Creating Beauty Is A Noiseless Battle

On November 10, 2013 by admin

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Joy Goswami

It has been the polestar of Bangla poetry: Phire Esho Chaka (Come Back, O Wheel)/ To Gayatri. And the original manuscript lies right in front me at this moment.  Like Kafka’s diary, there are descriptions of a few dream sequences in the manuscript. The collection has elicited all kinds of praise and reverence in the last 40 odd years. What can I say that is new?  But as I see the jottings and scribbles in the marginalia, I feel that I am right there with the poet as he gives shape to those lines. Goosebumps.  Binoy Majumdar, the poet, seems to be a riddle, an enigma in the firmament of Bangla poetry.

How do we see a poet today? We see him as a social explicator, as a critic, even as a reformer. The poet is routinely offered sundry platforms, chairs and silken shawls. Though troubled by some initial hesitation, the poet gets used to such a role as days go by.

When the society is mired in violence, corruption and skulduggery and cannot see any light, sensitive, art loving people cannot rely on politicians and standard do-gooders any more. The kind of doubts they are assailed by, the kind of interrogations that arise in their minds, who else but a poet can satisfactorily answer them! Why? Since the poet is pained by the sorrows of others. Come, let’s all pay a visit to the poet.

And then a collective voice cries out: Please say something. Please. And in this manner a group of uncertain, wandering people reach the poet and gradually push him towards the wall. As he is shoved right to the wall, a stool is advanced to him. And then the collective voice again: Get up on that stool, please stand up. We cannot see you, cannot hear you clearly. Here, a hand-mike, please use this.

The poet—since everyone is so eager and expecting, relinquishes his vacillation, and starts speaking. And as he speaks, all his indecisions and waverings tend to recede by and by, till they vanish altogether. Television screens, literary festivals, protest meetings—all become regular events in his life, part of his existence.  In such a life one speaks more than one writes. And when one speaks, one gets to believe that he is speaking to the whole of his community—for the Jati.

The sensitive, common people are allayed of their apprehension of darkness engulfing them. Finally, there is someone who can speak on their behalf.  A few can, at least.  Every single time society witnesses a fresh accident, an incendiary poem would appear. Poem? Or opinion. Do we have time to ponder on that distinction? Here is our true poet. This is what art is supposed to perform. Be a conduit in protests, a vehicle in rallies. Its sole function.

Sole function, and in such a manner?  And what about that poet who is himself lost, seeking direction in every turn? The one who discovers the world anew every single day and feels that he did get to learn something novel. There is a possibility that yesterday’s mistake could be corrected today.  And therefore, jots down one’s everyday experience and encounters in a meticulously drawn diary.  Yes, as poetry. Unadulterated poetry. Do they have no right to create art, those who are unable to directly recommend that society must take such and such bearing or make this or that pitch? What role is left for such poets?

If Binoy is placed aloft that stool, one is certain that he will hardly stay there for too long. He will fidget, feeling lost and suffocated. And then he will simply walk away. If we see that Binoy has been pressed on to that wall by an expectant mob, he will be too absorbed with his surroundings to pass any judgement. Perhaps he will turn around and face the wall instead. And then?

—-See this wall, do you? There is something going on within it.

—-Something? What do you mean?

—-May be a rivulet is meandering across and some scenes are unfolding. Disturbing scenes. All lie there within this wall. Latent. You just need the eye to behold.

This is exactly the exchange that Binoy is having with Balika Kankaboti even as he composes this timeless collection of poems. One recalls Bergman’s almost contemporary creation: Through a Glass Darkly, where a young woman’s intense gaze through an orifice in the wall will lead her into a magical realm where everyone is agog and waiting, everyone radiant in their expectation—for God might appear there at any moment.

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If someone sets his eyes on things differently and catches a glimpse of more than what we would usually notice (perspectives that we feel others should appreciate), we brand him as mentally unbalanced.  Just like that woman in Through a Glass Darkly. What is Binoy able to see?

He can see an ordinary, local grocery store. And walks past that store casually, freely. And then he relates that object and his relationship with that object to the whole of creation at a cosmic level. This local, ordinary grocery store is attached to the tiller in his field to the forces of gravity to the tireless sun to goddess Venus or Saraswati. In this magnificent, staggering cosmos, what more can a poet give, other than a series of flabbergasted moments of revelation, marvelling anew at every fresh object and seeking to forge relationships with those?

But marvelling and revelation—are those sufficient? Can one write poetry with such a meagre capital in the world today? In a world where airplanes ram themselves into trade-centres, where tanks strut in Christ’s own town, where Gujarat happens in the next room—can one continue to write poetry latching on to wonder and surprise?

Binoy Majumdar had to say this by way of prefacing this book: these adorations in love (through these poems) are an accurate journal and chronicle. But what shall we do with such loverly devotion?  What can society gain by these ruminations?  What use is Van Gogh’s Sunflower? Road with Cypress and Star? This man who could not be foisted onto that stool; who was beckoned away to the sanatorium instead. He who writes in a letter to his brother—“All the time I am working with various heads and hands.” One who worked tirelessly—wrote and thought like a man possessed. And worked with full concentration, with an uncanny eye for details strewn around him, to be picked up by the beholder. Is his devotion in love a similar plea like Abdul Karim Khan’s Jamuna Ke Teer? How does society use Jamuna Ke Teer? Which ongoing war can Aamir Khan’s Darbari Kanada stop? What function can Moonlight Sonata offer us, other than giving a sense of a moonlit night to a blind little girl?

The ozone-sphere lies up there above the earth, which we cannot see with our naked eyes. It absorbs silently the harm of solar rays. It purifies our everyday sunlight. Certain songs, sundry poems and art objects thus purify our pretensions of culture and pride of civilization. Embalm our bruises.  And since they do this job from afar, we are not always aware of their function.

Binoy Majumdar does not work in any regular office. He has spent his life all alone in the village of Shimulpur. Friends and family mean young and even younger budding poets and those who love art. The village entrusted him to a poor florist who took care of him for a few years. One recalls poet Friedrich Hölderlin whose 36 tumultuous years of living a silently mad life received sanctuary from a mason and his daughter’s family. Sometimes the government has looked after Binoy, has sent him to hospitals to ‘get-well’ periodically. We are quite grateful for such gestures. But whenever there has been any talk about conferring an award or a felicitation to Binoy, it has been invariably associated with a clique or a circle. A few years ago Sunil Gangopadhay had gone to Shimulpur to present Binoy with the Sudhindranath Dutta Puraskar worth Rs.10,000.  Till date that is the only public recognition that has come his way. But on that day too it was not possible to make Binoy hog the limelight. As speakers began their speeches, praising Binoy’s poetic genius, he cringed, left the dais and silently walked away to his home. The ceremonial lectures went on. We know from his interviews and epilogues that he is hardly writing these days. During times of the day when Binoy does not write poetry, he works with complex mathematical formula. Mathematics, like poetry, is another form of the daily journal to Binoy. Instead of the television screen and frenetic meetings and marches and festivals, Binoy has chosen mathematics.

1996: A mathematician by the name of Andrew John Wiles solved the 300 year old conundrum— Fermet’s Last Theorem—and received the Fields Medal in 1998. Wiles was asked about his feelings as he solved the problem. How did he feel? He broke down—this 46 year old mathematician. He could just utter this: “It is an unbelievable beauty.”


Man has gravitated towards this unbelievable beauty all the time. He has tried to love this thing, this longing and craving. But this is not a craving for disinterested beauty. Quite the contrary. It is because it is so thoroughly invested in us, our being and relations,  that we witness from a million scribbles on the page a magical poem arises, and from within wars and ravages,  phoenix like— poets, painters, scientists and musicians rise and stun us with their wayward, lonesome imaginations. And mathematicians, in and through their digits and formulae, do the same. Some of these people have been destroyed like some thunderstruck trees in their quests. They may not have gotten into fist-cuffs or jumped onto that stool and yelled—fight, we need to fight! But they do partake in a far insidious battle as they continue to create things of miraculous beauty, the original threat to all those who want to make our lives mundane and drab and full of sad hierarchies. They take the fight to the opponents who are flummoxed by their daring, their flight. They fight injustice silently. Can we remember this bit sometime?


[This article was published in 2002, now anthologised in Joy Goswami’s prose selection Akoshhiker Khela—Revelatory GamesBinoy Majumdar did receive the Rabindra Puraskar and the Sahitya Akademi Award later. He died in December 2006. Translation HUG.]

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