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Tuhin Majumdar , Udayan Gautam
‘Poem Continuous’
Tuhin Majumdar & Udayan Gautam

Book Review

Bibhas Roy Chowdhury
Poem Continuous
Reincarnated Expressions
Trans. from Bengali by:
Kiriti Sengupta
Inner Child Press (USA). 2014
ISBN-13: 9780692233184
ISBN-10: 0692233180
Pages 56 | Rs 130

Language No Bar: Poem Continuous Globalizes Bengali Cultures & Sensibilities

In the wake of globalization, Bhasa literature has transgressed frontiers with a view to initiating a cross-cultural communication by dint of the global linguistic mediator, English. Eminent Professor of culture studies, Susie Tharu asseverates, "Given the dominance of English as a global language, and the political economics not only of publication but also of the circulation of knowledge the English language texts are located at an advantageous center of power and prominence." Here lies the dichotomy of the translator in attempting a cultural orientation to the western minds in their familiar tone while being true to the umbilical pull of his/her own vernacular.

Acknowledged with the Krittibas award, poet Bibhas Roy Chowdhury has also explored other genres like novels, short story and drama. The poetry of Roy Chowdhury is replete with socio-cultural nuances belonging particularly to Bengali language which is naturally delicate and tender. There is always a risk that when such culturally loaded Bengali words are translated into a vigorous code like English, it may be degenerated into what American translation-theorist Lawrence Venuti describes "a second-order representation." However, Dr Kiriti Sengupta attempts the uphill task of translating the poetry of Bibhas Roy Chowdhury in his own liberal way while retaining the quintessential spirit without merely syntactically or lexically transforming source language (SL) to target language (TL). Indeed, what Sengupta does in his magnum opus Poem Continuous is an empowering and nourishing act, an act of affirmative play, an élan vital that not only ensures the survival of Roy Chowdhury's poetry but also encourages in not remaining confined in local contours and gain a world platform to speak, a lingua franca to link by targeting a global readership.

Sengupta's translated feat of Roy Chowdhury's poems entitled Poem Continuous hosts thirty poems, effortless in expression, yet, manifold in their implications. Roy Chowdhury's thematic trajectory touches the milestones of death thoughts that loom large, palpable nostalgia and essential poetic sadomasochism, all through ignited by a sense of Bengali-ness with a view to communicating with the readers about their genesis and probable destination. Roy Chowdhury does not emphasize on any monolithic poetic premise; instead his easeful t?te-à-t?te mood builds up a quick bond with the readers, and why not? He thinks the way the Bengalis think, he lends voice to the habitual Bengali poetic thoughts. This rare excellence has characterized every piece of his writings that amuses poetry lovers.

Poem Continuous is a collection that introduces the poet to the readers from a variety of viewpoints. Primarily, here is an impartial poet at work who is inspired by a prophetic zeal of a correspondent. The poet here shuns his natural identity in order to adopt a more extensive locale to work on. An affectionate link with the poet and his creation is found in "My Little Girl," where the poet falls in love with the sweet tenderness of poetry, which is presented through some vibrant images. Though the poem features a little vigorous expression in the end, this must not be considered a departure from the essence that makes Roy Chowdhury's poetry possible. The slight deviation from the paternal care to a captain's call for his comrades heightens the transcendence achieved in the poem "Bibhas - The Illumined Expression." Here, the poet casts a look at his poetry and feels like being one with it. Clearly enough he discards elation and prioritizes 'insult' and 'devastation' as the core of his poetic composition. Roy Chowdhury has accomplished a remarkable journey in the guise of this poet in poems like "Poets and Poems," "The Connector" and "When Will Winter Come" to name but a few. He may prefer to remain private as his biography suggests, but his impartial poetic entity has all the necessary distinctions to be appealing to his readers.

This ephemeral world, as John Keats laments, is marooned in sorrows. In his "Ode to a Nightingale," Keats wails: "Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies." This fear of death engulfs us all. Poems on death are plenty in the world, but Roy Chowdhury's uniqueness lies in his range of treating death with ease. Here, he appears as an expert observer of the philosophy of Tagore who harmonizes death and life. Death is not merely the negation of life, but is the gateway through which life continually renews itself. It is an inevitable natural phenomenon or the ultimate truth of life. However, Roy Chowdhury intends to keep up his poetic entity that will negate death. Unlike Tagore, the ever present poetic self in the heart of Roy Chowdhury craves for immortality as a 'poet' and not as any transcending soul. This motive furthers his self conviction and makes him write an epitaph, almost an open epistle:

I said an evening should be similar to death, didn't I?
I will remain, for some time,
in deep of the lines
My readers... ("Epitaph")

Sometimes he stands "against death" as he claims in "The Odor of Being Upset." This poem shows his mastery in dealing with rhetorical devices. Sharp metaphors and accurate images join hands to carry out his intentions to defy death, to be alive as a poet by means of pouring down 'a strong dose of poetry.' Here, the word 'strong' is self-explanatory in terms of the poet's self-confidence of his potentiality. A brilliant exploration of the self-conversational attitude has been maneuvered in "Death by Will," "My Darling" reaching its pinnacle in "Speaking with The Self." A mere mention of the final line: "We two old mirrors bite each other to die" is sufficient to unearth the eternal self-suffering that every poet is subject to.

Upon the heels of this self-suffering comes the issue of sadomasochism where Roy Chowdhury makes another mark. The reception of pain, suffering, humiliation and disillusionment has had a considerable place in Poem Continuous. His sadism is redolent of the natural sadism of a common Bengali. This being one of the many impetuses behind his poems finds a finer foreground to function at its best. The poem "The Wound" accommodates the anguish and the eventual absence of conviction in a poet's mind where he apprehends deception on the part of fake connoisseurs. Here the wound is both pride and disgrace for a poet and this duality is brilliantly brought into homogeneous unification by Roy Chowdhury. The exploration of such sadomasochism is further dealt with in "Poetry." What amazes the readers most is his bold use of corporal images that is frequently merged with psychological traits.

Finally, this assessment will end with a special attention to the all-encompassing air of Bengali-ness perceptible in almost all of his poems, as mentioned in the very beginning. In this connection, we'll consider a real masterpiece "I Can Leave, But Why?" This may be dedicated to the stalwart Bengali poet, Shakti Chattopadhyay and may bear the same lines found in one of his phenomenal compositions, yet, Roy Chowdhury's lines are neither a remake nor an adaptation in any sense. It bears an exclusive apprehension, an inevitable anxiety congenital to the Bengalis since time immemorial. "Will those plants survive even after my demise" is at once terrifying and unnerving and this line, almost singlehandedly, lends the poem a stature different from that of Roy Chowdhury's eminent predecessor. Along with this, we must take a look at "The Weather Bulletin" that bears considerable resemblance with Jibanananda Das's Dhusar Pandulipi (Gray Manuscript) in terms of its nature, spirit and content, especially by its attempt to record a representational historical account of the Bengali aesthetic and culture. Keeping pace with such Bengali flavor, nostalgia also gains a niche over here. Roy Chowdhury's nostalgic feelings, as evident in this collection, stem from the torment generated by the Partition, more commonly exploited in post-colonial writings. But in Poem Continuous, any reference to such socio-literary dimension would only spoil the naïve, simple lines composed in "Bhatiali - Song of the Boatmen," or "The Tie of Brotherhood." However, the poet's characteristic domesticity and folk cultural reference bear paradigmatic quality. Bhatiali songs are the cultural production of a collective enterprise initiated within a society or a community; in this case, the song represents the folk culture of East-Bengal, which was once united with its western counterpart and the heart of every Bengali individual bleeds when it reflects on the Partition. Roy Chowdhury's nostalgia engulfs every Bengali's feeling for the root. Again, if we look at "Ma and Her Eldest Son" this feeling for the root, at first, comes down from the socio-cultural front to a more personal sphere but later, within precise brevity, achieves a larger relevance, where the characteristic resignation and uncertainty come back to action in the end: "Ma, you better sleep?" Editor Don Martin has reaffirmed the central conception that forms the part of the title "Language No Bar." Brief and effective in encapsulating the thematic crux of the poems and acknowledging the worth of translator, Kiriti Sengupta, Don Martin in his foreword rightly describes Poem Continuous as "A Literary Tour-de-Force."

On the whole, Poem Continuous mirrors and contributes to the continuity of Bengali modern poetry initiated in the golden ages of the '50s and '60s that is still on the go now. Admittedly, the translated accomplishments are a discourse of the locus operandi of Bengal marked by a desire to find a suitable language for the new territory of human life hitherto neglected, unheard and was characterized by a suffocating silence. It has striven to subvert the stereotypical thinking and labeling that in Bengali poetry the west wind always blows and the flower always blossoms. To sum up, Sengupta's translations paved the way for the growing richness of contemporary creative consciousness. Undoubtedly, therefore, translation of Indian texts into English is strength for today and fetches much light for future days. Further, research may be carried out on areas like translation and cultural studies, both theoretically and practically; and in that context Sengupta's work Poem Continuous is undoubtedly a veritable milestone, an agency to accelerate Bhasa literature from subnational to transnational level.


Issue 58 (Nov-Dec 2014)

Book Reviews
  • Atreya Sarma U: ‘Grahaantaravaasi’
  • Bishnupada Ray: ‘Epitaphs’
  • Jaydeep Sarangi: ‘White Lotus & Other Poems’
  • Syamala Kallury: ‘Mofussil Notebook’
  • Tuhin Majumdar & Udayan Gautam: ‘Poem Continuous’