ওর আর কোনো গতি নেই জানো, কবিতা লেখা ছাড়া—she does not have any recourse, you know, other than writing poetry. This is what rings in my ears. This is how Anindita Mukhopadhyaya, whom I keep meeting as she swings on her Aeolian School Balcony ( বাতাসিয়া স্কুল বারান্দায়ে ), was introduced to me by a friend who himself only knows to swim and perish with poetry.
There is a ticket that you have to earn. If you are ‘an explorer of the bliss of writing’, in Roland Barthes’ words. And this ticket can only be earned if you have routinely skipped classes and tutorials in college, dumped all projects and deadlines for good:
কলেজ পালিয়ে যারা চুপিচুপি /ঘাসে নেমে এলো,/চলে গেল দূর দূর গঞ্জের হাটে,/তারা পেল /ঝাউফুল আর –/নেপচুনের সমুদ্র মুকুতা
“Those who bunked college classes, and noiseless /Came down to the grass /Disappeared at the gunj-haat /They would accrue jhau-flowers/Neptune’s sea-pearls”
On this balcony, living is tentative. Buffeted, but not indifferent: living, dying and living again on the swinging school balcony is a shared belief system that one partakes of. No one looks for any clarification here. Because no pointers are given. Living is staying in constant amazement of our existence and being aware of our finitude, even as we are deeply aware of and puzzled by the angelic and diabolic presences all around us:
আসলে একটা পোকা সেই কোনকালে/মাথায়ে সেঁধিয়ে গেল–/ গন্ধতেলে ভেসে থাকত দুপুরের সর,/অসুধ খেয়ে সে কী ঘুম/আলোকলতা পিসির,–ইজিচেযারটা হাঁফাত,/বিচ্ছিরি টিকটিকি দুটো কী যে করত/খাটের তলায়!/ সমীরণ ধীরে না বইলে ভীষণ ভয় করত/সবেদন পরশন সইতে না পেরে/ছবিটা ঝনঝন করে পড়ে ভাঙলে/লতুপাগলি আবার সমস্ত পাড়াঘর মাথায় করবে |
“Actually an insect, long ago/Embedded itself in the head /Afternoon’s rind stayed afloat in fragrant oil / Popping pills, those everlasting siestas used to begin /Aloklata Pishi’s easy-chair would pant /Those ugly lizards! Devil alone knows what they were up to /Underneath the bed/The buffeting breeze, not gentle, would terrify /Unable to withstand the aching touch /The painting came crashing down, in splinters/Lotu pagli, her wails and shrieks, shall once again wake the whole colony up.”
Living is slow. And living is a misunderstanding that is unmistakably erotic. So the poetic recollection of that eroticism is eternity’s flowing back into the present. For the poetic tick that infiltrates our head is a delicious pall of an unrushed creamy rind, maddening in its extended fragrance. Everything around us takes time, wondrous and wondering , every bit rocks sluggishly, the insect’s magical potion taking charge, gestates inside our head—the leaden siesta, aunt’s chair that is easy, the resident lizards, all owe their existence in the nowness of their presence to that bug that had entered our cranial woodwork at the beginning of time. The bug of existing is now in poesy, undulating in living matter, throbbing. Such is the tremulousness of our living, such is its pitch-perfect diurnal cycle, that any minor change in this seasonal flavor— effected by the busy wind in this case, will inevitably lead to shrillness and imbalance. This strident intrusiveness of the wind starts off the dawdling madwoman. Who, with some oracular premonition, alerts us with her clamour of some impending doom. As a contrary force to time’s wind, there is a waft of a breeze, not mellow but full, and it always arrives in the dawn—যোগাযোগহীন এক হাওয়া —an unconnected puff of air. This is how visitations of memory, and connections, rustle us. This rustle will take more concrete shape anon.
There is a side to the gunj/shahartoli existence that fills us up with rubies and pearls, this lost existence in utter oblivion–কী গান যেন, কাদের ঘরে?–অনুচ্চ, অনুক্ত…/ সেও বোঝেনা আমরাও চাই ওসব মণিমুক্ত. The basis of an existence, of all poetry, is the unsaid, the tonality of the low-lying, sunken, the nether. This is where the Aeolian balcony appears —within the cocoon of a concerned oblivion. It is a school of learning, a magical parallel cosmos that runs athwart us—বাঁ পাশে বিস্কুট-কলোনী ভরে যাচ্ছে নতুন আলোয়—this is the milky way of the light-awash refuge of a biscuit colony.
It is this incandescent biscuit colony on the left side of our existence that leads to that dawn’s railway station where one encounters fafamau:
হঠাত জীবনে এলো ফাফামাউ/ ভোররাতে রংচটা কোটে/…স্টেশনমাস্টার বলেন ” এই তো সিগন্যাল/ এ লেড়কি, ট্রেনে উঠে পড়”/তিনি তো জানেন না কিছু –/জীবনে এসেছে ফাফামাউ !/…এইবার ভোর হবে, পাহাড়িয়া ভোর/জোনাকিরা ফিরে গেছে, বাবুনাই ডাকে…/তুমি যদি নাও আসো/জীবনে তো ফাফামাউ এলো/ তাকে ছেড়ে তাকে ছেড়ে/যাবনা কথাও আমি আর |
“And lo! fafamau has come into my life/ In his discoloured coat, at dawn/ The station-master says “There goes the signal/Hey girl, get into the train”/ But hardly would he know/ that fafamau has come into my life! /…Soon there will be morn, a hilly morn/ The fireflies have departed, the babunai sings…/Even if you do not arrive/Still fafamau has come into my life/Leaving him, quitting him/ I shall not, shall not go anywhere.”
There is a undistinguished railway station where fafamau lives. The station is laden with matt-blue wooden benches, and a bluer waiting room. Here’s where fafamau shall welcome you. And black deodar trees and deodar fruits are afar, that surrounds you as night falls over you like a shroud. The tall darkening blacks, the azure waiting rooms are where our business of love and wonderment never comes to a stop. You will ignore the signal and disregard the station-master.
But there is a price to pay for embracing such a life of a private, unhurried non-journey. The deodar darkness of the station turns into a macabre tribunal that exhibits us in our full, creaturely vulnerability. First to ourselves. And then to the world. A forlorn abjectness is our only fate. We genuflect. And an unconditional declaration is the only possible means to square with such stringent, unforgiving judgmental ways:
না, না দয়া করে আমার দিকে আলো ফেলবেন না–/চোখে ব্যথা করে খুব–এমনিতেই আমি এরকমই ঘামি–/না, কোনও অসুবিধে হচ্ছে না আমার–লাই দিলে আমি মাথায়/উঠে যাই–আরও ধমকধামকের দরকার আছে আমার–/ বেত্শিক্ষকের পায়ের কাছে বসে আজীবন কাঁদতে সাধ যায়,/–একটাই রেকর্ড আছে আমার–ফ্যাসফ্যাসে–মাঝে মাঝে চালাই–/ ”তোমার আঙ্গুলগুলো সুন্দর, তুমি কেঁদোনা”–আমার বন্ধুরা, চমত্কার মানুষ, ব্যস্ততাহীন অবসরে/আমাকে মনে পড়লে, আবার যদি ডেকে পাঠাতেন–!/ ভিড়ভাট্টায় আমার কবিতাগুলো লুকিয়ে পড়েছে বাথরুমে /আর কিছু মনে পড়ছেনা হুজুর–/একটা-আধটা মুখের ভরসায় আছি/আপ-অন-গড, সেদিন আমি কাউকে দেখে হাসিনি |
“No, no, for mercy do not train that light on me/My eyes begin to sting and I always do sweat like this/ No, I have no discomfort—actually feel entitled if spurred / I require some more chastising/ Sitting at the footstool of the cane-teacher I feel I could cry all my life,/ Only a single record I own—worn—sometimes that one I play/ “Your fingers are shapely, don’t you cry.”/My friends, all lovely people, during times of relaxation/ Wish you would summon me, if you remember me again–!/ In this melee all my poems go hiding in the bathroom/ I do not recall anything else Hujur, Milord–/ Banking on one or two faces really/ Upon God, I did not smile looking at anyone that day.”
This is a place where only the exposed and defenseless assemble, each in her solitary microcosm of abjectness. Her poems are of no use in a hostile, public world and so they can only hide in the bathrooms. So much so that she needs the sovereigns of all varieties to rebuke and reproach her and see her through life’s turbulences—the cane-teacher and the judge loom large. She yearns to be summoned, in a daily servile masochistic routine, only to withstand the howling tempests of her life. The whole poem reaches a crescendo as we discover that she is in fact pleading not guilty, swearing for simply having smiled at someone! The forlorn, crumpled existence of an absolute recluse is laid bare before us.
At the king’s pleasure the poet lives or dies. Consequently, all poetry is forever immobilized—standing suspensu gradu. This sitting and clipping of oneself has been captured elsewhere by Soren Kierkegaard:
“What will be the effect of this thunderstorm? It will shatter my whole personality—I am prepared. It will render me almost unrecognizable to myself—I am unwavering even though I am standing on one foot. My honour will be saved, my pride will be redeemed, and no matter how it transforms me, I nevertheless hope that the recollection of it will remain with me as an unfailing consolation, will remain when I have experienced what I in a certain sense dread more than suicide, because it will play havoc with me on quite another scale…”
This is the reason that she would wait for fafamau’s disfigured, shadowy silhouette, his unconditional benevolence in the biscuit colony, for all others have simply judged, punished and then have abandoned her—even poetry: তবে কী চলেই যাবে লেখা, লেখা–জীবনৌসধি?/লিখতে পারিনা বলে ভুলে যাবে কবিতা, আমায় ?—Would you too abandon me writing, writing—life’s panacea?/ Will you forget me poetry, since writing does not arrive?
In such a life of the defenseless, one can only await fafamau, her silent confidant. Is fafamau too, in that nondescript railway station, in new and smart India, ever receding? Or will it erupt, is it erupting somewhere at this moment? Is fafamau poetry, and poetry’s relationship to other kindred souls: that is to say, to us, the readers? Meanwhile, there is relentless humiliation and affliction—that is the obverse of an existence from which one is seeking the ticket to Neptune’s sea. The price of alienation is more alienation: খুলতে গেলেই বেরিয়ে পড়ে/এমন ক্ষত, এমন কাদা/এমন কাঁটার / তুমুল ব্যাথায়ে/ কদর্যতায়/ কাঠের বেড়া পেরিয়ে ওরা/ টপকে গেল ভুতের ভালবাসার… “Unfurling opens up/ Such gashes, muck and thorn/Shooting pain/Ugliness/The wooden fence crossing over/ They exorcise all ghostly love.”
There is an endless night in which the tormentor will show no mercy to us. All relationships, every plea will be dealt with that unwavering sceptre , with bloody fangs. And at such limit situations of torment, one crosses the line of our ressentiment and internalizes the casual, daily modes of poison. This time, it is the pen that marks time for fafamau:
যে যেমন শাস্তি দিচ্ছ–তীক্ষ্ণ, ভোঁতা, নেহাই-তাতানো/এ এমন মার যে চোরের মার–/ সুহৃদ, সন্তানতুল্য, প্রিয়বত বলে কোনও রেহাই হয়না/সময়ের সমস্তই প্রশ্নচিহ্ন, উদগারী আগুনের গোলা/ যে যেমন ছুঁড়ে দিচ্ছ দ্যাখো, আর লাগছেনা গায়ে/ লাফিয়ে বা হাঁটু গেড়ে জুতসই বোঝাতে পারিনা/শুধু এ বিষ, অগ্নি এই, ছুঁড়ে দেওয়া ধুলো তোমাদের /আমার স্বভাব-রক্তে মিশে গিয়ে/ বলার থাকলে কিছু /কলম বলবে |
“All ye who punish me—sharp, blunt, red-hot/Such a pounding, a thief’s pounding this/Companion, filial, homie—all these cuts no ice/ Every bit is time’s interrogation, belching fireballs/ All ye who hurl these, see, nothing hurts my body anymore/ Can’t explain properly with leapfrog or kneeling/ This poison, fire, this casting of gravel/Mingles in my blood-habit/ If anything must be said/My pen will.”
Can the pen take on the grave, uncaring arbiter, the cane teacher, the belching fireball? Or shall the pen await fafamau until the end of time by continually deferring its utterances? For a halting diffidence is what the gunj and qusbah embody–ছাতিমের গন্ধে ভাসা সেইসব অপূর্ব দুপুরে/পিপঁড়ে ডিমের টোপ/পিষে যেত ছ’ নম্বর ট্রামের চাকায়. We are all game, like ant-egg baits, to be crushed under the wheels of the No. 6 tramcar. No amount of smartness and healthy habits shall save us from the murderous tram that crushed the poet.
The 55 pearls that constitute Mukhopadhyaya’s In the Aeolian School Balcony, with one jerk at the soul, take us and tie us to all that is negligent and forgotten in life. Helen Vendler, in one of her long interviews, reminds us how “we’ve forgotten the identity that speaks when one is speaking to oneself.” It is rare poet who asks the question: who are we when we live amidst the sensorium of the world and the world does not care about us. From that fundamental question one builds an architecture—the roofs of wanderlust articulates our creaturely, vulnerable walls and those very walls, in turn, articulates the abject, maligned floors. And what happens if you, as a reader, wish to partake in the body and soul of such an indolent, sequestered architecture? You realize that the outcast soul is struggling between two contrasting pulls—on the one hand, a befogging, taciturn alcove which cannot be, and must not be unveiled and on the other hand, an urge to disclose and divulge oneself through the sensoria that are the very extensions of our selves.
It is here that we realize that that life’s ontology is characterized almost entirely by all these phenomenal particularities, reflected as qualia in these poems—we see that sensorial/kinesthetic patches, cognitive events and mental phenomena are all in perpetual flux. All have the characteristics of eventhood. Fafamau is a superimposition that fortifies this monist nominalism. A singular benevolent non-particular is admitted as real-experiential in the figure of the fafamau. He is not an objective correlative standing in an escapist aperture but is the very obverse of our suffusing pratakshya (perception) of affliction, consuming agues. There is no secondary quality in life and poetry (unlike what John Locke would make us believe: that touch is a secondary, referential quality, for instance). The sensibilia of our vulnerabilities can be captured only in actualized form. In times of refraction and objectified referentiality, The Aeolian School Balcony congeals these our particularities into a magical tapestry.
Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text.
Soren Kierkegaard, Repetition: A Venture in Experimenting Psychology
Helen Vendler, The Art of Criticism No. 3, Interviewed by Henri Cole, The Paris Review.
Manindra Gupta, কবিতার জীবন ও দুশ্প্রবেশ্যতা (চাঁদের ওপিঠে)
Bimal Krishna Matilal, Perception, An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge.
Prasanta Chakravarty teaches English literature in Delhi University.