Towards a Powerful Idiom in Bangla Poetry: Subodh Sarkar’s Poetry

Jaydeep Sarangi
An incident made Subodh Sarkar a poet when he was a class xi student. He was at Krishnanagar Railway station with some of his schoolmates, not to board any train, but to fritter away time by watching busy passengers rushing in and out. A Vagabond was loitering on the platform behind us, possibly looking for some food. A train was approaching the station. He took safe site, not to be jostled by passengers. All of a sudden, in a jiffy, the vagabond jumped before the approaching train. There was a roar followed by deep silence. Everyone around the place thought the vagabond was finished, but to our utter surprise he came to find him on the second platform, eating bread from a small packet he picked up from rail lines. The schoolboy Subodh looked at him through the empty space between two compartments; he looked back at him with a queer deathly smile on the corner of his lips. Subodh Sarkar wrote his first poem that night about the smile. He wrote many poems after that incident. But that smile continued to smile for last 36 years of his career as a writer. This is the smile that made him what he is today. He wrote in an interview, “I cannot write a single poem without remembering the smile. That smile is hunger, that smile is Asia. That smile is Africa, Latin America.”

For the poet in early days, his second meal was uncertain. His father, who was a school teacher, died an unseasonable death. They were six members in the family with a young widow mother with a white cloth on as a Hindu ritual, as a mark of bereavement. There was no writer, no poet for young Subodh to mentor. There was only fear of hunger, a fear that was eating up his vitals. Hunger for him at that time was a strong holocaust. He wrote several poems dedicating his father. So many to count! ‘On His Death Anniversary: For My Father’ is one of them:

Before the sunset I stood in the field
Only one tree, no bird is seen
From the trees came a man, dhoti clad
I said: you look lanky, I was
 In class eight, you could earn meagre amount
Irritated with elder sisters, quarrel. Now we
Are doing well, shifting to a new house next month
Let’s move if you can—will introduce to my mother jokingly,
You will not recognise her. (Jaydeep Sarangi, Not in My Name)

Born in 1958 Subodh Sarkar is a committed soul maker with many colourful hats. The poetic self of Subodh Sarkar generates meaning out of dry and prosaic terrains of life’s daily acts where imagination conjures up more mysteries. Most of his poems are collage of ideas effortlessly streaming from lived moments of creative zeal. There is nothing ornate about the cadence. His Srestha Kavita is “tour de force.” Subodh Sarkar is a leading story teller in verse with a rare capacity to attract his readers. Young generation relates life and its problems to Subodh Sarkar’s poems. There is an indomitable gusto that invites a reader or a sensitive mind to his poetry. He reminded us the literary, social and political tradition of Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra, Roberto Bolaño and other leading Chilean poets. Like Parra and his Latin American counterparts, Subodh Sarkar’s poems glitter with a rare sweet touch of simplicity and lucidity that mark his poetic idioms subtle where the corpus is an inviting discourse. Many of his poems were anecdotal, but just because they tell a story is no reason why one should regard them as falling short of the poetic. His style of poems influenced next generation of Bengali poets like Angshuman Kar, Binayak Bandopadhyay and Srijato. Thousands of budding poets follow Subodh Sarkar and his brand of poetry.

When he was still at school, the Naxalite movement broke out which popularized a slogan, Chaina`s chairman is our chairman. The musings in Bangla are often short, compact and witty. There are some long poems in between. Some poems show the poet’s vast knowledge of life. The poet is aware of what is happening around the world. Some poems are satiric by temper. Poems in this collection are not just the experiences and realization of life , the poet rather moves towards aesthetic celebration, not just physical, but also spiritual. Poetry for Subodh Sarkar is like a hammer with which he breaks many walls at different grounds.
Central Sahitya Academy Prize winning poet and the editor of Indian Literature Subodh Sarkar reads different from the common run of contemporary Bangla poets. His control over language is like a competent master and the wordsmith. These poems are written over a period of three and half decades or so under various socio political contexts and poetic reactions to personal and social life around the poet. The poet has participated in several International Poetry Festivals and has read his poetry and papers at countries like Taiwan , Germany, France, USA and Czech Republic. Invited by IWP, University of Iowa he participated in the New Symposium at Paros, a Greek Island, in 2007. He also visited Russia and Turkey as a member of the Indian Writers’ delegation organized by the Sahitya Akademi. He has interviewed some seminal international poets including Allen Ginsberg, British poet Sir Stephen Spender, Chilean poet Nicanore Parra and the first black male American Pulitzer prize winner poet, Yusef Komunyakaa. All these contributed to Subodh Sarkar’s writing when the poetic idiom is ever evolving. His poems are powerful like a volcano or Tsunami. Such wordy pool of eruption we see in the poems of Sarkar - they shake his readers deep within - violently! His poems deal with rich mosaic of thoughts and concerns related to Indian ethos, nuances and linguistic mileage that reflect various facets of life and its routine course:
“Mothers of Manipur redefined my mother with a new name.
Where mothers walk naked in a procession
Commanders of ocean and earth, what you were doing then?”
  (From ‘Mother of Manipur’)

 Some of his very important poems include, ‘New Shah Rukh Khan’, ‘Ant Eggs’, ‘Bluff’, ‘Sari’, ‘ One Roti Only’, ‘Sita’, ‘Gandhi’ ‘Bio Data of A Dog’, ‘Bengali or english’, 'Mother of Manipur’ and ‘Mourning and Honeymoon’. ‘Behala’s Boy’, a thoughtful poem on Saurav Ganguly moved lovers of cricket. It’s a fitting tribute the Dada of Kolkata whom we all love. ‘Can I Take Your Wife as Loan’ is an example of Subodh Sarkar’s wit and humour. The mosaic is unique and varied. In the process, we get acquainted with some wonderful works of art and verbal felicity. His book Amar Kobita Amar Jiban (2015) introduced us to the background of some interesting poems based on social and political issues of this fashionable time when the world is a fast melting pot.

Subodh Sarkar is a staunch supporter of deshi literature. For him, mother tongue is like mother’s milk. He has expressed his concern for the mushrooming of literature in English in India. Vernacular literature is on ventilation. In one of his editorials in Bhashanagar (Vol I,Feb. 2015) he jokingly says, “Bangla Literature will be written in English.” He retorts if someone writes in Bangla he will burn his forehead; he will not be able to buy even a Barnol. English is now the language of the market, production and the produced. We cannot deny the fact that English Language is a powerful tool of cultural control as it works through a system of cultural values and nuances. Popular Literature often enjoys this powerful position. Chetan Bhagat’s writing is an indicator of the popular demand and supply in literary productions these days. College-goers go crazy! It’s a hot debate whether Subodh Sarkar’s poems are under popular staff or canonical. Anyway, Subodh Sarkar added power to Bengali idiom. Today’s popular may run classic tomorrow. Time speaks in volume. We shall not limit our views within textual productions and its readership. We further relate the production to identity management and power distribution within a bilingual map and beyond. A poet’s success lies in moving hearts and to compel the readers to revisit his poems again in again, in different seasons. Sarkar’s is like the notes in a symphony , rising, falling, diverging and coalescing for eternity in the midst of trouble times.

All textual quotations are from the flowing book:

Not in My Name, Selected Poems by Subodh Sarkar, edited by Jaydeep Sarangi, Authorspress, New Delhi, 2018
Jaydeep Sarangi is a bilingual poet with nine collections latest being Heart Raining the Light (2020) released in Italy. Sarangi has read his poems in different shores of the globe. His later readings were at Flinders University, University of Western Australia, University of South Australia,University of Wollongong, Perth Poetry Club (Australia), University of Udine (Italy) and University of Rezeszow (Poland). Sarangi is on the editorial boards of different journals featuring poetry and articles on poetry like Mascara Literary Review, Transnational Literature, (Australia), Teesta, WEC (India). He is a professor of English and principal at New Alipore College, Kolkata.
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