Letter from Iowa: Sunil Gangopadhyay

On October 25, 2012 by admin

15 June, 1964

313 South Capital

Iowa City, Iowa






Right now I am resting beneath a largish tree on the bank of this river. Windy it is. And 5 dozen cans of beer. Been watching this white girl in swimming costume. Occasionally I am mildly kicking her bottom—how does that look visually? I am literally resting in this state. But I am not part of this setting.  As soon as I bring my palms closer to my eyes, everything recedes. No woman’s face. No hunger. No thirst. But beer—yes, that is a reality.  Have been reclining on the grass for hours actually. Tried at least 5 times to catch this rabbit but failed miserably.

I was in love with your letter for a couple of days. Especially the letters marked with the red pencil. I knew pretty well that you will not like my story. I have no illusion of delighting you ever with my prose. This is because you have written some great prose at one point. Not anymore. But the kind of magic you have produced—we are simply not close enough. I cannot write such prose. I will not write such prose. But that kind of prose pulls me irresistibly. That you will be one of my readers makes me tremble. Still I write prose. Mostly for money. I do not recall indulging in prose but for monetary consideration. Once I had written a novel—quite unlikely that it will ever get published. I do not fear you though for my poetry. I write poetry like prose and shall continue to do so. I have no qualms about that kind of a style. Shakti has written some extraordinary lines. Much, much deeper and larger than me—this Shakti. I respect him a lot. But his poems are headless. I cannot write like that and do not want to write like that simply because I do not live that kind of a life. I can relate much more to Utpal. But this, my resting with beer, makes me oblivious to all poetry. There is no poetry, no heart, nothing.

Sandipan, why have you not written much of late? What is this thing about occasional prose pieces?  This habit of yours has attracted you to the Hungry Hangama—this latest fad.  I did forbid you. And you did not trust me. And then you simply distanced yourself gradually. I never stopped Shakti. Shakti is greedy. Utpal too has taken that route. But I knew that you were not greedy. I have often shared a bed with you, stood in the same shadow while walking in the sun. I know very well the contours of my own greed. And therefore, I could instinctively feel that your greed is less than mine. I became deeply uncomfortable, generated some strong aversion to this new phenomenon. I had always felt that to compose in the English language in order to earn cheap accolades in the West is the worst possible form of greed and narcissism.  This feeling has deepened this time here, at Iowa. Would you ever like to be an object of curiosity and pity to the outsider?  I have met some Hungry wallahs here—it is these that drive them at the bedrock.  Every single day I receive some invitation or the other to write in English. I have refused.  Steadfastly.  There are 7 crores of potential Bangla readers for me. Much more than French and Italian. I am just doing fine. I write poetry and have no intention to translate my sensibilities. If you wish to access my thoughts in English—do translate me. Happily. I had officially come here to do this kind of mutual back-patting. So far I have resisted that lure.

But the real problem with Hungry is not English. The Bangla is even worse. They try shortcut stuff—the idea is to taste readymade fame by abusing and slighting others in the trade.  I hope you do not end up really thinking that Malay has some writerly stuff in him!  I am wondering because in a recent Hindi literary magazine I have a read an effusive piece by you on this Hungry fad. I was rather surprised that a thinker so abstract as you could feel that writings in the Illustrated Weekly merit any real literary discussion! I know the Hungry folks have tried to pit themselves against the Krittibas or Sunil. I could have dismantled that attempt. That I could. But I refrained.  I am telling all this to you because I so much value you as a writer and thinker. There is no trick in this my exhortation Sandipan.

I did not follow very well the kind of new things that have happened at your end.  Why did you send the same letter to four of your friends—us? I could not fully grasp this method. But then again who has given me this right to understand how your mind works!  The point is that once I return to Kolkata, I will sleep peacefully, will walk around rather happily fleet-footed. I do not need any literary-andolan. I really wondered why Malay had published my letter. I hope he has not published any truncated version. That will be so out of the context. I have written to him recently: “If you edit sections of the head or tail of my letters and use some fashionable rubbish like threesome dots or some such instead, I shall box your ears and slap you real hard once I return.” The same is true of your letter. Shakti’s and yours and my private linen is being washed in the public.

But these are ephemera—really. No one can touch you. And I shall stand by you always. We have fought over many issues, Sandipan. But I have thought about you patiently: we cannot do without you. I cannot. In a manner of speaking you are my obverse—your fragmentary-disjointed character, your errors and your treachery—to all these I aspire.  Like a life I never had but so wished for. Whenever I think of any writer in our generation with some real promise, I think of you and only you (except for Tanmay Dutta). There is no one in the city of Kolkata—who will dare touch your subtle body.  You keep on sleeping softly, oh so softly with Rina and tell her those stories from Mars.

I shall reach Kolkata on the 18th of August.  Have been detained here for sundry reasons. My idiocy, mostly.  There is an outside chance of staying in Paris during late July or in early August. But before that—by mid July I travel to NY City and then to England. How did you even think that I will join a Master’s program here at Iowa? You have lost all sense of proportion! I have troubled you a lot about your writings in Krittibas, but this time I became rather pensive not seeing your imprint in that magazine. Any hukum for me to get something for you from here?




Sunil Gangopadhyay (1934-2012) was a poet and novelist from Bengal.

The Hungry Generation Movement,  a literary movement in Bangla, was launched by what is known today as the Hungryalist quarteti.e. Shakti Chattopdhyay, Malay Roy Choudhury, Samir Roychoudhury and Debi Roy (alias Haradhon Dhara), during the 1960s in Kolkata. The approach of the Hungryalists was to confront and disturb the prospective readers’ preconceived colonial canons. They took the word Hungry from Geoffrey Chaucer’s line “In Sowre Hungry Tyme” and they drew upon Oswald Spengler’s  idea of non-linear time in a particular culture for philosophical inspiration. This movement is characterized by expression of  a closeness to nature and sometimes by tenets of Gandhianism and Prudhonianism. The works of the participants in the movement appeared in Citylights Journal 1, 2 and 3 published between 1964 and 1966, edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and in special issues of American magazines including Kulchur edited by Lita Hornick, Klactoveedsedsteen edited by Carl Weissner, El Corno Emplunadoedited by Margaret Randall, Evergreen Review edited by Barney Rosset, Salted Feathersedited by Dick Bakken, Intrepid edited by Alan De Loach, and San Francisco Earthquake, during the 1960s.

Sandipan Chattopadhay (1933-2005) was a novelist and prose writer. He was a staunch supporter of the Hungryalism Movement during 1961-65, though he, along with Binoy Majumdar and Shakti Chattopadhyay, left the movement because of literary differences with some other leading figures of the movement.


Translation: HUG

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