Jibanananda Das

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doKhin Haowa:

Jibanananda Das, (1899-1954) a major Bangla poet and educationist, was born on 17 February 1899 in BARISAL, son of Satyananda Das, a schoolteacher and founder editor of the Brahmabadi..His mother, Kusumkumari Das, wrote POETRY...Matriculating in 1915 from Barisal Brajamohan School, Jibanananda completed his IA in 1917 from B M College, and BA with Honours in English in 1919 and MA in 1921 from Presidency College..He also studied law for some time...

Jibanananda started his career as a teacher in Calcutta City College (1922-28)..He then briefly taught at the newly founded Bagerhat Prafulla Chandra College..He also taught at Ramjash College in Delhi (1929-30)..In 1935 he joined BM College in Barisal and continued to teach there till shortly before PARTITION in 1947 when he left for Kolkata..

Jibanananda started writing poems at an early age..While he was still a student, his poem, 'Barsa Abahan', (Invocation to the Rains) was published in the Brahmabadi (Baishakh 1326/April 1919..Many of his poems were published in various magazines..His volumes of poetry include Jhara Palak (Fallen Feathers, 1927), Dhusar Pandulipi (Gray Manuscript, 1936), Banalata Sen (1942), Mahaprthibi (Great Universe, 1944), Satti Tarar Timir (1948), Rupasi Bangla (Beautiful Bengal, written in 1934, published in 1957), Bela Abela Kalbela (1961)..

Jibanananda belonged to the group of poets who tried to shake off RABINDRANATH TAGORE's poetic influence..Inspired by western modernism and the intellectual outlook of the Bengali middle class, this group wrote about the realities of the urban present and of the lonely self even while they drew upon the rural traditions of Bengal..Although Jibanananda's early poems reveal some influences of  NAZRUL ISLAM, SATYENDRANATH DUTTA and MOHITLAL MAJUMDER, he shook off these influences to become a towering figure in Bangla poetry. Jibanananda shared Rabindranath's deep feeling for nature, eloquently describing the beauty of rural Bengal in Rupasi Bangla and earning the appellation of Rupasi Banglar Kavi (Poet of Beautiful Bengal)..Unlike Rabindranath, however, he also portrayed distressed humanity as well as the depression, frustration, and loneliness of modern urban life in his poems..Introspection is also an important characteristic of his poetic genius..His poems merge a concern for the present and a sense of history..Many of his poems sound like prose, and greatly influenced subsequent poets..

Jibanananda's poems of rural Bengal played an important role in the political and cultural perspective of Bangladesh..His poems inspired a pride in Bengali nationhood, especially in the 1960s and during the WAR OF LIBERATION in 1971..Though principally a poet, Jibanananda also wrote essays, SHORT STORIES, and NOVELs..As a novelist and short story writer, however, Jibananda's unique talent was realised after his death with the discovery of many of his manuscripts..These novels, which were published posthumously, include Malyaban (Adorned with a Garland 1972), Sutirtha (The Good Pilgrimage, 1977), Jalpaihati, Jibanpranali, Basmatir Upakhyan etc..He wrote about two hundred stories..A collection of his short stories is Jibanananda Dasher Galpa (Stories of Jibanananda Das, 1972)..He also wrote essays on poetry, some of them included in Kavitar Katha (On poems, 1955)...His complete works have been published in 12 volumes, as Jibanananda Samagra (The Complete Works of Jibanananda, 1985-96), from Kolkata...Jibananda's stories and novels analyse the complexities of conjugal life and of sexual relationships as well as the contemporary social and political infrastructure..

Banalata Sen received an award (1953) at the Nikhil Banga Rabindra Sahitya Sammelan (All Bengal Rabindra Literature Convention)..Jibanananda Dasher Shrestha Kavita won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1954..Jibanananda died in a tram accident in Kolkata on 22 October 1954.

Source: http://www.banglapedia.org

doKhin Haowa:
Between 1925, when his first poem appeared, and 1954, this shy professor of English literature who hardly ever traveled out of Bengal (except for a few months' stint of teaching at Ramjas College in Delhi), penned some of the most powerful verses in Bengali...Nearly half a century after his death, his poems, with their magical lyrics and tapestry of rich imagery, continue to haunt us..Jibanananda was a very private person; only one book of his verses was published in his lifetime, and there have not been translations of his books of poems even long after his death; the beauty and magic of Jibanananda's poetry has largely been confined to original Bengali...Clinton B. Seely at the University of Chicago, researched well over two decades on the life of Jibanananda, described him as the "..acknowledged successor to Rabindranath as Bengal's poet laureate" in his biography of the poet titled A Poet Apart..the English translations are taken from Prof. Seely's biography..Note the richness of imagery, and weaving of life and death in these works.

Banalata Sen is the most widely quoted poem by Jibanananda.

For thousands of years I roamed the paths of this earth,
From waters around Ceylon in dead of night to Malayan seas.
Much have I wandered. I was there in the gray world of Asoka
And Bimbisara, pressed on through darkness to the city of Vidarbha.
I am a weary heart surrounded by life's frothy ocean.
To me she gave a moment's peace - Banalata Sen from Natore.

Her hair was like an ancient darkling night in Vidisa
Her face, the craftsmanship of Sravasti. As the helmsman,
His rudder broken, far out upon the sea-adrift,
Sees the grass-green land of a cinnamon isle, just so
Through darkness I saw her. Said she, "Where have you been so long?"
And raised her bird's-nest-like eyes - Banalata Sen from Natore.

At days end, like hush of dew
Comes evening. A hawk wipes the scent of sunlight from its wings,
When earth's colors fade and some pale design is sketched,
Then glimmering fireflies paint in the story.
All birds come home, all rivers, all of this life's tasks finished.
Only darkness remains, as I sit there face to face with Banalata Sen.

Banalata Sen was a recurrent theme is Jibanananda's creation with its rich tapestry of imagery..Was there a Banalata Sen? There is no documentation that there was indeed someone by that name in his real life...Expressions suggesting end of time, and use of words like "darkness remains" suggest end of life themes, that were common in Jibanananda's works related to Banalata Sen, but nothing beyond is hinted in these works. In "thousands of years merely play" he wrote, for example,

Thousands of years merely play like fireflies in darkness.
Pyramids all about. The smell of coffins.
Moonlight upon sand. Here and there shadows of date palms
Like disintegrated columns. Assyria stands dead - humbled.
Stench of mummies on our bodies: all of life's business is finished.
"Remember?" she asked. I queried merely, "Banalata Sen?"

In spite of his nuclear family of wife and two children, Jibanananda Das was a very lonely person...The poet Buddhadev Bose once commented that he was the "...most alone of our poets."..In a reflective, as if premonitory piece on the tram tracks of Calcutta, he once wrote:

"....It is late - so very late at night.
From one Calcutta sidewalk to another, from sidewalk to sidewalk
As I walk along, my life's blood feels the vapid, venomous touch
Of tram tracks stretched out beneath my feet like a pair of primordial serpent sisters.
A soft rain is falling, the wind slightly chilling.
Of what far land of green grass, rivers, fireflies am I thinking?
Where are the stars?
Have those stars been lost?
Beneath my feet the slender tram track - above my head a mesh of tangled wire
Chastises me...."

Sixteen years after he wrote these lines, in a fateful evening, while returning home from his evening walk, he was run over by a streetcar..Eight days later, he lost his battle..

Jibanananda Das was a unique poet for his generation..For his genre of poets, his entry into publication of poems was at an older age than most of his peers..In his lifetime, recognition came slow for him, and most of the time, too little, too late..It's ironic that the greatest poet of the post Tagore generation of Bengal never lived to see better times..Even in his centenary year, Calcutta, which prides itself to have more streets named after poets and litterateurs than any other, doesn't have one for her own son who lived and died in her streets and city-blocks..Yet, through it all, we want to believe all these are too trivial for the poet who once declared (in Windy Night):

"....My heart tore free from the earth and flew,
Flew up like a drunken balloon into an ocean of blue wind,
To the mast of some distant constellation, scattering stars as it flapped
away like some mischievous vulture...."

Jibanananda Das will live in our hearts forever.

By Arindam Basu

doKhin Haowa:
here is a remark that i found in a forum while searching on Jibananda Das, posted by Bijoy Adhikary in response to the article i just posted above...i found it inspiring...hope u'll like it too

This is a wonderful approach to post an article on Jivannada Das, who to me is one of the greatest poets of all time...I really appreciate it...I have read couple of translations of Banalata Sen, and they were nice...They are useful too in a sense that english speaking people can read and see what Jibananda is...But in reading those translations I reaslized something...They dont' come near the original that was written in Bengali...The trnslators were wonderful, it's just that our language, my mothertounge is the best gift that has been given to me and it's because of this sweet bengali language the pure, indescribable taste of Banalata sen can only be felt if reader's mothertounge is bengali...I thank God for sending me to earth as a bengalee and for the poems of Jivananada Das and the novels of Bibhuti Banarjee..

doKhin Haowa:
Those alluring poems of Jibanananda Das!

By A.H. Jaffor Ullah


Poems of Jibanananda Das have special meaning to all of us who are living in an alien land faraway removed from Bengal.  The sensation that I get reading poems from ruposhi bangla or bonolata sen cannot so easily be described through writing alone.  How one could possibly describe his or her mood or emotion?  As I am gracefully growing older, Jibanananda Das's poems are creeping into my mind. The joy that I get upon reading his fascinating poems could possibly be described by one Bangla word -- "onirbochonyo!"  There is no parallel English word for it.

It is rather pathetic that while I was a high school student kids belonging to my generation were not much exposed to the poems of either Jibanananda Das or Bishnu Dey—not that we could have appreciated Bishnu Dey’s difficult and post-modern poems at any halcyon days of our youth.  Therefore, the staple was that from Rabindranath Thakur, Nazrul, Sottrondonath Datta and few other poets' compositions of the twentieth century.  While I was in college in mid 1960s, I heard for the first time the name of Jibanananda Das.  I had the slightest idea that the poet had long gone a decade earlier.  His biography was difficult to obtain in those days.  By late 1960s, Jibanananda Das’s poem "Bonolata Sen" had created a sensation among college-going kids.  No one heard such poem before!  The similes Jibanananda Das used in his poems were so new that it was simply bewildering to read any of his gems.

In the early seventies, a friend gave me the poet's "ruposhi bangla" (Bangla, the Fair Maiden) to read.  The collection "ruposhi bangla" had 61 poems in it (first published in 1957, posthumously though).  Researchers say that most poems were composed in mid 1930s starting from march 1934.  Most likely, the poems were completed before 1939 when the World War II had started.  The war had a strong effect on the poet.  The dismal prospect of the war—the death and destruction—had caused such a stir in him that he started writing poems on melancholic theme.  His poem collection "satti tara’r timir" (Darkness of the Seven Stars) contains the poems influenced by the world gone awry due to world’s geopolitical conflicted even though Bengal was spared from the wrath of the war.

The poem collection "bonolota sen" has in it some thirty phenomenal poems.  The collection was published in December 1942 when a vicious war was still raging all over the world.  The poet was very sensitive to what was going on in the world during 1939 through 1945—when World war II was being fought between the Germans and the Allied force.  Even though the vicious war had spared bulk of Indian subcontinent, it had a major effect on Jibanananda Das because he composed some forty poems in a collection call "satti tara’r timir" (Darkness of the Seven Star), which were mostly written on melancholic theme.  It was published in 1948—a year after India was partitioned into India and Pakistan.  The poet was already in Kolkata by then. Why did Jibanananda Das have to leave Barishal—a nature’s paradise—and had to move to a concrete jungle in Kolkata in the early forties?  Was he comfortable, mentally, living in such a crowded place?  Was he fatigued living in the urban jungle so much so that it had hastened his demise from this mortal world?  Did he accidentally slip while riding a tram in Kolkata, or is it that he was simply tired of living in a lifeless place?  Surprisingly, the answer to my query may come from his poems.  In one of his many poems that he composed while he was in Kolkata, he wrote one on tramline.  How spooky!

The other day, I took some time out to get my  mind away from day’s event, which is nothing more than news about bombing of Afghanistan by the US military.  Most news of these tireless bombings of Afghanistan had lost novelty already after a month had gone by; the news of bombings, people getting killed due to "collateral damage,"  etc., had an aura of mundaneness in them.  Nothing excites me anymore.  I wished the world will once more become a placid place.  Therefore, to keep my little sanity, which is still intact, I went to the Internet looking for Jibanananda Das’s poem.  I was particularly looking for some English translation of his poems.  I found some, but they were scanty. In the mid-sixties, both Mr. Tarun Gupta and Ms. Mary Lago did some translation of Das’s poems such as "The Birds," "If I Were a Wild Swan," "Grass," "She," "The Sounds of a Dream," "O Kite!", "Twenty Years Later," "You Once Showed Me," and "The Story of the Field."  Unfortunately, I could not read a single of them because they are not available in the Internet.  However, I saw a handful of Jibanananda Das’s poems being translated into English in one website.  These translations were done literally (word for word with some restriction of course).  No names were mentioned as regard who did the translation.  I took one such translated poem (shikar); the Bangla original poem was included into poet's collection of poems entitled "bonolata sen."  I compared the translation done by the unknown person and then I did improvise on the translation to get a better feel for the poem.

It would be wonderful to place the original Bangla poem side-by-side with the translated version of the poem so that a reader who knows both the languages with proficiency could figure out if the English version carries the same sentiment as it was intended for the original Bangla version.  Believe me, it is a tough job to translate Jibanananda Das’s poem because the poet himself is an enigmatic person; besides, he used very difficult and unusual words throughout the poem.  In Bangla, readers have to read more than one time for some of Jibanananda Das’s poem to get the feel for the composition.  It is no easy task.

I have seen some fine translation of this enigmatic South East Bengali poet.  These were done by Clinton B. Seely (bodh - Sensation from dhusor pandulipi), Humayun Kabir (nabik—Sailor from satti tara’r timir, and Lila Ray (bidal - Cat from bonolata sen).  It is more than likely that other translations were done, but not readily available in the Internet.

In my next article on this enigmatic East Bengali poet of the early to mid twentieth century, I will try to accommodate one or two translated poems of the poet.  For, I believe, Jibanananda Das’s poems are timeless; also, they carry meaning that is still valid in this day of Internet.  The agelessness of our East Bengali poet’s composition comes from the very nature of those poems, which is the testament of a person who had a great difficulty (precariousness) in facing the onslaught of modernity.  I found some uncanny similarities between his poems and with that of nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman.  How interesting it is that I lived in a small town for close to three years in Long Island, New York, in the mid seventies where this towering American poet, who was well ahead of his time, was born and lived there.  In my future essay, I will show how Whitman’s poems may have influenced the poetry of Jibanananda Das.  Until then, please enjoy this translated piece of Jibanananda Das—shikar (The Hunt).

The Hunt (Shikar) 

 Jibanananda Das 


Sky's color is like the soft blue of grasshopper's belly;
Guava and custard apple orchard all around, green as parrot's plumes.
A lone star still lingers in the sky;
Like the most twilight-intoxicated maiden in some village bridal chamber;
or that pearl from her bosom the ladylove from Egypt
dipped into my Nile-blue goblet of wine
A bright solitary star still hovers
just as it did some eon ago.

In a frosty night, the up-country menials lit a fire
in a filed whole night to keep their body warm
The fire was red like a cockscomb blossom,
Still ablaze, dry aswattha leaves are still crackling. 

Its hue no longer like vermillion in the light of the sun
But has morphed into a wan ardor of heart belonging to sickly salik bird.
Both the sky and surrounding shine in the morn's light drapped by dews
like the glimmer of peacock's colorful plumes.


All through the night, a sleek brown buck, roamed all around
the sundari through arjun forests
In starless, mahogany darkness it avoids the cheetah's grasp.
 Waiting for the dawn to crack
It came down in the dawn's first light;
It ripped, munched the fragrant grass, green as green grapefruit.
Down it came to the river touching its cold and tingling waves
to give a jolt to its sleepless, weary, bewildered body
 with the current's drive,
To become thrilled like that of dawn bursting through the cold and wizened
womb of darkness,
To wake like gold sun-spears beneath this blue and
Dazzle doe after doe with beauty, boldness, desire. 

Then, a strange sound! 

The river's water red like a smashed fruit.
Again the fire crackled-red venison served warm.
Many an old dew-dampened yarn, while seated on a bed of grass
beneath the stars.
Cigarette smoke;
Several human heads, hair neatly-parted.
Guns-here and there-frigid-guiltless sleep.


 A.H. Jaffor Ullah writes from New Orleans.  Comments can be directed at - Jaffor@netscape.net

doKhin Haowa:
The loneliest poet 


READING the poetry of Jibanananda Das is like stumbling upon a labyrinth of mind similar to the kind one imagines Camus's "absurd" man toils through. His poems have all the ingredients of the modern man's anguish: pain, despair, yearning, set against a familiar landscape of the eternal, the eternal in this case being his beloved birthplace of Barisal, East Bengal, now Bangladesh. He approaches the world with the only tools the modern man can bring; the tools of reason, which are powerless to calm the anguish of the absurd man, because for the absurd mind, the world is neither rational nor irrational, it is merely unreasonable, and this conflict is at the very heart of Das's work.

To understand his world, one must first put into perspective the fact that he appeared on the Bengali poetry scene 40 years after Rabindranath Tagore, and comparisons to the venerable elder are inevitable. When put side by side, Tagore is the "traditionalist" while Das takes the "modernist" back seat, and while both poets are driven by an intense love for Bengal, the Bengal that is revealed to us in both cases is completely different. Das's poems are plagued by the modernist's desire to escape; his Bengal is achingly beautiful; haunting, savage, sad. Tagore said that "Our part is to appear on the stage of the air, to sound out tambourines and fling flashes of laughter." Jibanananda Das does not come storming out of his poems this way, instead, he's the wistful observer, his voice a quiet whisper in the background saying, this is how it should be, yet it is not... Almost in the same way Joe Winter deprecates his translation skills saying, this is how it should sound, but does not.

In the introduction to Naked Lonely Hand, Winter repeatedly warns us of his failings. Above all, he has been unable, he says. Unable to catch the timelessness, the special quality of awareness, the culture-specific atmosphere that inhabits Das's poems. He condemns his work as bland, lacking the right "Bengali seasoning." The job of the translator, he says, is to dive cleanly into a poem and fashion out a "sculpture of sound, that if it is finished will flow." For all his self-critical remarks, he has managed to keep original rhyme and meter for the most part and demonstrated quite clearly that he has indeed "lived" with these poems. In parts he has achieved that rare combination of technical brilliance while retaining the poems' original vision and momentum. Take these lines from "Songs of Leisure":

The sad time of mornings is filled with the sound of idle flies;
By an enchanter's river, it seems, the country of the world lies.
Taking their leave on all sides here cluster all sunset's rays;
From the sea of summer floating comes the song of the sleep of eyes;

If poems are an approach to human reality, then Das's own life must be examined briefly. Unhappily married with two children, Winter tells us his career included a short spell in journalism and long periods of unemployment. He taught English at universities in Calcutta, Delhi and Barisal. After partition he left Barisal and never returned. When he was 55 he was hit by a tram crossing the street in Calcutta and died. He left behind five published books of poems and a large body of unpublished prose and poetry of which, Rupasi Bangla (Bengal the Beautiful), a collection of 60 sprawling one-sentence Petrarchan sonnets remain most astounding for their jagged language, meticulous rhyming structure and the uninhibited outpouring of love for rural Bengal which doesn't allow you to pause for breath as you read them.

In Das's poetry there is an overwhelming sense of longing to return — to that which is pure, to that which is the beginning, to that place which cannot be reached. It is a world inhabited with mythical women: Behula, Manasa, Kankabati, Lahana, Maitreye, and that most famous one of them all, Banalata Sen. Suicidal, fierce, fairies, women rising from the dead, eternally beautiful, conquerors of civilisations with lances in hand, stationed at the edge of distant skies. Women with cane-fruit-pale-sad eyes who haunt him. Women whom, like he says of Sankhamala, "once the world knows her, then it does not." His rivers are mythical too: Bonjhiri, Jolihjiri, Jalangi, Kalidaha, Kirtinasha, Nildana, Pakhli, but the ultimate manifestation is of course, woman as river, and for Das this is the Dhansiri, the very real river that runs through his beloved Barisal:

I will come back again to Bengal, to this Dhansiri riverside
Maybe not as a man — but a shalik, or white-crest kite;
Or a dawn crow maybe, new-rice-time, in misty flight
To this jackfruit-tree-shade one Kartik day will glide

Nature plays an important role in the imagery of his poems, but it is not of the ordinary kind, it is accompanied with a separation in his mind between that which he desires and the reality of the world that disappoints. The juxtaposition of village versus city plays out the timeless contradiction between nostalgia for unity versus a fragmented universe. Das is carrying Barisal within him but he approaches the human condition with the mind of an urbanised intellectual, so how can he not be trapped in the contradiction that bind these two worlds together, that coexist, despite of? Thus, he must reconcile these two things in his poetry: how "one of the many thousand village nights of Bengal" can almost become a woman — "long-eyed, soft-smiling," and simultaneously, how the beggars in Bentick Street reckon up the world's wrongs and rights, killing lice in their hair, "for the land they will go to now is called the soaring river/where a wretched bone-picker and his bone come and discover/their faces in water — till looking at faces is over."

Das's poetry is a search for awareness, for light, and for this he must sift through the darkness that is filled with half-truths, weariness and existentialist despair. Sadness and pain serve as the main trajectory with which he takes us to the other shore of understanding, where he must go and where we, as readers must follow. "We have wrung out the value of this long-lived world," he says in "1946-47", a long poem about partition. "There's no place for the soul in the world/today there is no significant knowledge... there's no glimmer of light... . There is only a soundless deathless surrounding darkness."

I like what Winter calls "blessed despair." He implies that there are two darknesses, one in which man has imprisoned himself, and another, quite separate darkness, in which we must examine the reality of the world, the chaos and brutality that surrounds us, and make not just sense out of it, but transform it into beauty.

I do not want to know any more where emperor turns clown —
Where Babylon once more is ground down small;
The colour of the fire of soldier's torches to my eyes' edge do not bring;
Stop the war drums — let the buffoon of kingdoms and empires duck into dark like an owl's wing.

In his translations, Winter seems to have encountered despairs of his own. "A Jibanananda poem scrapes through one. It hurts. And then one is owned by it." All too true.

Naked Lonely Hand, Jibanananda Das, translated by Joe Winter, Anvil, 2003, £8.95.

Tishani Doshi received the Eric Gregory Award for her poetry in June 2001. She can be reached at t_doshi@hotmail.com


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