Arts & Culture

Fulbright Fellow’s poetry reading tugs heartstrings

Somrita Ganguly shares stories, celebrates insecurities in ‘An XL Sized Apology’

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2019

On the evening of Feb. 5, Room 101 of Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center turned into an intimate and inviting space for Brown community members to hear award-winning poet, translator and University Fulbright Fellow Somrita Ganguly read some of her poetry in a performance titled “An XL Sized Apology”.

Before the reading started, the room was filled with the smell of traditional Indian spices: Audience members were invited to grab a plate of curry, chicken, naan and white rice in anticipation of Ganguly’s performance.

“An XL Sized Apology” also featured acoustic guitar by musician Justin E. Kahn and Indian classical dance performed by Pooja Arya, a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant in Hindi. The dance, called “Kathak,” is a traditional Hindu dance that involves telling stories with hand movements, footwork and facial expressions. “I’ve realized very often (that) as writers, we often limit ourselves to a niche audience, which means sometimes the purpose of our words is lost. I just wanted to reach out to more people, and I am the kind of artist that draws her strength from collaborations,” Ganguly said. She began inviting dancers and musicians to collaborate with her in December of 2017.

Ganguly was introduced by Lina Fruzzetti, her advisor and a Professor of Anthropology at the University, who listed off the poet’s many accomplishments, including her showcase in the 2017 London Book Fair and her designation as an emerging translator by the United Kingdom’s National Centre for Writing in 2016.

The performance began with a work titled “A Big Fat Poem,”which referenced Ganguly’s struggles with body image insecurities. “I have been an elf on stage / an elephant / even a tree / And all of that seemed more believable to the director / then casting me as me,” Ganguly read. “This poem was written on one such night of impatience and frustration and resistance when I didn’t want to buy the photoshopped ideal of beauty,” she went on to explain.

In addition to her personal relationship with body positivity, Ganguly’s poems touched a wide range of topics. The poems she read eluded to social perceptions of the female body, faith and her reflection on the events happening around her. “Statistics” was a poem she wrote for the mothers of 60 infants who died at Baba Raghav Das Medical College in India allegedly due to the hospital’s inability to provide them with enough oxygen. “But what remains of people / when people are gone?” she read. While love, home and bodies are frequent themes, she explained that if she could “narrow it down,” she would say that she “writes about memories.”

Ganguly’s artistic investment in memory was demonstrated in the preface to her poem “Calcutta, A Phenotype.” While she appreciates that the city has been renamed Kolkata to honor its “original Bengal roots,” Ganguly said she still refers to it as Calcutta because “it’s a city that has witnessed all my firsts. … Do not ask me what is in a name, because my answer is going to be everything.” When interviewed after the show, Muskaan Garg ’21.5 said, “My favorite one was the one about Calcutta because I think she did this magical job of transporting us to being there. I think places are a really good way to understand who someone is, so the fact that she told us so much about herself through the place is very cool.”

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