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Subhasis Chattopadhyay

Subhasis Chattopadhyay

Subhasis Chattopadhyay

Could you tell us about your journey through literature?

I specialised in Indian writings in English when I was doing my Masters in English from the University of Calcutta. And despite my teachers there warning me, I took up John Milton as my ‘special author’. Miltonia is seen to be too vast in scope when one is 22. But I was guided in my choice of studying Milton, along with Indian writings in English and separately, Postmodern British writing and another optional paper, Shakespeare Studies because of the direct influence of the late Professor P Lal, and Professor Rohinton Kapadia. Professor Lal told me that if one cannot negotiate Milton, then one can never study The Exorcist and authors like Stephen King & Dean Koontz. Professor Kapadia asked me to stick to ‘Shakespeare Criticism’ no matter whether I wanted to devote my life to Americana because without Shakespeare there are no literatures in English. I had studied for some time at Jadavpur but being lazy, had decided to shift to Calcutta University nearer home. I switched universities without losing a year.

I realised that I had no other faculty except for literary criticism. Thus, I became a book-reviewer. I knew I was in good company since Helen Vendler, even now, when she is above eighty, reviews books for fun. She did so even when her peers sneered at her when she was young. Like Vendler who has been an inspiration for me, I chose to specialise in American Literature.

But were you not interviewed by The Statesman for record scores in British poetry at the University of Calcutta when you were a student at St. Xavier’s College?

That kind of score I did not expect. Even today Calcutta University does not give 70%in a hurry. We are talking about the late 1990s here. Being a plebian sort, I was surprised, but I remember writing in my poetry paper: “Blake burnt into W.B. Yeats”. Now again that passion for poetry has returned;I’d give anything to hear Emily Dickinson read what is true for me: “My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun”.

Who has influenced you?

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Susan Sontag, Helen Vendler and the one and only Leslie Fiedler. Without Fiedler’s writings and Richard Slotkin’s research into America’s violent origins, I would not be studying American Literature today. The scholarship of Georg Feuerstein and Gavin Flood have been instrumental in choosing my methods of (mis)reading. From India, I can relate to Sri Avinava Gupta, and Sri Vimalamitra. Within the visual arts, my wife’s late maternal grandmother who passed away this year, Mrs. Suchitta Nahar Dugar, got me interested in the paintings of her late husband, Sri Indra Dugar and Sri Indra Dugar’s father, Sri Hira Chand Dugar. Sri Indra Dugar is the greatest heir to Sri Nandalal Bose.

Within my zeitgeist, my parents have seen me through tough times. My mother used to buy me books on her meagre salary and managed an unruly kid all by herself, and my father kept on withdrawing whatever he could save from his PF account while posted during his entire career in South India for providing me a good education. Apart from them, the three most significant influences on my life have been three strangers: the late Australian Christian Brother, Robert Whiting, Sri Shital Prasad Sett and Sri Sanjeev Chopra. These three have changed the course of my life for the better. Brother Whiting was a polyglot whose studies at Adelaide and Rome did not put me, a sort of waif then, down; Sri Shital Prasad Sett is a man who could have had the world at his feet but chooses not to, and Sri Chopra made me realise that learning is the most important possession in the world.And a stranger named Suyasha Mookim keeps making all the difference to my life every single day from the day I met Prof. Mookim when we were both eighteen.

But those you have mentioned above are mostly literary critics and not authors. Have no authors influenced you?

Where would the authors be if these critics did not make sure that the great authors are still read today?When I praise literary critics, I praise through them those writers they critique. And great literary criticism is an art by itself. The best literary criticism addresses and draws in those who are not literature students per se. When I refer to Gavin Flood, I refer to everyone from François Rabelais to Mikhail Bakhtin since, without Rabelais and Bakhtin, we would not have entextualisation in Flood. Flood could not have written of entextualisation had ancient poems not been composed; that is the way I tend to see non-fiction thinkers at work. They are in this sense, our vates.

You had attended VoW 2017, what made it different for you from the Kolkata Tata Steel Literary Meet and the Apeejay Literary Meet?

In those two meets, you must be well known and well connected to be present. AtVoW, I found school kids participating. Though a recluse, I was welcome at Dehradun. VoW 2017 reinstated my faith that quiet scholarship is rewarded no matter where one is.

 

About the Interviewee: Subhasis Chattopadhyay teaches English at the UG & PG Department of English at Narasinha Dutt College (affiliated to Calcutta University). He is a resource person at ATI, Kolkata. He specialises in the American Gothic’s interface with the American Western. The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies commended him for exceptional work on the Bhagavad Gita. His writings have appeared in the Catholic Bishops’Conference, India and in Aleteia. He wrote for the Herald, India’s longest running Catholic newspaper and for Indian Catholic Matters. From 2010 till the middle of 2018 he had been a book-reviewer with the indexed journal, Prabuddha Bharata. Ivy League Presses have showcased his reviews. He has studied Biblical Theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum, Bengaluru. He began his teaching career at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta. He has separate qualifications in the behavioural sciences. He blogs at lives in letters.blog.