Amitava Nag writes on a variety of topics in a variety of genres. He had written a series of 15 poems titled A Brown Sky in September 2020. It coincided with the period in which Susmita, the Founding editor of The Pine cone Review was planning to launch a literary magazine. The deep set questions about identity of brown selves raised in these poems initiated deep introspection. It goes without saying that these poems deeply affected the manner in which the inaugural issue of the magazine was planned focusing on identity of brown selves. We are filled with gratitude that Amitava agreed to answer a few of our questions.
[TPCR] How did you come to think of writing about brown lives?
[AN] – I am a brown person myself, so I think that is natural. I had spent some time in the ‘white’ world, observed certain patterns, certain trends in codifications. It happens at our end as well.
Then when the Black Lives Matter movement gathered strength in the last few years I was thinking of this colour equations more deeply. The atrocities that had and in certain ways still have remained apparent in the USA mostly is appalling. I do realise that a brown identity has lesser problem in acceptance since the history of psychology has been different.
Nonetheless I did feel that a brown voice needs to be heard as well. It naturalises the centres even from the margins.
[TPCR] Does current academic theories of brown lives find a way into your poetry?
[AN] – I am a completely uneducated person when it comes to academic theories. I consider myself fortunate in a sense that I have the liberty to reflect and translate life as I see, with my perceptions without ‘colouring’ it with theories.
Also, in few other fields including cinema, I found that the theories are all western. So, how can I, even ‘theoretically’ get through to the bottom of this using the same prism that in the first place attempts to differentiate even if not, discriminate.
[TPCR] Do you see a harmonious identity of brown beings emerging in contemporary literature given the fact that ‘brown’ encompasses quite a varied seas of identities- the south Asians, the native Americans, the Mexicans, the Chicanos to mention a few?
[AN] – I think any writer when he or she writes, writes about a philosophy, a learning and an understanding of his or her world and vision. To give it shape, one needs characters, plots and so on. So, ideally speaking, in my opinion, the greatest work of literature is when someone is truthful to the surroundings and faithful to his or her inherited realism that flows through generations.
If that reflects a certain identity, that is for the theoreticians to decipher and correlate. In effect, through my writings, if I am depicting a life that I experience or the one that exists in my unconscious social, racial identity I will probably talking from a ‘brown’ perspective. However, if my dream is a ‘white’ dream and I consciously write only about that then it will be false and deceitful. Do you think any writer purposefully can do so, in writings after writings? I am not sure if anyone can.
If not, then all writings that are happening in all these indigenous places that you mentioned are in a sense representing a ‘brown’ world. We probably don’t realise that as a harmonious identity, that’s it.
I am reminded of a speech by the film director Leos Carax who once jibed at the ‘foreign-language category’ in Academy Awards – “Hello, I’m Leos Carax, director of foreign-language films. I’ve been making foreign-language films my whole life. Foreign-language films are made all over the world, of course, except in America. In America, they only make non-foreign-language films. Foreign-language films are very hard to make, obviously, because you have to invent a foreign language instead of using the usual language. But the truth is, cinema is a foreign language, a language created for those who need to travel to the other side of life.”
[TPCR] Are there peculiarities of writing brown lives that are hallmarks of its style in particular? For instance, themes, techniques, styles?
[AN] – As I tried to explain, our identities are concealed in our writings. Writing is not about faking who you are. It is more of understanding who you are. If you think of the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Do you think the themes are universal, do they apply even today? What is the style? The technique?
When I wrote the collection of poems ‘A brown sky’ I was reminding myself of a time I lived. I was not doing so to say “hello, see how different we are.” My point was to remind myself and to others as well that we all exist as well. We will have differences, that is bound to happen. But if we ignore differences by not looking at them or recognising as well then we will never celebrate the variations.
In 1895 after Georges Polti wrote The Thirty-six Dramatic situations, how many could have been added to it? Whatever it is, all our fictions will fall in one narrative construct or the other. Then as a writer how will we survive? We will by trying to depict our own realisations – the themes may remain the same, the realities will evolve and sparkle with a different hue.
That is why recognising and realising the ‘brown’ identity in writing is important to me. To celebrate my uniqueness, to keep me going as a writer.