Remembering Birendra Chattopadhyay

'Is There any Man in this Land'?

Asok Chattopadhyay

When a social movement does have its root deep into the soil and stir a quake, plants panic into the blue hearts of the ruling class, when whole of the country do have its head high in courage and hoisting a gigantic red flag in the towering trail of aspiring dream-pick and just get up with the slogan: long live revolution, then the loathsome mask of the fake revolutionists cannot but fall and at the same time a message of dreamy hope springs up into the psychic domain of the humanity goaded by conscience. And this time we witness some emboldened people toppling the high wall of fear and hailing the message a welcome. We have got it to have a repeat for many a time in history.

Such an incident took place in Naxalbari of the North Bengal following the spring thunder fifty years back. History unfurls its yellow pages that speak much of it. A conscious and Bengali poet with deep sensitivity, standing far from its revolutionary politics, could not be blind-eyed to the call the wind bellowed. And this poet was none other than Birendra Chattopadhyay.

The incidents at Naxalbari during the May 23-25, the ongoing police terror at the behest of the 'Marxist' home minister of the then ruling class, resulted bringing forth of an unforeseen stormy wind harbingering the message not only to the districts of West Bengal but also to the farthest parts of the vast lands of India. And in response a valiant and vibrant song of protest and resistance got up with a red dream, the dream of a new dawn. And this enraptured poet Birendra Chattopadhyay much to get amassed with the dream and wrote on the 23rd November:
Thousands of vultures have encircled the sky
Wherever someone bleeds they rush into there…
And here in the flaming fire
Lakhs of hypnotised men find their faces mirrored

It was as if the burning deck and Casablanca got thereon stood, unmoved, not to opt out of the deck for life. And here too poet Birendra witnesses lakhs of men finding their faces mirrored into the flaming fire causing out of the 'marxist' minister's behest to operate police terror over the agitating people. After just six days of this incident, Birendra wrote on 29th November again: 'every cornstalk of paddy is flaming red like a blood-wet flag.' And in December 1967, he wrote again: 'the winding red flag in the tower is crimsoned in the blood of people, in the bleeding lives of the students in thousands…stars, all around, are grave in hymning the Sun. Victory must have to be won, victory of new born, victory of the people'.

In the post-1947 India, especially in the West Bengal, a sweet tremor of musical voice shrouding 'my land will be free' enraptured the time and environment and poet Birendra welcomed it heartily and was enthused to have the dreams of new birth.

In the black days of the state terror during the seventies, Birendra went out of home and standing on the blood-rid streets of the city of Calcutta witnessed the time, the land, bowing in pain. His human sense found no bar before him to stall. He took no narrow lane to stroll. Rather he roused like a lion and registered his protest with the vibrant letters of his poems against the state terror of the Congress regime.

During this stirred period in the turbulent seventies when the dream-haunted youngsters dared to face the terror and died on the streets, when most of the intellectuals, poets and litterateurs of the West Bengal confined themselves from the fevers and frets of the outward world, kept their conscience mortgaged to the ruling class interest and were busy at pursuing research of their home affairs, poet Birendra led the exception and fought for a valiant street- oriented culture of protest armed with the fiery tongue of his poetry. He even led many a protest move in person. A few he got amassed beside him. Many a ridiculed him. Unmoved he stepped forward. The sound-bomb of his poems did have burst of fury that engulfed in the terrain of warring youth on the road of resistance. The sixteen-paged books of his poems of the turbulent time of fire, death and resistance, bore sound and fury signifying much to do in that best and worst of time. These booklets unfenced the predefined limit and reached by the young budding poets to the remote villages and suburbs and created a prairie fire of protest in the making. Hundreds of young budding poets assembled by him in his activity of outburst. He then was an Orpheus playing flute and the young poets and political activities queued after him. Dreams followed him with a non-stop skiing through!

Ashu Majumder, a resident of Jadavpur area and a beloved student of the late renowned author Mihir Acharya, editor of Suksari and Lekhak Samabesh, died a martyr's death while fighting a straight fight with the state police and military forces' joint operation on the 10th March 1971. Poet Birendra himself was present in Jadavpur on that black day. Police picked up bleeding and dying Ashu into their van before the eyes of the poet and Bamacharan Chakraborty, an RSP leader of Jadavpur. As these two were eye-witness of the incident, police picked them up too and harassed them a lot. Such an incident and killing a young poet and naxalite like Ashu haunted the poet Birendra all through. He felt uneasy to bear it with any more. Four and a half months later, another young naxalite poet Murari Mukhopa-dhyay of Ariadah died a martyr's death in the Hazaribag jail on the 25th July. And on the midnight of the 4th August renowned poet and naxalite theoretician Saroj Dutta was picked up from an apartment of Basanta Roy Road of Kolkata by the police and was shot dead from the point blank range and beheaded him so that no one could recognise him. The event took place in the Kolkata maidan. It was then at the threshold of the dawn. More than one and half a year before this inhuman incident, another renowned poet Subbararao Panigrahi of Andhra Pradesh was dragged and tied with a tree and was shot dead by the police. After three months of Saroj Dutta's assassination, another poet and naxalite Amiya Chattopadhyay was lynched to death in the Alipur central jail along with other prisoners. And the poet and naxalite activist Dronacharya Ghosh was shot dead in the jail custody in the first week of February 1972.

With a view to lodging protest against the assassinations by the police of these three poets and naxalites like Ashu Majumder, Murari Mukhopadhyay and Saroj Dutta, poet Birendra wrote a poem entitled 'trial' (Bichar) in a Bengali leftwing weekly Darpan edited by the renowned journalist Hiren Basu. The title of the poem was followed by a note offered to Saroj Dutta. Despite such inhuman activities of police and administration of the then Congress Government in power, everyone in the ministerial berth along with the chief minister himself and the political parties and the poets, artists and the intelligentsia kept mum. And this act of cold silence hit the poet to heart, he was painstaking. The all-round silence and bowing down to tyranny shocked him the worst and as such he groaned and wrote: 'is there any man in this land? Am I a man yet?'

As being a social creature and conscientious poet he reacted to the bullet-torn children becoming corpses, protested against the assassinations of Ashu-Murari-Saroj Dutta with no hesitation left. He collected the news of the murders of the political prisoners in jail custody, genocidal operations at Kashipur, Baranagar, Barasat etc. All these rows of incidents at last infuriated him. On the 10th September, he wrote: 'hangman has killed you like a beast and howls in glee.' And wrote in to the slain poet:
You are dead. Didn't write a poem for a long.
Didn't don a fresh dress for a long.
You have strolled like a mad
…so dead-you have doffed your old dress
And it's your fault…

After his 'trial' (Bichar) was getting published in the Darpan, a tremor came into the fore. A sensational commotion was created in the police administration. Poet Birendra came under the surveillance of the police force. In the month of September 1971, police and a novice to a local Cngress leader arrived at the work place of the poet at the Bipin Bihari Ganguly Street of Kolkata. An officer of Kolkata police bullied before the poet the worst and threatened to shut in the offices of the weeklies like Darpan and Bangladesh!

Such a threatening could hardly cow down the poet. He kept his head high and asserted that he was not afraid. Rather he was emboldened enough to go forward valiantly. At that time he was dutiful to extend his humanitarian outlook and practisng the doable jobs of a contentious intellectual. At the same time he was offensive enough to counter the negative ideology of the notable poets of the time for their wrong-doings like Nirendranath Chakraborty, Subhas Mukhopadhyay, Golam Kuddus etc. At that bleeding time he was busy at hoisting the unfurled flag of courage to mask-off the known faces who often duped the people. It was one of the prime jobs he was entrusted with. And he was untired of doing the job round the clock.

In September 1976, he wrote to one of his junior poets Sagar Chakraborty:
Bravo! You have written a poem indeed
Police seeks you to get in…

In the end-December 1972, he wrote irritatingly: 'you being a man, who are you getting frightened with and bear out the beasts' temper?'

He was pestered with the meagre protest against the state terrorism and was somehow perturbed. He dreamt a dream of terror-free new homeland where human lives would be safe and musical. Politically he was never a supporter of naxalite ideology but their courage, flying dreams, boldness and uncompromising attitude drew his attention. He found out the light, more light and hope in those naxalite youngsters who were dream-haunted. In the end of 1975 or in the earliest part of 1976 he wrote:
They sometimes become the stream of blood
Sometimes the hills of bones;
Only they do have the courage to face the monster;
In their charming grace I do feel, I can find out
A real homeland for the every human being
Is in the making-and I am its citizen.

This and such was our poet Birendra Chattopadhyay. Despite his attachment to the constitutional 'left' oriented political wedlock, he was psychologically weaker to the naxalites. After the mid-seventies of the last century (during the period 1976-77) he in his 14 Dhakuria Station Road residence what he told to a CPI(M) attached young activist in this writer's presence is noteworthy. He kept his right hand on my shoulder and told that comrade, 'I like you indeed, but I am more inclined to the naxalites.' At that time poets like Samir Roy, Sagar Chakraborty, Sarojlal Bandyopadhyay, Partha Bandyopadhyay, Satyen Bandyopadhyay and so on were his close associates. During the turbulent seventies they all were his genuine comrades. Now none of them is alive.

Far from wedding to the naxalite politics, what the poet did for the cause of the naxalites and their movement during the flaming seventies was a pioneering job that enthused many an intellectual to rise up from slumber to fight for their cause. His courage influenced others to be bold enough and to protest on the street in public. Birendra Chattopadhyay became the lighthouse in the midst of deepest darkness of that time and pioneered the way how an art of possible would be embodied in the seeming field of deeming impossibility. In March 1977 he alongwith Samir Roy edited Chant of life (Jeebaner Jayogan) which was a compilation of poems and letters of political prisoners in jails. On the May 1, 1978 in the Explanation (Jababdihi) of Benche Thakar Kobita he wrote without a bit hesitation that defining the decade of seventies to be the decade of emancipation was pronounced with deep 'belief'. In the foreword of his book of poems entitled Bhahaba Samay Tor Sarkaser Khela he wrote on the 9th August, 1974 : 'the ceaseless bloodshed of our children can never be futile in the long run…'. This assertion of an unnaxalite and at the same time more than a naxalite poet reflected what Birendra Chattopadhyay stood firmly for.

In the September 1976, after the death of Mao Ze Dong, the maker of revolutionary China, he wrote:
All through the life
He sauntered into the sun
And wanted to compose
An unblemished poem
For the world of the people…

He wanted and strived to tie the knot of revolution with an unblemished poem of the dream for an emancipated world all through his life.

Autumn Number 2018
Vol. 51, No.14 - 17, Oct 7 - Nov 3, 2018