How has Bengali Poetry evolved over the generations?
That was the question being discussed at a chilly evening session amongst Alokranjan Dasgupta, Srijato Bandopadhyay, Subodh Sarkar, Bithi Chattopadhyay, Chaitali Chattopadhyay and Binayak Bandyopadhyay, all eminent Bengali poets. Tridib Chatterjee moderated.
The session begins with the discussion of a “Future Poetry“: a poem that shows how language breaches horizons over the ages. “Poets do not stay in their own comfortable corners of the world; they face the sky and change it,” says Mr Dasgupta. He jokes about being ‘censored’ by Mr Chatterjee: “I am allowed to read only a half-minute long poem!” he claims.
Chaitali Chattopadhyay reads out a poem called “Shohoj Path”: a poem in five parts that, in deceptively simple language and imagery talks about the predators around us in society. Her poem “Kalo Boshonto” similarly deals with the disease at the heart of a seemingly beautiful city. Feminist in tone, powerful in impact, it receives thunderous applause.
It is Mr Subodh Sarkar’s turn next. Having heard him previously, I eagerly await his poetry. He mentions 65 Literature Festivals currently taking place around the country. He mentions seeing a previous session in which he witnessed the fan frenzy surrounding young authors who write in English, and wonders what will happen to vernacular literature in the coming years.
Having seen how passionate my peers are about Bangla Literature- only recently, under a sunny winter sky at college, my friends and I had an intense discussion about favourite Bengali poetry- I do not think he has anything to worry about. Mr Chatterjee agrees- he mentions that high sales of Bengali books and defends the people of our generation, many of whom, I am happy to point out, are perfectly happy straddling multiple languages.
Mr Sarkar’s poem “Monipurer Ma” is recited by him; momentous, deeply moving words about the women of Manipur who protested the rape of their fellows by the Indian Army by undertaking a nude march.
Bithi Chattopadhyay mentions that today’s poetry is one of dissatisfaction. She reads Michael Madhusudan Datta’s poem written in Versailles, and one very interesting poem about privileged feminism in which nudity is used as a form of protest, but only from a position of immense privileged, even ignorance. Her tone is indicting in the latter.
Srijato’s words are simpler but no less evocative: a poem of the romance of a fleeting encounter. His second poem asks people to live as gloriously as possible, celebrating life.
Binayak Bandyopadhyay has the audience in splits on recounting a bizarre incident in San Francisco that, to him, epitomised the struggling artist figure. His poem is about the two schools that face each other across the street, and the kind of opposition these positions imply. But the real cracker comes at the end of the readings: he mentions seeing the Police Commissioner of Kolkata reading poems at the Book Fair on this very day, only to be joined by several other policemen who wanted to read their own!
That, I think, really sums up Bengalis in general, as well as the tricky question of whether or not Bengali Literature will survive. As Mr Bandyopadhyay said, “I think the Bengali Language will do just fine.”
What a brilliant note to end the session on. I couldn’t agree more.
Join the conversation online #boimela