Sharmila Ray teaches history at City College, Kolkata. She has authored four books of poems, Earth Me and You, A Day with Rini, Down Salt Water and Living Other Lives. She looks after the Kolkata chapter of Poetry Society of India. She has experimented her poems with sarod (Avijit Ghosh) and the result is a CD-Journey through Poetry and Music. Her poems and short stories have appeared in various national and international journals and magazines. She has conducted poetry workshops for children organized by British Council and Poetry Society India. She has read her poems in various parts of the country.
Q: You were born and brought up in one of the culturally and intellectually rich states, West Bengal in India that produced the giants like Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, Toru Dutt, Satyajit Ray etc. Tell, how were you influenced by that enriching atmosphere?
A: I was born into a Bengali family. Both my parents were professors and our home atmosphere was a melting pot of cultures. So from early on I was introduced to Rabindranath and the Grimm Brothers. As I grew up I allowed myself to be transported to the magical world of words. And with this attraction I created a second world semi darkened with flashes of light and colour. Being an only child I took refuge behind bookshelves and they were my Coral Island. My uncle Manindra Ray was a Sahitya Akademi award winner in poetry and when he visited our home, which was quite frequent , he talked about poets both national and beyond and created an interest in me. So I grew up in an atmosphere of not only Rabindranath, Toru Dutta or Satyajit Ray but a world where Camus debated with Satre and Tukaram with Homer.
Q: The mechanism of the evolvement of a woman poet is perhaps different from her counter part (male poet). What has been your perspective towards life in different periods of life as a woman poet?
A: I was brought up in a liberal atmosphere so the sense of being dominated by male gaze was out of the question. At home we were all equals. So when I was, say in my teens I didn’t think of any gazes. But as I grew older, to be feminine meant to me more a perspective and less a biological destiny. I believe we have robbed the world of its feminine face of compassion, love of life, of people.
Q: Poets, time and again voice against some social evils. Do you find any contemporary evil against which you are compelled to fight?
A: It’s very difficult to answer this question because there are so many kinds of injustice and in a peculiar way one is related to the other. Obviously I am against inequality, trafficking of women and children, foeticide… the list can go on and on. What I want to say is that anything that reduces a human to a sub human, I am against. Definitely I am on the other side of the pole with people who have the calling cards-nationalism, terrorism, cruise missiles. Just think what they can do, probably change our familiar world into unfamiliar in a blink.
Q: In this time of cultural globalization, international terrorism, domestic naxalism, caste, religious and gender chauvinism what do you think is the role of a poet?
A: Really, I have no idea nor do I want to give sermon from mount Olympus. All I can say about myself and my mode of protest is through writing. I am not an activist.
Q: Somewhere I have read that your husband is a painter, you have even brought out a CD combining poetry and music, you have also written about art. What kind of connection do you find among art, poetry and music?
A: Yes, my husband, Sudhangsu is a painter. We both share a deep love of colours and forms and it is very similar to poetry .Only here the words are colours and these very words create the form. The end result is like music. I believe each painting or poetry is music in another form. Sounds are complex but it is actually not so. Each painting is a poetry grafted on music. Each poem is a canvas, monochromatic or otherwise, carrying a subterranean tune.