September 2nd is gone with the wind and a birth centenary year of a renowned Bengali poet has passed by in the corona-ruled lockdown times. A people’s poet has unfortunately been seen to be a prisoner in Facebook Live programmes and so on. Renowned poets and artists have been seen on Facebook screens reading poetries of them or that of the centenarian poet in their well-adorned study. Because of Coronavirus, social distancing and lockdown strictures all we have kowtowed to the will of the wisp of the governments in power. Our protests have almost gone off the ground and taken shelter behind the mask in the darkroom of our home of peace!
This centenarian poet is no other than Birendra Chattopadhyay, a so popular and people’s poet, passed his days at 14 Station Road, Dhakuria, which cease to exist anymore and sought asylum in the yellow pages of history. Here he breathed his last. Here, the emotive and enthusiast budding poets once assembled and formed their thorps of dreams of revolution. During the seventies of the bygone century, this 14 SR residence of the poet became the fireplace of the dreamers of dreams.
Birendra Chattopadhyay was neither a Naxalite nor a communist as he himself pleaded for. But he was, to say frankly, the only valiant poet of the bloodied seventies who came out on the road and dared protest against the police atrocities, mass killings, killings in prisons and in public in broad daylight. Poetry was his weapon and he used the best of it. He dared protest the killing of the poet and Naxalite leader Saroj Dutta who was assassinated by the police in the first dawn of August 5th 1971. He witnessed the heinous killing of Ashu Majumder, a poet and a Naxalite, by the police and the military personnel and got titillated. But he got afraid of none and joined protest rallies, met the prisoners in prisons, read his poetry in the jail gates and in protest meets. All these he did in the streets when fear did haunt the time shivering and the public indoored.
The celebration of such a poet on social media apart from the broad public appears and brings forth queer questions. The people’s poet in prison in his centenary year!
Had a social movement does had 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 humanity goaded by conscience. And, this time, we cannot but 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.
The uprising of the Naxalbari peasants did have given birth to such a movement in the late sixties of the last century. History unfurls its yellows 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 Birendra Chattopadhyay.
The ongoing police terror at the behest of the ‘Marxist’ home minister of the then ruling class in 1967 (during May 23-25) 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.
This enraptured poet Birendra Chattopadhyay much to get amassed with the dream and he wrote on November 23rd: Thousands of vultures have encircled the sky/ Wherever someone bleeds they rush into there…/And here in the flaming fire/ Lakhs of hypnotized men find their faces mirrored.—It was as if the burning deck and Casabianca got thereon stood, un moved, not to opt out of the deck for life. And, here too, poet Birendra Chattopadhyay witnessed millions 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.
On November 29th, Chattopadhyay wrote 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’.
During the dark days of the seventies, Chattopadhyay 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.
Under 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 Chattopadhyay 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. Many wise and prudent ridiculed him. Unmoved he stepped forward. 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!
With a view to lodge his protest against the assassinations of poets and Naxalites like Ashu Majumder, Murari Mukhopadhyay and Saroj Dutta, by the police, poet Birendra wrote a poem entitled ‘trial’ (Bichar) in a Bengali left-wing weekly Durpan 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.
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?’ After his ‘trial’ (Bichar) was getting published in the Durpan, a tremor came into the fore. A sensational commotion was created in the police administration. Poet Birendra Chattopadhyay came under the surveillance of the police force. In the month of September 1971, the police and a novice to a local Congress leader arrived at the workplace of the poet at Kolkata’s Bipin Bihari Ganguly Street. A Kolkata Police official bullied the poet and threatened to shut in the offices of the weeklies like Durpan and Bangladesh!
But Chattopadhyay wasn’t frightened at all. He kept his head high and asserted that he was not afraid. Rather he was emboldened enough to go forward. At that time, he was dutiful to extend his humanitarian outlook and practicing 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 hour, 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. He was vexed with the meagre protest against state terrorism and was somehow perturbed. He dreamt a dream of terror-free new homeland where human lives would be safe and musical enough. 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.
The poet stood far from Naxalite politics. But the poet did his best for the cause of the Naxalites and their movement during the flaming seventies. It was a pioneering job that enthused many an intellectual to rise from slumber to fight for their cause. His courage influenced others to be bold enough and to protest on the streets in public. Birendra Chattopadhyay became the lighthouse during the deepest darkness of that time and pioneered how the art of possible would be embodied in the seeming field of deeming impossibility. Mao Zedong, the maker of revolutionary China, expired on September 9th 1976. Chattopadhyay, in order to pay tribute to late Mao, wrote: All through the life/ He sauntered into the sun/ And wanted to compose/ An unblemished poem/ For the world of the people…
The poet was desirous of striving to tie the knot of revolution with an unblemished poem of the dream for an emancipated world all through his life. But this poet in his birth centenary year appears to have been detached from the public life and to become a prisoner behind a partitioned wall! Kowtowing to the so-called social distancing (a pet name given by the corporate, capitalists and their serving serf— the government itself) and pledging the protest into the iron safe the political parties, even the so-called lefts, have got off the road in the corona-ruled political sphere. It’s unfortunate that the celebration of the birth centenary of the poet has followed the suit. The people’s poet has been got social distanced from the struggling public he loved the most.
Asok Chattopadhyay is a renowned poet from Kolkata. A post-graduate and PhD from Calcutta University, Chattopadhyay has been a researcher on the social history of nineteenth-century Bengal. Some of his notable works are: "Unish Sataker Samajik Andolan", "Kangal Harinath and Grambartaprokashika", "Samajik Andolon O Buddhijibi", "Saroj Dutta Samar Sen E Brotoyatrary", "Hintuvawadi Shyamaprosad Prosange", etc. He has been editing "Sanskritik Sama Samay", a Bengali social and literary quarterly for over three decades.