• Parabaas
    Parabaas : পরবাস : বাংলা ভাষা, সাহিত্য ও সংস্কৃতি
  • পরবাস | Buddhadeva Bose | Essay
  • Remembering Buddhadeva Bose, 'The Compleat Writer' : Ketaki Kushari Dyson


    (This article is essentially based on a lecture I gave at the invitation of the Sahitya Akademi, Delhi, on 11 December 2008. I have retained the informality of the speaking format, developed a few of the ideas a little more fully, which I couldn’t do at the lecture because of the constraint of time, and made a few additions in the light of discussions that took place after the talk.)

    It is a great pleasure, and likewise an honour, to be asked by the Sahitya Akademi to talk about Buddhadeva Bose in Delhi in this year of his birth centenary. We are here to remember one of South Asia’s most brilliant writers in the twentieth century, who belongs to both India and Bangladesh, and to the wider world. I have, of course, written a general Introduction to him in my book of translations from his poetry, [1] which many readers seem to find helpful, so I shall happily draw your attention to it. If you are interested in the subject, please do read it. Needless to say, I shall be drawing on some of that material here.

    And I have also written on him in Bengali several times, in various articles and in my new book, Tisidore, [2] which is just out, but when I sat down to write this talk, I began to wonder how I could present the gist of such discourses to a Delhi audience within a limited time, and where I should begin. Then, in what seemed like an auspicious nanosecond, the name of a seventeenth-century English classic, deeply buried within me for over half a century, flashed upon my inward eye in my solitude. That book is The Compleat Angler, published in 1653, written by Izaac Walton, who lived from 1593 to 1683. It occurred to me how well a phrase like ‘The Compleat Writer’, modelled on The Compleat Angler, would describe Buddhadeva Bose: ‘complete’ in the sense that all the parts or elements that are needed to make a whole are there, nothing is missing, with the additional suggestions of ‘consummate’ and ‘quintessential’.

    Buddhadeva Bose (1908-1974) is the most versatile literary figure in Bengali after Rabindranath Tagore, someone about whom it could be said that Tagore’s mantle had come to rest on his shoulders. As a writer, he was a Renaissance man, excelling in every genre, and has left a substantial output; everything hasn’t been gathered together in book-form yet. buddhadev_bose_tithidor

    Raat Bhorey Brishti
    An outstanding poet, he also wrote short stories; novels, ranging from the major family saga Tithidore to novels specializing in intense psychological analysis, such as Raat Bhorey Brishti (Rain Through the Night) and Golap Keno Kalo (Why the Rose is Black); brilliantly word-crafted plays in both prose and verse; and eloquent non-fictional prose such as travelogues, memoirs, and belles-lettres. He was a distinguished editor-publisher, a central figure in the post-Tagore modernist movement in Bengal who helped to change directions, a passionate literary polemicist, a great letter-writer, someone who helped to launch the careers of several of his contemporaries and of many younger writers, a creative literary translator who inspired others, and although an intellectually inclined writer and a critic of great acumen, a writer for children also. His entire life, from childhood to his last day, was packed with literary activity bursting at the seams. He was exemplary in his total dedication to his literary vocation, his detailed understanding of what that vocation meant, and his enormous stamina in pursuing it on a daily basis. He lived and breathed literature through good and bad times.

    And what times they were, those times through which, for some of us, our parents’ generation lived – the very heart of the twentieth century with all its turmoils, two World Wars and the inter-war years, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, the decay of the British Empire, the different freedom struggles in India, violent and non-violent, for Bengalis the famine of 1943, the Great Calcutta Killing of 1946, the Partition, of course, with its aftermath, and the subsequent effort to rebuild shattered lives. bb_konishtha_a
    Kanishtha Kanya Rumi-ke
    Now that some of Bose’s letters to his younger daughter have been published as a book, [3] we can see him reacting to and commenting on some major political events in the subcontinent in the post-Independence period: from cross-border conflicts and the rise of the Naxalites to the liberation of Bangladesh. He read and travelled extensively, and demonstrated through his life and works that one could be a cosmopolitan and a writer committed to his mother tongue at the same time. Although a fluently bilingual writer, he reserved his most sustained energies for enriching his mother tongue, something which he regarded almost as a sacred task.

    It was because of all these thoughts crowding like shadows at the back of my mind that the book-title The Compleat Angler, suddenly recalled, gave shape to the phrase, ‘The Compleat Writer’. I began to derive comfort and inspiration from those two phrases, as from a block of dark chocolate. The mind is in some respects like a continuously expanding chest of drawers, which gets crammed with all manner of items we love to hoard, some clearly of value, others seemingly junky, but we cannot always tell which item will suddenly prove its sterling merit one day. bb_selectedpoems
    Selected Poems of
    Buddhadeva Bose
    Some items disappear into a black hole from which we can never retrieve them. Others linger in a ragged state, and the expanding chest clings obstinately to them, refusing to let go, until one day, in one of the obscure recesses, we spy a glint, lynx-eyes in a dark bush, and we recognize something precious, something that could be put to use. Thus did the name of a book, stored in my mind from my student days, come to my rescue when I was fishing for a cue on how to begin my task of writing this talk. Fishing is an apt metaphor in the context of the name of the book: The Compleat Angler. As a gesture of thanksgiving to this process, I want to read you two of Bose’s sonnets on this very process of retrieval, which I translated in my Selected Poems of Buddhadeva Bose. There is a third sonnet too, which I didn’t translate; all three are very famous poems in the canon of modern Bengali poetry.

    (Click here for recitation of ‘To Memory: 1’ and ‘To Memory: 2’.)[4]

    (Click here for the texts of ‘To Memory: 1’ and ‘To Memory: 2’.)[4]

    Buddhadeva was born on 30 November 1908 in Comilla, now in Bangladesh, the first-born child of his parents. His mother, just sixteen years old at that time, died of post-natal tetanus within twenty-four hours of giving birth. He was brought up by his maternal grandparents, who doted on their only grandchild. For all practical purposes, they were his parents. He addressed his maternal grandmother as ‘Ma’. For some time, while the family lived in the country town of Noakhali, he was educated at home by his maternal grandfather Chintaharan Sinha, a mild-mannered man who served in the police force, but who should have really been a schoolteacher. Noakhali, on the destructive river Meghna, later to hit the headlines because of communal riots and then become famous because of Gandhi’s presence there (about which Buddhadeva has written eloquently), was in those days a sleepy outpost of the British Indian Empire, but again not so sleepy in other respects. It had a town hall with Doric columns, housing a public library, an indoor sports centre, and an auditorium with a well-equipped stage for cultural activities. The young Buddhadeva became the child prodigy of this mofussil town. Chintaharan taught him English, introduced him to Sanskrit, and showered him with books and magazines in Bengali. The boy became a voracious reader in two languages, started writing torrents of poetry and prose in his mother tongue and sending them off to magazines, and soon saw himself in print. He launched his own hand-written magazine and organized amateur theatricals.

    In 1922 the family moved to Dhaka, where Buddhadeva had his formal education, first at school, then at the Intermediate level, and finally at the university, where he read English Literature, and from which he duly took his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees with great distinction. ‘Dacca’ University, as the name was spelt then in English, was in those days a well-appointed new campus founded by the British along Oxbridge lines. Its library was well-equipped, its teaching staff highly qualified, and it was vibrant with cultural activities in which both students and teachers participated. Buddhadeva spent a crucial, formative period of his life in the city of Dhaka, some nine and a half years in all. It was during his years there that he published his first novel, his first collection of stories, and his first two collections of poetry, one consisting of his juvenilia and the other gathering together his first batch of ‘adult’ poetry, poems which drew the admiration of Tagore. Dhaka was where he first heard Tagore speak and where he met Nazrul Islam. It was in his Dhaka years that he wrote in the avant-garde magazine Kallol, staged his own play in the campus, started his own magazine Pragati, with friend, fellow student, and fellow poet Ajit Datta as a co-editor, first in a hand-written and then in a printed format. Noakhali was where he had become aware of the non-cooperation movement, where he had taken to spinning cotton thread as thick as ropes and as matted as a sannyasi’s locks, but it was in Dhaka that he learnt to reject violence as a political means. Dhaka was also where he first met his future wife, Protiva, who eventually became an author in her own right.

    In 1931, after obtaining his M. A. degree, Buddhadeva migrated to Calcutta in pursuit of a literary career. Calcutta was, of course, the hub of the Bengali publishing industry. And he did succeed in establishing himself as a professional writer there, though financially it was a hard struggle for him in the 30s and 40s, and it continued to be intermittently so through the 50s and 60s, right up to his death in 1974. But economic struggles could never break his resolve to pursue a literary career.

    His writing career had several phases of development, and obviously I cannot deal with them in any detail in a talk like this. All I can do here is pull out some important threads from a rich story. In the context of Bengali writing, Buddhadeva belongs to the cluster of writers whom we group together in the convenient category of post-Tagore moderns. Such labels are rough-and-ready, and need to be understood as such. Chronologically, Tagore’s long life meant that his last phase coincided with the emergence of the new writers. Tagore was continuously renewing himself, and every writer of grit is of course a modern in his or her own time. Yet some demarcation is useful to separate someone who grew up in the second half of the nineteenth century from those who clearly belong to the twentieth. Tagore had shaped the modern literary Bengali which the younger writers could not help using: it was their natural heritage. It was his gift to them, and for this they were for ever obliged to him. Yet they wanted to express new themes in it, reflect in its mirror the new concerns of a less stable, more complicated, more fractured and angst-ridden period of history. They never disowned him or lost their respect for him. But he was a mountain-range, and they fretted being in the rain-shadow area of such a mountain. They wanted to put their own marks on the landscape. To those born almost half a century after him he was a grandfather-figure, and at some stage grandchildren need to go their own way. Bose, as a representative of the youngest generation of these aspiring writers, played a crucial role in this process of differentiation. As he recalled in his later years, his generation had to arrive at some kind of negotiation with Tagore: ‘a negotiation – that is to say, an arrangement, or it might be called, from our point of view, an act of getting ready, so that we did not remain for ever trapped in his vast net, so that he could become bearable and usable for us.’ [5] Bose retained his affectionate relationship with Tagore till the very end, visiting him in Santiniketan, and Tagore recognized him as a new voice, but a degree of rebellion against the older figure was inevitable, because the Zeitgeist was shifting. Professor Sibnarayan Ray, whose words I have quoted in my Introduction to Bose’s poems, has summed up the confrontation between the generations very aptly, so let me quote him again:

    Against his [that is to say, Tagore’s] intuitive apprehension of cosmic and personal harmony the accent now was increasingly on the inevitability, even the desirability, of conflict and disorder; to his joy of existence were opposed passionate feelings of frustration, anguish and anger; his aesthetic gracefulness was challenged by underlining the social reality of violence, exploitation and squalor; and the mystic-religious dimension which related his love lyrics, especially of the middle period of his career, to the tradition of the Vaishnavas, Bauls and Sufis, was rejected in favour of a more overtly sex-oriented, secular and tormented eroticism. [6]

    This is the core of the modernist project in Bengal. Strangely, I have noticed that some people seem to locate the arrival of modernism in Indian writing in the fifties or sixties, [7] but that is because they are not looking beyond English-language writing for its signs. In the pan-Indian perspective, the native Indian languages must surely be included in the map. The adjective ‘Indian’ makes no sense otherwise. From the point of view of Bengali writing, the twenties and thirties of the last century were a period of intense creative turmoil. The prose poems of Tagore’s Lipika (1922) were a significant formal innovation; his novel Shesher Kavita (1929) incorporated a discourse on modernism itself, and Tagore almost re-invented himself in his collections of poetry in the last decade of his life. The magazine Pragati, run by Bose as an undergraduate in Dhaka between 1927 and 1929, with the help of his friend Ajit Datta, made a remarkable contribution to the modernist movement which was brewing in Bengal in the twenties. It was here that Jibanananda Das, senior to Bose by nine years, emerged as a new voice in Bengali poetry, where Bose ‘discovered’ and established him as a poet, and where Bose defended him against gibes emanating from certain critics of the Old Guard. New writers were vigorously defended on the platform of Pragati, but for doing so, Bose earned the relentless hostility of the conservative magazine Shanibarer Chithi. In 1926 Bose wrote his rebellious poem ‘Bandir Bandana’ (A Prisoner’s Song of Praise), in which the teen-aged poet re-cast the relationship between the Creator and his own creative self. Typically, in a mature Tagorean image, the human poet would be a flute on which God played his tunes. But the youthful Bose rejected such images. ‘A perpetual prisoner in the instincts’ inescapable cage—/ that’s how you’ve made me, my ruthless creator!’ According to his testimony, he was born a prisoner, but improved his lot through his own creativity.

    You gave me desire, as dark as a moonless night:
    from that I’ve moulded love, mixing it with the honey of my dreams.
    I am a poet, and this is my pride –
    I have created this music in exalted delight.
    This is my pride – that your mistakes I have rectified
    with my own dedicated enterprise. [8]

    In 1930 Bose published his first adult collection of poetry, which took its name from this very poem ‘Bandir Bandana’, thrown to God as a mocking challenge in the guise of a song of praise. The collection marks a new, defiant beginning in Bengali poetry. kavita
    In 1935 Bose founded the poetry magazine Kavita, which he edited with loving care for a quarter-century. Kavita became the leading Bengali poetry magazine of its time, where all important poets aspired to be published. It was also an extremely important magazine for the discussion and review of poetry. Bose was a superb stylist in critical prose, and some of us learnt how to write book reviews and other forms of literary criticism, using him as our model. He also set up a publishing unit for his magazine, calling it Kavitabhavan, ‘The House of Poetry’. He took on the role of an editor-publisher while fellow poets paid for the printing of their collections. All activities were run from the poet’s home. Between 1937 and 1966, he lived with his family in a first-floor apartment at 202 Rashbehari Avenue in southern Calcutta. Affectionately known as ‘202’, this apartment home of the poet became an institution in the city’s arts world, where writers, intellectuals, publishers, and their friends dropped in for endless cups of tea and animated addas late into the night. It was a platform and a network of which poets anywhere in the world would be proud. Bose’s influence was seminal on younger poets and critics, and he was invariably generous and helpful to anyone in whom he detected literary promise.

    In Calcutta, a city he loved and was very loyal to, Bose nevertheless faced the struggles of a migrant from East Bengal and never really got the academic job he deserved, except for a brief period at JadavpurUniversity. Humayun Kabir got him involved in the setting up of an Arts Faculty at Jadavpur, and Bose set up a Department of Comparative Literature there, joining it as Head in 1956. In 1963 he had to resign from this job under circumstances which have never been satisfactorily explained, but it is clear that there was some academic politics behind it. There must have been an anti-Bose lobby which eased him out. Bose has referred to this incident as ‘a deep wound’ in his life. He deserves to be remembered as the person who introduced the discipline of Comparative Literature to India. He was devoted to his department, was a successful and popular teacher there, and several of his students and colleagues in that department have become noted writers in Bengali.

    This interest in Comparative Literature, which he gained from his teaching experience and travels in America, ties in with his long-standing interest in literary translation. Bose believed passionately in the importance and validity of the creative translation of poetry, and practised this art from the beginning of his literary career. His most famous translations in this field are his verse translation of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta, for which he forged a suitable Bengali equivalent of the mandakranta metre, with long, meandering lines of astonishing fluency and beauty, and his bb_baudelaire
    Translation of Baudelaire
    translations of the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Friedrich Hölderlin into Bengali, which made these foreign poets our kinsmen, without destroying their slight alterity. These spectacular achievements made a deep impact on our generation and influenced the style and diction of original poetry written in Bengali in the fifties and sixties. Indeed, the activity of poetry translation had an influence on the evolution of Bose’s own poetic style in the mid-fifties. One can see it clearly in his collection Je-Andhar Alor Adhik (The Darkness that is Greater Than Light, 1958), which is regarded as a second thrust towards modernism in his poetic career, after the initial thrust with Bandir Bandana, published in 1930. The two sonnets I read out earlier are from this collection of 1958.

    Mahabharater Katha

    The Book of Yudhisthir
    Bose’s experience of teaching in various American campuses also bore fruit in his own work. The need to teach courses in epic poetry drew his attention afresh to the great Indian epics and led him to study them in depth. This study led him to write some remarkable plays using and re-interpreting old stories from that hoard, and his mature poetry also shows a penchant for weaving both foreign and native Indian myths and legends into the fabric of his work. He is equally at home with the Indian story of Rishyasringa and the Greek story of Icarus, with the story of Arjun and the story of Elektra. The renewed study of  the Mahabharata led also to the essays in interpretation published as Mahabharater Katha. He was working on a planned second volume of this book when he died. The first volume was translated by Sujit Mukherjee as The Book of Yudhisthir. I must say that I find it difficult to forgive the people who denied Bose a research fellowship at Simla, when he was soldiering on with this work with very little money, his wife ill and immobilized, and his own health deteriorating.

    A fascinating aspect of his personality is Bose the traveller. His travels within India and abroad have left powerful ripples in his writings, and are recorded in memorable travelogues which are charged with poetry, humour, and intellectuality. They still have the power to hold our attention and provoke us to ponder and mull social and political issues. I would like to read to you my translation of his famous poem ‘Chilkay Sakaal’, written when he was approaching his 26th birthday.

    (Click here for recitation of ‘Morning in Chilka’)[9]

    (Click here for the text of ‘Morning in Chilka’)[9]

    Likewise, he observed and incorporated foreign landscapes in his poetry and prose, adding a fresh dimension to the Bengali language. Travelling abroad matured him as a humanist intellectual of his times, and he met and interacted with eminent contemporary writers such as Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, George Oppen, and Stephen Spender.

    His journey towards an international outlook had indeed begun long ago, when he was growing up in Dhaka, not only through his voracious reading, but also through sustained correspondence with Prabhucharan Guhathakurta, a friend and relative, a mentor-like figure slightly senior to him, who went abroad for higher studies and wrote to him regularly. Let me go to a passage from Bose’s memoirs about this, which I translated in my book:

    During Prabhucharan’s stay abroad my communication with him was without a break. Ceaselessly I wrote to him, and ceaselessly got his letters. When letters take three months or so to go back and forth, it is not really possible to conduct a proper dialogue; it is only possible for each to describe his present moments, a speaking out through letters in the literal sense. Happily, both parties were extraordinary in their zeal and speed in the matter of composing letters. We were both what is called effusive types of personality, and we did not lack subjects in which we were both equally interested. From Boston, from Los Angeles, from Santa Fé – sometimes from the compartment of a Pullman train – then from London, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm came letter after letter from him, and with them books from different countries, and monthly and weekly magazines – piles of them – such diversity! From the moment I got one of his letters in my hand, my enjoyment of it began: rows of foreign stamps, paper as crisp as ironed cloth; names of streets and hotels in so many unknown languages – and inside, so many stories, so many items of new information, such affectionate greetings! Books came: Ibsen, Maeterlinck, Gorky, Andreiev, Oscar Wilde, Sean O’Casey, volumes of contemporary American poetry. Illustrated programmes of Moscow Art Theatre’s New York season found their way to me. Enclosed with letters, newspaper cuttings came too – on the dancing of Pavlova, the acting of Duse, performances of Chopin’s music. Even those items that I didn’t entirely follow had something to give me – an intoxicating scent on the bodies of the books, the polish of printing, pictures, and the touch of breezes from far lands. The whole of the Western world, spread from California to Russia, its art, literature, way of life, its living geography, so many rivers, cities, and men and women not seen with my eyes but waxing real in my mind – this it was that Prabhucharan gave me as a gift, from my fourteenth to my sixteenth year, when I was emerging from the ground like a sapling, wanting to lift my thin branches up to the sky that arched over the whole world. [10]

    What began so auspiciously matured in his later years into a deep wisdom which rejected narrow, tribal-style nationalism in favour of international humanism – ideas in a direct line of descent from Tagore, but backed up by his own experience. This philosophy finds memorable expression in the letters he wrote to his younger daughter Damayanti when she was studying in the USA and later when she was living in Kanpur. [11] His political thinking, as evident in his writings and published correspondence, was strikingly mature. In his faith in non-violence, democracy, secularism, and pluralism, he was a true child of his times, and his deep distrust of violence, dictatorship, and Stalinist-style autocracy was far-seeing, though his refusal to align himself with the political left did have some consequences for his image and publicity when the left came to dominate political life in West Bengal. There has been some cultural politics around his name, and his cosmopolitanism has been misinterpreted. After his death, his figure was to some extent neglected and marginalized. He was given credit as a critic, as a translator, as an editor, as an impresario in respect of other poets, but not given enough credit as a poet in his own right. While his plays have received some attention, not enough attention has been paid to his novels and short stories, which have made a unique and brilliant contribution to Bengali fiction. However, through the dedicated efforts of his daughter Damayanti over the past decade there is now a genuine revival of interest in his works and he is beginning to receive from posterity the attention he deserves.

    This discussion will not be complete unless I acknowledge my personal debt to Buddhadeva Bose. Dhaka is the crucial initial link in the chain. My father was also a student at DhakaUniversity, two years junior to Buddhadeva, and they also had common friends. Formally, my father’s subject was economics, but his life’s passion was languages and literatures, and he read widely not only in English literature, but also in French and German, and knew many of the contemporary Bengali writers. His friendship with Buddhadeva continued in Calcutta, which is where I met him. In the forties and fifties I enjoyed the privilege of visiting the famous apartment home of the Boses in

    202 Rashbehari Avenue . It was in their book-packed front room that as a teenager, I first met many well-known contemporary writers and editors, and even the scientist Satyendranath Bose, the Bose of bosons. Buddhadeva saw the poetry I wrote in childhood and encouraged me to carry on writing, and occasionally gave me some advice. I was brought up on the back issues of Kavita and was influenced by his ideas on, and practice of, poetry translation. My translations of Anglo-Saxon poetry into alliterative Bengali half-lines were done under that kind of influence. Without even being aware of it, I possibly learnt from him a trick or two in how to describe foreign landscapes in the medium of Bengali, and above all, how to be internationally minded and at the same time keep writing in my mother tongue from abroad. I learnt from him that no matter how many other languages we learnt, it would be good for us as creative writers to keep writing in our mother tongues, even in difficult circumstances. When I settled in England after my marriage, he feared that I would not be able to continue writing in Bengali, but luckily, I was able to prove him wrong. My survival as a diasporic writer in Bengali for half a century owes him a great spiritual debt.

    Buddhadeva believed that in order to write with authenticity and to develop their potentials fully, creative writers really had to engage with their mother tongues and write in them, not in a language that was a colonial legacy. This belief earned him some hostility from the ‘Indo-Anglian’ lobby that was emerging in his time. It is curious how he has been buffeted by different winds of cultural politics: the anti-modernist Bengali Old Guard have ridiculed him and even brought the charge of obscenity against him, the left have found him leaning too much to the West, lacking in sufficient commitment to ‘the people’, while the ‘Indo-Anglians’ have disapproved of his view that writers should write in their mother tongues, which are of course the languages close to ‘the people’. Now that ‘Indian English writing’ has achieved wide acclaim, nationally and internationally, both that event and Bose’s own commitment to the mother tongue need to be looked at with new eyes. I have made some comments in the section entitled ‘Translator’s Testament’ in my Selected Poems of Buddhadeva Bose, and here are some further thoughts.

    The high noon of ‘Indian English writing’ is a complex phenomenon with many ambiguities embedded in it. English has indeed penetrated India far more than in Bose’s time, but unevenly, and at certain levels only. Most of rural India is still unaffected by it, and vast swathes of the lower middle classes and the urban working classes relate to the English language only at superficial levels. Its hold is greatest in the metropolises, and amongst those who receive their education in the medium of English. It is from this class that ‘Indian English’ writers are recruited, and those who write exclusively in English, their only viable literary language, constitute a powerful group.

    The literary scene in India is in reality heterogeneous and variegated. There are large numbers of people everywhere, from the big cities to the country towns, who, though able to read English-language material and handle the language for official purposes, would not choose English as their medium of creative self-expression. They would choose their first languages for that purpose. Some writers in India also write bilingually.

    Buddhadeva’s passionate commitment to the mother tongue has a deep relevance not only in the multilingual subcontinent, but also in the world at large. I see it as his loyalty to the long-term interests of his native language. Languages are the cultural equivalents of the rain-forests, storehouses preserving intellectual diversity. We have to see to it that this living diversity does not shrink. How do we do it? The point is that unless we actually write in a language, we cannot augment and enrich its treasury of concepts. It is only when we write in a language in an active, sustained, and committed manner over a long period that we can seed it with new ideas and see those ideas grow, flourish, and bear fruit. ‘Now more than ever seems it’ [12] needful for us to grasp this, now that ‘Indian English’ has been conceptualized as an Indian language and is being consciously developed as the lingua franca of the pan-Indian urban elite. Powerful forces of cultural entrepreneurship and patronage, as well as commercial interests within the educational establishments, the media, the academia, and the publishing industry are at work in this project. India has now become a major publisher of English-language books. A large section of the English-educated urban middle classes in India now read only English-language material. Books written in English receive instant pan-Indian publicity and media coverage, while books written in the native Indian languages are reviewed only in the papers and magazines of those particular languages. There is the obvious issue of sales. A book written in English can potentially reach not only the pan-Indian elite, but also a large international audience and be translated from English into many other languages. Western readers like to read books with an Indian connection but written in English. All in all, it is a question of the location of power: there has been an immense escalation in the ‘post-colonial’ power and prestige of ‘Indian English writing’, within the country and abroad. The genre developed by a narrow apex of the society has become a powerhouse, because the social apex of a subcontinent is nevertheless a sizeable affair, with plenty of talented, educated people to make good use of the available opportunities. English Departments in India and abroad have gladly taken over books from this sector and expanded their syllabi, while teachers and post-graduate students have contributed to research in the field.

    Inevitably, there is a fall-out from this process for those who wish to write seriously in the native Indian languages and nourish and vitalize them. We are under pressure. As contemporary writers in the Indian languages, we do not enter the ongoing literary discourse at the pan-Indian level, but are kept at the ‘regional’ level by the over-arching, hegemonic presence of English. Abroad, it sometimes seems that scholars have almost forgotten that Indian writers may write in languages other than English. I sometimes wonder what Bose would have made of this situation. For those of us writing in our original languages while in diaspora, our work necessarily entails additional struggles at many levels that are not discussed or even understood by others. It is in sustaining these critical struggles that Buddhadeva’s inspiration has been extremely important in my life, operating at a very deep level. Though I was not able to interact with him directly as an adult, he has always been there, a profound influence at the very centre of my literary life and a presence in the subterranean layers of the psyche.

    A writer of Bose’s stature deserves to be translated into the major modern languages of India. It is our duty to promote and disseminate his works at a pan-Indian and an international level. Our writers need to be translated both for the internal Indian market and for the international market, even if it means some use of a link language. I know that my translations of his poetry into English did find Bose some new readers in Europe, and not only among speakers of English. The book also found a Hungarian, a Slovenian, and a Finnish reader. The Finnish reader, Hannele Pohjanmies, herself a noted translator, was so deeply affected by the poem ‘Calcutta’ that she re-translated it into Finnish and published it in a magazine. She told me that she was reading it every night and that it was affecting her almost physically. Since then she has studied more of the poems carefully, has translated a few more for her creative pleasure, and is always asking me relevant questions by e-mail. When we organized an event to commemorate Bose in London in May 2008, Hannele sent us a short message. She would like me to read it out in Delhi also. So here is her message:

    Ladies and gentlemen! Greetings from Finland, far away in the North!

    Poems are like migratory birds – they fly across seas and borders, following no tracks, just a mysterious instinct.

    I am so glad that some exotic poems have found their way from the Tropic of Cancer to the Arctic Circle, which goes across Finland. Thanks to Ketaki Kushari Dyson: her English translations have opened the possibility and shown the way. When I acquired the Selected Poems of Buddhadeva Bose, I was not planning to translate any of them; my hands were full of the poems of Rabindranath Tagore. But those poems started “climbing up my body like a shrub”, as Bose writes in his poem ‘Nostalgia’.

    I am happy to announce that the first of my translations, the magnificent poem ‘Calcutta’, will be published in a Finnish poetry magazine very soon, in a few weeks.

    The poems of Buddhadeva Bose are full of strange enchantment and they touch my heart in a special way. I send my greetings to your festival, where you are celebrating him! I cannot send flowers through the air, but I send my love with the first stanza of the Finnish ‘Calcutta’ – ‘Kalkutta’:

    Kerran kauan sitten Kalkutta oli silmissäni vailla vertaa, ihmeellisen kaunis,
    kuin unen alku, tai outo kukka jonka mielikuvitus on luonut.
    Sen pölyssä, sen tuulessa, kuumassa metalisessa hengityksessä
                intohimoni huusivat äänen.

    Thank you!
    Hannele Pohjanmies [13]

    I should mention that since she sent this message, her translation has indeed been published. To bring this distant reader of Bose into the loop, I would like to read you my translation of this poem, ‘Calcutta’, which affected her so profoundly. We might call this poem, written in 1953, Bose’s love-poem to the city where he had made it as a writer in the 30s and 40s, a poem which encapsulates chapters of our history – World War II, 1943, 1946, 1947 are all implicitly mentioned – and which blends powerful emotions with a terrific capacity for writing long lines and sustaining sinewy syntax over the length of a poem. The poem has a historical value now, for we know that in some ways the city has changed, but the text still connects us to its essence. As I read this poem, I feel reconnected to the city in which I grew up. So please relax, but be alert at the same time, and just listen!...[14]

    [1] The Selected Poems of Buddhadeva Bose, Translated and Introduced by Ketaki Kushari Dyson, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003. Henceforth referred to as SPBB.

    [2] Ketaki Kushari Dyson, Tisidore, Ananda Publishers Private Ltd., Calcutta, 2008.

    [3] Buddhadeb Basur Chithi: Kanishtha Kanya Rumike, ed. by Damayanti Basu Singh, Vikalp, Calcutta, 2006.

    [4]SPBB, pp. 72-73.

    [5] See SPBB, p. xv and p. lxi. The fragment is translated from Bose’s autobiographical Amar Jauban, M. C. Sarkar & Sons, Calcutta, 1989 reprint, p. 25. The biographical outline in my Introduction to SPBB does, of course, draw many details from the three volumes of memoirs penned by Bose, Amar Chhelebela, Amar Jauban, and Amader Kavitabhavan. The last volume was left unfinished at the time of his death. All three can now be found conveniently in the first volume of his Prabandha-samagra, published by Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi in 2005.

    [6] See SPBB, p. xv and p. lxi. The fragment is quoted from Ray’s Introduction to Ray and Maddern (editors), I have seen Bengal’s face: A Selection of modern Bengali poetry in English translation, Editions Indian, Calcutta, 1974, p. 15.

    [7] See, for instance, Jeet Thayil or Bruce King, in Fulcrum, an annual of poetry and aesthetics, published from CambridgeMA, Number Four, 2005, pp. 232-237 and pp. 366-381. Thayil seems to date ‘modern Indian poetry’ from the publication of Nissim Ezekiel’s first book in 1952 and says that ‘Tagore was the last important poet before Ezekiel’ (p. 234-36). Discussing the bilingual poet Arun Kolatkar, King does acknowledge, en passant, the existence of ‘a Marathi modernist tradition’ (p. 378).

    [8] SPBB, p. 3.

    [9] SPBB, pp. 17-18.

    [10] SPBB, pp. xxv-xxvi.

    [11] See note [3] above.

    [12] I am echoing Keats’s line ‘Now more than ever seems it rich to die’, from his ‘Ode to a Nightingale’.

    [13] Thanks to an audiotape sent by Hannele, I was able to train myself to read out the Finnish fragment in both London and Delhi; there was no speaker of Finnish among the audiences to detect any mistakes!

    [14] The poem ‘Calcutta’ is in SPBB, pp. 62-66.

    Published May, 2009

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