My Glass of Wine: the expanded edition by Indian poet Kiriti Sengupta is a small book written in a hybrid style of prose and poetry consisting of eight chapters or autobiographical tales (though the poet decries categorization for causing a clash between writers and readers), plus two additional chapters of reviews and an interview with Dr. Sengupta.
My Glass of Wine follows a similar style found in The Reverse Tree, a book I had the pleasure of reviewing. Dr. Sengupta’s eight chapters are complemented by short poems that function more than in a mere ancillary role. The poems are sparkling illuminations of the prose. They enhance each other.
But this book is above all a series of tales. I would compare My Glass of Wine to a salon that one wanders in where a friendly voice greets you and before you know it a delightful vignette springs up before your eyes. I enjoy learning something about a poet and Dr. Sengupta is a most accomplished raconteur. The eight prose pieces do have the feel of a memoir without ever excluding the reader who has not shared the same experiences as Dr. Sengupta and may even be from a completely different culture.
I would say the most remarkable and salient feature of My Glass of Wine is how one is so very well entertained by accounts as disparate as dentistry, Christianity, southern Indian cities, and shoes. There is a universal need that we have, as fellow inhabitants on this blue planet, to learn about one another and Kiriti Sengupta takes center stage in My Glass of Wine, though he introduces in a generous and completely unselfish spirit other characters such as his wife, his son, his guru.
Could another Indian poet, or scholar for that matter, speak so informally on a variety of topics, always maintaining the keen interest of the reader who may have only a superficial knowledge of India? I think the key to it is that Dr. Sengupta paints himself as an everyman, a guide without pretences or affectations, someone with a genuine desire to reveal himself as no different from anybody else. Of course each person is different, otherwise we would suffer mass ennui, and Dr. Sengupta kindly asks us to listen to his particular stories.
But there is not an ounce of conceit to him. At all times I felt a great warmth emanating from his words. Here is a poet who merely wants to tell us something about himself. What makes one person’s confessions different from another’s? I can think of nothing other than sincerity. It is rare to meet a sincere human being. Life beats us down, after all, and we are often rendered cynical and embittered. Yet there isn’t the slightest taint of falsehood to My Glass of Wine. I sense only an honest man, a poet, discoursing on aspects of his life, family, and friends.
The Great Russian masters, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, believed a man had to explain himself. One sees the same influence in modern day writers like Roberto Bolaño and Gabriel García Márquez. Maybe all literature is an attempt by a writer, through the characters created in books and short stories, to offer an explanation to the reader. “I am writing this to explain to you something of myself,” the writer is saying. I see the same motive in Dr. Sengupta’s writings. The anecdotes are non-fiction but isn’t the poet still trying to explain something of himself to us?
Gary Robinson is a poet and short story writer from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He has been published in Canada, the United States, the UK, and India. His chapbook “White Dance” was published by Carleton University in Ottawa . He has written a novella and most recently a travelogue, based on a 10 day trip to India in the fall of 2014.