Jibonanada Das (1899-1954) was a Bengali writer, who now is named as one of the greats after Tagore and Nazrul. During his life he wrote beautiful poetry, novels, essays and more. He believed: “Poetry and life are two different outpouring of the same thing; life as we usually conceive it contains what we normally accept as reality, but the spectacle of this incoherent and disorderly life can satisfy neither the poet’s talent nor the reader’s imagination … poetry does not contain a complete reconstruction of what we call reality; we have entered a new world.”
(Translated by Suparna Sengupta)
Often hailed as the most influential poet of the post-Tagore generation, Jibonananda Das remains one of Bengal’s most intimate and incisive observers. Born in 1899, at the cusp of change raging across India and indeed the world, Jibonananda started his poetic career as a Romantic celebrant of Bengal’s vast green fields, sun-dappled rivers, lush horizons, its minutest of elemental forces. As years rolled by, a variety of societal changes impacted this landscape and indeed his own life—colonialism, World Wars, the Bengal Famine, communalism and the dark days of Partition. His poetry and sensibility gradually took a turn to the urbane introspection of existential loneliness, tradition and its clash with modernity, death, sickness, and the newly evolving concept of the nation. However, the theme that towered over his thought-process was the concern of human civilization, its evolution and achievements and the paradox of death, disease and violence that this civilization always was confronted with. Both the pieces translated, ‘BANALATA SEN’ and ‘1946-47’ capture these romantic/humanist approach. ‘BANALATA SEN’ is perhaps his most-quoted poem, where the enigmatic, eponymous damsel offers respite and peace to the world-weary traveller-persona. What is striking in this piece, is the catalogue of places that the persona travels to—all strung together by a distinct Buddhist civilizational motif. Perhaps, he is quietly reflecting on India’s departure from its ethos of non-violence, peace and tolerance, across ages.
- Bimbisara: a 5th century BC king of the ancient kingdom of Magadha; remembered for his military exploits and his patronage of the Buddha
- Asoka: Celebrated as one of the greatest imperialists in Indian history, he is remembered in history for his dramatic conversion from an aggressor to a Buddhist who spread the message of non-violence and peace.
- Vidharba: The north-eastern territory of Maharashtra, on the banks of Godavari.
- Natore: a district in northern Bangladesh. Legend has it that a Zaminder was once travelling by boat looking for a suitable place to build his principal residence. While travelling through Chalan beel (lake), he saw a frog being caught by a snake. His astrologers interpreted it as a sign of the end of his search for a place of residence. The Raja called out to his boatmen: ‘Nao Tharo, nao’ as in, ‘stop the boat’. From a corruption of this exclamation, the place eventually came to be called ‘Nator’.
- Vidisha: Situated very to the Buddhist pilgrimage city of Sanchi, Vidisha was an important trade centre under Buddhist rulers in the 5th century BC.
- Sravasti: Currently in modern day Uttar Pradesh, the city is one of the premiere centers of Buddhism.
‘1946-47’ is a landmark poem on the history of violence and bloodshed that came in the wake of Partition. The poet is a chronicler of Bengal’s changing landscape, her ethos and values in the modern times. But above all, Jibonananda voices the subaltern, especially the Bengal peasantry, whose plight and suffering under colonialism is deeply etched on his mind.
- majhi-bagdi: Denoting the caste of fisherfolk and tribal warrior communities of rural Bengal
- Permanent Settlement: A revenue agreement between the East India Company and Bengal’s landlords to fix taxes/revenues to be raised from land.
- charok-gaach: a maypole erected out of the stump of a tall tree during the season-end festival of the last month of Bengali calendar, Chaitra. On top of this tall maypole are tied bundles of jute and flags with which a merry-go- round is built. Congregants whirl around the top of the maypole, supported by the ropes and hooks.
Although he spent his early days in earstwhile East Bengal, yet he moved to Kolkata where he graduated with an Honours in English in 1919 and thereafter earned an M.A., also in English, from the Calcutta University in 1921. Following his tragic death in a road accident in 1954, a vast body of novels and short stories, written by him, were discovered. Throughout his life, he shied away from public attention as posthumously he emerged to be a modern poetic giant in the annals of Bengali Literature.
Suparna Sengupta lives in Bangalore, India and is a faculty, Department of English at the Jyoti Nivas College for more than a decade now. She has translated various poets from India and Bangladesh and has been published in literature magazines. Her translated poem has been published in “Silence Between the Notes”, an anthology on Partition Poetry (ed. Sarita Jemnani and Aftab Hussain). She also features in the Annual Handbook of “Words and Worlds”, a bi-lingual magazine (PEN Austria Chapter) as also in ‘City: A Journal of South-Asian Literature’, Vol 7, 2019 (City Press Bangalore).