For many years the light Sengupta was himself most familiar with was the one he shone into his patients’ mouths
To respond to the pandemic with poetry — the idea came to Kolkata poet Kiriti Sengupta in April 2020 when, during the COVID-19-forced nationwide lockdown, he chanced upon a piece in the Irish Times. Chris Fitzpatrick, the author of the article, had said: “In time, we will need poets and writers of the imagination to look through the looking glass — and tell us the stories of this strange, upside-down world. We will need more than a vaccine and a rebooted economy to heal us.”
In a matter of just one month, Hibiscus was ready, brought out by Hawakal Publishers, the publishing house Mr. Sengupta is associated with. As many as 104 poets across the world — including some of India’s biggest names such as Keki N. Daruwalla, Sudeep Sen, Mamang Dai, Sanjeev Sethi — contributed to the collection, which rolled off the press in the midst of the lockdown.
“Our contributors couldn’t believe we got the book out so quickly. The Okhla unit of Thomson Press [in Delhi] was operational, and I remember Bitan [Chakraborty, owner of Hawakal] and I going to the DTDC office [in Kolkata] one afternoon to collect the books,” said Mr. Sengupta, a dentist-turned-poet who has edited seven anthologies by now apart from publishing 11 books of his own poetry and prose.
“I, along with my co-editors [Anu Majumdar and Dustin Pickering], chose a therapeutic way to alleviate our suffering induced by the pandemic. Hibiscus addressed the hardships. It didn’t only communicate the plight, it also mitigated our struggle back to normalcy — the anthology aimed at curating poems that sought to provide us relief from existential hazards,” he said.
Best-selling title in 2020
Hibiscus turned out to be Hawakal’s best-selling title in 2020. Amid the pandemic gloom, it sold close to 400 copies — a big number for a book of poems — and the first reprint appeared in July 2020. Its success encouraged Mr. Sengupta to seek submissions for a subsequent collection, titled Shimmer Spring. It came out in November 2020, when India was emerging from the first wave of COVID-19, and showcased works of 39 poets (including those from India, USA, UK, Norway, Pakistan and Peru).
“Hawakal published Shimmer Spring as a stunning, all-colour, hardcover coffee-table book. They even offered the contributors an honorarium. Tagore’s words — ‘light that emanates from the core of gloom is your glow. Goodness, wide-awake among all discord, is your truth’ — were the most significant motivation as I conceived this book. I was curious to explore how contemporary writers derive and disperse light,” said Mr. Sengupta.
For many years the light Mr. Sengupta, 46, was himself most familiar with was the one he shone into his patients’ mouths. After graduating from the North Bengal Dental College in 1998, he worked as a dental surgeon in government institutions and also in private capacity before giving it all up in 2011.
“I was never happy with what I was doing all those years, and although quitting my job was a conscious choice, it subjected my family to extreme financial hardship. My wife and son had to cope with several issues that stemmed from my sudden unemployment. We often didn’t know where the next meal was coming from. But now when I look back, I find the journey intensely rewarding,” he said.