Bibhas Roy Chowdhury: Poem Continuous: Reincarnated expressions. Translated by Kiriti Sengupta. Inner Child Press (USA). 2014. ISBN: 13:978-0692233184. Price: INR; 130.)
Poem Continuous is a beautiful English peep-hole into the vast world of Bengali poetry represented by Bibhas Roy Chowdhury, an established poet in contemporary Bengali literature.It is, at the same time, a literary and translation tour de force of eminent bilingual poet and translator Kiriti Sengupata, who has taken up the painstaking challenge of sending out the poetic flavor of Bengal to the world outside with his wonderfully “reincarnated expressions”.
On receipt of the book, what attracted me most was its compact shape and size with the the symbolical title with POEM cracked in the middle, and CONTINUOUS followed by Reincarnated Expressions against the blood-red background , causing in us willing suspension of disbelief, with a sudden hallucination as it were drops of blood are dripping down from the wounded poems. Reincarnated Expressions attached under is sufficient enough to prove that it is just not a mere translation; it is rather Bengali expressions reincarnated into English.
Another beauty of the book attracted my attention to the page 15 with two remarkable, metaphysical, philosophical lines of great significance that exhibit the philosophical and spiritual temperament of Kiriti Sengupta, my poet friend and translator. I feel these lines have purposefully been employed for the readers so that they provide deep insights into human life and overcome the negative impulses as they are destined to face the struggles of life in some way or the other; and they have to be immune to pain and heal up the wounds with philosophy of life.
A delectable book of 30 beautiful poems of Bibhas Roy Chowdhury, superbly “translated from their original Bengali”, Poem Continuous unfolds before us all aspects of human life and explores the whole gamut and panorama of the poet’s world where he evolves his deep love for his mother land, with profound reverence for Bengali Poets, while feeling torn apart due to Partition of Bengal, absorbing the resplendent light of the lost lives. Distinguished author and poet Don Martin has rightly written in the beginning- “There is a little bit of everything in this distinguished volume. The poet gives us glimpse of his insights into love, life, nature, politics and even everyday humdrum of ordinary life.”
Thematically speaking, this " distinguished volume" presents the varied moods of Bibhas Roy Chowdhury as the poet, and the critical circumstances leading him to creation of poems. Four poems- I Can Leave, But Why?, The Offering,, When Will Winter Come?, and The Sun-Burnt Ashes- are dedicated to noted poets of Bengali literature - Shkati Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore , Bhaskar Chakarabarty and Joy Goswami respectively. This shows how much and profound love and respect he has for his people and land, his language and poets.
The poet’s motherly pathos and concern about the survival of poetic world is so natural and obvious in some of his poems. As a true poet, he wants poetry to flourish with a comforting bower for the tired and the fired. He expresses his anxiety-
“The men are under fire, and
I can sense the heat of destruction
Will those plants survive even after my demise?”
(I Can Leave, But Why? p24).
Most of the poems are addressed to and concerned with creation of poems and poetic endeavors of the poets. Wounds, grief, scars are the key words that constitute the poetic output. These poems are like a balm on the wounded self of the poet, as if they heal them up. These wounds of life have caused the poet so much pain that has taken him beyond its realm only to feel the eternal joy in the creative world of his poetry. In the very first poem of the volume, he accepts-
“How can I depart?
Sorry would feel lonely then!
It needs a companion to speak with..”. (The People, page 18).
He also openly avers-
“Better I keep some wound
beside the coming tune…”. (The People, page 18).
For Bibhas Roy Chowdhury wounds, tears, grief, burns, ashes,are the building blocks of his vast empire of his poetry.That is why he addresses it as “ eternal wound” (Poetry, page48) and frequently uses them in his poems. Personal turmoil, philosophy and spirituality find an excellent outlet in his poetry.
‘Bibhas- The Illumined Expression” is one of the best and expressive poems. As its title suggests, it is autobiographical. It is a mirror where everything belonging to the poet gets reflected- his life, sorrow, insults, setbacks, wounds,, solitude,, dreams, hope, hobby, love, and most importantly “ the reasons of life”. He heals his mortal frame by his “wounds” on” the bed of solitude” and his writings provide him comforts and inner joy and that makes him forget his pain and pangs. In deep darkness he finds light and he is able to demystify the intricate mystery of life.
He stands at the poetic podium and boldly declares that his poems are “of much insult, and devastation” and he is untouched “ by elation” and this is what rejuvenates his poems. To me, he is a Bengali Thomas Hardy in terms of the positive treatment of wounds, scars, insults and devastation. Further, the poet very honestly talks about himself-
“I’m such a meager being
in today’s world,
only a poet, who does not work at all,
but is engaged in all these.” (The Debt, page 37)
His personal grief finds a poetized sublimation in his poems. He pens- “story of cohabiting-/ our crisis with half-done poems,/ both engulfing…”(Maa And Her Eldest Son, p46). Inevitability of crisis in life is well accepted, when he says- “ No amount of crisis,/ not even the poems can prevent this to happen.” He shows his helplessness as he “escaped entire turmoil”
In spite of all the setbacks, he has immense love- love for the humanity, poetry, life, simplicity, honesty, truth and rather than cursing, he expresses his indebtedness to melancholic elements of human life-
“I am indebted to my tears
For this gigantic love!” (The Debt, page37)
His “ tears” also finds a mention in “My Darling”. He says-“ I am able to write my tears today” even after being “ upset yesterday in the night” as “ My darling is like my tears”. (page32)
As a true Bengali poet, Bibhas Roy Chowdhury is a great supporter of a united Bengal.The sense of nationalism is reflective as well in some of his poems. He is a poet believing in uniting people, hearts, lands, and distinct culture and advocating for the well being of humanity. Partition of Bengal in 1905 left the poet tormented. However he is hopeful of dismantling the walls of separation. He honestly states-
"Some anger in my heart…. Let me remove all fences!
Wish my blood obliterates the Partition, on either side of the border"
(Bhatiali- Song of The Boatman, page 22)
“In the core of my heart I nurse the wounded soul carefully
Union of the parted Bengal will aid in my recovery..” (Bhatiali, page 23)
The same pang is felt in The Tie of Brotherhood. Here, he bemoans the loss of fellow-feelings and all the values in Bengali that has ever remained vibrant with enriched culture and literary ambiance. With a sense of frustration, disillusionment, indignation and protests, he exclaims with disgust and moistened eyes-
“Crowd no longer… no music…. Hands free!
Now the ties are lost, and so are the Bengalis..” (page 38)
The poet recalls the readers whenever he has something poetic or feelings unbearable. For him they are the only companions that can lessen his burden on his heart. In this connection, Don Martin has also penned," Mr Roy Chowdhury is directly speaking to his readers". The poetry of Mr Roy is meant only for his readers and that’s why he says:
“ My readers, I dip into the water just for you” (The Wound, page 41)
At the same time he also reveals, perhaps with a veiled satire !
“In many congregations
You search for the poets’ scars…
Wounds… suppuration?” (The Wound, page 41)
To him poetry is the end product of his inner turmoil due to his wounded self and multi-cornered social insults. It is through the creation of his poems that he establishes his rapport with his readers whose critique sharpens his poetic sensibility. Poetry is like be-all and end-all of his life. It plays a very significant role in total evolution of his inner self. The poet seeks solace and comforts, and inner succor in poetry. He also states- “ My poems blaze” and “ I flare in your (readers) critique?”. Sharing with his readers, he very innocently expresses his deep anguish in “The Sun-Burnt Ashes”-
“I burn, I receive and my fingers become exhausted!
Readers, are you aware this is only my future and my present?”
In his “Epitaph” , the last poem of this volume, he wishes to have his readers and his poems even at the time of his death. In no case he wants to miss poems and his readers. “Poetry”, one of the most beautiful poems, is replete with the most striking lines that define wonderfully the poetic acts. In the very beginning of the poem he writes that poetry is scooped out from heart with “marks of fresh wounds” that quenches “ambiguous thirst” of the soul. It’s like “ termites within the meditating heart”. He declares-“Poems arrive like rumors inside mind” and that “Some certainly surface, the rest circulate!”
The poet has so much passion for poems that he even goes to the extent of calling poem as his daughter and his daughter as his poem. He makes a brilliant use of simile in “ Life is like a father” (My Little Girl, page 45) for creation of poems which encourage us to fight in life with optimum enthusiasm, forgetting “ food and water”. It is suffused with optimism. As a victim of predicament, the poet feels like “ a cursed bird with broken wings”, even so he is bold enough to
“ walk by my chest
to reach the line
as the sky ends to meet…” (Poets & Poems, page 43)
He also defines the objective of poetry when he highlights the rays of the hope and promises it makes-
“ Each poem was only committed
to deliver a promise” ( Poets & Poems, page 43)
In the present volume, some poems contain the elements of universal truths, paradoxical reality, human predicament, existential failings, caustic satire, fallacy, stunning expressions of an agonized soul. “The Poetry of A Hibiscus Flower” is one such expressive poem. The poet tells us-
“------ it is impossible
for the humans to be correct every time
because the human
unknowingly commit mistakes, and
ridiculously turn righteous” (page 36)
The Small Boat presents a beggarly condition of the world all parched. The poet asks the birds happily flying in the sky to fetch some peace and joy. It has in it a sense of spirituality.
In the final analysis, I must say that some of his poems - rather may be their translation- are too abstruse to comprehend, while some poems are so beautifully transliterated that they seem to keep the meaning flowing touching the heart and mind both. It may be due to the subtlety of thoughts and Bengali sensibility, not easily subjected to transcreating their real extractable meaning in some other languages. However, as the translator of this volume is himself a Bengali, a scholar, a poet, he has done justice to the original poet to transport his poetic essence in English. Barring a few poems, almost all the poems are quite comprehensible to me and appeal to my mind and heart alike. Kiriti Sengupta really deserves our hats-off !!!
The only shortcoming I have found in presentation is that the poems selected don't seem to fit into a proper sequence in sync with the varied moods of the poet. Poems are drenched in melancholy, even so they are impressive.There should have been more emphasis on some optimistic elements as well. Except a few ones suffused with optimism, rest of the poems seem to be sobbing with pessimism.The best thing is that creation of poetry and poems has been well highlighted in many of the poems sensibly singled out for the best and excellent translation.
Bibhas Roy Chowdhury sets his poetic journey with “The People” in “The Small Boat” through thick and thin of “The weather Bulletin”, singing “Bhatiali,” and offering “The Offering” to “Eternal” souls, dispelling “The Lunatic” “Odor of Being Upset”, standing against “Death By Will”. protecting “Darling” “Poetry” “Speaking With the Self” that acts as spiritual and philosophical “The Connector” for flourishing of “Poetry of Hibiscus” in his heart, even in crisis of unpayable “The Debt; his “Poets and Poems” forms the “Ties of Brotherhood” in the world with “The Light House”, “Yes”sing and nursing “The Wound” with the constant support of “My Little Daughter”- poems , “Maa And Her Eldest Son” for evolution of his “Poetry” comforting and glorifying his poetic deeds dedicated “To My Departed Friends”, “Celebrating Tagore” even after his “The Sun Burnt Ashes” with glorious "Epitaph" on his poetic world for his avid readers. This is how Bibhas Roy Chowdhury's “Poem Continues”, well edited and forwarded by Don Martin, with wonderful “reincarnated expressions” vented out to us by flamboyant Kiriti Sengupta. in form of “ a seamless transition” from Bengali into English, with all “implied meanings, subtle forms and even flow intact” as it is and ,of course, with all poetic and linguistic beauty.
In short, Poem Continuous is, indeed, a dashing, sturdy and emphatic introduction of a great Bengali poet Bibhas Roy Chowdhury to the English world and a translational and transcreatinal excellence of Kiriti Senegupta. It is a beautiful volume recommended for understanding the "lush world of Bengali poetry" and its poetic, cultural sensibility as a whole.