Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Trysts with Poetry -- The Curtain Falls

At this stage of my narration I feel a bit like the trickster who, after promising hefty returns, has delivered very little in terms of real money and is actively toying with the idea of turning tail unless he can quickly pull a rabbit out of his hat. That some life can still be brought back into my story by importing a girl or girls at this juncture is a fact I am acutely aware of. The only hitch is that none of the girls we were actively pursuing at that phase were even remotely connected with poetry. Read a few lines of verses to them and unless you have taken precautions of sealing all the escape routes, they would perform the fastest vanishing trick you have ever seen in your life, something to leave even the great Houdini mystified.

Why not just stick to the originally intended course, a little bird whispers in my ear. You began with poetry, or rather with your close encounters with it, then why this veering-sheering? Well, something in that.

The sixties and seventies was the period of the rebels throughout the world. The literary-political landscape of Bengal was not untouched… it saw the rise of a bunch of powerful, masculine, yet romantic poets like Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Tarapada Roy, Benoy Mazumdar, and many more… poets who in their youthful arrogance declared their arrival: Amra shashon kori raat-er Kolkata (we rule the nights of Calcutta). Breaking the shackles of Tagorean style of poetry, a process that started with the likes of Buddhadeb Basu, Jibananada Das, et al (surprisingly, this happened with Tagore’s own encouragement and blessings), thus came the full circle.

Memory and history both being my weak points, I feel uncomfortable and apologetic about my above facts. However, the main purpose of this being to give an idea of those tumultuous days, I hope I have managed to build the perspective right.

Personally I have always preferred Jibanananda above all the poets so far as pleasure of reading poetry is concerned (even above Tagore), him being the only poet perhaps with whom I could spend, unforced and with pleasure, a few whispering and leisurely summer afternoons, with a pillow under my chest.

To come back to the period I was talking about, poetry perhaps had never had it so good. Poets sprouted in such great numbers at every nook and corner that poet Shakti Chatto had to exclaim in his exasperation: Eto kobi keno? (why so many poets?)… had to admonish too, by cautioning: Shokolei kobi noy keu keu kobi (all are not poets, some are) – clearly laying the rule that it has to come from within, that there is a difference between art and craft, between creativity and skilled labour.

I learnt a few things about poetry at this time, mostly from my friend B and teacher B’babu. One, that antya-mil or mitraakshar – the craft of ending lines with similar sounds -- was not a necessity for all sorts of poem… rather it may be an impediment most of the times in expressing one’s thoughts. Secondly, chhondo, or rhythm (as taal in music, but not as rigid), though is something without which poetry won’t stand on its own feet. In other words, unrhymed yet rhythmic (amitraakshar chhondo) poetry will be great, but the opposite is usually a disaster.

These points are debatable, I know it. Why your failed poet cites all this hocus-pocus, you may ask. All this is just to make the point that armed with so much theoretical knowledge and with own attention divided between two girls, my condition was, as the condition of anybody in such situation would be, quite vulnerable.

Let me pitchfork and airdrop X and Y right here. X was lithe, Y buxom. Both from our area, both our good friends. We, the boys, lusted after both of them, collectively, without any friction between us. Collectively, yes, but my uniqueness perhaps expressed itself in the way I compartmentalised my attraction for each of them. X had been my romantic spot, Y, strictly set aside! Being a puritan deep down, the former of the sentiments was, needless to say, perceived to be something on a higher plane. Perhaps such compartmentalization was purely my own creation, as there was not much difference between them in real terms. Predator is the word by which you would like to describe them. Lured by the deadly duo who obviously had laid their eyes on much higher preys, who conceded but only stints of flirts with us in the way of pure time-pass, taking refuge in daydreaming and songs, and even in poetry when undone with a high fever… well, what else could I have done!

Our ancestors being Mukhopadhyays, one would think music would naturally come my way; that songs would naturally dangle from my lips. Dangled it for certain, but without, well, the accessory called tune. Each time I tried to haul it to a little bit upwards, I mean to attempt to sing in a higher pitch, the blasted thing just cracked! Even when playing in my comfort zone, the truant tunes slipped like a slippery fish! My bathroom songs, however, managed to reach the intended person, meaning X, and many a times she would also acknowledge this. Oh, I today heard you singing. Her ending after that abruptly would leave me foggy if my crooning had the desired affect on her, if it softened her wee bit; or the Tagore-Shome joint effort came a cropper. The only person who on some days complimented me on my extraordinary efforts at bathroom-singing, without being aware of its purpose of course, was my Mother; this too happened only on days when I picked up the “Duniya mein, ahah ha ahah ha, logon ko, ahah ha ahah ha” of RD Burman for my practice.

Some time in this period, probably on a bad-voice or X-less day, feeling gloomy and hopeless, I delved my hand into poetry after years. The funny part is that what I wrote or on which part of the day, under what atmospheric conditions, wind blowing which way, under what mood – in cloud nine or in utter gloom, etc, etc, were the lines written, a sheet filled with lines unrhymed and in faltering rhythm – I can hardly remember. A vague recollection of not having my heart into it, though, lingers. And with the sheet in hand, I showed it to B.

Apprehensive is the word that would rightly describe me of that day when with a thumping heart I spread the sheet in front of B. "Please offer your honest, on-your-face opinion on it," -- I pleaded him.

B had a hard look at it. “Well, as you seek my honest opinion, I’d say, or rather would have to say , that it is not a poem at all. And the reasons are, …” and then he went on listing there I went wrong, something I don’t remember at all after so many years.

I was flabbergasted, and that will be an understatement. But deep down somewhere, I felt relieved too. The relief that comes from moving out of a mismatched alliance.

After that day, I never had to write a poem again. Wrote a few short stories for college magazines, and after that, other than writing letters to relatives, friends and girlfriend, have been solely at your service, here in Blogger!

B is now highly placed with a PSU. He has expectedly turned into a fine poet and is regularly invited to preside over kavi-sammelans in far-flung areas. He still speaks in a dialect or style only poets are known to use… laced with words and syntax you would hardly find a commoner using in his speech. Hardly matters except in the way of providing us with some additional entertainment, behind his back, of course! What really counts is that to this day he remains one of my best friends.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

My Trysts with Poetry -- Part 2 (not concluded yet ;)

Between that squally afternoon and the fateful day that saw the poetic door slammed decisively on my face, eight years’ worth of swirling water had flown down our local river during the passage of which I grew from a wonderstruck boy of eight to an even more wonderstruck adolescent of sixteen. The objects of wonder, naturally, had shifted quite a bit in the meantime.

There is never any dearth of objects or incidents to engage the mind of a boy in his formative years, more so if that mind is overactive with imagination. In the first part of those eight years -- the part that was spent in school -- of the many things that occupied my life, a considerable ripple was generated when some teachers of our vernacular school suddenly felt the need of bringing out a yearly magazine under the combined tutelage of Bimalbabu and Prasunbabu -- our Bengali teachers -- apparently without any provocation. To dispel any misgivings that my previous sentence may create, I’d rather state here that I don’t bear any ill will towards the aforesaid teachers – after all Bimalbabu was not only a writer of considerable fame in the local literally circle and hence coveted, he was also the very person who carefully chose each and every book that I received at the annual school prize events. The cause of my consternation stems from another fact which will come out from the next few lines.

Since any school magazine worth its salt requires, besides a suitable name, also an Editor, that too from the student community, I was soon cajoled and coerced into the unenviable job, in a manner quite akin to taking an unwilling horse to water. But would it yield to drink, would it bite the bait? Well, terms and conditions apply. In my case, the terms were more or less in this line: I’d remain the Editor more or less on paper; the selection of write-ups that would finally find place on the pages of the magazine would be carried out by B’babu, whereas the printing part would be looked after by P’babu; my only contribution would be to write an article/poem/story, and also the Editorial if I so desired – otherwise that too would be ghost-written by… who else?

Meanwhile our school closed for the annual summer vacation, which used to span for a whole month in those happy times. As was customary with us, we left for Shillong, to spend the holidays at our grandfather’s place in the cool climes of the hills. The mornings filled with the scent of pine needles while I explored the forest nearby, the sights and sounds of water-falls and meandering streams which we visited on the weekends, the hustle ad bustle of Police Bazaar where we spent the evenings, the taste-buds constantly satiated with Hilsa and other assorted fishes cooked divinely by the Mother’s sisters, the nights under the quilts with extra warmth emanating from the cats slumbering heavily on our chests while a strong wind moaned through the tall eucalyptus and pine trees outside for the whole night – and you get a general idea of the idle contentment that pervaded our lives. Add to it the whiff of burnt petrol that occasionally seeped into the rain-washed, crisp air of the hills, and the picture of heavenly bliss gets complete. Amidst such contentment, how can a story or poem be churned out? I did not even try it. Creativity, after all, spurts out of a blockage, of a sense of un-fulfillment, and not from the opposite of it. Furthermore, the floor, though wooden, was too cool to roll on, an activity considered essential in any writer’s life.

I needed all the cold floors of the world to roll on when we eventually returned home at the end of the vacation, as I was yet to perform my only remaining duty towards the magazine (the Editorial piece had also been ghost-written by that time) – that of submitting my piece – and time was fast running out. However, though my rolls on the floor created a pool of considerable size on the floor with sweat, it did not help me at all to come out with a story. Not even a ghost story – the easiest of the lot. Finally, I settled for poetry. For a suitable topic, I looked around.

A framed, full-length, dhoti-clad picture of Subhas Chandra Bose hung nearby. Inspiration struck my struggling self like lightning. People in that era still talked and wrote about heroes outside the Nehru-Gandhi family. Those names and their heroic deeds still sent shivers down the spine of children and a sense of missing something ran through their idealistic hearts for not being born in the pre-independence era. But I digress. To sum it up, with just a few rolls on the floor and with very little acts of chewing the end of the pencil, I managed to accomplish the seemingly unassailable task of producing a poem – sort of a sonnet written in praise of Netaji.
The days drew into months, the months into years. In the meantime inches had been added to our stature, and while B had reached the eleventh standard and moved to college, I too reached my tenth, close on his heels, being junior just by a year. Not just friends from the same neighbourhood who were temperamentally very close, we both wore glasses and were so similar in appearances that on innumerable occasions I got earfuls from his nearsighted grandmother for commission of acts undesirable in her eyes (like fishing out a dirty ball of the gutter with bare hands) that were actually committed by him, and vice versa. B was a very good student, who by that time also got heavily into poetry. My interests lay more in prose and by then I could discern the writer of a particular piece just by reading a few lines from any place at random.  But since B followed poetry, I too tried my best to inculcate some of poetry into my system. B used to get his lessons from the renowned poets of the town while I mostly learnt second-hand from him. Sometimes I also visited Bimalbabu of whom I have already mentioned.


(Too long already… more next time)

My Trysts with Poetry -- Part 1

The first complete sentence that gurgled out of my lips in my infancy was, as is well known in the close family circle, in verses. This information, of course, do not find place in my own recollection. I was too young to remember those fateful moments. Nevertheless, the account can be held as authentic as it’s coming out of the horse’s mouth since it did the next best thing – it came out of the horse’s mother’s mouth.

That sentence, lest my biographers fail to notice this aspect, also clearly indicated my unambiguous choice of place in the food chain, that is, at the top, to which I stick unwaveringly to this day of going to press. The morning had shown the day, and the day remained faithful to that promise.

“Aang maang khaang” – was not merely a child’s prattle; it contained all the emotions –- pathos, yearning, determination, tears -- in short all the things that claw at one’s heart, things that true poetry calls for. Translated into plain Bengali (as Mother obviously had to do), it stood for a more prosaic “Aami mangsho khabo”, or “I shall eat meat.” That such earnest yearning, accompanied with clenched fists and ruddy cheeks, had had to be doused at the earliest, goes without saying.

Poets have always craved for their toothfuls of flesh proper, as is historically and globally well known, regardless of what the vegans and climate-changers would want us to believe, and yours truly was no exception to this rule -- both in his poetic phase and out of it.

Besides love for flesh born in land or in water, the next dearest thing in my line of interest has always been, well, the rains. Another poetic attribute I’d say, and in saying that poets (especially in a hot country like India) have always loved a bit of rains coming his or her way, I do not fear inviting defamation, such is the strength of truth inherent in that proclamation. Besides poets, I have always enjoyed comparing my fetish for rain with a similar trait in the colourful peacock, though the mischievous lot among my friends (and I have quite a lot of them, due to a gigantic lapse on the society’s part to strangle such pests at birth) have equally forcefully dismissed such a pleasant and truthful notion, only to substitute it, in their obnoxious way, with the traits of a less glamorous citizen of the amphibian world. But I do not mind even that. If my friends find some affinity between me and the frog, may that be. The similarity must be between our vocal cords, and not anything else!

Now, where does all this lead to? All this leads my readers, in case you are still with me, to an April’s afternoon, with the season’s first nor’westerly sweeping down upon our small town with full gusto. The wind twisted the tops of the slender betel-nut trees and snapped many of them; half-ripen mangoes were brought down to the ground, as if answering the prayers of the kids. Darkness at noon prevailed, and to turn the show into an even grander one, the sky relentlessly cracked with lightning. I watched this awesome dance of nature from our inner verandah, cozily perched atop a cane chair, as a few wayward hailstone splinters tried to reach my feet. As the wind grew fiercer and hailstones bigger, my poetic urges struggled to find expression. Against such a backdrop, I, a boy of eight then, penned my first comprehensible poem.

As I have often told or written about, I was given an exercise book by Mother to write stories and to draw sketches – in other words to put down on paper the gushes of creativity that so often forms inside the tinny head of a child and eventually dies within, unexpressed. Here, on the very pages of this exercise book, I had first discovered that writing poems in Bengali was not a difficult thing at all. Sentences usually ended with verves, and verves ended with ‘ch’ or ‘chh’ sounds, thus rendering rhyming into child’s play. If you look at it the other way, any attempt to keep one’s lines un-rhymed is well-nigh impossible.

On that tempestuous afternoon, Mother felt awestruck on reading my impulsive output. Mothers go all gaga over things like that, as the mothers among you must be knowing. The Mother of Valmiki, or of poet Kalidas for that matter, I am sure, felt no less elated when their little devils scrambled their respective first poems on.. er.. sheets of bhurja-patra.

Thus began my tottering steps towards a life of part-time poethood, and with an occasional drop here and a sprinkle there, was making a steady progress that would have resulted in a fully-blown poetic phase, unless… but before I disclose the stroke of providence at that juncture, just think of the consequences that would have taken place! My poetic ambitions, uninterrupted, would by now have seen the length and breadth of blogger or facebook being ceaselessly carpet-bombed with 'pomes', sending my friends scurrying for cover at the merest sighting of my name in their inbox.

Well, such horrors would surely have taken place, besides other more horrific happenings I shudder to think of, unless Bapu (one of my best friends of that time and not Gandhiji -- an aspiring poet in his own right) stepped in at the right time to, as the saying goes, stem the rot.