” in ‘Dismantle My Tomb’ and “the music of the drip-drop clouds/emitting an earthly odour” in ‘Sun and Shadow’. How crucial are these images to the style and voice of your poems?

Ramakanta Das: Yes, I have incorporated sensual and sensuous elements in my poems. Of course it is the poet’s love for beauty, emotion and passion which helps the poet to introduce both sensual and sensuous elements. Regarding visceral imagery, if the theme demands it for the poem, I include it and it helps the readers to see the theme in their imagination and that is what visceral imagery demands. As these images are a blend of concrete and abstract pictures, readers will get a new experience in reading my poems. And this adds to the style and voice in my poems.

book launch

The official book launch of ‘Grass Flower’, published by AuthorsPress, New Delhi

Lopa Banerjee: Many of the poems in the collection are also characterized by the elements of Hindu mythology, divine miracles and have spiritual references to Gangotri, Vrindavan, Kurukshetra and more. You also make strong connections in your poems to the Hindu philosophy of death and rebirth in a much nuanced language. What do you have to say about the inclusion of these elements in ‘Grass Flower’?

Ramakanta Das: Yes, I used Hindu mythological  elements and spiritual references  in the poems. I never follow conventional methods in writing poems, so it is easy for readers to identify mythological facts in an unconventional way. And I believe it takes care of particular emotions much effectively.  I believe in the concept of Hindu Myth. I don’t believe in conservative traits or orthodoxy, but I believe these mythological references are deep rooted in Indian culture and can purify our society. It is collective unconsciousness that blends them in my poems. That happened in this collection also.

Lopa Banerjee: In his foreword to your book Grass Flowers, Dr. P.G. Rama Rao has eloquently elaborated on your references and allusions to the epics The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, and has mentioned the inherent pathos and the sense of spiritual epiphany that you have beautifully portrayed in your poems ‘Nirvan’ and ‘Draupadi’. How would you say these aspects have enriched these poems?

Ramakanta Das: I am an ordinary Indian who believes in the doctrines and principles of  the Indian Epics, Vedas and Upanishad. It is richly populated with the ideas of  rebirth,  salvation, incarnation etc.  As I believe in the concept, the feelings and inherent pathos, it is easily portrayed in verse forms  and I feel these aspects enriched my poems . It gives a  different outlook to the themes of the poems.

Lopa Banerjee: In this context, I would also be curious to know about your earlier collections of poetry. Were elements from the epics and the sensibilities of Indian culture also present there? How would you define the transition of your poetic vision from one collection to the next?

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The Cover page of ‘Anticipation’, another poetry collection of the author

Ramakanta Das: Apart from Grass Flower, I have three other collections of poetry namely,  Passionate Musing, Canvas and Colours and Anticipation. The theme of Canvas and Colours and Anticipation is love and romance. The diverse shades of love between a man and woman is supplemented and complimented by sights and sounds and images of nature in the midst of which they live and love.

Lopa Banerjee: I would now want to know a few words about your recent poetry and literary works that you are working on currently.

Ramakanta Das: At present I am working on my fifth book of poems In Retrospect. This book contains 51 poems on the themes of death and human agony, loneliness and diverse human predicaments. There are poems which depict the mindscapes of different patterns which forms a basis for man’s incessant search.

Lopa Banerjee: Finally, what do you think is the future of poetry in today’s age of the thriving social media and how do virtually established, international poetry writing groups foster the spirit of poetry, literature and creativity in today’s young writers?

Ramakanta Das: Social media is doing a great job in popularizing English poetry all over the world. The internet is doing a great job in making poetry reach all the nooks and corners of the world, and we readers are getting the benefit of reading world poetry of literary greats just at the click of a mouse. More and more youngsters are into poetry in terms of reading and writing and participating in different poetic activities like creating blogs and creating poetry groups in Facebook  etc . So the future of poetry writing, especially in English is definitely very hopeful.

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Lopamudra Banerjee is a writer, poet and translator, currently based in Dallas, USA. She is Deputy Editor of Learning & Creativity and the co-editor of 'Defiant Dreams: Tales of Everyday Divas', published by Readomania in collaboration with Incredible Women of India. She has been the Creative Editor of Incredible Women of India. 'Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant's Wayward Journey', her debut memoir/autobiographical novel, recently published by Authorspress, has been First Place Category Winner at the Journey Awards 2014 hosted by Chanticleer Reviews and Media LLC, USA. Her literary works have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, both in India and the US. She has been a regular contributor for Cafe Dissensus, Different Truths, Readomania.com and many other e-zines. Her fiction will also be featured in the upcoming Silhouette I & II anthology, to be published by Authorspress. She has received the Reuel International Award 2016 for her English translation of Rabindranath Tagore's novella Nastanirh (The Broken Home) instituted by The Significant League, a renowned literature group in Facebook, and the book is available in Amazon Kindle.
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    One should control one’s thoughts carefully so as to direct the life towards the positive and let our thoughts shape our life. One should think constructive and work towards it and should refrain from developing and nurturing negative thoughts.