Two unknown poems by two known geniuses

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The brilliance of Rittwik Kumar Ghatak and Manik Bandyopadhyay shone even in genres they were infrequent to say the least. The author has translated a poem each of the maestros. He delved into their expressions and the painful story behind them.

Bifurcate breast
(For Sri Subrata Rudra)

Are you listening?
I was surprised by your words
Every time I have you by my side
However, I did not understand

then…

Now I remember…
I saw you alongside Sheetalkhya and Meghna
This dangerous night in front of Vairab Bazaar
on which the Padma embankment failed

O my mother

Now I remember…
Hazy, I haven’t seen you in a long time
Tears have blurred you, album
Are you listening?
Buriganga, I didn’t keep my head in your lap for long.

—Rittwik Kumar Ghatak

A poem on the division of Bengal

The newspapers want to divide Bengal. Do they?
The leaders, under the leadership of the Governor General,

want to split our pot to boil the rice. Do they?

If the pot breaks, the rice will turn to ashes in the oven fire
Hey, we’re tired, hungry workers, so what are we going to eat?
What will our thin women, our naked and wicked children eat?
Thirty-five lakhs of us died.
We only died at the whims of these leaders and generals,
Will two to four crore of us die again
by the sorrowful writings of Attlee’s loving heart,
scripted by an expensive pen,
by the scratching of Nehru’s fingernail, by Jinnah’s sympathy for poor Muslims,
by riots, curfews, failures and lies?
The chiefs of chiefs want to divide Bengal.
Bengal is for Bengalis.
God and Allah are all magnanimous declarations of a thousand years for the good of people,
Is there more to life? Death is known.
Death is the final judge!
Bengalis are dying, are dead, will die,
But oh brother,
We can no longer die.
We died as much as we could, but we can’t die anymore.
On my honor, I swear by Ma Kali, by Allah
In no case can we die anymore.
So omit God, Allah, rulers and generals from our life
Now we want to live
We want to live as humans with human beings.
Let the house be divided,
We will not allow the division of our body, of our heart.

—Manik Bandyopadhyay

A woman crossing a river.

None of them was a known poet. One is considered one of the three who changed the face of Indian cinema after Independence and the other a novelist and short story writer who, if translated correctly, according to Bengalis, could have been a candidate seriously at the Nobel Prize. One is Rittwik Kumar Ghatak and the other is Manik Bandyopadhyay. Interestingly, both of them wrote poems on the score which recently caught the attention of Bengali readers as they were published in an anthology of Bengali poems and songs written on score, namely Deshbhag Ebong…(Nirbachito Kabita O Gan ), edited by Tanmay Bhattacharya and published by Sristisukh.

It’s not just the score that binds these two poets. There were also other similarities between the two. Both depicted in their works the life of the petty bourgeoisie and the subordinates. Both lived miserably towards the end of their lives battling poverty and disease. Both were members of the undivided Communist Party. Rittwik was however expelled from the party, Manik was not. Like this, there are also other differences between the two. Rittwik’s involvement with the score is much discussed. He is globally acclaimed for his trilogy of scores consisting of Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komal Gandhar and Subornorekha. Manik, in his fiction, on the other hand, did not show such concern for partition. His classics, such as Padmanadir Majhi, Putul Nacher Itikatha (both novels) “Atasi Mami” and “Chhotobakulpurer Yatri” (both short stories) are not about score.

As an artist, Rittwik was emotional. His films show a masterful mastery of melodrama. Sometimes he was also accused of making a big deal out of it. Manik, on the other hand, is known for his precision and restraint as a craftsman. This artistic difference manifests itself well in these two poems. Rittwik’s reaction to the score is emotional; he laments for the lost fatherland. Readers can almost feel him crying in the poem. Manik’s attitude towards the score is more analytical. There is no excess of emotion in his treatment. He views the partition as a conspiracy by the colonial rulers which gained the support of Indian political parties due to their own interests. He also considers the economic crisis as the worst effect of partition on the masses. His protest resembles the typical communist protest, some of whom have even declared India’s independence to be “bogus”. Although Rittwik was expelled from the Communist Party, he never lost faith in communism. Why then this difference between these two poets? Is it only because of the artistic difference?

The main reason for this difference between the two is that Rittwik was a refugee but Manik was not. Although Manik prioritizes the unity of Bengalis over the differences between the two religions to which they primarily belong and metaphorically envisions a borderless Bengal, his utterance is devoid of the pangs of score that heavily smolder Ghatak’s poem. It’s not a refugee’s reaction to partition, it’s Ghatak’s.

These two lesser-known poems by two well-known geniuses actually demonstrate the two main ways in which Bengali poets wrote to score. Some wrote with empathy, others with sympathy: some wrote as direct or indirect victims of the score, others as restless but helpless spectators.

(Both poems were translated by the author of this essay.)
(Angshuman Kar, a Bengali poet and novelist, is a professor of English at Burdwan University, West Bengal.)


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