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Mainstream, VOL LV No 37 New Delhi September 2, 2017

Adieu, Tarunda

Saturday 2 September 2017, by Sankar Ray



It was a court room of the mid-1960s in Calcutta. A prosecutor, on behalf of the Government of West Bengal, was hell-bent on ensuring conviction for some leading poets of the Hungry Generation like Moloy Roy Chowdhury. Subimal Basak, Subo Acharya and Samir Roy Chowdhury. Intrepid as the latter were, their struggle was to rid poetry of the establishmentarian tradition of civilising manoeuvre and were for a narcissistic spirit, injected into the creative mindset of bards. They sought to inculcate the vomitous horror of Satanism and self-chosen crucifixion of the artist as elements in the making of a poet, away from drawing-room creativity. Obviously, the state refused to accommodate the anarchic poetry which rebelled against the civil society.

In defence of the HG was one who in principle opposed the la poesie of those self-declared déclassé but put his foot down against the state for policing the poets. He was then a well-known Bengali poet in his late thirties.

The following are excerpts from the exchange between the judge, Amal Mitra, prosecutor and the contesting muse who taught Economics at a well-known undergraduate college.

The deponent questioned the very definition of obscenity, imposed by the prosecutor, Satyen Bandyopadhyay.

SB: Do you think the poem, an exhibit, is obscene?

Deponent: What do you mean by obscene?

SB: There is a Bengali word ‘ashleel’ (obscene). Do you understand the meaning of it?

Deponent: In my opinion, it is not obscene at all.

SB: Well, Mr Sanyal, what do you mean by obscene?

Deponent: In my opinion, obscenity is of two types. First, personal. Second, social or collective. Obscenity can harm an individual but there is obscenity of another kind that harms the society. Whatever causes a downgradation of conscious-ness, is obscenity in my view.

Judge AM: Well, Professor, you better speak in English. This Bengali seems to be too hard for the court.

Deponent: To me, obscene means something which causes mental depravity to an individual. When something becomes the cause of depraving the society, I would consider that to be obscene.

AM: What do you mean by society in this pretext? Do you mean a group of persons?

Deponent: Yes, exactly, my lord.

AM: If you find any of your pupils in the college reading a poem of this sort, what would you do?

Deponent: I won’t mind.

AM: What would be the effect of this poem on the street?

Deponent: I don’t find any difference.

AM: Do you mean to say that this poem would have the same effect on a man on the street and a student of degree course?

Deponent: I think so. He would have the pleasure of reading a piece of art

The deponent was Tarun Sanyal, a Rabindra Puraskar laureate and one of the last few leading Bengali poets of the 1950s along with Siddheswar Sen, Shankha Ghosh, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Amitava Dasgupta, Ananda Bagchi, Rajlakshmi Debi and the like, most of whom predeceased Tarunda who breathed his last on August 28 in Kolkata.

He was born on October 29, 1932 at village Parjona of Pabna district (now in Bangladesh), a one-and-a-half mile away from Shahjadpur, where Rabindranath Tagore spent months as a benevolent landowner and rural development activist and wrote some of his best poems. He made his mark with the publication of his first collection of poems, Maateer Behala (Earthen Violin) in 1956. Thereafter he published 20 books of poems, six dramatic poems and several collections of essays. His all-sided erudition made him a mini-polymath.

Tarunda, who influenced our generation of poets, takes me back to the politically heady days of 1960s when the ‘City of Joy’ was aflame with two extremities—the romanticism of the Great Prolerarian Cultural Revolution and HG. Then a frontline functionary of the Communist Party of India which ideologically opposed the GPCR and kept up a polemical battle with the defenders of the GPCR, rallying behind the newly-formed Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist. But he was a cognoscente of a different mould with an independent thinking for which reason he could depose himself at the court, disregarding the disapproval of his party leaders.

He was a class one orator, vying with many top-class political leaders. His gift of the gab excelled equally from culture and literature to political mass meetings. He joined the All India Students Federation in the Burdwan district before being adult and when the AISF was banned in 1949, he was detained under the Preventive Detention Act, an infamous colonial hangover, abolished in West Bengal by the United Front Government in 1967. In jail he joined the hunger-strikers who demanded political status for detainees and his condition of health deteriorated, forcing the newly-independent government to release him as he was yet to be an adult.

He was politically groomed by Communist leaders like Harekrishna Konar who later became the General Secretary of All India Krishak Sabha, led by the CPI-M and Binoy Choudhuri, Polit-Bureau member of the CPI-M in the 1980s. Recollected Tarunda, “Harekrishnada exchanged views for about two hours to rope me in the new party formed in 1964 but failed.” Although the two had bitter political differences, the junior of them had unflinching personal respect for the senior. Went on Tarunda, “Harekrishnada, Benoyda, Sarojda (Mukherjee, later CPI-M MP, PB member and Left Front Chairman in West Bengal) and others used to stay at the district party commune, eating very poor quality rice and embracing poverty. Harekrishnada’s father, Saroj Konar, a rich peasant, managed to get his son married, hoping that the son would quit ‘dangerous politics’ albeit in vain. One day when the newly married couple was returning home from the bride’s home, suddenly Harekrishnada said, ‘Biva, do you love me truly?’ The young lady blushed and said, ‘Yes.’ Pat came a request, ‘Then give me all your ornaments.’ She did so. They were donated to the party.”

Tarunda quit the CPI after Sripad Amrit Dange was expelled for open defiance of the party line, joined the newly formed All India Communist Party, recristened later as the United Communist Party of India.

It’s not the time for a critical appreciation of Tarunda as a poet. Remember Cecil Day Lewis’ obituary after the untimely demise of Louis Macneice in 1963, a comrade-poet belonging to the pro-communist Oxford Group of the late 1920s and early 1930s along wth W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender and others: “The death of a poet is no occasion to post-mortem the works of his lifetime.” Nonetheless, some of Tarundfa’s verses are a never-failing source of bliss in a state of seclusion. Let me try translating them in free verse.

In Evolution

“Deep inside the nail is blue, alas! the earth is so blackish./Not the mystery of grasses, nor as low as the secret of seed bed/ Dust unto the dust, but go into the dust I am to / Oh, pathos, why the silent love turns into a deluge?”

“As if the electrified barbed wire/encircles the deep yellow walls with glass-plaques? / Come uncoveted allment on to my chest/ restless with humiliation/ Devastate me with the bent horn of the moon and beat me to salvage.”

His political wit was reflected in his poems. When Che Guevara was killed by the US mercenary forces in connivance with the CIA, he brought the simile of Ranjan, the martyr symbol in Tagore’s famous play, Red Oleander, “There lies Ranjan, the slain Guevara.”

A successful teacher in Economics, he wrote a small book, Arthanitibid Marx (Marx as an Economist) which I think helps young people to have a basic grounding in Marxian economics, yet it is not a made-easy of DasKapital.

He was the Joint General Secretary of the now-defunct Indo-Soviet Cultural Society with another noted economist, Professor Kalyan Dutt. He visited the Soviet Union several times, let alone Bangladesh where he was popular among the intelligentsia.

With Tarunda’s exit from the mundane surroundings hyphenating the present generation of Bengali poetry departs a rare-breed muse, but sadly enough he didn’t receive the recognition he deserved. Was it because he refused to imbibe smartness in poetry, blessed by the establishment, backed by a powerful group of newspapers that made many leading poets submit to poetry, delinked from the people’s day-to-day struggle?

The author, a senior journalist based in Kolkata, specialises in Left politics and history.

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