Tusar Roy: A Poet and a Hero Unsung

He was a poet of no ordinary merits and might have been a front ranker among the leading Bengali poets of the present day had he not died a sad, premature death, that too after a prolonged spell of mostly self inflicted acute illness and abject poverty. He may not be a hero in the sense as Carlyle visualized his 'Hero As A Poet', but most certainly he was a hero in multiple other sense. He never spent his life like a riff-raff, waking up daily at the crack of the dawn and rushing to sign his attendance register everyday to barter away his prime hours for a few bucks in a bleak and dusty office room, accepting his confinement and ignoble drudgeries as a boon till dusk, like a petty mortal. He was an aristocrat in heart and had real blue blood in his veins. His was not the ordinary destiny of the countless commoners who grow in the hackneyed way, are groomed and brought up with the ordinary ambition to get a humble job, to earn square meals twice a day, marry the girl next door and procreate to add up to the goalless millions and to die at seventy five with bedsores, following asthma, blood sugar and dementia.

Tusar Roy, an outstandingly gifted poet of the seventies of Bengal, died only at the age of 43 and would have been 68 today had he lived, or should we say had he chosen to live? If he lived, he was sure to leave his indelible footprints in the annals of modern poetry of Bengal and secure a sure place in the gallery of great talents of all times, by the side of his contemporary giants of the present time like Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Sankha Ghosh, Samarendra Sengupta and their likes. The first named poet, an onetime close associate of Tusar Roy and a great name in the domain of Bengali poetry and novels once described him as 'the crownless king among the poets' to indicate at his temperament as a poet, his popularity among his readers and the uniqueness of the style of his writing and over and above his way of looking at life which was exclusively his own and had definitely influenced his poetry.

Tusar may be classed together with Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Ayodh, for he was equally aristocrat in his attitude and identically sad and nostalgic in his feelings. The last of the Mughals, Bahadur Shah Jafar, might have found a peer in him as a man and a poet, influenced by personal tragedies. Monmarte of Paris of the nineteenth century might be the best suitable spot for his frequenting, alongside Van Gogh, Paul Ganguin, De Gas, Cezanne and most particularly, Henry Toulouse Lautrec of the 'Moulin Rouge' fame. In many sense he may be called a Lautrec reborn in the this part of the globe, with the marginal difference that while Henry indulged in painting, Tusar distinguished himself in poetry, though painting was not an alien field of interest for him as he had studied painting for some years in the Government Art College of Calcutta and nurtured a keen interest in that area of art through out his life. He designed the cover of his most celebrated collection of poems 'Band Master' and he also had drawn a self-portrait which was printed and published by his friends in his other collection named 'Aprakasito Tusar'. Apart from his poetry, these also testify for the versatility and talents he was born with. His poems have reference to modern painters like Salvador Dali and Tusar till his last days dreamt of directing a film and made some progress about writing the screenplay of his film. Like many of his unrealised dreams, this also never came true. He fancied himself to be a great interior decorator and would love to boast to his friends of having provided important tips for the interior decorations of the leading hotels of Calcutta. Claims'..not verified. 

Born in a fast decadent aristocratic family of the undivided Bengal Tusar spent his early youth in their Zamindari estate of Narail of the erstwhile East Pakistan (East Bengal), now Bangladesh and was always averse to taking up a day to day job for his sustenance. He would spend days together rather in starvation, quite often having no money to buy a meal. Like many of the members of his family and his clan, he had deep rooted addiction for narcotic substances till his last days and would seek joy and solace in alcohol, drugs, marijuana, opium,- having no pretensions to hide his weaknesses. He had a mistaken notion that opium stalls the progress of asthma. As such, the fate was only what was inevitable. He contracted tuberculosis of the worst kind pretty early which, combined with his chronic asthma, took the ultimate toll rendering his last days very painful and lonely. He was admitted in a sanatorium by his friends and well wishers which he had many, but on his own choice left the place to return to his known surroundings of Calcutta. The bohemian leanings and a brooding sense of melancholy which were always operational at the backstage, nurturing both the poet and an unmistakable death wish within his heart simultaneously, won the final battle. Tusar, in his closing days was suffering from serious memory loss syndrome and would fail to quote even a few lines from his own poems from memory. A strong favorite among the fellow poets and his admiring listeners, for the magic of his voice and charm of his poetry reading in frequent sessions, he would often leave the stage awkwardly forgetting his lines though he was once known for his extraordinary capability for keeping in his memory more than four thousand poems at a time.

The total number of anthologies of his poems, all published at the sole initiative of his friends, are only three and are not available now in the market. The most famous of these three, Band Master, sold like hot cake and went out of stock within a short time as soon as published. He was a regular contributor to the famed Bengali periodical, Desh, broadly a literary magazine of global repute even today, which included two (Tagore has four poems to his credit) of his earlier published poems in their golden jubilee collection (1933-1983), only one less than Sri Sunil Gangopadhyay, probably the most popular poet among the young generation over the last four decades. This is significant of what class Tusar belongs to as a poet and how the connoisseurs of the domain continue to rate him, even years after his premature death.

But as on today it will be a hard task for an enthusiast and he will need a researcher's zeal to collect and compile his published and unpublished poems. Contrarily, we are told that he lost the entire bunch of manuscripts of seven thousand poems down the hills once while he was touring in Darjeeling! Who else, if not he, deserves to be crowned as a hero? Very befittingly he might be the chosen hero of Kafka's 'Castle', Sartre's 'Nausea', Pirandello's 'Henry The 4th', Ibsen's 'Ghost' and even Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'. As mentioned earlier, a strong sense of void and existential agony was always at work deep within, generating a gripping death wish in his heart and paving the path for his ultimate destiny. It was a favorite game for Tusar to play hide and seek with Death, he running backwards with his eyes closed, on the busy roads of Esplanade and College Street of Calcutta, quite often through heavy rush of vehicular traffic. Simply speaking, this was attempt to commit suicide preferring a quick death which was not, however, that easy as he wanted it. He had ultimately to die a painful death of cirrhosis of lever abetted by untreated tuberculosis and asthma which he had inherited as a child. 

Why Tusar wanted thus to die is not conclusively known. His was not the frame of mind as was Hamlet's, the 'to be or not to be' syndrome breeding a haunting sense of uncertainty and weaving its way to his ultimate death. It was not the ennui of the hero of Sarte's 'Nausea' or the self consuming wrath of Pirandello's 'Henry The 4th', shunning his contemporary world, as a protest against the impermanence of Life inflicted by intractable tide of Time. It was neither a macho urge for self destruction, born out of self hatred like Henry Toulouse Lautrec as depicted in the novel, 'Moulin Rouge'. He would fit in frames of all of them partially, but would not match any of them frame by frame. 

Tusar had to suffer assaults of abject poverty, insults, humiliations, severe ailments but he was not a pessimist or a cynic. His death wish was decidedly not a morbid feeling but was rather romancing with Death. Like Shelley and Keats he loved Life in all her aspects. He was loved and liked by others, for his aberrations, his romantic egotism, his visions and undaunted zeal to shape up things in his own kind of way. He rated poets as high above the common strata of mankind, representing the collective voice of the universal conscience. He was poor and always out of money but he would never settle for humiliating terms. He wrote suspense thrillers in half tabloid, cheap magazines for money. He translated poems written by a non-Bengali poet into Bengali, or feigned to translate for money, actually bringing out his own unpublished poems, as a few of his close associates claimed. But poetry always occupied his heart which he dreamt to use as his weapon, his vehicle of protest, his message to his readers, over and above, his idea about the beauty of life. 

On one occasion when a mounted police ( An old legacy of the British Raj in India) was approaching him on the Maidan near Esplanade on his horse back in his usual rounds, Tusar, shabbily dressed as usual and of a middle stature as a commonplace Bengali, defiantly made him stop before him and recited a line, instantly composed on the spot, dictating him to show respect to a poet by taking off his hat ( Pulis, kabir samne tupita tui khulis ). This line still goes round as a favorite quote among the modern generation poets, even after 36 years of his death . What might be the reason then for the death inhibition always active in his mind? Was it the failed love for a beautiful Gujarati lady which kept him aloof from the wedlock till his death? Was it the trauma heaped upon him by his close and distant relatives, particularly after the death of his father, ushering in hostilities over partition and distribution of properties? It may not be very important to know Tusar as a poet. But for a researcher or an ambitious novelist who may select him as the hero of his novel, as Toulouse Lautrec was selected by the author for his novel 'Moulin Rouge', must be interested to know, because how many among the countless millions and nobodies, may provide a life profile for him, thus varied and colorful, as of Tusar's? May be the color of his life was prevalently blue, but unmistakably his was the profile of a hero.

It is hoped that the following poems of Shri Tusar Roy translated by me from his original Bengali compositions and published in 'Band Master', 'Marubhumir Akashe Tara ( The Stars Over The Desert Sky ) and 'Aprakasito Tusar ( The Unpublished Poems of Tusar, also having a double meaning, i.e., 'the hitherto unknown Tusar' ) will focus on the prevailing characteristics of his poems and some fringe aspects of the life of the nearly forgotten poet which I have tried to capture in my present write up.

Tusar passed away silently like the dripping snows ( 'Tusar' means 'Snow' in English) of his poem 'Sudhui Tusar Jharchee', unseen and uncared for, in the cover of night, as he had apprehended in poem no.7 of the poems of the 'hospital series', on 11th September, 1977 and was unceremoniously cremated in their family burning ghat on the eastern bank of the Ganges, opposite Belur Math. It is the same burning ghat where Ramakrishna Paramhansa was cremated nearly some hundred years ago and is now known as Ramakrishna Mahasmasan. Tusar had also composed a poem named as 'Kabi O Tar Samadhi' which he wished to be his own epitaph. In death Tusar resembled Amedeus Mozart, Franz Schubert and John Keats, the great tragic heroes of all times, dying young and unsung, but leaving the never dying music of their 'Requiem' to flutter in the air like songs of the unseen angels.

Ego (Ahankar)

I commit to leave
When things will look clear
And I have seen them through
Thus far and nothing further, I promise.
Only I crave to count
My last moments before I leave,
No sermon for posterity,
Nothing to make big my leaving.
No complaint for the unrealized hopes
Truly, this is my dream preparation
Simply to sail on my own wrath
And set out for the grave
With the bedroll on my back,
The last belonging, for my final journey.

The pain surging through my heart
Is a cute thing, priceless as my own.
Hey man! Look, I never stooped to plunder
Biting into others' joy.
So, I hold my head high
My legs firmly placed on the ground I stand.
Myself shall I chant aloud God's name
When the time will come
For my last journey to the pyre.
That's all! Before I sever the last chord
I will leave the final punch on my own chin
To blow them up and clear
Who always scramble
To walk at the front.

The Bell Keeps On Ringing (Sudhu Ghanta Beje Jai

Ding dong! Ding dong! The bell sounded
From the church, the temple and the king's palace.
Pain, holy and solemn, knows where we belong.
Only our sublime grief knows
How far runs the alley
Winding deep through our heart.

Let the wishes that once bloomed like lilies
Wait in the mists, like the gods unknown
Let them rest in slumbers like moist dreams
And show up again
Like pictures drawn in water shades
When the story will finally end.
Sorrow will cry out
Echoing in the hollow of our heart
Begging to know where have the dear ones gone?
Who keeps the doors closed at the dawn
When the suspecting kindred are nowhere to be seen?
Let, what is left of the familiar darkness, stay.
We all will gather close and stare deep
Into each others' face
When night will ripen, more dense and dark.
We will go back to our primal sorrow
And return to the splitting sound, dear and sudden.
Times come when the bells keep on ringing.
In the hollow of our hearts too,
The bell keeps on ringing.

Mind to check, if you would care (Dekhe Neben)

Farewell, my friends.
When this waving of my handkerchief
From here on the bed of the leaping flames
Will finally stop,
Mind to check and look through the ashes
If I was hiding any sin.

I am now beyond all pains and all agonies
For, I have known a final truth
That the body only means a symmetry of things
Definite as a part of our destiny.
It is the wick of the earthen lamp at times
And also abode of the gods at others,
Still you declined to accept
And I ripped open my chest to show the love within.
How often have I torn loose my skin!
As one takes off his inner clothes
To show you clear, the muscles, the veins and the arteries
The complete anatomy.
At last, after I lost the game
I have chosen thus
To lie down on this bed of blazing fire
And to wave this handkerchief of rising flames
To wish you for the last.
Hey Man! Mind to look through the ashes
When the fire will die,
If I was hiding any sin.

The Poet and His Grave (Kabi O Tar Samadhi)

The poet lies here in his grave
With three bullets decked deep in his chest
Here lies he, at this spot.
The poet was right at the head of the rally,
The procession following him from the behind.
Those three bullets pierced through his heart
But failed to lower him on the floor
Look, I am here and I assure,
The poet got back, valiant as Valerie
And rested here after the journey ended
Accepting as his reward,
The three bullets inside his heart.

The poet lies here and sleeps in peace.
Raindrops and summer lilies
Gently trickle on the cenotaph,
Moss, dark and green
Will cover his grave in continuous growth,
Mushrooms, their roots flourishing
On the tenderness of his soul,
Will spread their arms to embrace.
Mind not to build any temple here
And stay aloof from this spot,
For, here he shall keep lying and rest,
Alone, and in peace.
When the fragrant air will rise and glide him past
The shades of the ferns will settle flat on his grave.

This much, little and simple,
Will please him to the utmost, I assure,
And he will sleep in perfect peace
For, he could not sleep since long.

Only Snow Drips Down Silently (Sudhui Tusar Jharchhe

Under cloudy sky of the queen of hills
All leave Darjeeling
Climbing down the famous and spiraling railway track.
It is now perfectly quiet on all around,
Except the distant bells from the gomphah, sounding solemn and deep,
And tiny flecks of snow and cold dewdrops,
That keep falling through.
Only Nikhil, Surekha and me have stayed back
Here at this 'Moonlight Grove'
Nilgiri coffee is whistling in the kettle
And a bottle of 'old monk rum' quietly waits on the table
The trembling flames of fire-woods
Are flashing on the bottle and the glass.
We slept long till the noon like a winter snake,
We chose to sleep together, all three in a row,
Nikhil and me on the flanks,
With Surekha Sanyal, like a sandwich, in between.
We had agreed like this and the deal stays on,
And will remain as thus.
It will be raining in our sleep,
Snow will drip down the firs and the pines,
The cold winter night will be colder and still'...
But when my sleep was broken
I found nobody around!
Nikhil or Surekha Sanyal
All having vanished like dreams
Only Jung Bahadur standing with a cup of coffee in his hand
And the bells of the Tibetan gomphah sounding from a distant hill.
This much and with nobody else around,
Snow flecks were dripping in the forest, far and near,
Only snow, drip after drip,
Endless, silent and deep.

Poems From The Hospital: 7 (Haspatal Bisayak Kabita:7)

Often I feel a strong sense of void,
It stays on all day long and stirs up anger within.
I feel cheated by Death
Who promised to come back quick
Before he had left down the winding alley.
I keep waiting under the umbrella he left for me
And watch the slowly declining days.
I know for certain
That not long he will take to return,
And will be back in the dead of night, I fear,
When I will remain lost in a cover of sleep.


More by :  Gautam Sengupta

Top | Memoirs

Views: 3613      Comments: 1

Comment A splendid writing on a splendid personality.

Rajdeep Ghosh
28-Oct-2019 14:34 PM

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