The fearless, experimental poetry of Binoy Majumdar
By the time Binoy Majumdar was composing verses for his seminal anthology Fire Esho, Chaka (Come Back, Wheel) published in 1962, love-poetry detached itself from the piousness of the romantics and from the iniquitous images portrayed by the classicists. Although like the romantics, Binoy's musing in nature and recalling of some inanimate objects are quite evident in his poetry but a pensive reading can conclude the picturesque nature, such as "pale fruit" and the trivial chores like "cooking meat" imprinted by the poet as erotic metaphors, which reappear in his poetry again and again. Considering his habit of ruminating in nature—which has been an inseparable part of his poesis—it can be argued that Binoy's poetry got an impetus in Fire Esho, Chaka and it started to move on with a remarkable velocity, leaving behind the standstill world of Nakshatrer Aloye (In Light of the Star)—his first book which was published in 1958.
My first impression of Binoy's poetry is something I vividly remember. I started reading his poetry from Fire Esho, Chaka without the least bit of a critical approach, and within a couple of days, I finished the book. Defeated by immense grief, I found myself bathed in tears—perhaps because the poet himself wrote in an essay that he had composed all the 77 verses the book contained in such a manner that they might seem personal to the readers. After overcoming the impact of a grievous ennui the book left on me, I moved towards reading his earlier works and it felt like I was reading the verses of a doubtful lover who was oscillating in a dilemma—whether his love will ever come to him or not. The poems of Nakshatrer Aloye was like throwing a pebble in the pool of sighs. In this earlier phase of writing poetry, Binoy had a tendency to imitate his venerable preceptor Jibananda Das. The imagery of the drowsy world and the sedative nature of his first book seems familiar with the poetics of Jibananda Das.
But his imitation ended with Nakshatrer Aloye and his reception of Jibananda began with Fire Esho, Chaka—the book where Binoy had discovered his own poetic tone. The lover of this book was not anymore a lover who would immerse himself in an eternity-long wait for his lost love, rather the lover, devoured by the termites of time, has matured and becomes critical of his experiences in love. Binoy treated this book as a journal where he enlisted his thoughts in the shape of poetry.
As time passed by and as the poet made an introspection in seclusion, he dug up such verses which to the reader might feel like a revelation of truth. One might reckon after reading lines such as: "Starting from experience I've slowly known you / like the news of the colourless sky", that the poet was quite disheartened after knowing the true self of his lover or the close contact he might once have had with his lover in the past. That it unfolded truths which he was not prepared to accept. One might wonder if that was the reason he wrote "Random, jittery daubs have the power to emerge / into a painting if only the viewer fell back a few paces", or was he completely mistaken while being in love and that is why he wrote "So long I'd thought you too had come to the tryst – / as when transparent clouds race across the moon / we think it's the moon and not the clouds in motion"?
Sometimes it feels that for Binoy everything around him has turned filthy. Why else would he write "It rained last night, or did I merely / long for it in my sleep? / The rain now lies in pools, mirrors for the sky / to shave off its lather of clouds / fermenting mosquitoes, flies"? It feels as though the pessimism that spread its roots like the poisonous lilies inside his psyche made him write "I think of life, hair won't sprout again / on the skin when the wound is healed.''
Binoy was admitted to hospital after writing a poem that states, "I walk back three paces then hit / by the revelation swing forward / your thought only seemingly far out of the reach of mind / like a comet periodically returns", on July 23, 1961. He continued writing poems again in January of 1962 but this prolonged interval—when he was trying to recollect himself—did not affect the continuity of Fire Esho, Chaka.
Binoy has maintained speed throughout the book. From the first poem Binoy wrote on March 8, 1960 to the last poem he composed on June 29, 1962, one can notice his shifting moods, like one changes the gears to speed-up a vehicle. I won't do the same mistake again—I did or many do while reading Binoy's poetry for the first time—of categorising his poems as a bunch of gloomy pessimistic verses because at times a tinge of optimism too peers out from the edifice of sadness, like in "Your absence is as of the blue rose / from the kingdom of flowers. / Who knows / you may yet appear. Maybe you have, are you too close?"
Binoy's poetic brilliance continued in his later books Aghraner Onubhutimala (Series of Feeling in a Late Autumn), Ishwarir (For the Goddess) and a few others where too the despondency of a dejected lover and the symbolic eroticism remained as a leitmotif. But one article falls too short to engage ourselves in discussing the whole poetic-corpus of Binoy Majumdar.
He would've turned 89 this year and still it feels hard to believe that we had a meticulously experimental poet like him who treated poetry as a rendezvous of science and lyrical verses. As he observes, "If you never come again, never blow through these steaming regions / like cooling drifts of the upper air, even the absence is an encounter''–one cannot help but wonder that perhaps we lost him too early!
Soumalya Chatterjee is from India and is a former student of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University.