The Financial Express

Shankha Ghosh: Dissent beneath lyricism

Shankha Ghosh: Dissent beneath lyricism

Poet Shankha Ghosh is no more. He died in Kolkata on last April 21. He was 89. Due to his nearly ineffable links to Bangladesh since his birth, Shankha Ghosh could claim himself to be one nurturing the land's presence constantly in his inner self. Bangladesh has overwhelmed him throughout his life. Born in Chandpur in the then East Bengal in 1932, the poet received his secondary education in Pakshi in Pabna. His ancestors hailed from Banaripara in the Barishal district. As he started emerging as a promising poet with distinctive sensibility in Kolkata, the first batch of the modern poets had already drawn the poetry lovers' attention in Dhaka. They were dominated by Shamsur Rahman, Shaheed Quaderi, Al Mahmud, Syed Shamsul Haq and a few other brilliant poets.

The time when Ghosh emerged as a young poet in Kolkata is recognised in Bangladesh as the 'generation of the fifties', which pioneered the pure modernism in the country's poetry. Many term the 1950s the beginning of the era of political and creative dissent in the then East Pakistan, just three years after the creation of Pakistan in 1947. On the other hand, the historic Language Movement had occurred in 1952.

In the neighbouring Indian state West Bengal's capital of Kolkata, a number of Bengalee poets also emerged in the 1950s. The poets who carved out their distinctive places in the group later emerged as the major modern poets in the Bangla-speaking Indian state. Although entering the scene in the post-Tagore-Nazrul era, with Buddhadev Bose caught in a dilemma, they appeared to have come free of any hangover of Tagore-Nazrul, and even Buddhadev. They unanimously found their poetic guide in Jibanananda Das, the great modern Bengali poet from Barishal. Around this period, Shankha Ghosh stepped into poetry. In a short time the poet was able to prove his distinctive poetic genius. He found a number of talented young poets as his contemporaries. Among others, the group was dominated by Shakti  Chattopadhhyay, Sunil Gangopadhhyay, Olokranjan Dasgupta, Binoy Majumdar, Utpalkumar Basu et al. Like the American Beat Generation poets Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti or Gregory Corso, a few of these popular Kolkata poets opted for an unconventional lifestyle to make them separate from the others. Shankha Ghosh was not among them.

n spite of his fast-increasing readership, Shankha Ghosh found this mode of 'poetic life' unnecessary for winning readers over. Instead of letting himself be swept by the poeticised fads of the time, he had continued delving into the esoteric and magical subconscious to discover newer truths of existence. It became his life-long pursuit beginning with his debut collection 'Dinguli Ratguli'(1956). It continued in his later books --- 'Nihito Patalchhaya' (1967), 'Tumi ToTemon Gouri Nou' (1969) etc. In his later books the poet placed himself in the many roles he had found open before him. Those included the selves of one hypnotised by the sylvan nature; a stoic observer; an emotion-charged Mughal emperor seeking to be infected with the same illness as his son's in exchange of the latter's convalescence; a lover; a befuddled city-dweller in a large commercial advert-laden city  etc. The readers encounter these roles of the poet in his following books. They include 'Adim Lotagulmomoy', 'Murkho Boro Shamajik Noy', 'Baborer Prarthona', 'Mukh Dheke Jay Biggaponey', 'Dhoom Legechhe Hritkomoley' and many others. Apart from being a consummate poet, Ghosh could take pride in his vast scholarship. He proved himself a tireless researcher in Tagore and his work. In a number of books, he touched upon the multi-faceted genius of the great Bengalee poet, especially Tagore's stage plays. Besides, Shankha Ghosh had a flair for translation of poetry from foreign languages into Bangla. In 1963, he and his contemporary poet and polyglot-friend Olokranjan Dasgupta jointly translated and edited a collection of poems. The entries in the book are translated into Bangla from the world's major languages. Titled 'Sapta Sindu Dosh Digonto', the volume includes most of the major poets of the 20th century. Published nearly sixty years ago, the book has eventually become a must-read for the younger generation curious to know about the overseas poets. The poet loved to be involved in unconventional literary ventures. He picked Allama Iqbal at one point of his career as his subject of research. Apart from introducing the great Urdu poet to the Bengali readers, he interpreted the nature and message of Iqbal's poems to them.

Essentially a poet, Shankha Ghosh has carefully detached himself from the socio-political turbulence. True, like most of his contemporaries, the poet was never involved in party-toeing politics. But whenever occasions demanded, Ghosh joined mass protests openly. His strong opposition to anti-people measures taken by both central and state governments found a broad space in his poetry. In fact, he was a true friend of the people like the Beat Generation poets. In line with this, he joined processions denouncing the Babri Mosque demolition and communal violence in India. He never hesitated to raise voice against the excesses resorted to by the CPI-M government in West Bengal. The Trinamool Congress government was also not spared by him. During Bangladesh Liberation War, he joined the Kolkata-based civil society platforms working to create public opinion in favour of the Bangladesh Government-in-Exile. The presence of Ghosh, his contemporary writers and the noted intellectuals helped draw lots of common people to those meetings.

 Shankha Ghosh was honoured with all the national awards for literature in his country. Making a break with the long-prevailing convention, the poet has never showed interest in journalism as profession. Instead, he opted for teaching. In his long teaching career, he taught at different universities in West Bengal. At a point of his career, Ghosh executed the responsibility of the Principal at Rabindrabhaban at Shantiniketan. In the 1960s, the poet taught at the University of Iowa, USA. It was part of the annual 8-month International Writing Program organised by the university and participated by writers from around the world.    

Like his refined and gentle personality, his poems are soft-toned and maintain a unique lucidity all through. Yet true readers do not fail to discover the undercurrent of sarcasm and dissent in the poetry of Shankha Ghosh. As is true with many Kolkata celebrated poets, Ghosh was also never interested in poetic activism. But these poets are unfailingly found beside the oppressed and the victims of injustices in different times. They uphold the cause of the persecuted in their writings. Coming to poetry, Shankha Ghosh excelled in employing a carefully economised expression and non-ornate style for communicating with the readers. To the delight of the hundreds of his admirers and discerning critics, achieving the poetic goal of getting into the hearts of the readers of all age has not eluded Shankha Ghosh.

To use an essential addendum, one must keep in mind the special place Bangladesh, his place of birth and boyhood, had occupied in the poet's heart till his last days. His assorted essays and reminiscences about Bangladesh compiled in a nicely edited collection, Shankha Ghosh projects Bangladesh with the passion and love one can only keep reserved for one's place of dream and hope. In the essays Ghosh explores his land of love from different poetic angles. In spite of all this, the collection 'Shondhya Nodir Joley' contains a sweet melancholy-laden love for Bangladesh. During his later stretch of life, from adolescence through a purely creativity-filled youth to the attainment of the maturity to turn a beacon to the younger generations, Bangladesh remained ever-alive in the poet's subconscious. The book, published from Dhaka in 2019, contains evocative essays divided into five chapters. They are 'Ekushey, Ekattor O Nobo-borsho', 'Byakti, Protishthan', 'Gaaner Bhitor Diye', 'Shikkha Andolon' and 'Smriti, Bhromon'. Published by Prothoma Prokashon in Dhaka, the book has been admired by his readers in both Dhaka and Kolkata.

Along with his numerous poems paying tributes to his land of birth, i.e. Bangladesh, his prose pieces present the land to the common readers in a special narrative. It elucidated the extent of emotional involvement the poet had nursed for Bangladesh throughout his life.


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