Subhas Mukhopadhyay – Rebel Poet

Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri

Of all the rebels who stoked my many rebellions, I loved him the most. They were mostly friends of my father from his Communist party days, who had taken upon themselves the onerous task of modernising the world outlook of a lonely child, albeit in the failed ways of the past. They saw my parents forcing me into a slave camp of learning by rote, and tried to save such remnants of creativity as they imagined me to possess. Subhas Mukhopadhyay had just returned from his first visit to the Soviet land, and I remember him euphoric, talking nineteen to the dozen. He saw a lonely child developing into a boy, and promised him a copy of "Amar Bangla". But copies were hard to get, and it was almost thirty years before the collection of travel diaries created as a corresponding writer of Swadhinata and sent to a gangling boy, reached the man, finally. What the poet had in his pocket, that day, was a copy of "Desh Bidesher Rupkatha", which, apart from magic story-telling, introduced his small friend to prose cadences. Afternoons in vacation time saw the poet spending time reading the usual adolescent outpourings, heavy with Jibananda and Samar Sen. Much later, the poet was asked, “Why vacations? and why afternoons?

 The reply was, “I wanted to meet the son, not his father.”  He was pained by the mental confinement around the boy, and once exclaimed,” Remember, my affection would be unchanged, whatever your examination result.”

I never heard a word against a friend from him, and his perennial state of near-penury, did not prevent him from helping and protecting them. They were always near his mind. One morning, feeling unusually despondent, I reached him as he was about to go about bread and butter business which, at the time, was the production of advertisement copies. He gave me a look, and said, “Okay, I book you till the evening.” We caught a tramcar, and, after he noted some pink in the lily, sat me down at a reception lounge, somewhere near Park Street, and disappeared to earn the daily bread. After some time, he reappeared with some food, if I remember correctly, or maybe we had something from the pavement.” We are going to see A. and kidnap him from his office”, he announced. I was happy because A. was another of my patrons.

There had been a smart Kolkata shower, in the mean-time, and I dozed: over its remains, while S. made more visits and A. gathered his work in. I knew he was in deep family trouble, but, still, was shaken up when they entered Olympia’s, well-known for its bar. A. drank moderately and S. not all. I knew he was no teetotaller, but he sipped a soft drink to accompany me and put me at ease. He was breaking my taboos lightly.               

Young poets always found a helping hand, and thus begun his friendship with the Krittibas group, housing Bohemian poets, with many ideas opposed to his own. Sankha Ghose was also close to them. The symbiosis founded the second modern movement in Bangla poetry, after Kallol-jug, a poetry truly independent of Rabindranath. S. had his antipathies, too, dating from the first split of the CPI. He couldn’t stand Kakababu, PDG or Ritwik.

 Childhood over, politically, we drifted apart, he towards the United CPI, and my friends and I towards the CPI(M-L). He had fought Left lines all his life. In 1949-51, when he was underground in Budge Budge, the West Bengal Party centre forbade him from publishing poetry! He showed himself equally strong in resisting fascism. When the Bangla paper brought out by the CPI(M-L), Deshabrati, was banned, Subhas Mukhopadhyay tried to gather intellectuals to sell the banned paper in the centre of Kolkata.  The official Left tried to dismiss him by accusing him of political “naivete.” They refused to accept him as part of the Left because of his support to Mamata Banerjee. It is an irony of history that the authoritarianism practised by the official Left and the planned populism of Mamata Banerjee have completely changed the connotation of “Left”’ in West Bengal. He was a democratic man, and both the government and the opposition have a lot to learn about democracy from the “naive" poet.

Modern poetry in West Bengal was being suffocated by the epistolary and conversational forms of Gadya Kobita. It was S. who showed how to keep cadences in prose, a feat for which the language will long be grateful to him. He was adept in the mixing of cadences. Middle age saw him expand his repertory prose and, together with Samaresh Basu, S. pioneered the political novel in Bangla. This epoch commenced with the translation of “One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich”, a definitely political statement. The politics of revisionism did influence S. for some time. But there is no evidence that he formally abandoned Marxism. The parties seen by him nauseated him.  Nandigram might have given him hope.  Again, he did not give up the theoretical struggle. He was sincere in his support to “Saptaha”. The post-Cultural Revolution study of the contradiction between the party and the working people and the contradictions within the commune would have been subjects near to the heart of Subhas Mukhopadhyay.

Feb 26, 2018

Dipanjan rai chaudhuri

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