Translations: Arjun Chaudhuri
Feeling the Nineteeth–of Poetry and Resistance
Tushar Kanti Nath
The Language Movement of 1961 has provided immense enthusiasm to the poets and writers of Barak Valley; it has fostered to a markedly significant degree the progress of the literatures of this region as well. In the eighties decade of the last century, the tone and tenor of Bengali poetry from Barak Valley did take a turn towards a different idiom. The author holds this very turn up to light and attempts to read how the Bengali poets of Barak Valley, after the Language Movement, have strung the consciousness of the Nineteenth of May like a bead into the garland of letters that their poetry is.
The very sound of the phrase “Unishe May” (the Nineteenth of May) evokes the image of a red, bloodied day from 1961 in the imagination of the people of Barak Valley. The Nineteenth of May is in itself one long, difficult history, a firm pillar in our cultural consciousness, the cultural consciousness of this region. A history of great strength, fortitude and sacrifice remains embedded within it. The surging political impetus that was seen throughout the entire region of Barak Valley during the Language Movement, and which steered the valley and its people towards an inclusive civil movement for the protection of the dignity of the mother tongue remains till date a very rare example. Through a long and strong resistance, effective protest and unending struggle, the people of this valley have succeeded in protecting their linguistic and cultural identities. As it is, any significant incident in the history of any community, or race, or ethnie will invariably lead towards a surge of inspiration in the hearts of creative people. This impact is felt most in case of the literary and artistic production of the age. Across Barak Valley and in West Bengal, the self sacrifice of the eleven martyrs of the Language Movement of 1961 similarly exerted a major influence in the minds of poets, writers, artists and journalists, and even in all other spheres of the society. Manish Ghatak, Balaichnad Mukhopadhyay (Banaphul), Dakshinaranjan Basu, Ramendra Deshamukhya, Kumudranjan Mallik and other poets of that era had spoken out in their poetry, protesting against the shooting at Silchar Railway Station.
The story of the great movement of 1961, the rise of the masses against the state of Assam, and the story of the great martyrdom of the eleven people on 19th May, 1961 did not really garner much attention in the little magazines, or the literature in this region during the sixties decade. In the seventies, there was yet another phase of resistance against the linguistic aggression exerted on ethnic groups in this part of the state. The language movements in the sixties and the seventies did exert a tremendous influence over the poets of Barak Valley, but there was no significant outpouring from them in the pages of the literature produced after that time here. However, the cultural significance of this entire history was great, and ran deep. In reality, what did not happen in the sixties-seventies decades came into existence in the eighties when a group of young writers, through the little magazines they edited and published, and even their individual work, manifested how much the bloodied Language Movement had held sway over their minds, their hearts, their consciousness. And it was in this eighties decade of the last century when another distinct turn in the trajectory of literary thought was noticed in Barak Valley’s literary spaces. This distinct turn was a veering of contemporary poetic expression towards the village, the rural spaces of this region. In this context Dr. Amalendu Bhattacharjee writes:
I do believe, and I can also produce evidence to substantiate my belief, that from the second half of the eighties decade, the literature of Barak Valley has turned mostly toward the rural spaces of the region. Those who confer otherwise, and publicise that sort of thought in the mass media do not, it would seem, know the truth, or if they do, they do not wish to acknowledge it. (“Khelaghor”, Sharad anthology 1317 Bengali era: “Samipeshu”, Pg. 2)
The reason why the literature of that age became inclined towards a rural space, towards a ‘rural’ idiom was because the people writing at that time were mostly young men and women who originally belonged to those rural spaces. They tirelessly worked for the pursuit of literary production through their little magazines, which they started publishing from those very marginal, rural spaces. What was added to the general character of these little magazines was this – a desire to spread the consciousness of Nineteenth May through the written word, a wish to see the glorious story of Nineteenth May brought to the world outside. The revolutionary zeal of these young writers expressed in their writing advanced the stature of the historical and cultural consciousness of the Language Movement to a new height.
The vast lacuna in the poetic idiom of the sixties-seventies decade was brought home to the eagle eyed poets of the eighties decade. In an editorial from the literary magazine Ityadi (Ninth year: Fifteenth edition: 1988) it was said:
It can now be concluded without doubt that the poets of Barak Valley writing in this decade have focused in their writing on contemporary society and times, especially on the discontent simmering in the hearts of the people of this region, on outright rebellion, and the fragrance of the earth. This, however, was not noticed at all in the poetry of the previous decade…the poets of the preceding two decades had turned their faces away from the pain and agony of a deprived human existence, from the time they lived in and the society they were a part of, and had continued writing their distanced poetry. In their poetry, we do not see any traces of the tread of the time they lived in; only a smoggy emptiness greets us there.
The difficult malaise of the Assam Agitation that began towards the end of the seventies decade, a state of lawlessness, violence, the Language Circular, yet another phase of the Language Movement in Barak Valley, an imbedded crises of identity, the corrupt realpolitik of the times and a spirit of resistance against social injustice flamed in the writing of the poets of the eighties decade, and in the expression of the little magazines they produced. And in this they were aided by their continued faith in the historical significance of the Nineteenth of May. They wrote a poetry of strong resistance; in this context the names that come to mind immediately are Bijoy Kumar Bhattacharjee, Jalaluddin Lashkar, Sujit Das, Snigdha Nath, Didarul Islam, Digbijoy Paul, Shelly Das Choudhury, Asisranjan Nath, Tushar Kanti Nath, Parthopratim Moitro, Pijushkanti Nath, Mashuk Ahmed, Sushanta Kar, Param Bhattacharjee, Ashutosh Das, Shobhonlal Bhattacharjee, Jaydeb Bhattacharjee, Tapankanti Nath, Swapan Dasgupta and others. The little magazines produced during the eighties decade include these names: Kalijug, Khelaghar, Champakali, Anirban Shikha, Prahari, Prabaha, Ityadi, Gana-arshi, Digbalay, Ghorsawar, and Pratisrot, along with others. The Nineteenth May anthologies produced by them contributed in a substantial way to the shaping of the public image of the Language Movement and the Nineteenth of May. In truth, the eighties decade was a golden era in the literary history of Barak Valley. In the darkness of a difficult time, the poets and the little magazines of the eighties decade were kindled beacons, a glowing utterance. But in discoursing on the literary history of this region, many do not think much of bypassing this important decade, except for a cursory mention.
It must be conceded that in spite of whatever has been said, the sixties-seventies decades were also significant time periods in the history of poetry in Barak Valley. A massive wave of literary endeavour did grow up around the literary magazine Atandra. What was a trickle once did turn into a sea, and the pursuit of poetry in the region gathered more and more strength, But, as said already, the consciousness of the Nineteenth of May and the Language Movement, along with the growing restlessness among the peoples of the region did not manifest in the poetry produced during this time. In this context, the poet Anurupa Biswas writes:
“This movement of resistance against the growing cloud of civil danger stemming from the sixties did not, at the very outset, gather much favour or attention from poets and writers. Most of them were busy in immersing themselves into a sea of introspection, diving, as it were, like deep sea divers in their quest for pearls and the ocean’s treasures. All of it a product of their own individual experience.” (Unisher Smaranika: Silchar Provincial Committee, BUBSS: 1987)
She writes elsewhere, with some regret.
The rare incident that happened on 19th May (1961), the explosive situation that was born as an aftermath and which impregnated the whole of Barak’s masses with a fervour, that huge uprising and civil movement could not really awaken Barak’s poets and writers from their deep slumber. They were immersed in their self-created world of imagination even long after. (Prasanga Baraker Sahitya: 2001, Pg 11)
The celebrated thinker Abul Hosen Majumdar thinks alike, and expresses a similar opinion:
The restlessness resulting from the Partition of the country, the life struggles of the dispossessed masses, the discord between Hindus and Muslims, and what not! The Language Movement came right at the beginning of the sixties decade. The bloodbath that created eleven martyrs in Silchar. Wasn’t it to be expected from the poets of the sixties to cast light on all of this? What is sad is that even the Atandra poets did not fulfill this expectation in the least…a more pleasant picture is brought to us by the poets of the eighties. In the new writing from the eighties decade in Barak Valley comes a poetic idiom that is at once a manifestation of tough resistance, protest, of the constant vicissitudes of hope and despair, and a desire for change; that is a marker of this age that was. They even saw love as being redundant, or they cast aside physicality with only the slightest hint of concession. This is the difference between the poetry of the sixties and that of the eighties.” (“Social Consciousness in the Poetry of Barak Valley, in the Eighties – An Essay”: Pravaha: August-October 1992: Pp. 35, 37 – 38)
He also says:
After 19th May 1961, a new generation was born. Some of them were but children at the time of that incident, and many of them had not even been born. As they grew up they observed our self-antagonism, the decadence, the squalor, the dirty gambling that politics is; under the influence of an uncertain future, and frustrated by it, they became revolutionaries, protesting, resisting it all. The artist’s empathy dragged them towards the people who lived, but lived a decaying, corrosive life. The agonies of the masses, their struggling existence they adopted and became a part of. This change of guard in the eighties decade was a landmark in the history of Barak Valley’s literature. And in the midst of it all, providing sustenance to this change of spirit, was the throbbing consciousness of Nineteenth May. (Kobita Amar Shohid Minar: 1989: “Preface”)
Looking at it all from various perspectives, it may be observed that after the sixties decade, in the time that followed, especially in the eighties decade, a new understanding of the age and its milieu was manifested in the poetry produced in Barak Valley. The Nineteenth bore them a new impetus, a new strength, and accelerated the progress of Barak Valley’s literary production. These poets in their garlands of letters did manage to string in the growing consciousness of the Language Movement, of the Nineteenth of May. And from that time onwards, Bengali poetry in this region has flowed down a different course altogether.
Poems of the Nineteenth
History (Amitabha Dev Choudhury)
I know a story that has been told.
The first line in it was written
in letters of blood, but
its last words will be inscribed
by the eloquence of fools.
The many, many pages in between
speak of but an unknown truth.
Barak Valley Express (Amitabha Dev Choudhury)
The train which never did leave,
I was a passenger on it.
The kisses at the farewell,
like that stead-snake from back home,
were revived like in that legend.
That awestruck waiting
striking a blade soft, soft
did bring to the highway
the essence of the cowdust hour.
And so many trains did come and go after that.
So many sleepings in many a compartment
came to an end in wordless stations.
Yet that outcast dream shadow of never-leaving
grows longer and longer with every leaving.
All my departing, trapped beneath the weight
of that not-leaving, becomes a returning, all my life.
All our living beneath the weight of that not-leaving
on the roadside, the quest for a cheap hotel
a shelter, the main current of the river, the lines
of our fate.
Between leaving and not-leaving,
an unshakeable bridge slowly rises
almost like a prison.
The train which will never leave,
I was a passenger on it.
The War Begins: All Festivals End (Parthoprotim Moitro)
The child which, before it knows its mother at birth,
readies its body for the fiery bullet wound to come soon,
The woman who, in the night of her rendezvous with her lover,
lies curled naked like a foetus after the destruction of the rape,
all those childhoods womanhoods in the guise of decayed corpses
lie deep within the earth’s womb, in Nellie or in Gohpur my home.
With all this gore, this flesh embedded in its heart my Assam
will grow into a full, fertile land, the benevolent light and earth
will soon be wiped away by the good-evil fever of the children.
The seeds of blood will be the grain and the land will lie bent
burdened beneath the weight of all this growth. In the pious smell
of blood we walk the furrows of prosperity, the paths of dreams
And before that rises at hand my adamant, heartborn utterance
today I exile myself from the patient peace of love and its ends.
I will tear from my skies the laughter of the warring hyenas
and I will seize that Assam which I love more deeply than
I would love a thousand beautiful maidens.
Earthquakes endless, storm clouds, blood and blood
and all the blood stands guard and at the end of the battle
there will begin anew a ceaseless plan of this coming war.
The newly burnt baby calls,
and so does the debt owed to
the just raped motherliness.
In Assam’s burning fields
are turned to ashes these
the happy days of poesy.
Arjun Chaudhuri is Assistant Professor, Department of English, G.C. College, Silchar.