Subhas Mukhopadhyay : A Post-Modernist Indian Marxist Poet
Dr. S. K. PAUL
Reader, Dept of English
Subhas Mukhopadhyay, born on February 12, 1919 in Krishnanagar, Nadia, West Bengal, is one of the most brilliant of modern Bengali poets. Beginning in the 1940s his non-romantic, straightforward approach heralded a new era in Bengali poetry with many poets adopting his themes. His deep social commitment, first-hand experience as a communist party worker, and his idealism gave his poems unprecedented popularity. Though sometimes too literal in conveying its message, his poems were never devoid of beauty.
Political themes, social unrest, protest by the common people and their hope and buoyancy characterize his earlier poems like Padatika, Agnikona, Chitrakuta. Beginning in the late 1950s, his poems became more reflective and personal. Innate beauties of daily life, empathy for the common man, and his faith in humanity created such unforgetable poems as Phula phutuka na phutuka aja Basanta, and Yata durei yai. In the 1970s and later his poems became increasingly allegorical and written in a narrative style. Ya re kagagera nauka, Dharmera kala, Ekabara bidaya de ma expressed his feelings of disillusionment with his characteristic grace.
Mukhopadhyay has also written a number of novels, essays, travelogues, and poetry translations. He is a successful children's writer and is the editor of both children's magazines and literary journals for adults. His work has been translated into many Indian and foreign languages. It is unquestionably true that the need for art is not created by economic conditions. But neither is the need for food created by economics. On the contrary, the need for food and warmth creates economics. It is very true that one cannot always go by the principles of Marxism in deciding whether to reject or to accept a work of art. A work of art should, in the first place, be judged by its own law, that is, by the law of art. But Marxism alone can explain why and how a given tendency in art has originated in a given period of history; in other words, who it was who made a demand for such an artistic form and not for another, and why.
Mukhopadhyay is the recipient of many awards and honors including the Sahitya Akademi Award, 1964; Afro-Asian Lotus Prize, 1977; Kumaran Asan Award, 1982; Mirzo Tursun Zade Prize (USSR), 1982; Ananda Puraskar, 1991; Soviet Land Nehru Prize, Bharatiya Jnanpith Award, 1991. He is a fellow of the Sahitya Akademi, and is the Deputy Secretary of the Progressive Writers' Union. He was conferred Deshikottama by the Viswa Bharati, Santiniketan. He was the Organizer-General of the Afro-Asian Writers' Association in 1983. He has been a member of the Executive Board of the Sahitya Akademi since 1987.
Discussions on the trends of modern and post modern Bengali poetry should remind us the fact that every new experiment has its poets in earlier tradition of creativity which has been silently nourished and built up by poets of our language. The last half of this century has been many meaningful experiments in Bengali poetry. To begin with the Forties of the Century, the Post-Tagorean period may be taken as a watershed in the contemporary history of our poetry.
The break came with, Subhas Mukhopadhyay whose first book of poems "Padatik" (The Foot Traveller) was first published in 1940, a year before Tagore's death (1861-1941) when he was a young fire brand marxist. His was a new voice. His new diction and metrical virtuosity immediately attracted notice from discerning readers and critics. It was a departure from the modernists of earlier generation The Kalloleans, so called for their attachment to an avant grade literary magazine Kallol of the earlier decade. The trend setters of the thirties were headed by Siduindranath Datta, Buddhadeva Bose and Bishnu Dey joined by Samar Sen at a later period. Bengali Poetry was tirelessly trying to make a break through from the magic world of Tagore. The forties offered this opportunity to the younger generations of poets. It was the beginning of a new chapter of creative urge to represent the time and the social reality through sensitive response of the poetic soul. It was a difficult time for Bengal. The second world war brought the enemy at her doorstep. Great Bengal Famine, most cruel and man made was stalking the unfortunate land. Many of the old values were being trampled upon by forces of devil let loose by war. It was the time of crisis of civilization as mentioned by Tagore in his last birthday speech in 1940. The spirit of the time can be best described by presenting a few lines from a celebrated poet of this period Dinesh Das. Here is a free rendering of a stanza from his famous poem Kaste (The Sickle):
Did you love to beholdThe curve of the crescent moon?This is not the century of the moonThe moon of this age is the sickle."(Kaste : Dinesh Das)
Poetry was trying to deconstruct the traditional romantic imageries. The ravages of war time operations in society and its value system completely disenchanted the poets who were inspired by the ideals of humanism and dream of a just society, free from domination and exploitation. Here is an extract from Subhas Mukhopadhyay's poem:
"My love, to day is not for playing with flowersWe are face to face with destructionOur eyes no more glisten with blue wine of dreamOur skin is baked by scorching sunrays."(From Padatik "May Diner Kavita")
Poetry was in no mood to remain in splendid solitude. Poetry was participating in the living experience of the people. It was done with artistic success by ideologically committed poets to turn the attention of the readers from the traditional moderns. The poetry of Jibanananda Das (1899-1954) with its haunting music and imageries was a class apart being strikingly original delving deep into the inner self and creating unparalleled beauty with words. Even today long after his death, Jibananda Das remains a unique poet, a lonely sojourner in the realm of poetry who has given new dimension to the use of Bengali Language as vehicle of poetic expression. No other poet has so successfully created such a spell over generations of poet which remains as tantalizing as when it was first written. We quote his widely acclaimed poem, "Banalata Sen":
"A thousand years I have wandered upon the earthfrom the sea of Ceylon to the midnight sea of MalayMuch have I-wandered; in the grey lands of Wimvisar and Asoka,There have I been; and to the dark, distant town of VidarvaTired of this life, this foaming sea of life,I found peace for a while with Banalata Sen of Natore.Her hair is dark as the nights of far VidishaHer face the architecture of SaraswatiAs the rudderless pilotDrifting and lost on distant seaSees the island of cinnamon trees and grass belowSo have been her darkness, who asked me:Where have you been so long away?This she asked raising her bird-nest eyes, Banalata Sen of Natore."(Extract from Banalata Sen translated by Martin Kirkman)