Tram-Traveller

On September 3, 2011 by admin

 

Utpal Kumar Basu (translated by HUG)

Some of the days my office would start early. Used to sit with work pretty much  in the morning. By noon I would usually take a tram-car back home.

Often I used to detect the wan, unwell but steadfast Samar Sen returning home too. He’s also a morning worker. I would spot a dank rexine bag that he carried along. Must be the papers of the Frontier magazine? Proofs, manuscripts, reams of letters? What else might he be carrying? Are there no poems—one or two surely? A scribbled draft, some acolyte seeking wisdom?—my imagination knew no bounds. Because Samar Sen is a poet. Though for the past 40 years he had not written any poetry.

His interest in literature had thinned, but flowed underneath. A streak. He had chosen the genre of the political commentator to write and reflect. And his English prose style is vintage. Ah—a classical romantic—am I confusing tendencies? It won’t be an exaggeration to say that his Frontier was nurtured mostly by a readership that was not Bengali. I used to often encounter a walking myth in that second class tram-car. Those were times when it was not difficult to summon awe. My day would go well.

When he counted the change while buying tickets—the many ashoka-stambhs, portraits of national leaders, an India robust and bustling with agricultural and industrial wealth—ah, how each of those coins would dance and dazzle. Every single one of those icons the poet had tirelessly pulled down, scorned, ridiculed all these years. I almost began to contemplate and hope fervently, that those coins would slip quietly through his fingers. But they didn’t—how surprising!

Samarbabu lives in a rented place in South Calcutta. Last monsoon his ground floor apartment was awash—with water and flotsam. Since then he has gone upstairs, at the behest of the kind landlord. He has, don’t we know, refused all governmental aid, apartments and houses with no hesitancy. In his later life, sundry biochemical medicines would be his sole, faithful mates. Perhaps he didn’t have the wherewithal or didn’t opt for a costly treatment.

It is an intractable pride that only a revolutionary can summon. Someone who engineered history and was a part of it. Not an academic. Not an activist. Had Samarbabu bowed down his head a little, smiled a wee bit—there would have been no dearth of garlands for him. Had he not raised that wan finger of his and cursed passionately, logically and incessantly–the many ills that irk and bother our social fabric—surely his finger would have exhibited some diamond-studded ring by now.

But all he wanted, my poet, was to “Suffuse my dreams with the fragrance of the mahua-flower.”

Utpal Kumar Basu is one of the leading poets of  Bengal.

 

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