Selected Bengali Poetry

Presented by KAURAB


An introduction to Binoy Majumdar's poetry

Binoy Majumdar (1934-2006) was a brilliant, eccentric, obscure and controversial poet whose life and work await chapters of penetrating research. Binoy is an extremely rare poet – it is hard to find a parallel in the western hemisphere. The intense purity with which geometry, mathematics, science and logistics fill the bone-marrow of his poetry, marks his rare genre. Despite being a fine and talented engineer, a brilliant, innovative mathematician and an even more brilliant poet, Binoy led a rather distraught and disoriented life of extreme poverty. Failed by one-sided love (for Gayatri Chakraborty), he lost his mental composure and attempted suicide several times in his life. At times, he would turn violently schizophrenic. In the 1990s, the state government of West Bengal, upon request from fellow poets, provided some support. It didn't restore his physical and mental health. However, during his stay at the state-run hospital, he wrote a book -"haaspaataale lekhaa kabitaaguchchha' (Hospital Poems) which won him the prestigious national poetry award (Sahitya Academy Purashhkaar). Today, Binoy has a huge following among poets three or four decades younger.

Wikipedia quotes : "Binoy Majumdar was born in Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) on the 17th of September 1934. His family later moved to what is now West Bengal in India. Binoy loved mathematics from his early youth. He completed 'Intermediate' (pre-University) from the Presidency College of the University of Calcutta. Although he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Bengal Engineering College, Calcutta, in 1957, Binoy turned to poetry later in life. He was fluent in English and Russian and translated a number of science texts from the Russian to Bengali. When Binoy took to writing, the scientific training of systematic observation and enquiry of objects found a place, quite naturally, in his poetry. His first book of verse was Nakshatrer Aloy (in the light of the stars). However, Binoy Majumdar's most famous piece of work to date is Phire esho, Chaka (Come back, O' Wheel, 1962), which was written in the format of a diary. The book is dedicated to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a fellow-Calcuttan and contemporary of Majumdar.

Binoy has often been regarded by critics as a true successor of Jibanananda Das, the poet who revolutionized Bengali Poetry in the post-Tagore era. Like Jibanananda, Binoy drew his material from bountiful nature, the fields and the jungles and the rivers and the fauna of Bengal. But Binoy's originality lay in his attempt to relate the various elements of nature to one another through objective logic and scientific enquiry. In this respect, some critics like Aryanil Mukherjee, refer to the genre of his work as scientific field journal. Binoy Majumdar was also bold and revolutionary in his depiction of sexuality. He abundantly used vivid imagery which were sensually potent and Freudian in essence. In a series of pieces [Aamar Bhuttay Tel (My Oiled Corn-cob)], where he gives an explicit and graphic description of sexual intercourse. Binoy, once again, lays strong emphasis on the physiology of the process, and takes to a journalistic narration. Binoy has always been somewhat obscure among readers of Bengali Poetry. He was quite ahead of his time in breaking norms of contemporary literature. Some of his poems are difficult to decipher at the first go, and require multiple readings. His writings are unconventional because they often appear as neutral scientific reportage, and not poetry in its usual romaticized self. In this, Binoy readers can perhaps trace back his background as a Mathematician. Binoy builds up all his imagery, nuances, lyricism, and poetic discovery on the skeleton of scientific reasoning and factual observations. Binoy died in his maternal home in Shimulpur, West Bengal, on December 11, 2006."

A few complete poems from Phire Eso Chaka ( Come back, O Wheel) Binoy's innumerably reprinted, redesigned, replenished and refabricated book and his most talked about poetry collection

8th March, 1960

One bright fish flew once
to sink back again into visible blue, but truly
transparent water - watching this pleasing sight
the fruit blushed red, ripening to thick juices of pain.

Endangered cranes fly, escaping ceaselessly,
since it is known, that underneath her white feathers exist
passionate warm flesh and fat;
pausing for short stalls on tired mountains;
all water-songs evaporate by the way
and you then, you, oh oceanfish,
or look, the scattered ailing trees
foliaging expansive greenery of the world
churn it up with their deepest, fatiguing sighs;
and yet, all trees and flowering plants stand on their own
grounds at a distance       forever
dreaming of breathtaking union.

Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee

27th June 1961

Like wet gorges our feel
limited, confined; valleys, woods and hills
all covered in fog and clouds for the past few days.
Tell me how much of the multitudes of earthly taste
does the failed buds of a cat’s tongue feel ?
Yet all the crisp and subtle, sharp experience,
like flower thorns or the incisiveness of orbits
of distant stars, of the far beyond.
Anyway, despite it, the stupendous air of the sky
not large currents, fluxes with crosswinds.
Unsuppressed by the conflicts of these uncertain
excitement, the pine still grows erect
like true desire, towards a lightening sky.

Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee

1st July 1961

I politely woke up in the morning to a flowering hope.
My future, firmament were lit up
by your talent, preserved like tinned meat.
Nervously, I conjured up a joint meeting of tea-thoughts,
thoughts of fresh air from the eternal summit.
You inexistential, as imaginary as a visual aberration
or maybe extinct, dead.
Or have deserted me like your illegitimate newborn, by the road.
I think of life, after the wound heals
I know it wouldn’t hair anew; pain sits
calm on sorrowed thoughts like a nocturnal fly –
on the way back from hospital, in momentary mind.
Sometimes unawares, I know, the pain will wither
with the falsity of a child urinating in sleep.

Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee

If you never come again

If you never come again, never blow through these steaming regions
like cooling drifts of the upper air, even that absence is an encounter.
Your absense is as of the blue rose
from the kingdom of flowers. Who knows, some day
you may yet appear. Maybe you have, only you are too close.
Can I smell my own hair?
Marvellous sights have been seen.
A full moon was to have risen last night --
only a quivering sickle appeared!
It was an eclipse.

I have given up strewing grain on the ground
to have the birds join me at lunch.
Only when the baby is cut adrift
does it have its free hunger and thirst;
like taking off a blindfold to be confronted with
a curtain, being born
into this vast uterus, lined with a sky porous with stars.

Translated by Jyotirmoy Datta

What is needed is a sudden turn

What is needed is a sudden turn
leaving the swift hand that plucks butterflies out of the air
gaping at a loss.
The others exist pale and ghostly as stars
brought to brief life by a total eclipse of the sun.
But I cannot change my course now; can the leopard
unspin its leap in midair?
Moreover, they may still be wrong. She can yet appear.
Cream rises only if one lets boinling milk stand and cool.

Translated by Jyotirmoy Datta

The pain remained with me

The pain remained with me a long time.
Finally the ancient root was cut --
from immersion I emerged blinking into light.
I am restored to health now though the season is gray.
Surgery everywhere; this tea table was once the flesh of a tree.

Translated by Jyotirmoy Datta

More sample translations from his famous book Phire Eso Chaka (Come back, O Wheel) :

sample 1

The blue stone on my ring shimmers with unquenchable thirst.
I fear the day of my death will be one like this.
Because in some distant age, you had an assassin
for enemy, you live like a rose encircled
by thorns. And I, like a letter gone astray,
have come to the wrong address.

sample 2

flowers have no room for geometry or even its traces
they are all mixed up into a singular mess
geometry makes the landscape
all those lines we use in poems

sample 3

from time immemorial have these poems existed
like serene mathematics
lying in an unseen corner
awaiting discovery this autumn evening
in the Bakul grove under faint moonlight

sample 4

length, weight and time - these three worldly units
are talked about too often
like there's nothing else in the can...
also a unit that measures light, or
how audible are you could be measured too
in our world, man-day is another unit

Sample 1 is translated by Ron D.K. Banerjee. Sample 2-4 are done by Aryanil Mukherjee.

Jyotirmay Datta, a celebrated poet and editor, was Binoy’s contemporary, simpatico, his patron and rescuer-in-chief. His translations are taken from -
Majumdar, Benoy. Seven Poems by Benoy Mojumdar, tr. Jyotirmoy Datta. Hudson Review v. 21 n. 4 (Winter 1968-1969), pp. 648-650.

Binoy Majumdar's photograph: copyright Abhijit Mitra, Kaurab


Selected Bengali Poetry
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