Bowing down before you to risen up my eternal soul. You are the defining essence of modernism in bengali poetry at that time. Today, tomorrow and for ever Every moment we will and we are shairing your moments of sorrow and moments of joy. It's sad that Das has never won the recognition his talent deserves world-wide. Apart from being among the most gifted expressionists of the last hundred years, his best work also had elements of seething anger and ruthless destruction of the like almost unmatched for the last hundred years.
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It was to be a celebration of Bengali culture performed upon a proscenium stage at a local high school; a celebration in Chicago by the Bengali-American community residing here; a celebration for themselves, primarily, but also for any and all of their appreciative friends.
And that is what it ended up to be, with performances of dance, of singing, of poetry recitation, and of an original drama in Bangla the name for their language preferred by many Bengalis these days to conclude the evening's festivities. In between those rather typical expressions of Bengali high culture, the audience was treated to what can only be called a tasteful synthesis of "voguing" and "lip-synching," wherein young couples, high-school- and college-aged young women and men, acting out--a more apt description might be "striking poses"--and miming duets to the accompaniment of the sound track from contemporary Bangla films, films of the wildly popular Bollywood sort.
At what is frequently called a "Rabindra-Nazrul Jayanti" or "Joint Tagore and Nazrul Islam Birthday Celebration," often organized to coincide with Tagore's birthday on the 25th of Baishakh May 9th , diasporic Bengali communities in many cities gather to commemorate these two cultural icons, Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam , one Brahmo read: Hindu in this case and one Muslim but both inclusive of, and accepted by, the entire Bangla-speaking world.
Chicago is no exception. Rabindra-Nazrul Jayanti comes around annually, but the celebration referred to above was conceived of as something special on the eve of the approaching second millennium. Stage decorations included two huge free-hand portraits of those traditional giants of Bengali culture, Tagore and Nazrul Islam, poets both, and both prolific song writers. Works by one of these two men comprised the majority of the songs sung and the poetry recited.
Even the several dance numbers that evening were, for the most part, performed to Rabindra-sangit, the rubric by which Tagore songs are known. The "voguing" skits, of course, form an obvious exception to this. Another exception appeared in the form of a danced interpretation of a poem by Jibanananda Das , his "After Twenty Years" included in this volume.
The young woman, to a background of instrumental music and a reading of "After Twenty Years" in Bangla, danced the poem with what could be described as expressive, and at the same time recognizably Tagorean, dramatic gestures. Jibanananda was not the only Bengali artist other than Tagore and Nazrul Islam to be represented in this millennial celebration, but he appeared prominently throughout the affair.
The Bengali convention is to refer to persons by their first names, with no disrespect implied or inferable; Tagore, the exception to this rule, is so familiar to readers outside of Bengal that the English, not the Bangla, term of reference seems most appropriate in English; be assured that in Bangla, he is referred to respectfully as "Rabindranath," not as "Tagore.
Not only that, the same hemistich served as the quasi title for the entire occasion, heading the program's printed list of events. Jibanananda figured centrally--quite physically, graphically, emblematically, in the form of that bridging banner--in this Chicago Bengali-American committee's concept of what Bengali culture is all about. And, as if the banner and the danced poem were not proof enough of the centrality of Jibanananda to Bengali cultural identity, one of the song offerings consisted of another of Jibanananda's Bengal the Beautiful sonnets also in this volume set to music of the singer's own creation.
Jibanananda's portrait may have been absent from the stage; his presence was clearly felt throughout the events of that evening. Jibanananda was born in in the town of Barisal, part of what has been since the independent country of Bangladesh; he died in at the age of 55 in Kolkata, India.
But for a few months at a college in Delhi where he continued his lifelong career as professor of English literature, Jibanananda passed his days either in Kolkata, the metropolis of Bengal, or in the small town of his birth. Fame came to him slowly. By the start of the s, however, he had gained considerable success among the poetry-reading Bengali public.
With the republication in of a volume of his poems mostly from the s, he became acknowledged as one of the foremost poets of the day. When in the Sahitya Akademi, India's then recently formed national literary academy, bestowed its first-ever set of prizes for works of literature in the various Indian languages--prizes, in principle, for living writers "to encourage men of promise in letters"--the Bengali-language award went posthumously to Jibanananda, further proof of the stature he had by then obtained.
His poetry remains today extremely popular, thoroughly appreciated. During much of the year , when from the end of March through half of December, there raged in Bangladesh a war of independence from Pakistan, lines from Jibanananda's Bengal the Beautiful sonnet cycle served to remind the freedom fighters, many of them educated, of what it was they were sacrificing and willing to die for. This was their Bengal, and this had been Jibanananda's Bengal, a place of birds and trees, a place that has a face, a place half human, woman, and, in the eyes of the poet beholder, beautiful beyond compare.
Despite the disruptions that attend war, this book of poetry managed to get republished not once but twice during that period. As it turned out, Bangladesh adopted a song by Tagore as her national anthem, "My Golden Bengal" amar sonar bamla. For a number of reasons, the choice of Tagore's lyrics and particularly the accompanying music makes sense. The melody for the Bangladesh anthem, as Tagore himself tells us, came from one of the eclectic, heterodox religious communities neither Muslim nor Hindu nor Buddhist nor Christian known as baul , whose songs are their religious offerings to a deity whom they ask to reside in their hearts.
Jibanananda composed no music, no lyrics for song, no potential Bangladeshi national anthem. But his Bengal the Beautiful sonnets did and still do sing, and they sing of a Bengal more dear to their Bengali readers than, in some cases, life itself. Life and death are slightly strange concepts in Jibanananda's poetry. Death is not necessarily final in his world, as we see in the initial poem in this collection, "Tangerine": When once I leave this body.
Shall I come back to the world? If only I might return. And come back he does, again and again, hypothetically in a myriad of forms, but always to the one place, Bengal, as in the opening lines of one of the sonnets from Bengal the Beautiful :. When again I return to the Dhansiri's banks, to this Bengal,. Not as a man, perhaps, but as a shalik bird, or a white hawk,. As, perhaps, a crow of dawn in this land of autumn's new rice harvest,.
Life seems worth living. It is fulfilling, if one can but live in Bengal--and live fully cognizant of that world, aware of the world as perceived through all the senses. Early on in his career he wrote "Before Death," a statement not so much on death itself but on life, robustly lived through observation of his surroundings:.
Before death what more do we wish to understand? What more do we wish to understand? Have we not heard bird wings call. As the sunlight faded? Have we not watched crows fly off into fog-filled fields! I know, yet I know,. A woman's heart--love--a child--a home--these are not everything,. Not wealth nor fame nor creature comforts There is some other perilous wonder.
Which frolics. In our very blood. It exhausts us Fatigues, exhausts us. That exhaustion is not present. In the morgue. And so. In that morgue. Flat out he lies upon a table. Why, indeed, would one choose death? In that poem the life-death divide appears far too firm, unlike in the excerpts cited earlier where reincarnation seems a distinct possibility.
Jibanananda has been described by fellow poet Buddhadeva Bose as "our most alone of poets," and alone Jibanananda seemed to be throughout his life, despite being married and the father of a daughter and a son.
We see some of this loneliness is what became his signature poem, "Banalata Sen," the comforting imaginary woman who can give him solace:. I am a weary heart surrounded by life's frothy ocean. To me she gave a moment's peace--Banalata Sen from Natore. It is both his imaginary woman and nature herself, idiosyncratically perceived, that yield what peace Jibanananda experienced in life. And he looks at nature often and from odd angles. Similarly idiosyncratic is his take on women, his fantasized females, Banalata Sen being by far the most memorable with her comforting "bird's-nest-like eyes.
Alone though he may have been, Jibanananda gives us in "Sensation" an account of the burden he bore, the creative process conceived of as a presence, a constant companion, and not always a welcome one:. Into the half light and shadow go I. Within my head. Not a dream, but some sensation works its will. Not a dream, not peace, not love,.
A sensation born in my very being. I cannot escape it. For it puts its hand in mine,. And all else pales to insignificance--futile, so it seems,. As noted above, Jibanananda was born in Barisal, a rural town. It was the administrative center for the old Bakhargunge District, a riverine area in the Gangetic delta bordering on the Bay of Bengal and encompassing about half of the Sundarban jungle. Barisal resisted the best efforts of British engineers, whose oft cited legacy to India was the construction of railways.
Alluvial soil proved too soft and shifting, the rivers and canals too numerous to allow for the laying of a road bed. Jibanananda deeply loved his home district, no trains and all:. Come back to the sea's shore,. Come back to paths through fallow fields. To where the train stops. At a world of mango, nim , and jhau trees,. Come back.
It was this semi-tropical regions of modern Bangladesh to which he himself came back again and again, in person and poetry "Come Back". His parents were educated, not uncommon among members of the Brahmo Samaj. That "reformed" Hindu sect was founded in the early 19th century, partially as a reaction to criticism Christian missionaries leveled at then current Hindu practices.
From the Brahmo community have come a number of Bengal's finest artists, including Tagore, honored with Nobel's literature prize in , and film director Satyajit Ray. Jibanananda's mother wrote a bit of poetry herself. His father taught school and preached in Barisal's Brahmo Samaj.
It was the poetry and the teaching, not the preaching, which rubbed off on Jibanananda. He, like his younger brother and sister, never officially joined their father's beloved Brahmo Samaj. However, he did follow in his father's professional footsteps by going into education.
After his tragic death in a road accident in , it has been discovered that Das wrote several novels and a large number of short stories, and his critics say that he was compelled to suppress many of his notable literary works due to his immensely introvert nature. The splendor of love too, is erased eventually, As the star dies its inevitable death. Does it not? He asked, glancing at his mistress. Satiated, he absorbs the open field, the inviting sun, The early winter caresses that cocoon him, empathizing. They stand, transfixed, alongside the perpetuity of the earth and sky.
Jibanananda Das: Translated by Lopamudra Banerjee
It was to be a celebration of Bengali culture performed upon a proscenium stage at a local high school; a celebration in Chicago by the Bengali-American community residing here; a celebration for themselves, primarily, but also for any and all of their appreciative friends. And that is what it ended up to be, with performances of dance, of singing, of poetry recitation, and of an original drama in Bangla the name for their language preferred by many Bengalis these days to conclude the evening's festivities. In between those rather typical expressions of Bengali high culture, the audience was treated to what can only be called a tasteful synthesis of "voguing" and "lip-synching," wherein young couples, high-school- and college-aged young women and men, acting out--a more apt description might be "striking poses"--and miming duets to the accompaniment of the sound track from contemporary Bangla films, films of the wildly popular Bollywood sort. At what is frequently called a "Rabindra-Nazrul Jayanti" or "Joint Tagore and Nazrul Islam Birthday Celebration," often organized to coincide with Tagore's birthday on the 25th of Baishakh May 9th , diasporic Bengali communities in many cities gather to commemorate these two cultural icons, Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam , one Brahmo read: Hindu in this case and one Muslim but both inclusive of, and accepted by, the entire Bangla-speaking world.
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