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Dhaka Tribune

Chronicle of a bard who ended up dying unnoticed in damnation

An Elegy for Binoy Majumder.

Update : 20 Jan 2024, 09:29 AM

Looking back at the 1960s feels like a song of old revolution when “even the damnation was poisoned with rainbows.” No walls in West Bengal were left without scribbles of slogans, with wall magazines written in blood-stained letters hanging everywhere -- alluding to a future basked in the red sun. Briefly, the “Hungriyalists” came into the scene with their poetry of dissent, resulting in a process of change which countered the then existing Bengali literary establishment. The “Hungry” movement spearheaded by the Roy Choudhury brothers (Malay and Samir), Shakti Chattopadhyaay, and Debi Roy expanded the space for writing poetry in West Bengal. They made poetry free from the drawing rooms of upper-classes and as a consequence, poets from suburbs and villages -- poets from the lower strata -- started taking part in the movement. Binoy Majumdar who considered himself as the first “Nomoshudra” poet became famous overnight following the publication of his second book Fire Esho, Chaka. Soon after Binoy anchored his ship, he became the “New Messiah” of college Street as the Hindi writer and editor of the Anima magazine Sharad Deora wrote a book on him, proclaiming him as such. 

 A genius mathematician and engineer turned poet, Binoy was introduced to the Hungriyalists by Shakti Chattopadhyay who was trying to evade the movement because of his own personal reasons. Swiftly Binoy’s poems appeared in the Hungry bulletins and started unraveling a fresh new dimension of poetry with endless possibilities -- where the ambrosial succulent words melted in the sharp shapes of geometry; but Binoy who was an outsider in Kolkata -- erstwhile Calcutta -- was not at all familiar with the mischievous politics of the city. He was startled when he learned that Shakti Chattopadhyay -- out of the blue -- had declared him the leading figure of the Hungry movement. Binoy -- a taciturn man, who used to stay aloof of the numerous existing literary communities found this petty politicking disgusting and he ended up overtly attacking Shakti & Sandipan Chattopadhyay in a piece published in one of the Hungry bulletins. In the meantime, when the ambitious Hungry movement had started foreseeing its decline, Binoy -- who was suffering from schizophrenia -- charged at a waiter at Coffee House with a stick and ended up spending twenty days in jail. After this bizarre incident -- upset and annoyed, Binoy slowly left Calcutta and moved to Shimulpur -- a remote region in West bengal. This is where the intellectuals of the city declared an end to his career and called him mad, a lunatic, and what not!

Time passed without chatter and the lonely bard kept on writing poems; although Binoy by then was a forgotten poet in Calcutta. However, Binoy’s poetry after Fire Esho, Chaka moved towards a new trajectory. During this phase Binoy’s poetic imagery became transparent and his portrayal of the physical sensualities became more graphic than ever before. His projection of intimacy between himself and an anonymous woman disquieted the puritan conscience of middle-class Bengalis. As a result, the work of mainstream poets were embraced warmly when Binoy’s pile of poetry sank into an unexpected oblivion only to be re-discovered later by a new generation of readers. 

During the period of his solitary exile -- living inside a shabby house, containing walls where intricate formulas of calculus were scribbled -- Binoy’s obsession of using astronomical figures as metaphors re-churned. This obsession for the moon and stars are evident from Nakshatrer Aloye -- his first published anthology -- and it kept re-emerging in his later anthologies such as Adhikantu and Ami Ei Shobhaye. During the latter book, Binoy’s inclination towards using such imageries reached its peak -- Moon and stars became a leitmotif in his poetry. Sometimes his simple observation such as -- “The moon circles the earth, a scene the north star observes”¹ generates an inexplicable sadness in our hearts and sometimes his self-identification with the moon such as -- “I circle around the sun in my own orbit / while keeping faint contact with the earth / my situation is almost like the moon’s / there’s very little difference between me and the moon”² -- makes us muse over the mad image of Binoy Majumdar drawn by Calcutta’s literati. 

The politics of opportunism and the myriad divisions of literary clans with manifold ideologies had obstructed the expected proliferation of Bengali literature in the last century and it was the same politics which had shrewdly painted Binoy’s schizophrenia as an acute madness and catered this distortion to the educated middle-class Bengalis who had developed an expertise in rejecting everything that questioned their righteous establishment. The sacristy where they worshiped their ethically and politically correct figurines -- which shaped their moral conscience -- failed to have an altar for Binoy Majumdar. Thus, the bard ended up unnoticed in a damnation -- devoured by illness and defeated by solitude -- which was deliberately created by us.

Soumalya Chatterjee is a former student of comparative literature, Jadavpur University.

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