(Translated by Arts & Letters Desk)
Introduction to “Kolkata’s Jishu” happened back in 1969. But it was veiled with mist and cloud. That’s why, even though it swept through me I didn’t feel like I touched it. But my wait came to an end in 1972 with Ulongo Raja (The Naked King). To have the whole world at your beck and call means, you want to place poetry on your palm and close your fingers around it. A little bit of confusion still persists—who’s the king? And who’s the child? For example:
“You want to have the whole world
At your beck and call. As if that’s why
You roam the world from one end to another
Teetering all the way along.” (“Kolakatar Jishu”, The Christ of Kolkata)
In fact, no one dares to raise the crucial question even though everyone knows the story. Nobody dares to ask—
“King, where is your cloth?” (Ulanga Raja, The Naked King)
The poet who reveals the scene in which desires and dreams are brought face to face with reality, is Nirendranath Chakraborty.
He was born on October 19, 1924 in Chandragram village of Faridpur district in undivided India. He died aged 94 on December 25, 2018 at RN Tagore Hospital of Kolkata, India. His childhood was spent in lush greenery but that lasted only for six years. He’d settled permanently in Kolkata since 1930. Having finished his studies at Mitra Institution, Bangabasi and St. Pauls College, he started his career with the Anandabazar newspaper in 1951, and became editor of Anandamela, the paper’s supplement for children. After that he entered the realm of Nil Nirjane (1954), bringing out his first volume of poetry. He never looked back since then and continued to enrich Bangla literature with poetry, children’s rhymes, travelogues, essays and detective thrillers.
His poetry is slim just like he was; just like the simplicity of his heart, his poetry helps readers fill in the gaps. In his poetry the social and political scenes blossom in our minds’ eyes and then they spread all around. In this time and age, which is prone to oblivion, Nirendranath can strike and bridge the gaps at the same time. Maybe that’s why he so proudly says about Amalkanti:
“Some of us wanted to become teachers,
Some doctors, some lawyers.
Amalkanti did not want to become any of those
He rather wanted to become the sunlight.” (Amalkanti)
We want to understand the form and temper of his poetry. Though the space here is barely adequate, we want to put in context the work of this poet who belonged to the 1940s generation of the last century. As we delve deeper into his poetry, we find that he doesn’t merely see, he rather observes; he transforms any journey into a travel. Starting from Neel Nirjan, his travel crosses many stations and junctions. “Days of the 1940s” are there as much as the junction called “The poet knows it all but not quite.” Jabatiya Bhalobashabashi (All Kinds of Love) fills the tip of our tongue, as well as our consciousness, with a bittersweet taste.
“Some words are spinning in the dark foreign land,
Some words are flying in the air,
Please don’t leave me yet.
Have patience please, and give me a few more years.”
With the passing of every new year, his poetry extends both its beauty and shade toward the intimations of eternal light.
“Falling down, deep down, off a mountain
I cling on to you, Poetry, and that’s how I’ve been surviving.”
This is how he spoke of light and human beings. Now let’s look at the dark side:
“The trees whisper in the dark, contemplating
For whom is this night auspicious? And for whom is this ominous?”
(“Buker Modhye Chorabali”, There is Quicksand Inside the Heart)
He never parted ways with the time; he rather carried his time, as if, always on the tip of his finger, which explains why time and history has always accompanied the wave of words that emanated from his pen. What delights me most is the fact that at the age of 94, he was not afraid of obstacles even when they were insurmountable.
Being such a serious writer of poetry, he never neglected children’s writing and wrote excellent rhymes, even created the detective character of Mr Bhaduri. One of his biggest contributions to the world of Bangla poetry comes in the form of two essay books on Bangla poetry: Kobitar Class (The Poetry Class), an authoritative book on Bangla meters, and Kobita Ki O Keno (What is Poetry and Why Write Poetry?). In his hand, Bangla prose found a new pace and flexibility.
He won all the major literary awards of West Bengal, India, including the Sahitya Academy Award, Ananda Puroskar, Ultorath Puroskar and Tarashankar Smrity Puroskar.
In spite of all his achievements and accolades, he was never too proud to derail:
“It is not right to look back on
Burnt wood and broken pitchers.
Another chapter is calling us.” (Onyo Jantranar Dike,” Toward Another Agony)
It is, as if, his destiny to respond to that call.
Habibullah Shiraji is an eminent Bangladeshi poet. He is also the Director General of Bangla Academy.