‘This Valley Of Dealth...’

Nabarun Bhattacharya did not RIP


‘‘Actually I require money but I cannot afford to earn it by indecent means’’
…Nabarun Bhattacharya

Nabarun Bhattacharya born on 23 June 1948 passed away on 31 July 2014. He was a recipient of Narsinha Das Award (Delhi University 1994), Bankim Purashkar (West Bengal government 1996) and Sahitya Akademi Award (1997).The only child of Bijon Bhattacharya and Mahasweta Devi, the author's quest in life was to follow a question that dogged him endlessly. In an inaugural speech in 2010 he articulated the question as "You have known many stalwarts since your childhood, you are Bijon Bhattacharya's son, you have seen Utpal Dutt, you have held the reflector for Ritwik Ghatak, you have seen Satyajit Ray, you have seen Arun Mitra... Bishnu Dey, you have seen Subhash Mukhopadhyay, you have seen Makhdoom Mohiuddin, you have seen Parvez Shahidi, now how do you plan to live your life? What will you be doing?"

Since his death, chants of Lal Salaam reverberated around his hearse and on the pages of social networking sites. Yet in a 2006 interview the author expressed very clearly that "Previously I was a hardline doctrinaire Marxist but today you can tell me it's a paradoxical situation; I am a radical all the same but I don't believe in anthropocentrism that way. Now my position is much more open. I would like to meet with people and discuss different views but there are certain common things. The poor must be saved from dying of hunger, of lack of health, from lack of education, from lack of culture." He went on to add "You see a sort of Social Democracy is required, the sort of protection you have in England or elsewhere, in Scandinavia that should be done. Because you see deprivation is something which is relative and people could be deprived in various senses.... And that is why this sort of deprivation involves some sort of humiliation for the people which I cannot tolerate and that I think legitimises my own anger against this".

A master of poetry and prose, the author's first short story 'Bhasan' was published in 1968, in 'Parichaya'. 'Parichaya' is a Bangla literary periodical that chose to be a fellow traveller of the Communist Party of India (CPI) after the split in 1964. Even as late as 2003, Bhattacharya's short story 'Prithiber Sesh Communist' was published in 'Kalantar', the mouthpiece of the West Bengal State Committee of the CPI.

Nabarun Bhattacharya went on record to say that he did not support "...whatever that has happened in the Soviet union during the 1930s' but he did not discard his icons like many leftists of his vintage would. So in 'Judhho Poristhiti'( a 2006 novel by the author) Ronojoy narrates the following episode to his doctor. "This was much before the 1917 revolution. In the Caucasus region the Czar's police was trying to cruelly suppress a miners' strike. The miners were surrounded on both sides by drunken policemen with whips and iron chains in hand. The strikers were walking down a narrow pathway with the policemen standing on both the sides. The police were beating the strikers,black and blue and none was able to reach the other end of the path. The strikers were collapsing unconscious in a bleeding heap, one after another. At the end of the queue was that Bolshevik leader. He bit a blade of grass of grass and started to walk the path. Blows rained down of him and he was a bleeding mess but he reached the end of the path. A police officer was astonished at the leader's determination and endurance. The leader removed the blade of grass that he had bitten and handed it over to the police officer. He said, 'Keep the blade of grass for it does not have any bite marks. Whenever you see the blade of grass you will remember me. My name is Stalin'."

In the course of the interview cited above the author said "....I try to bring to the fore the actors behind my narratives not merely caught in impersonal historical forces. They are active agents challenging the existing power relations, shaping the events, demanding space, constructing their identity." The author perhaps had in mind that "During the Paris Commune, communards came out in droves and began shooting at the big and large clocks. They declared that those clocks bore the ruler's time. We want to establish our time, they said." (A snippet from the author's anthology 'Aquarium'). The actors behind the author's narratives are people of very limited means or none at all like Biren in 'Amar Kono Bhoy Nei To (guess I have nothing to fear)' who gave up his job once his employers became strict on attendance. Biren survives on the margins by living off others. Jagadish in 'Ektukro Nylon er Dori'(a Stretch of a Nylon Rope)' is yet to be defeated but he is shaky and believes in fate. He is scared of darkness and gets goose bumps even while walking through a small length of a space that is not well lit. His latest amulet is a 'Stretch of a Nylon Rope' that a domestic help of a rich household had used to hang herself to death. And when these people, always pushed to a corner, choose to stand up there is some noise as it happened on 7 December 2012 when Sunil Sarkar, a security guard at a Kolkata bank, shot two of his colleagues during office hours. It was reported that Sarkar was often humiliated by these two colleagues of his.

In the course of the same inaugural address Bhattacharya went to add that Globalisation means 'simply that ...bloody American domination either in the form of capital or in the form of dubious commodities or in the form of cultural imperialism. It is total outright American domination. This perspective must be kept clear enough ...whom we are fighting against and why we are fighting." The author recalled Guy Debord and said that "...this damn bloody capitalist society is always trying to create spectacles... theatre festivals... Asian Games... this society of spectacles must be challenged." However, and this we shall soon see, when the actors behind the author's narratives challenge the existing power relations and seek to shape events the resulting blast is one hell of a spectacle. In 'Baby K Parijat' (a 2013 collection of a series of stories with Baby K as the principal protagonist), Baby K is a sex worker who, like our nation that guzzles imported crude, survives on a daily intake of 5 litres of petrol. In one particular episode, 'American Petromax', three American GIs take Baby K to a seedy bar in a side street in Chowringhee, Kolkata. Some others were waiting in the bar for their share of fun. The boisterous lot prop her up on a table to dance. A Gl pushes a Marlboro into Baby K's mouth and lights the cigarette. The immediate explosion is equivalent to five Molotov Cocktails, so said the 'forensic report of the US army'.

However, many of the author's characters or actors are active agents challenging the existing power relations. The 'Kangal Malsat' war is yet to end and was still being fought on the pages of 'Bhasabandhan', the Bangla quarterly edited by Nabarun Bhattacharya, when the author was seriously taken ill in 2013. The battle that ended in the final pages of 'Kangal Malsat' (novel published in 2003) with a truce was a grand spectacle. Most of the subversives in 'Kangal Malsat' are to be found in Kalighat, near Tolly's Nullah which is also known as Adi Ganga and close to Keoratola crematorium. The fire power of the human subversives is multiplied manifold by 'Phyatarus', a group of three flying human beings and innumerable flying discs of multiple sizes called 'Choktars'. Marshal Bhodi heads the Choktar sect. The core committee of the group of subversives comprises Danda-bayas, Marshal Bhodi, Bhodi's wife Bechamoni, Sarkhel, Bhodi & Becha-moni's servant Nolen and a representative of the 'Phyatarus'. Marshal Bhodi's father, Dandabayas is a talking raven and usually works in consultation with Begum Johnson (1728-1812) who is reported to have lived in 10 Clive Street and met Siraj-Ud-Daulah. The grand finale of the novel is enacted in the core Kalighat, Hazra, Rashbehari Avenue area of the present chief Minister's constituency. Bhowanipore police station is carpet bombed by a fusillade of brickbats, earthen pots filled with muck and broken buckets filled with excreta et al. A flying battalion of 'Phyatarus' and 'Choktars' up the crescendo with an aerial display of light and sound and lumpens from every locality in the city participate in the excitement by bursting crackers at their disposal and the city reverberates to the sound of their fury, a grand spectacle.

When Herbert's body was pushed into the furnace of a Kolkata crematorium there was a huge explosion, another spectacle (Herbert, novel published in 1993). There was no explosion post the author's demise.
In 1983 Nabarun Bhattacharya's poem, 'Ei Mrityu Upatyaka Amar Desh Na' was published. This contemporary poem has been translated to English as 'This Valley of Death is Not My Country' by Avijit Basak (
The author wrote,
this valley of death is not my country
this executioner's theatre is not
my country
this vast charnel-ground is not
my country
this blood-drenched slaughter house is
not my country
He wrote,
Seventeen corpses
lie stretched across the pathway
of reckoning
I am losing my senses bit by bit
Seventeen open pairs of eyes
look at me in sleep
I scream out
I will turn insane
I will kill myself
I will do whatever I want to do
I will eat the sun, the moon and the stars
I will smash all bridges between
the viewer and the viewed
The poet wrote,
Through stone-cold lock-up chambers
Shattering the yellow lamps of crime
investigation cells
In courthouses run by murderers
In seats of learning that teach lies
and spew venoms of hatred
In the state machine churning
abuse and terror
In the heartless chest of gunmen
who serve that machine
Let the anger of poetry echo out in fury
Let the poets of the world prepare
themselves, like Lorca,
for their strangled corpses to
disappear let them be ready
to be stitched up by machine-gun
the hours beckon
the city of poetry must be surrounded
by villages of poetry.
No, Nabarun Bhattacharya did not RIP.
(12 August 2014)

Vol. 47, No.7, Aug 24 - 30, 2014