Kaustabh Kashyap is a freelance writer, poet and translator based in Assam. He has contributed fiction, poetry and articles for national magazines and e-journals namely Erothanatos, Reading Hour, Vayavya and often writes on a variety of topics for The Assam Tribune. His short-stories have also appeared in the international blog Reedsy, an online author services firm based in London. He is a NET-JRF awardee in English Literature and plans to pursue his PhD in disability studies. The Night Won't Wait: Glimpses of the Great Pause, his first collection of poems was released recently. He is currently working on his second book, a novel.
I chat with Kaustabh about his poetry collection The Night Won’t Wait, poems exploring the myriad effects of the lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, poetry book recommendations, and much more.
Hello, Kaustabh! Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am a finger in every pie kind of person! Although reading and writing have been my constant companions, thanks to my mother who reads extensively and inspires me more than anyone else to pen my thoughts. My choice of writing has so far been offbeat and eclectic, from deeply personal pieces to commentaries on politics, films and books.
Currently, I am trying to streamline my thought-process into niche areas of academia so that my bohemian outlook accomplishes something substantial through research. My field of interest is fiction and films dealing with the representation of disabilities, specifically autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and mental health disorders.
When did you start writing poetry? Which poets have been your inspirations?
I believe I began scribbling (readable) lines when I was about eleven or twelve. Initially I wrote in both Assamese, my mother-tongue and English to impress my mama (maternal uncle). He was an author with fluency in Assamese, Bengali, Oriya and English who prodded me to never part with my own language. But after he passed away and I decided to pursue my graduation in English Literature from Ramjas College, University of Delhi, I started entering poetry contests and recitations where I started honing my composition skills.
The poetry of Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, T.S. Eliot, Jorge Luis Borges and Wislawa Szymborska has been my constant companion. While planning my book of poems, I also started reading intensively and discovered that the works of Jane Kenyon, Hieu Minh Nguyen and Mario Benedetti appeal to me in no insignificant way.
If you could only describe your poetry book The Night Won’t Wait in five words, what would they be?
Philosophical, ironic, candid, introspective, and freewheeling.
Now tell us a little more about the book! What can readers expect?
The Night Won't Wait is a collection of twenty-four poems, each dealing with a specific existential condition tightly or loosely threaded around the pandemic we are still struggling with. I feel readers will find something that resonates with their lives as all of humanity is undergoing the same condition of loss and hopelessness.
The title is an allusion to the dark night of misery we have been unexpectedly thrust into and have been waiting with bated breath for a new dawn to rescue us. The poems have tried to touch upon a variety of topics, keeping in mind readers of all ages and backgrounds.
How did the idea of writing this book come about? How long did you take to write it?
It was definitely not supposed to be a book! Ever since the lockdown came about last year, I started turning my attention to the socio-political Pandora's Box unleashed upon us all. I began jotting brief lines from the episodes I saw on news channels and read about in the papers, until a friend gave me the idea to finish and compile them into a book.
Usually I am all over the place when I set out on something creative. I wrote snippets of my ideas on my cell-phone, journal and whatever book I would be reading while inspiration struck. But I believe I seriously took up composition by the end of April and finished my poems by mid-August.
What different themes and topics have you discussed in the poems in this book?
The pandemic is a motif that binds most of the poems together. Within that, broad umbrella issues of loneliness, entrapment, depression, environmental degradation, sexual orientation and others have been discussed. Some poems are mellow and hopeful in tone and subject matter while others are biting and tongue-in-cheek. There is a progression of thought from the universal condition to the particular experiences of people and their 'silent' struggles, and back again to a larger, introspective canvas of having the courage to ask difficult questions and make hard choices.
What are your major creative influences for these poems?
Frankly speaking, it has been not so much poetry that spurred me to pen the verses. Rather, it was the hard-hitting reportage of scenes from the protracted lockdown by journalists like Barkha Dutt which humbled me and gave me a clear picture of what was actually happening to people, in contrast to how mainstream media was covering the unfolding events.
How have you been coping with the current pandemic and what will be the new normal for you post it?
I have been mostly reading and writing as I always do. And counting my blessings. I don't want to complain that I couldn't go outside for a cup of coffee or hangout with my friends because there are those that have been through impossible ordeals and some have succumbed to terrible tragedies.
I hope when we do get out of this cul-de-sac, the new normal would not be a return to our past. It should be a future where healthcare is affordable to each and everyone, and people are able to forego their differences and build a much saner, safer world. Although I don't see that happening anytime soon.
What are you reading currently? Do you have any poetry book recommendations for readers who enjoyed The Night Won’t Wait?
I have taken a break from poetry at present. I am hooked to Jessie Burton's books these days and reading young adult fantasy novels by Rebecca Ross, Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss.
I usually believe all readers (and authors for that matter) must find their favourites by serendipity, which is how I discovered my first love of poetry, Emily Dickinson, in a small library on the pages of a tattered book. There has been such a huge proliferation of poetry in the past decade over the internet that one is spoilt for choices. However I would like to recommend Jane Kenyon's simple yet emotional poems and also Hieu Minh Nguyen's This Way to the Sugar: Poems and Not Here for those seeking a contemporary poetic idiom.
The book ‘The Night Won't Wait: Glimpses of the Great Pause’ is available online and at your nearest bookstore.