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Friday, April 28, 2006

Jashimuddin: Poet of Rural Bengal

(Written by: S M Mehdi Hassan)

In Bengali literature Jasimuddin is known as ‘PalliKabi’ (Rural poet). The main subject of his poem was the lives of the people of rural Bengal their simplicity, serenity, suffering, and various other aspects. Jasimuddin was born in the village of Tambulkhana of Faridpur District. He did his M.A in Bengali from Calcutta University and then worked on collecting Bengali folk songs. I remember that in all my Bengali text books upto class twelve all the books contained at least one poem of Jasimuddin. The teaching of Bengali literature will be incomplete without Jasimuddin. Bangladesh is an agro based country. Although industrialization is now taking place majority of the people live in village and in one way or the other related to agriculture. This is why agriculture and farmers are an important aspect of Bangladesh. Jasimuddin in his poet talked about their lives. My favorite poems of Jasimuddin are: Nimontron (invitation), Nokshikathar math (The Field of the Embroidered Quilt), Kobor (Grave) and many other poems. In Nimontron (Invitation) the poet invites one of his friends to come and enjoy natural landscape of his village. The village is a very beautiful place filled with abundant greeneries. There is a river flowing by the side of the village. The water of the river is very clean. He proposes to his friends that they would hang around in the nearby woods wearing garlands made of wild flowers. They would go to the field and poet would meet him with the shepherds and they will play with them all day. ‘Nimontron’ depicts the nature of Bengal abound with flora and fauna. Another beautiful poem is ‘Rakhal Chele’ (The Shepherd boy). Here the central character is a shepherd boy whom the poet is inviting to play with but he refuses to go and says that his work is his play. Everyday before dawn he takes his wooden plough and go to the field he ploughs the land and then sow seeds and when new plants shoot out they look very beautiful. Sometimes when he feels tired he along with his fellow farmers sits under the shed of a tree and sing Murshidi songs ( a kind of folk song). In the end the shepherd boy says, My work is my game and I like to play it.I play all day and forget to take rest.It shows the hardworking nature of the farmers who live a very simple life and work very hard to earn their livelihood and they are very happy with what they have. Such beautiful description of Bangladesh and its farmer can not be found in any other poet’s writing. However, Kobor (The Grave) and NakshiKathar Math ( The field of an embroidered Quilt). Kobor is a monologue of a farmer who is standing in front of the graves of his wife, son, daughter-in-law, and his daughter. He along with his only grandson was asking for god’s forgiveness for the people who were lying in the graves. The farmer brought his grandson near the grave of his wife and telling him Here under the pomegranate tree lies your grand motherWho’s grave for thirty years I kept fresh with my tears. Then the farmer describes his wife. A simple woman who was very content with his life and deeply loved his husband. The farmer tells his grandson to raise his hands and ask for God’s forgiveness for them. It is a very emotional poem. I like this poem because the way the farmer talks reflects his loving and caring nature as a husband and a father. Such love and devotion is a rare quality in the present day world. ‘Nakshikathar Maath’ (The Field of an Embroidered Quilt) is a long narrative poem. It is about two young persons: Rupai and Shajoo. Rupai lives in one village and Shaju in another. One day Rupai went to collect bamboo (bamboo is an important construction material in rural Bengal) and then he saw Shajoo and Shajoo saw Rupai. They fall in love with each other and eventually gets married. Then one day Rupai gets involved in a serious fight with a group of people in the conflict he killed one and on that night he came to see his wife, Shajoo. After that Shajoo waited for her husband to return but he never returns. Shajoo loved her husband deeply and not seeing him for all these years made her very sad. She gave up eating and started to grow ill. The she decides to make a quilt. On the quilt she draws her house where she used to live with her husband and the beautiful field near the house. By the time she finished the quilt she died. Before death she tells her mother to hang the quilt on a bamboo near her grave. Then after few months people of the village saw another old person lying on that grave. The whole story is very beautifully narrated. It is divided in chapters and each chapter starts with a Murhsidi song. This poem was translated into English by Mrs. Milford. Jasimuddin loved the rural Bengal and all his life he wrote for them.
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Monday, April 24, 2006

Sukumar Ray: A versatile author

S.M.Mehdi Hassan
In Bengali literature there are not too many writers who wrote only for the children. The genre of children’s writing is made popular by two people: Upendra Kishore Ray and his son Sukumar Ray. In this article I am going to write about Sukumar Ray.
I first read Sukumar's poem when I was in class II, ‘Baburam Shapure,’ (Baburam, the snake charmer) one of the most popular children’s poem in Bengali literature. Then in class III ‘PakaPaki’ was in our Bengali text book. However, I enjoyed most reading the stories of Pagla Dashu (Crazy Dashu). Pagla Dashu was a student who just got admitted into a new school in the primary class. In Bengali ‘Pagla’ refers to a person who is crazy by nature and ‘Dashu’ is the abbreviation of ‘Dashrathi’ (Father of Ram in Ramayana). Pagla Dashu became famous in the school from the very first day for his behavior and appearance. It is one of the most popular characters created by Sukumar Ray.
Dashu had a huge head and a small body. The writer compared him to a Walking fish (a variety of fish, tastes very delicious when fried) with human head. Every body who saw his face even for once could not forget him. He had bushy hair and when he talked he moved his hands so much that he would look like a shell-fish. Added with all these, his crazy behavior, made him more interesting. However, he was very good in mathematics and he could make fool out of his friends by crafting clever plots. This was ‘Pagla Dashu,’ in simple words, madcap. When my father brought me the book I finished it in one sitting. I read the stories so many times but never got bored. Dashu with his uncommon physical appearance, fooling his friends and Pundits (during the colonial period in Bengal in the Hindu Schools the teachers were known as Pundits) made me laugh so many times.
Among the stories of Pagla Dashu my most favorite is “Dashur Khapami” (Dashu the Madcap). It is a story about Dashu acting in the annual school drama. Despite his classmates’ effort to stop him from participating in the drama he participated and played the role of ‘Devduta’ (Heavenly angel). At the last scene the Devduta was supposed to return to heaven but Dashu was determined to remain on the stage and so he did and delivered all the dialogues and ended the play. The story is really interesting. When I was writing this article I was reading the story and after all these years I could not help but laugh. The stories never grow old for me. Sukumar was really a great story teller.
Another talent of Sukumar Ray is his ability of composing nonsense verse. Of course, his main audience is the children. Although for the children, the poems are appreciated by people of all ages. Rhyme and rhythm are the main features of his poems. The poems may sound nonsense but there is some kind of rhythm. ‘Khai Khai’ (Voraciousness/ Eating Eating) is a very famous poem of Sukumar. His writing style could be compared to that of Lewis Carroll. Sukumar Ray translated Carrol’s JABBERWOCKY. His other popular poems are- Abol Tabol, Bombar gorer Raja, PakaPaki, Thikana.
Sukumar Ray, was a versatile genius like his father Upendrakishore Ray. He was a great illustrator. He drew pictures for his poems. He went to England and got higher training in photography and printing technology. He was also an expert in lithography. After his father Upendra Kishore, Sukumar became the publisher of the then most popular children’s magazine ‘Shondesh.’ His brilliant illustrations were published in this magazine. It is really unfortunate that this versatile genius died at a very early age (36).
In Bengali literature especially in children’s literature both Upendra and Sukumar are towering figures. They published magazines, wrote stories and poems only for the children. Sukumar’s son Satyajit Ray, was a brilliant film maker and writer. Aside from film making, like his father, Satyajit wrote great detective stories. All of them have died a long time ago; still people cherish them through their poems and writings. There are many people like me who find great joy and pleasure reading the poems of Sukumar Ray.

Links on Sukumar Ray:
http://www.nonsenselit.org/wordpress/archives/2004/05/03/sukumar-ray/
http://www.lehigh.edu/~amsp/2004/12/ill-take-two-of-those-cloned-cat.html
http://banglapedia.org/
http://www.papertigers.org/interviews/archived_interviews/sray.html
http://www.onmag.com/ray.htm
http://www.parabaas.com/translation/database/authors/texts/sukumarray.html
http://satyajitray.ucsc.edu/films/sukumarray.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukumar_Ray
http://www.answers.com/topic/sukumar-ray
http://www.parabaas.com/translation/database/translations/essays/pZinia_sukumar.html
http://userpages.umbc.edu/~achatt1/Bio/sukumar.html
http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/jun172005/sesame1416262005616.asp
Links on works of Sukumar Ray:
http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/853.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abol_Tabol
http://www.geocities.com/aboltabol_new/bengali/bengali.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Sukumar_Ray
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HaJaBaRaLa
http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/FreeChapters/abol_tabol.htm
http://userpages.umbc.edu/~achatt1/poem-bengali.html
http://oldpoetry.com/oauthor/show/Sukumar_Ray
http://www.geocities.com/athens/academy/1555/sukumar/srIndx20.html

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Jibanananda Das and his Banalata Sen


Through darkness I saw her. Said she, "Where have you been so long?"
And raised her bird's nest-like eyes -- Banalata Sen from Natore.

(Banalata Sen by Jibanananda Das)

One of the greatest examples of metaphor in Bangla literature considered by many specialists is given above. Here, the poet compares his lover’s eye with bird’s nest that means he gets shelter in the eyes of his beloved which a bird gets from its nest. So readers can feel the deepest love of the poet to his beloved through these two lines.

The creator of this mind blowing metaphor is Jibanananda Das, a very powerful and prolific poet of Bangla/Bengali literature, who added a great dimension to the Bangla/Bengali poems through his many unique poems that give the testimony of his poetic talent. He was born in Barisal, a divisional town of present day Bangladesh on 17th February 1899. He got his Secondary school certificate from Barisal Brajamohan School in 1915 and higher secondary certificate from Brajamohan (BM) College. After that, he completed his BA with Honors in English in 1919 from Brajamohan college and MA in1921 from Calcutta Presidency College.

From the early stage of his career, he took the teaching profession. At first he was the teacher of Calcutta City College (1922-1928). After that he joined at Bagerhat Prafulla Chandra College and then in 1929-30 he taught Ramjash college in Delhi. He was a teacher in Barisal BM College for a long time from 1935 to 1947 and during this period (especially from 1934 to 1939) he wrote most of his masterpieces. After the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, he went to Calcutta and there he taught in Hawrah Girls’ College as a lecturer. He got struck by a tram that resulted in his untimely death in 1954.

From his early age, he used to write poems that were published in many magazines. He was influenced by Rabindranath Tagore, Nazrul Islam, and also some other poets. In his writing nature and love came into focus and he had a profound power of explaining the most critical and complex topics in a very simple way. The World War II from 1939 to 1945 put a great impact on his mind and poems. His collection of about forty poems composed in a volume in 1948 called “Satti Tarar Timir” (Darkness of Seven Stars) during the second world war and in these poems we can see reflections of the devastation of war a poet's mind. His famous volumes of poems are Jhora Palok (Fallen Feathers, 1927), Dhushor Pandulipi (Grey Manuscript, 1936), Bonolota Sen (1942), Mohaprithibi (Great Universe, 1944), Shaat-ti Tarar Timir (1948), Ruposhi Bangla (Beautiful Bengal, written in 1934 and published posthumously in 1957), Bela Obela Kalbela (Times, Bad Times, End Times, 1961), Aloprithibi (The World of Light, 1984). He also wrote some short stories and novels but these were published after his death. The sad reality is that when he was alive, he did not get any fame that he so much deserved. His short stories were in a volume called Joibanananda Daser Galpo (stories of Jibanananda Das, published in 1972). His novels were published in some volumes like Malyaban (Adorned with a Garland 1972), Sutirtha (The Good Pilgrimage, 1977), Jalpaihati, Jibanpranali, Basmatir Upakhyan etc. Jibanananda Samagra (The complete works of Jibanananda) was published in1985-96 in 12 volumes.

In the poem Banalata Sen, one of his most famous poems, writer shows his heavenly love to Banalata Sen from Natore (a district of Bangladesh) in numerous ways. Banalata Sen is the central character of this poem. The poet says that he has traveled a lot in his life from the Malayan sea to Ceylon Sea, grey world of Ashoka and Bimbisara to the city of Vidarbha. But having traveled this long way, he could just get some moments to live in peace to Banlata Sen. Writer compares his situation to a sailor who lost his way to his destination having broken his rudder. In that situation the sailor sees a green-grass cinnamon island with his joyful eyes as the writer sees Banalata Sen through darkness. Then he compares her eyes with the bird’s nest and here lies the writer’s poetic talent that is considered as a unique job in the Bangla/Bengali literature. Writer says in the last stanza that after the end of all day, the darkness of evening comes; every color of this world is gone, birds come to their home and rivers are finished and everything of this world comes to an end but Banalata Sen is still there to sit with his loving partner even in the darkness.

'Banalata Sen' is perhaps among the top ten most popular poems in Bangla/Bengali literature. To me, it is the best love poem that Bangla/Bengali literature has got. Jibanananda Das can be compared with the Romantic poets of English literature for his beautiful description of nature of Bengal. Unfortunately, he did not receive his due recognition in his lifetime. Even now, he is a neglected figure to some extent. His place is among the very best in Bengali literature beside Tagore, Nazrul and Modhusudan.

(Written by Biplob Kishore deb)

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Monday, April 03, 2006

This blog is now a part of Blogburst network.

This blog is now a part of Blogburst network. Blogburst has been enlisting the blogs that it considers to be quality blogs for promoting in the mainstream media of USA. So, someday you can see an entry of my blog in the web sites of top mainstream media like Washington Post. If it really happens then the articles and translations of this blog about Bangla literature will have a much wider readership. Of course, much credit goes to the readers of my blog. In the last 45 days I had over 700 visitors and some of them posted comments and written me emails. Much credit also goes to S M Mehdi Hasan and Biplob Kishore Deb- my two most favorite students and disciples. They have regularly provided me original content. Yes, original content is the main strength of my blog.


For the last two weeks, we have become a bit irregular in posting new contents. That is because I just joined Know More Media Network to write about South Asian business and economy and for Biplob and Mehdi it is the end of their semester in the university. So, it is dry time for the blog. However, we expect to make the blog lively again and update regularly from next week.