September On Jessore Road by Allen Ginsberg is in reality W.H. Auden’s Partition poem and the aftermath of it which he could feel it, but we could not as we had been engaged in partitioning, dividing the lands on the basis of religion and communal divide of which Bengal is no exception to that, but Ginsberg takes into his account the influx of the refugees for the second time and their plight moves him. Ginsberg here describes the effects of the Liberation War in Bangladesh in 1971. But the roots of it lay in the events and happenings of 1947. How brutally did we? We do not know it. We could not feel it then during the spur of the moments when the country burnt and the blaze, flare-up could not be extinguished and the fire flames scorched it all, burnt it all what it was good in humanity. How did it blacken? We cannot say it about the pity and pathos, tragedy and loss, suffering and casualty. Who bore the brunt of? Bengal and Punjab so much so which others could not feel it. The poem by Ginsberg is a burning example of that. It bears a clear testimony to that stating the condition of the people living on footpaths, under tents into the shanty and camps. But the notorious politicians, fundamentalists and fanatics could not feel it naked bloodbath; hatred, vengeance and malice spilling to the streets, the brawls and altercations taking us by surprise with gaping wounds and fatality.
Punjab too bore the brunt of same atrocity, but the politicians were engaged in seat sharing and power gamble. The fanatics, communalists and zealots got an upper hand in disseminating it all which must have been dealt a fatal blow. An American tourist, he could feel all that just as an alien insider, as a foreign outsider. The scenes of loot, plunder, booty, seize, capture, loss, gruesome murder, treachery, mischievousness, brutality, animalism, violence, bloodshed, stampede raked it all and the wide world saw it. How could it be? How the nation was divided, on what theory, what basis of logic and reasoning and who were they, they who acted as judge? How was mapping done? It is a matter of grave concern, serious question. It was but not a mistake, but a blunder. The communal forces must have retorted, must have been driven. On seeing these, we feel it within, can they be called really men? Exactly they were not men, but animals. They were not supermen, but fallible to judgement with the follies, foibles and weaknesses of their own. They were not godly figures, but satans whoever played it nasty politics with a sinister design, heinous plan.
The poem reminds us of so many things directly or indirectly. September On Jessore Road is a picture of not only poor India with poor children and daughters, widows and old men and women living below the poverty line, so backward, superstitious, lethargic, fatalistic, medieval and inactive, without food, clothes and other amenities which we need to sustain and survive, the downtrodden and the proletarian people without being ismic, in terms of communism or democracy seeing with the pitiable eyes, but with a trail of imagery. This is not a tale of Bengal, that of whole India, the people being poor down the ages for which we are liable, our system is, as we lagged behind, humanity lagged it in thought and idea, science and technology and we could not map it all.
But the Partition added to the misery, woe and pathos of Bengal in 1947 and again in 1971. Ginsberg’s India is not seen from far, but from his close, not from far, as he came to India, saw it with his naked eyes, how Calcutta was after the Partition, how did the refugees come to. How were their conditions? And above all, what did the nations do? How was their politics and humanism? It is a matter of discussion. His is a poem of the refugee crisis which the world has forgotten to take notice of. How were the people who sat on chair with what ideology? Was their mentality not narrow? Had they been not narrow, could they have driven them out of East Bengal and West Punjab? The leaders too did not do their duty. They could divide, but could not settle. Was the lust for power all? Could they not check it? Who were the black sheep indeed?
Under the wrap of this visit, we see many a thing; under the cover of it, many a letter can be opened and read.
The Partition of India was but a mistake, not a mistake, but a blunder. How could India be along the communal line and divide, on the basis of religion? It deals with the unwanted, unnatural refugee influx which we could not muster it. We stabbed humanity in the name of the Partition and left it bleeding on the roads with the wounds gaping and without any bandage, care and nursing which we ought to have just as a man serving a man which but shows our conservative mind-set and mentality.
But to discuss Jessore Road poem is to take into consideration the refugee problem for the second time and to think why the refugees came to again. Who drove them out? Why were they? What was it the reason?
Whatever be the fracas and fissiparous tendencies, tense repercussions leading to the Partition and the split of Pakistan into two which Ginsberg does not discuss it here, he just focuses on the people from across the borders living their life. There is a picture of the Partition overshadowing, there is a picture of poverty and there is also a picture of the refugees living in the camps. But how is their condition? What to say about it? The other thing too is this that the picture of an agrarian and rural India will definitely be a different one.
We cannot describe it here as the poem speaks in volumes itself. This is a blatant picture of the third world countries and the poor nations and above all the refugee problem.
This is a picture of Jessore Road, Calcutta which he comes across while travelling or living in the city in the aftermath of the Partition and that too during 1971 when the caravans of refugees fearing a backlash in East Bengal came to India. The long bamboo hutments and the shanty area with the thatched roofs and the mud walls somehow covered up, broken and poorly-built tell of their life and living though our houses are same all over India.
So many babies going half-fed, half-clothed, hungry, thirsty and in the lack of resources, living below the poverty line, without resources to sustain and eke out a living is the tale hinting towards population explosion, food problem, health and hygiene indirectly, showing it what we have done and what they have. The scene puts a question mark on so many things, how our standard of living, how our mind-set, how have we lived over the ages, what have we and we need to do. How had it been our lavatory? Just only children, without food, clothes and after thoughts, how can it be? Have the people just known to father and nothing more?
Addressing them as fathers, brothers and sisters, he tells the tale of life impoverished and laden under the problems. So many fathers in rain, so many mothers in pain, so many brothers in woe, so many sisters with nowhere to go, is the thing which but he feels on Jessore Road on marking them, on coming them across.
So are the tales about the millions of uncles, aunts, grandfathers and grandmothers, their misery too is not less than. September On Jessore Road penetrates deep into the heart as for pity and pathos it evokes with its pen portraits, poetical sketches, as for what hell destiny has brought for them, how their life conditions, to what standstill has it been brought to.
To tell about the refugee influx is not to hide in the things of the Partition time. What did we get from Liberation War of Independence? What liberty does it guarantee it now? How the people’s charter? How did the map change it in time and history? Which went to whom? There is a lot to say about poverty, hunger and malnourishment.
To read the poem is to see the album of old photos showing the refugee influx, their hutments and dwellings, their settlements and camps. How was the aid received? Who gave it to whom? Did America consider it? Or, was it engaged in waging wars as for its policies? Was food provided to the camps? How were the ration card systems and who got and who did not? Many fail to do their works, fail to cringe the officials as they know it not official decorum and delicacy, hazard and hurdles of bureaucracy. Who to give the humanitarian aid? Which state to give them citizenship?
Millions of babies watching the skies
Bellies swollen, with big round eyes
On Jessore Road--long bamboo huts
No place to shit but sand channel ruts
Millions of fathers in rain
Millions of mothers in pain
Millions of brothers in woe
Millions of sisters nowhere to go
One Million aunts are dying for bread
One Million uncles lamenting the dead
Grandfather millions homeless and sad
Grandmother millions silently mad
Millions of daughters walk in the mud
Millions of children wash in the flood
A Million girls vomit & groan
Millions of families hopeless alone
Millions of souls nineteen seventy one
homeless on Jessore road under grey sun
A million are dead, the million who can
Walk toward Calcutta from East Pakistan
Taxi September along Jessore Road
Oxcart skeletons drag charcoal load
past watery fields thru rain flood ruts
Dung cakes on tree trunks, plastic-roof huts
Wet processions Families walk
Stunted boys big heads don't talk
Look bony skulls & silent round eyes
Starving black angels in human disguise
Mother squats weeping & points to her sons
Standing thin legged like elderly nuns
small bodied hands to their mouths in prayer
Five months small food since they settled there
on one floor mat with small empty pot
Father lifts up his hands at their lot
Tears come to their mother's eye
Pain makes mother Maya cry
Two children together in palm roof shade
Stare at me no word is said
Rice ration, lentils one time a week
Milk powder for war weary infants meek
No vegetable money or work for the man
Rice lasts four days eat while they can
Then children starve three days in a row
and vomit their next food unless they eat slow.
On Jessore road Mother wept at my knees
Bengali tongue cried mister Please
Identity card torn up on the floor
Husband still waits at the camp office door
Baby at play I was washing the flood
Now they won't give us any more food
The pieces are here in my celluloid purse
Innocent baby play our death curse
Two policemen surrounded by thousands of boys
Crowded waiting their daily bread joys
Carry big whistles & long bamboo sticks
to whack them in line They play hungry tricks
Breaking the line and jumping in front
Into the circle sneaks one skinny runt
Two brothers dance forward on the mud stage
The guards blow their whistles & chase them in rage
Why are these infants massed in this place
Laughing in play & pushing for space
Why do they wait here so cheerful & dread
Why this is the House where they give children bread
The man in the bread door Cries & comes out
Thousands of boys and girls Take up his shout
Is it joy? is it prayer? "No more bread today"
Thousands of Children at once scream "Hooray!"
Run home to tents where elders await
Messenger children with bread from the state
No bread more today! & and no place to squat
Painful baby, sick shit he has got.
Malnutrition skulls thousands for months
Dysentery drains bowels all at once
Nurse shows disease card Enterostrep
Suspension is wanting or else chlorostrep
Refugee camps in hospital shacks
Newborn lay naked on mother's thin laps
Monkey sized week old Rheumatic babe eye
Gastroenteritis Blood Poison thousands must die
September Jessore Road rickshaw
50,000 souls in one camp I saw
Rows of bamboo huts in the flood
Open drains, & wet families waiting for food
Border trucks flooded, food cant get past,
American Angel machine please come fast!
Where is Ambassador Bunker today?
Are his Helios machine gunning children at play?
Where are the helicopters of U.S. AID?
Smuggling dope in Bangkok's green shade.
Where is America's Air Force of Light?
Bombing North Laos all day and all night?
Where are the President's Armies of Gold?
Billionaire Navies merciful Bold?
Bringing us medicine food and relief?
Napalming North Viet Nam and causing more grief?
Where are our tears? Who weeps for the pain?
Where can these families go in the rain?
Jessore Road's children close their big eyes
Where will we sleep when Our Father dies?
Whom shall we pray to for rice and for care?
Who can bring bread to this shit flood foul'd lair?
Millions of children alone in the rain!
Millions of children weeping in pain!
Ring O ye tongues of the world for their woe
Ring out ye voices for Love we don't know
Ring out ye bells of electrical pain
Ring in the conscious of America brain
How many children are we who are lost
Whose are these daughters we see turn to ghost?
What are our souls that we have lost care?
Ring out ye musics and weep if you dare--
Cries in the mud by the thatch'd house sand drain
Sleeps in huge pipes in the wet shit-field rain
waits by the pump well, Woe to the world!
whose children still starve in their mother's arms curled.
Is this what I did to myself in the past?
What shall I do Sunil Poet I asked?
Move on and leave them without any coins?
What should I care for the love of my loins?
What should we care for our cities and cars?
What shall we buy with our Food Stamps on Mars?
How many millions sit down in New York
& sup this night's table on bone & roast pork?
How many millions of beer cans are tossed
in Oceans of Mother? How much does She cost?
Cigar gasolines and asphalt car dreams
Stinking the world and dimming star beams--
Finish the war in your breast with a sigh
Come taste the tears in your own Human eye
Pity us millions of phantoms you see
Starved in Samsara on planet TV
How many millions of children die more
before our Good Mothers perceive the Great Lord?
How many good fathers pay tax to rebuild
Armed forces that boast the children they've killed?
How many souls walk through Maya in pain
How many babes in illusory pain?
How many families hollow eyed lost?
How many grandmothers turning to ghost?
How many loves who never get bread?
How many Aunts with holes in their head?
How many sisters skulls on the ground?
How many grandfathers make no more sound?
How many fathers in woe
How many sons nowhere to go?
How many daughters nothing to eat?
How many uncles with swollen sick feet?
Millions of babies in pain
Millions of mothers in rain
Millions of brothers in woe
Millions of children nowhere to go
The poor and pitiable condition of the people moves him and he keeps painting the poetical sketches of them in his poetry. Where will the babies go to? How to see them bearing so much of pain and suffering? How to share their grief and woe, trouble and tribulation? Who will come as an angel to see them?
Bangladesh got liberated, but what did the refugees get it from? Could they ever return to? Let us see how demography and cartography are changed, made and re-made. How is mapping done? What is it that takes us far? Humanism? What good did the politicians do to us?