The Accelerated Grimace and the Ground for our Beseeching

On February 6, 2020 by admin

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It is an unanticipated coincidence that the collected works of Parthapratim Kanjilal, a major poet writing in Bangla for the past half a century, has been published just as George Steiner has breathed his last. There is no connection that I know of between the two, of course, save perhaps an investment in life’s mysteries. And a comprehensive rejection of life’s mystifications. Both Steiner and Kanjilal, in their own ways, have spent their lifetimes with the ineffable and the unspeakable.

At bedrock level, the artist is ill at ease with social conventions. Since he is distracted and maintains an ironic or heroic relationship with all that he sees around, what we now call ‘news cycles’ do not disturb him in their everydayness. Doomed to a vision in an alien world, his dedication lies elsewhere.  He begins to seek and extract a pattern, rather. It is his distraction that especially readies him bit by every single bit, towards enacting the role of a scapegoat for  society. He is not really one of us.

To be in the middle of everything (what in Bangla is best expressed in the phrase ছা-পোষা, culturally speaking) means maintaining a divided allegiance to life’s satisfactions and annoyances. If you are annoyed when your scheme about the right kind of society is challenged by other equally vested imaginations, for instance, you develop scruples and begin devising ‘techniques of trouble’ and anger, without having corresponding investments for what you actually vouch for or profess. These add up to what Steiner would call ‘apocalyptic seminars.’ Such seminars and techniques define diurnal bourgeois existence.

By contrast, a leap of spirit marks the utterances of Kanjilal, especially radiant in one of his early collections of poems titled Debi. I use the word utterance advisedly, for here is an anthology which directly addresses the turbulent 1970s and yet transfers the experience of that time/space allegorically by invoking the tremendous energy force of a goddess who can renew faith in living only through a cleansing of whatever is vapid, stale and ignoble in this earth. The incantations in Debi are about a conjuncture of history (shondhi-khon), when temporality turns cruel and the antidote—if any—is equally fatal: “অতিসৌম্যা, অতিরৌদ্রা, প্রচন্ড নায়িকা সন্ধিক্ষণে”.   The unleashing of energy is at once benevolent, lethal and unwavering. Kanjilal is the worshipper of distilled wrath, away from ressentiment and bad faith—something that eludes our chicken-hearted projects of ethical progressiveness.

Steiner has been arguing for such clarity all along in his work: that beyond all institutions there is a mole in the cellar.  And so Kanjilal, an avid reader of Dante also says: “দেবী, মুদ্রা ব্যবহারে আজ সকল সম্পর্কগুলি হয়েছে কুটিল/অস্পষ্ট, একদেশদর্শী, বৃদ্ধ. যাকে পিতা বলে জানি/ তিনি অবান্ধব, অবান্তর, যাকে জেনেছি প্রেমিকা, সেও নয়/ হৃদয়জননী, যে বন্ধু, তার ব্যবহারে থেকে যায়  অনভিভাবক/ উদাসীন দৃষ্টিপাত. মানুষের মুদ্রা ব্যবহারে, যশ ব্যবহারে/ এ সকল বিপত্তি হয়েছে/ আজ কোন কবিতার স্তব শুদ্ধ ভাবে শুক্লতার সঙ্গে তুলে আনবো/পুনর্বার হিরণ্ময় হবে তোমার রূপের অমলতা.” The degeneration of relationships, the gradual diminishing of the very scope of our roles in life happens when designs take over our inner restless equilibrium. Fathers turn friendless and meaningless; lovers are no longer situated within our innermost sanctums, friends are no more our guardian-angels—they turn indifferent instead.  Clarity and relationalities are the first casualties during difficult and uneven times. Hence, a material invocation of the cleansing deity through poetry.

It is hard to be outraged these days. A severe domestication happens each moment.  We seem to be specialists in accommodating almost everything. And outrage has been flattened to utter meaninglessness.  Denis Donaghue had long ago cautioned us with the following  insight: “The most telling consequence of the domestication of outrage is that, far from disturbing the security of ordinary things, it confirms it.” The artist too is no longer the maker of his art but an example of a man whose art exemplifies certain rituals of his doings.  Kanjilal’s poetry is a direct assault on such domestication, urging us repeatedly to dive beneath all smallness and despair. For in the netherworld there burns a divine torch, untouched yet by guilt and sin: “এদিকে পৃথিবী মশাল নেভায়/ জ্বেলে নেয় ফের নেভা মশাল/ স্পর্শ করো রূপ, রস, বহন করো তারই  স্বাদ/গ্লানির বহু  নীচে জ্বলছে বৃশ্চিক অপাপবিদ্ধ.” This is a dare, a dare to consistently work towards reaching that underground fountain of the ineffable, especially in times when everything around us seems like a lazy journalist’s descriptive report: the connivance of the media foreshortens our very living.

The entirety of Debi is a riddle where poetry, mutiny and incantation find a natural confluence. Rarely has Kanjilal given us any hint as to what the material manifestations of such a apocalyptic charge are: “ছাত্রদল উঠে আসে, জেনেছে ইতিহাস আহুত আত্মার সমতুল/মিতভাষ অর্ধবাক, স্পষ্ট তত নয়/যা হলে জীবনের নির্ভার কেবল জীবিত থাকা. বাঁচতে দেখা শুধু.” The new generations, students who pass through such terrible times, know that conjunctures are like invoked souls: foggy and almost wordless. One gropes. In such times the real mutiny is to stay afloat, to keep oneself away from all fake and domesticated spectacles and arrive at the simplicity of directness, of love. Indeed, the fatal conjuncture of history, if it has to be unshackled from all falsity and bourgeois liberal piety, must be joined in a war that is shorn of all figures of speech: “উপমাবিহীন কালে যুদ্ধ শুরু করো , সকল মুগ্ধতা দূরে যাক.”

Foremost, this war must cleanse another lesser battle that rages within us, way before one takes on what we think of as the enemy. The enemy is within: all kinds of factionalism and squeamishness, played out through useless labour, by our trading of mutual humiliation, abuse and envy—every single day, every passing minute. This internal battle attests to the poverty of our souls. Such poverty must be transcended: “ভুলে যাই, আমার রয়েছে এই দারিদ্রস্বভাব…/ আমার চরিত্র থাকে নিষ্ফল শ্রমে. অপমানে-প্রতিঅপমানে/ ভুলে যাই, ঈর্ষা আক্রোশের এই সর্পবাণ তোমার উজ্বল কিরীট বিচ্যুত শুধু করে/তাতে তুমি বিজিত হবে না/…মধুঋতু মধুবায়ু মধুক্ষর পৃথিবীর ধবননে–উৎসবে/ আরো একজন যাবে.” The occult power of the Debi is the mysterious power of art—something that makes living a festival. This, Steiner would approve.

Ethical progressiveness shall miss art, for its fundamental preoccupation is ‘prose kinema’ (to cite Pound); not the incantatory, the poetic and certainly not dissipation or genuine resolve. Both Kanjilal and Steiner remind us that to be a celebrant of life and join the battle, one has to give pass to the ‘accelerated grimace’ of every age and seek its inner form and grace. Such a warrior allows uncertainty and mystery to enter his most sacred of arsenals. Only then would he be cognizant of the full performance of all art and action. And paradoxically perhaps, in thus invoking the ineffable and by letting our body and soul pass through the quanta of unleashed energy of the Debi, we may discover a conviction that is able to silently take on all vacillation when the time comes for us to act?


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