Selected Bengali Poetry

Presented by KAURAB

An introduction to Binoy Majumdar's poetry
Aryanil Mukherjee

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. There is an intense purity in his work in which geometry, mathematics, and scientific logic couple with a unique lyric genre. Despite being a fine and talented engineer, a brilliant, innovative mathematician, a polyglot ( in all modes of use he was fluent in Bengali, English and Russian) and an even more brilliant poet, Binoy led a rather distraught and disoriented life of extreme poverty and isolation. He probably suffered from schziophrenia and/or related mental disorders which was hastened by  failed one-sided love (for Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak) and attempted suicide several times in his life. In the 1990s, the state government of West Bengal, upon request from his literary cohorts, provided some support. It didn't restore his physical and mental health. However, during his stay in the state-run hospital, he wrote a book of skeletal poems - haspatale lekha kobitaguchchho (Hospital Poems) which won him the prestigious national poetry award (Sahitya Academy Purashhkaar) in the last year of his life. He remained largely estranged and unnoticed outside the teeming ambience of the Bengali poetry scene for decades. Today, however, after his demise, Binoy is beginning to attract a huge following among younger poets.

Born in Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) on 17 September 1934, Binoy moved with his family to West Bengal (India) during the second world war. He was educated initially in the prestigious Presidency College (University of Calcutta) and went on to graduate in Mechanical Engineering from Bengal Engineering College, Calcutta, in 1957. His first book of poems - nokkhotrer aloy (In Star Light) was published while he was in his 20s. It was however, his second book, aghraNer anubhutimala (Autumnal Sense Streams), later and more famously republished as phire eso chaka (Come Back, O Wheel, 1962) that received wide acclaim and gradually, gave Binoy Majumdar a deep engraving on the mantle of Bengali poetry. phire eso chaka was written using a profoundly scientific lyric in the form of a journal. This was a collection of love poems dedicated to his contemporary Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (“chaka”, meaning “wheel” in Bengali, was a funny truncation of Gayatri’s surname).

Critics have pronounced Binoy Majumdar as one of the ablest successors of Jibanananda Das - the poet who revolutionized Bengali Poetry after Rabindranath Tagore. No surprise Binoy drew from bountiful nature, the varied flora and fauna of the riverine Bengal plains. At the same time, scientific objectivism and systematic observation found a firm footing in his unique lyrical voice. His ability to relate via simple laws of physics, the various elements of nature to one another, smartly aided by objectivity and scientific enquiry, makes his poetry absolutely remarkable and unparalleled. His genre of work could be described as a scientific-artistic field journal.

Binoy’s bold and revolutionary depiction of sexuality gives his work another interesting dimension. He abundantly used vivid sexual imagery in a series of poems like amar bhuTTay tel (My Oiled Corn-cob), where he gives an intensely poetic but intricately graphic description of a sexual intercourse. Binoy emphasized the physicality of the process of cohabitation by trying to narrate scientific truth through essentially journalistic observations.

Binoy’s approach to poetry in a certain sense is rather unconventional because his work gives the impression of neutral scientific reportage and is themed on strange natural observations – for example, the changing shape and position of the sun during a solar eclipse. A great poet, left much ignored and unnoticed for the most part of his life, Binoy died in his maternal home on December 11, 2006.




Can offer love


I can offer love if you have enabled acceptance

Your amorous hands shed it all –

laughs, moonlight, pain, memory, nothing holds.

That has been my experience. The doves never fly

in moonlight; yet love, I can offer.

Eternal, easy this bestowal – just not to hinder

the sprout, not to let it turn pale yellow

in the repressed unseen of light, just to keep it green.

It’s that easy, yet pain hands me a death stone

so I never err, never fall in love.

Your acceptance remains disabled. Dove, you’re never hurt

if you fell from the branches, you take wings.

With the everlasting smile of an ancient painting

I know you’ll leave;  wound and agony will silence me.     


Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee



Heard  as  a child

As a child I had heard about carnivorous flowers

But I haven’t found them inspite of this prolonged search.

Lying on the bed in my tent I have seen the sky sprawl,

I have learned all nearest and brightest stars, which in true

proposition, are in fact not stars but planets, cold and dark planets.

Hopeless, inlaid in decadence, bored with dissent, I too

alone, lay on the floor – wasted worm-eaten skin and pulp.

O’ reproach, self-abhorrence, look, what pallid fruit.

Sometime back pure moonlight fell on soul, on metal fragment

Lightning, caused by casting light, it needs special metals.

No volant birds, except the pigeon, come near humans today.  

They fly in with ease, pick up the given grains and leave

Yet successful moonlight eternally inspires man.

We walk through airs of distinct state and quality;

poisoned, perfumed or icy which only our environment

is limit-ranged to.

To live is not to be space-indulgent

Therefore, O’ reproach, electric repentance seems just,

Very few books have an appendix.



(Written - 21st September, 1960)


Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee



Speaking in a foreign tongue


With the caution of speaking in a foreign tongue

I come to talk about you; past deeds thwart.

My lady of luster, the worm-eaten poets

who aren’t painters, know fanciful artification may

let your hair fall on the portrait, draw lips and all

but misses out on the delicate grace of its owner; 

hence we have meditation and divers.

What do you think? Is it an immature outcome too?

Or a compounding query if animals with deep-rooted

fur could have clothes made out of their skin? 


Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee


Just like music

You just like music;  such disinterested in orgasmic moaning

you seek shelter in a park.

The pale, felled tree has stopped singing.

Yet its roots continue to resurrect buds –

they gaze, faces of nonchalance, unchanged since the fall of the

Gupta Empire, wood sculpture as if;  ecstasy of the

bloody centuries transformed into grief-waves of monotony.


I am a tree, a teacosy left behind by the ailing’s bed

decrepit dusty languid. No overflowing Indus,

not a single infallible natural calming hand around,

that if caresses my forehead, past erases along with present.

Malady deep though, poor poet, but not contagious

never transmitted to flower-bodies, never will.      

Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee


The  doctor is  me

I am the doctor, whose mistreatment led

to his death which makes me frigid with pain.

I meet him though, the corpse, in some phase of return

when an eternal sunshine lights up my heart.


I keep asking myself if it is normal to talk to a corpse;

when our eyes meet I am so bashful and scared,

I look away;  body heat of fevered humans

warms the viscera of strange flowers;  and I look for them!


Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee


When the noun

When the noun does verb with me

at times with both legs , wraps around the

pronoun’s waist. And I do the verb in numerous ways like

I go chest down upon the noun and

in two pronoun hands I hold both shoulders of the

noun while I do the verb.

And then in many repeated smaller verbs as I’m lying

down and sometimes long, longer verbs too.

Then in another action keeping two hands of the noun

on its two sides I do the longest verb and I look at 

my noun and observe the pronoun while the noun’s apex

is inside the noun and its base hangs outside.


Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee




Moon and the corncob 

Transfixed, I stare at the moon cave, on the floor

where stands moon, in the middle of a clear day,  

I gaze winkless at the moon cave, its grass mowed short.

Cave’s outer fold shows through the grass.

From its hidden mouth the fold has crept out in the open

towards abdomen. When moon walked up to and stood

on the bed, I asked, ‘no oil massage today?’ and the moon

replied, ‘sure we will, but wait a bit’ and then she spread the

oilcloth on the bed, extending it to cover under the pillow

and she goes to the wall rack to fetch the oil bottle,

pours a bit on her left hand and firmly grips the corncob.

Even before she held it, the cob was already erect.

Me and the moon stood face to face on the floor

As she massaged the corncob in one hand. 



Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee


Moon and the corncob 

Moon said, while smearing oil on my corncob

‘your cob is so thick’. I didn’t respond to it but directed her otherwise

‘smear some more oil on the cobtip’, but moon paid no heed to it

although she heated it up, the cob, I mean.

She applied the rest of the oil on its body and all around and when

done, the moon got up from the floor where she sat and

walked up to the bed, which too was on the floor.


Moon slept with her head on the pillow and raised her legs,

I knelt, took off under my knees, my shirt and warm trousers.


Then I see the cave, its mouth closed, even as I spread the legs out

its stays put , completely closed. When the moon tries to get a grip on the corncob

from where she was lying on the bed, I said, ‘Wait, let me see if I can get the

cob in myself’ – she readily withdrew her hold

and as I leaned forward pressing the tip against the cave door


the corncob slipped in at ease.   



Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee


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 – are translated here


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

Page last updated Apr, 2020





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