Roy Choudhury, Malay 1939-
ROY CHOUDHURY, Malay 1939-
PERSONAL: Born October 29, 1939 in Patna, Bihar, India; son of Ranjit (a photographer and painter) and Amita (Bandyopadhyay) Roy Choudhury; married Shalila Mukherjee, 1968; children: Anushree (daughter), Jitendra (son). Education: Bihar National College, B.A. (honors), 1958; Patna University, M.A., 1960.
CAREER: Poet and novelist, c. 1961—. Has worked as a clerk, an inspector of banks in Patna, an agricultural analyst in Lucknow, as rural investigator in Bombay (now Mumbai), and as rural development facilitator at Calcutta (now Kolkata), all in India. Editorial advisor to Haowa49 Publishers, beginning 1991.
Marxbader Uttaradhikar (nonfiction), Shakti Publications (Kolkata, India), 1962.
Shoytaner Mukh (collected poems), Krittibas Prakashani (Kolkata. India), 1963.
Amimangsita (book-length poem), Zebra Publications (Kolkata, India), 1965.
Stark Electric Jesus (book-length poem), Tribal Press (Washington, DC), 1966.
Jakham (book-length poem), Zebra Publications (Kolkata, India), 1966.
Hungry Andoloner Kavyadarshan (manifesto), Debi Roy (Howrah, India), 1965.
Hungryalist Manifestoes/Ishtahar Sankalan (collection of manifestoes), Mahadiganta (Kolkata, India), 1986.
Kobita Sankalan (collected poems), Mahadiganta (Kolkata, India), 1986.
Medhar Batanukul Ghungur (collected poems), Mahadiganta (Kolkata, India), 1987.
Hattali (English-Bangla bilingual poem), Mahadiganta (Kolkata, India), 1989.
Selected Poems, Writers Workshop (Kolkata, India), 1989.
Dubjaley Jetuku Prashwas (novel), Haowa49 Publishers (Kolkata, India), 1994.
Hungry Kimvadanti (memoir), Dey Books (Kolkata, India), 1994.
Chitkarsamagra (poems), Kabita Pakshik (Kolkata, India), 1995.
Chhatrakhan (poems), Kabitirtha (Kolkata, India), 1995.
Postmodernism (nonfiction), Haowa49 Publishers (Kolkata, India), 1995.
(Translator) Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish, Kabitirtha (Kolkata, India), 1995.
Bhennogalpo (short-story collection), Dibaratrir Kavya (Kolkata, India), 1996.
Jalanjali (novel), Raktakarabi (Kolkata, India), 1996.
(Translator) Tristan Tzara's Poems, Kalimati (Jamshedpur, India), 1996.
(Translator) Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems, Kabita Pakshik (Kolkata, India), 1996.
Ja Lagbey Bolben (poems), Kourab Prakashani (Jamshedpur, India), 1996.
(Translator) Jean Cocteau's Crucifixion, Kabita Pakshik (Kolkata, India), 1996.
(Translator) Blaise Cendrar's Trans Siberian Express, Amritalok Prakashani (Midnapore, India), 1997.
(Translator) Willian Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Grafitti (Kolkata, India), 1998.
Natoksamagra (collection of Illot, Hibakusha, and Napungpung) Kabitirtha (Kolkata, India), 1998.
A (deconstruction of twenty-three poems), Kabita Pakshik (Kolkata, India), 1998.
Naamgandho (novel), Sahana (Dhaka, Bangladesh), 1999.
(Translator) Autobiography of Paul Gaugin, Grafitti (Kolkata, India), 1999.
Jean Arthur Rimbaud (criticism), Kabitirtha (Kolkata, India), 1999.
Allen Ginsberg (includes correspondence), Kabitirtha (Kolkata, India), 2000.
Atmadhwangser Sahasrabda (poems), edited by Rabindra Guha, Grafitti (Kolkata, India), 2000.
Surrealism/Paravastavbad (nonfiction), Ebong Prakashani (Kolkata, India), 1997.
Adhunikatar Biruddhey Kathavatra (non-fiction), Kabita Pakshik (Kolkata, India), 1999.
Hungryalist Interviews, edited by Ajit Ray, Mahadiganta (Kolkata, India), 1999.
Matantar (nonfiction), Ataeb Prakashani (Kolkata, India), 2000.
Postmodern Kalkhando O Bangalir Patan (nonfiction), Khanan (Nagpur, India), 2000.
Uttorouponibeshik Postmodernism (nonfiction), Bakpratima (Mahishadal, India), 2001.
Ei Adham Oi Adham (novel), Kabitirtha (Kolkata, India), 2001.
Postmodern Bangla Poetry 2001: An Overview (nonfiction), Haowa49 Publishers (Kolkata, India), 2001.
Postmodern Bangla Short Stories 2001: An Overview (non-fiction), Haowa49 Publishers (Kolkata, India), 2001.
(Translator) Tristan Tzara, Dada Manifestoes, Grafitti (Kolkata, India), 2002.
Nakhadanta (novel), Haowa49 Publishers (Kolkata, India), 2002.
Kounaper Luchimangso (collected poems), Kobita Campus (Howrah), 2003.
Postmodern Jibanananda (nonfiction), Grafitti (Kolkata, India), 2003.
Postmodern Bangla Poetry 2003: An Overview (nonfiction), Haowa49 Publishers (Kolkata, India), 2003.
Postmodern Bangla Short Stories 2003: An Overview (nonfiction), Haowa49 Publishers (Kolkata, India), 2003.
Editor of publications, including Hungryalist Bulletins, 1961-65; and Zebra Literary Magazine, 1966-67. Roy Choudhury's papers are archived at the Hungry Generation Archive, Northwestern University Library, Evanston, IL; Hungryalist Bulletins Archive, Bangla Academy, Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Hungry Movement Archive, Little Magazine Library, Kolkata, India.
ADAPTATIONS: Illot was adapted as a play, which was first staged at Agartala, India by the Tripura Group, 1971.
SIDELIGHTS: Poet Malay Roy Choudhury writes both in Bangla—one of the many native languages of South Asia—and English. One of the founders of the Hungryalist literary movement, Roy Choudhury has been sought out by such notable writers as Mexican Nobel prize winner Octavio Paz, American poet Allen Ginsberg, and Nicaraguan poet and priest Ernesto Cardenal. In addition to being a poet, Roy Choudhury is also a novelist, essayist, dramatist, short-story writer, translator, critic, interviewer, thinker, philosopher, recitationist, rural development facilitator, and cook.
In Intrepid, Carl Weissner wrote of Roy Choudhury's ancestral hometown: "Calcutta, in its sheer overwhelming hypertrophy and with its all-pervasive smell of resignation, apathy and corruption, certainly provides some of the reasons why the first rebel avantagardist call-to-arms was sounded right there." Spearheaded by Roy Choudhury, the Hungryalist movement soon spread to neighboring states and countries. Professor Howard McCord, who met Roy Choudhury during a visit to Kolkata, succinctly traced his emergence in City Lights Journal 3: "Roy Choudhury, a Bengali poet, has been a central figure in the Hungry Generation's attack on the Indian cultural establishment since the movement began in the early 1960's." He wrote, "I believe the movement is autochthonous and stems from the profound dislocations of Indian life," and added that, "acid, destructive, morbid, nihilistic, outrageous, mad, hallucinatory, shrill—these characterize the terrifying and cleansing visions that the Hungryalists insist Indian literature must endure if it is ever to be vital again." In Sunday Searchlight Subhash Chandra Sarkar discussed Roy Choudhury's work, portraying him as "a poet wounded by society itself where values are confused if not wholly inverted."
The publication of Roy Choudhury's collection of poems Medhar Batanukul Ghungur saw extreme critical responses, possibly because its author had by this time been accepted as a poet to reckon with by both the rightist and leftist media. While in Guerilla Arun Banik castigated his poems as "militant activism in poetic space," Ranjan Bandopadhyay in Pratikshan claimed that "the poems failed to become the ultimate religion of man." However, in Amritalok, critic Nilanjan Chattopadhyay wrote that "the poems change the constructs of our experience," whereas in Lekhak Samavesh, Dipankar Datta wrote that "the texts have earned fire-eyes of a jail breaker and made available flashing weaponary to the next generation of poets." In 2002 Ratan Biswas published a special commemorative issue of Ahabkaal, celebrating forty years of the Hungryalist movement, compiling together reviews for and against Roy Choudhury's poems written during past four decades.
Since the publication of the postcolonial trilogy, comprising Dubjaley Jetuku Prashwas, Jalanjali, and Naamgandho, Roy Choudhury has been best known for this nightmare-like work, which is flooded with hundreds of characters in a multilinear, polycentric, and indeterminant textual design in the format of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. This was noticed by Tapodhir Bhattacharya, who termed the trilogy a "rebellious counter discourse" in his essay in The Individual Malay Roy Choudhury. In the same book, Satyajit Bandopadhyay termed the trilogy a "real-time post-Independence socio-political nightmare." The trilogy depicts the ascent of degeneration in stages, starting with an institution that issues fresh bank notes and destroys soiled ones, then a predominantly agricultural district in the Bihar region, and ultimately the state of West Bengal, India, where a large segment of the population is rootless due to the partition of the British colony of India into the two separate nations of India and Pakistan (which later split into Pakistan and Bangladesh) after independence in 1947. In Roy Choudhury's trilogy, each individual—even the most socially insignificant—resists the monster of degeneration, destruction and decay.
During the period when Roy Choudhury was writing essays on various aspects of postcolonialism, he told Sudakshina Chattopadhyay in an interview for Sumana magazine that his intention to write novels emanated from a strong conviction to do away with the literary canons imposed by the British through university syllabi, which were still in use. His novel Ei Adham Oi Adham has a central character who dies in the very first paragraph. The narrator of the story, the nine-year-old-brother of the dead hero, comes to know from the discussions of the crowd that his elder brother was actually purchased from a prostitute as an infant. In this gloomy scenario, the narrator is stationed in his own world of hilarious fancy, which is occasionally interrupted by a subaltern linguistic discourse of the economically depressed neighborhood in which his extended family of twenty members lives. Biswajit Sen has called the novel "a diasporic vision of narrative originality" in his essay in The Individual Malay Roy Choudhury. OnBahirbanga.com, Arun Chakraborty called Ei Adham Oi Adham "the outsider Bangla speaker's inner-diasporic novel."
Roy Choudhury's novel Nakhadanta is segmented into seven sections which are actually pages lifted out of his own diary revealing seven different dates in his life. Within the seven-day narrative he has placed seven short stories relating to the gradual decimation of the jute industry around Kolkata, these stories based on real-life incidents that took place around those dates. In an interview with Shyamal Shill of Kabiswar, Roy Choudhury informed his readers that he borrowed the idea of seven-segmentation from the Hindu epic Ramayana. Each short story is self-contained, but the plight of the jute industry, the laborers, and the jute cultivators interlink each of the story. The first story deals with the nauseatingly violent murder of an innocent laborer named Kangal Chamar while in police custody. The presence of the dead laborer pervades the other stories, implanted as a juxtopposite to the intellectual diary of a thinker. Shishir Dey in his review in Sahitya Setu wrote that the novel contained "too much brainstorming for the common reader." However, Dhurjati Chanda in Ahabkaal magazine hailed Roy Choudhury as "a prose architect comparable to great Bangla novelists such as Satinath Bhaduri, Amiyabhushan Majumder, Kamal Kumar Majumdar and Subimal Basak."
Though Roy Choudhury has ventured into genres other than poetry, he continues to write poems "in order to decanonise and denarrativise them," as Santanu Bandopadhyay wrote in The Individual Malay Roy Choudhury. As Ajit Ray explained in Shahar, in view of Roy Choudhury's command over the genres of poetry, novel, short story, drama, and essay, branding the author in a specific slot is well nigh impossible. It has been argued that for his contribution to Bangla language and literature through the Hungryalist movement, Roy Choudhury has created the same sort of space as Stefan Mallarmé has for symbolism, Tristan Tzara for dadaism, Ezra Pound for imagism, and Andre Breton for surrealism.
After the publication of his Hungryalist Interviews, twenty interviews given by Roy Choudhury remained to be anthologized. These interviews map the changes his authorial self has undergone during the late twentieth century. He has said that, "with emphasis on periphery, the foci of my narrative thoughts have shifted to micro-territory of characters, a territory which remains increasingly plagued by neo-colonial ills: economic disorder, social malaise, political scams, criminal as politician, pockets of terrorists, government corruption, influx of famished Bangladeshi Muslim families, repression by state and political party apparatus, digitalization of individuals as voter, indifference and apathy of public service institutions, etc." He has said that his fictions are "nomadic in their peregrinatory outreach," and that his "nonmimetic narrative modes are fashioned in such a way that they can create social and conceptual spaces within which the problematiques of meaning assume socio-political as well as ethnico-cultural significance."
Justifying changes in his poetry dating from the Hungryalist literary upsurge in the 1960s, Roy Choudhury once said that, "we are far removed from the past as we live and get continuously constructed by Bangla language. My poems are bound to get loaded with my experience and psycho-linguist insights which make them multi-exit, open-ended with a disturbed narrative, wherein the Indian universe, summoned up by a poem, is grounded in its own textuality, incorporating polyphonic voices and carnivalesque styles which dissociates itself from the decorous colonial hierarchy which had some sort of concealed presence during the Hungryalist literary movement." He has further said that, "my poems, by sheer acceleration of imageries and sprinkling of broken-mirror pieces, aspire to create multiple centres of interest, and an ethical awareness in diversity. Humans are first and foremost ethical beings, irrespective of what they have done, are doing, and would do to this beautiful world."
Malay Roy Choudhury contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
I don't know when I was born. Ma didn't ever go to school and Dad learned his alphabet late.
Eyes closed, holding a tiny steel chisel between forefinger and thumb for cutting my nails, she'd reminisce of a devastating earthquake in Bihar when she lost her pet blackbuck and swan couple. I was born during a lagoon-coloured autumn at Patna in the Prince of Wales Hospital, five or maybe five-and-a-half years after the earthquake that demolished the hutment Dad with five brothers and family lived in. I was called Fauna at home though formally named Malay because the Hindu zodiac indicated M on the day of my first rice ritual.
Dad consulted the Hindu almanac, deciding on a holy date at the time of my admission to kindergarten at Saint Joseph's convent, in order to convince the Irish doe-eyed nun of the fact of my birth on October 29, 1939. Ma contested this date till she died of an enlarged heart in 1982, as she thought I was born on a Friday on the eleventh day of the month of Kartika with the help of metal forceps nurses used to pull me out of her body, for my legs had come out first.
A devout Brahmin, revelling in his puritanic logic, Dad insisted a Hindu Aryan was born on the date of his sacred thread ceremony and that we were descendents of Bidyadhar Roy, the great zemindar who sold Sutanuti Gobindapur Kolikata villages for a meagre three hundred rupees to the firangi Job Charnok of East India Company, which became the joie de vivre called Calcutta. Dad wished to stay there when young but lived instead 550 kilometers away at Patna, the seat of the Buddhist emperor Asoka during 264-223 B.C.E.
Dad told us about his dad who was a great painter and wanderer, who moved from one maharajah's fort to another maharani's castle with a palette always wet, dragging his caravan of half-a-dozen sons and a daughter from Rangoon to Colombo to Kabul to Cooch-Behar, drawing portraits of Indian kings, nabobs, and their shoals of queens. Granpa was Luxminarayan. His sons Promod, Sushil, Ranjit, Anil, Sunil, and Biswanath. His daughter, Kamala. Ranjit is my dad.
The sudden death of the grand old man forced his survivors at Patna, an alien land for them, to eke out collective bread, hawking any damn thing that could be purchased and sold, settling as a last resort on photography, which clicked.
Despite Granpa's adventures, Dad cocooned in an orthodox seed: a vegetarian, devoted to a 333 million pantheon, fasting on the eleventh day of the lunar fortnight, mantras at lunch and dinner, a change of sacred thread once a month, no eating cereals cooked by untouchable castes, a daily mustard-oil bath in cold water.
Granma—Apurbamayee—lived alone at Uttarpara, a suburb twenty kilometers away from Calcutta across the Hooghly River, in an ancestral edifice in ruins habitated by hundreds of wild pigeons and bats, with incorrigible weeds shooting off a miasma of tentacles from the salt-eroded, moss-eaten clay bricks. Here she roamed with a torn napkin around her skinny waist, dried teats dangling on her topless bust. Her companions were single-room tenants using the same toilet and a couple of black cows she milked with her own hands for a living. There were guava and starapple trees, creepers unable to bear gourds—ashgourds, bottlegourds—festooned precariously overhead.
After Granny's death in December 1964, Uttarpara looked deserted except for strange tenants. Seven years later when the roof of a ground-floor room crashed down it became haunted, as Cousin Puti, Uncle Sunil's daughter, unroped the noose of a heifer and hung herself from an exposed wooden beam of the ceiling to be discovered in the night chill by someone who took her to be a flying ghost. Puti was in love with a Marxist revolutionary killed in an encounter.
The brothers had shifted to a double-storied brick house in Bakharganj at Patna after the earthquake, constructed in instalments by Uncle Promod, each brother and his family in a room with a common bath and toilet and water fetched in buckets from a roadside tap. We had a ten-foot-by-ten-foot room facing west on the first floor, a cot beneath which belongings were kept, a packing box used as bookshelf cum table, and a wall-to-wall wire for hanging clothes. Bakharganj was a Hindi-speaking slum area; hoochers and gamblers had their nights, no neighbours' children went to school, women in veils kneaded dungcakes for fuel. Nobody knew of toothbrush paste, we brushed our teeth with fresh coal ash powder using our forefingers.
Uncle Promod's daughters, Sabu and Dhabu, were married before my birth, prompting him to purchase a male infant from a Punjabi prostitute whom he didn't legally adopt and couldn't decide what to do with as the boy grew up to become a ruffian and mugger at fifteen, exhibiting unabashed scorn for everything Bengali to deculturise himself. I was in complete awe of the fearful respect he generated in neighbours. Buro, as he was called, had a country-made revolver spinning on his forefinger. One day he allowed me to shoot at a sitting popinjay—I got my thumb bruised.
I remember Buro brought a whore home with him secretly, double his age, and the thud of the wooden bolt woke up an aunt whose midnight yell pulled out adults and children from their rooms, an event sufficient to provoke Dad and my uncles to dismantle the Bakharganj establishment. In 1953 we shifted out to the locality of Dariapur.
Buro had a sad death. Aunt Nanda, his foster mother, on advice from some sannyasin, devised an enchantment potion made of herbs, fed to him weekly with his food, resulting in slow poisoning. He grew weak and dropped dead. Aunt Nanda wailed uncontrollably over his corpse.
Uncle Promod worked as a preserver of paintings at Patna Museum. I visited it on Saturdays for hours to become a part of ancient and prehistoric mysteries amid granite apsaras, Egyptian mummies, fossilised monsters, going back home with him on his bicycle, the only movable asset of the household, cleaned and oiled in turns by the children. I learned cycling on it and in 1956 Dad purchased a bike for me, enabling me to learn by heart the town's alleys and joints.
Uncle Promod loved picnics. On holidays our entire clan of twenty would go out to cook and eat by a slim stream or in a mango orchard or near a wellspring on the outskirts. I carried a book, any book, even a schoolbook, searching for the insect, bird, tree, or grains described therein. Sometimes other Bengali acquaintances were invited to join the picnics, probably as an effort to overcome alienation from mainstream Bengal. One of the ladies would burst out singing, invariably a Hindu religious song, as film songs were taboo and Rabindranath Tagore songs considered un-Hindu.
Since Uncle Promod didn't have a son when he died—in 1966 during an election campaign for an obscure candidate—I performed the rituals by setting fire to the funeral pyre on which lay his cold body embalmed by me with clarified butter. He was a fat man who turned to ashes in two hours in a yelling blaze that licked the horizon on the other side of Ganges River. Satish Ghoshal, our family priest, directed me to collect a few bones from the ashes, which I immersed in the river. This was my first encounter with the beyond, a plight Satish Ghoshal sermoned not to give importance to as it happened when you came to burn or bury the dead!
A couple of years later Aunt Nanda died of burn injuries she received when her cooking stove exploded. But Sabu and Dhabu, scared of my property claims for the last rites performed, sued each other for Uncle Promod's Bakharganj house as well as the assets of their father-in-law, who was the same for both, since they had married two brothers. I used to visit their sylvan house during 1948-50 to play with my nieces Manju, Jaya, and Madhuri in their sprawling garden.
As any venture Uncle Sushil embarked upon was a flop, he joined my father at the photography shop on Main Road that shifted later to Dariapur in 1953 when Dad purchased a 1,300-square-foot house. I have recollections of him as a snuff-inhaling afternoon dreamer, customers constantly knocking at his mental absence after his wife died of tuberculosis, leaving behind daughters Dolly and Monu, who flunked school and had to be looked after by Ma. Dolly was packed off in a negotiated marriage I couldn't attend. Monu decided to marry a local non-Brahmin Hindi-speaking boy whom Uncle Sushil didn't approve of, so the responsibility of solemnising the marriage in a Shiva temple befell me. I went attired in a pink dhoti and yellow shawl with collyrium in my eyes and performed priest-directed rituals I was not conversant with. Uncle Sushil died in 1968 of a hernia he was too shy to get treatment for, on the day of my marriage.
Anil, the brother next to Dad, had a photo studio at Uttarpara at the time of his negotiated marriage with Omiya, a school-educated lady who was already in love with a guy living in the erstwhile French colony of Pondicherry. She continued the relationship despite her marriage, provoking Uncle Anil to abandon his shop and become a recluse. I thought he was nuts when he, along with daughters Shubhra and Rakhi and wife, came down to live with us at Uncle Promod's Bakharganj house in 1947. Aunt Omiya didn't give a damn for Uncle Anil. She took a teacher's job in a grammar school and introduced newspaper reading in the family, creating in us a fascination for her. Among the children she had a strange soft spot for me though I should have drawn her hatred as I resembled Uncle Anil. The daughters were not good at studies; the elder was packed off to boarding school at Mayapur, run by Iskcon, to get rid of her array of boyfriends. She married one, a gambler, then came back divorced, remarried a non-Brahmin, and disappeared. Panicked, Aunt got the second one married to a doctor. Both Aunt and Uncle died of cancer; Omiya had one teat operated upon, Anil's nose had become cauliflower shaped. They stayed on at the Bakharganj house, occupied the room vacated by us in 1953, husband and wife not talking to each other, a menage of dissent with a window opening inside.
Unhappy with his three daughters and three sons, Uncle Sunil, who had a catering job on the Eastern Railway, broke our eating taboo by inducting varieties of forbidden food into the menu for the children, depending on items knocked off from pantry cars. His daughter Puti committed suicide, the eldest son, Khoka, eloped and married the non-Brahmin tutor of his brothers, the second daughter married a boy of the washerman caste, the younger sons flunked school and tried to start a broiler farm in the gloomy rooms of Uttarpara that made the fowls sick and mad. Uncle Sunil died on the day after I met him in February 1989, in unbound glee that he was on the verge of getting out of the mess his incorrect decisions had created.
The youngest of the brothers, Biswanath, who was childless, got himself gifted a small piece of land from Granny that Dad claimed he had purchased for her. Aunt Kuchi used to have religious fits diagnosed by doctors as depression when she was in the Bakharganj establishment. Their prayer for a child at sundry temples spawned in them an insight for having a temple of their own for attracting the gullible, which included my dad also, who thought both his sons had out-Hindued themselves with their way of life and thinking. In 1986 he went to Kotrong to live at Uncle Biswanath's ashram, indicated in brochures printed by Uncle as the place visited by Saint Ramakrishna of Dakshineshwar, though there was a pond forty years earlier at the place marked as the saint's seat in which I had waded in knickers and netted small fish and snails.
Dad's only sister, Kamala, lived in a single-room tenement at Ahiritola in Calcutta, adjacent to the red-light tourist spot Sonagachi. The room had a two-tiered bed for her eight children, seven of whom quit school to be found always on either of the tiers doing nothing by her husband, who would come back from his office every evening high on Goddess Kali brand rice liquor whistling a nineteenth-century tune, alerting neighbours to his drunkenness. It being the only place to stay during a visit to Calcutta, the floor of the room meant for guests was also where we sat and ate steamed rice, pigeon pea pulse, and shrimp fried in mustard oil served on brass plates. The toilet was slippery, without doors, and I used to keep coughing to notify my presence to any intruder. Aunt Kamala became blind yet continued her cooking routine believing, as she told me, the blindness was for having seen six toes on a woman's feet during a full moon. Her husband was found in a pool of blood on a summer morning in 1967 when he had nightwalked off a terrace during one of his spells; the remains of his body were scraped from the asphalt into a loincloth bundle for the postmortem.
Ma was in charge of cooking at Bakharganj, which she did for twenty persons on two coal ovens made of clay placed on the kitchen floor. Through day and night she sat there beside a large wooden box containing spices stored in phials of used medicine and cereals in tin cannisters bought out of a collective fund. She would detect sudden shortages while cooking and haul me up from studies for an immediate purchase in the smallest quantity, which I'd procure in a jiffy to enable her to complete the dish. She loved to apply vermillion on her parted hair twice a day. And her favourite dish was dhoka—asafoetida-flavoured cakes of steamed and grinded chick-pea. Unlike Dad she was a nonvegetarian, mainly a fish eater.
Spice pastes were prepared on a stone grinder by our part-time servant Sheonanni, on whose back I climbed while he swayed to and fro pulping turmeric, chilli, ginger, cumin, onion, coriander, garlic, and spearmint for an hour or two in the evening.
Each of my uncles had his own time for lunch and dinner when he ate alone, served by his wife, whereas the children and ladies ate together each on a small piece of mat sitting crosslegged, except for Sundays, which was a meat-eating day, when lunch was late. We ate goat meat or at the most mutton, since chicken, duck, cow, buffalo, rabbit, deer, frog, horse, pig, and turtle meat were prohibited, which later we relished at cheap roadside restaurants when we grew up and accumulated some pocket money. Even some fish like eel and flounder were taboo. Ma never went beyond goat meat though she cooked fowl for us after we shifted to Dariapur.
My brother Samir, about five years my elder, was the first individual in our family to complete school and college, as he was sent to our maternal uncle's place in Panihati for studying at Calcutta when Dad decided to keep him culturally uncorrupt. He studied science at City College, joined Satyajit Ray's drama group, Harbola, and started frequenting joints visited by the reigning Bengali poets of the thirties, about whom he talked to us in bated breath, often brandishing books of verse written in a Bengali diction foreign to our tongue; not even Aunt Omiya used such words while talking to her guests.
Panihati was a boat ride across the river Hooghly, where I was sent during vacation to keep in touch with Bengal as well as to improve my health. The maternal uncles were comparatively richer and educated, had a radio, read the English newspaper the Statesman, a status symbol, talked among themselves sometimes in English, and were interested in political developments.
Ma was called Bhulti at Panihati and Amita at Patna. Once while we were crossing the river on the ferry boat, I remember she jumped out into the deep water, presented us with her memory of cross-current swimming, and came out with tiny transparent crablings crawling down her uncoiffured hair. Every time she went to the bank to withdraw her savings, she misspelt Amita in her labouriously practiced signature. Ma was scared of pox inoculation, locking herself up in the lavatory whenever the municipal doctor arrived for the annual prick.
In 1948 I was withdrawn from Saint Joseph's convent and admitted to the Bengali-medium Ram Mohan Roy Seminary, a Brahmo Samaj school, primarily, I learned later, because Dad came to know we were having a prayer class every day at the Gothic cathedral of the convent, meeting with folded hands Jesus Christ in agony in flowing Italian marble surrounded by azure-tipped candle flickers. He didn't have a high opinion about Brahmos though, as the sect had been advocating against idol worshipping. But this might have been the source of my religious pacifism. I don't consider myself an apostate or atheist and may probably define myself as vaguely Hindu without much to do with religious rituals, gods, and goddesses.
Saint Joseph's convent to Ram Mohan Roy Seminary was an unhealing journey of cultural hiatus for me, cause of the schism that still invades my poems; doe-eyed nuns carrying a bleeding Jesus made of soft marble through the bazaars of Patna float in my dreams even at this age.
Ram Mohan Roy Seminary, a three-kilometer walk every day, sun or rain, had boys and girls of the same lower middle-class milieu as that of mine to whom I was embarrassed to divulge my fleabag residential area considered infested by criminals, deterring classmates to visit me at home. I was not allowed to mix up with the boys of my locality as Dad thought they were lumpens. I didn't have personal friends for long and learned to adjust to my loneliness, Samir always at Panihati, Buro away with the ruffians, other cousins very junior to me. Sari-clad girl students were there in my class but the mystery seized me late. I can remember only three girls with effort: Hashi, Juthika, and Bijoya, presumably because of their colourful attire.
Lack of a cricket bat of my own didn't give me much scope to have a place in the school games and I couldn't do well in football either because of a weak physique, so I found my way into the library and reading room, the lady librarian chaperoning my interest to school editions of Homer, Edmund Spenser, Miguel de Cervantes, Shakespeare, Voltaire, and a Sanskrit classics compendium, finding finally in the last year of my school text writings of six persons who changed the condition of my loneliness: George Gordon Byron, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Except for Tagore, the Bengali poets in the text had only moral sermons to deliver whereas Hindi poets talked about the greatness of the creator in a never-changing rhythm.
In the final years of school I made friendships with three boys who were themselves unable to make friends, Subarna, Barin, and Tarun. Subarna couldn't afford to have a cricket uniform, white shirt and pants, and was removed from the team. Barin was a myopic. Tarun a short and weak boy who talked little. We sat at the shore of the Ganges River, talked about whatever we knew, pooled resources to see Sunday-morning movies, ate at cheap restaurants, and roamed about from camp to camp during the three-day festival of the goddess Durga. Barin had a good voice, sang Tagore and Atulprasad songs at the riverbank. For three days during the Durgapuja festival, Subarna wore saffron, white, and green shirts stitched out of the silk national flag supplied to his father's office each year by the state government.
Overreading strained my eyesight. I got specs in 1952, the year of my sacred thread ceremony when our family priest gave me a mantra of the goddess Gayatri. My head was shaved and I wore a saffron dhoti. I was required to perform puja twice a day, observe celibacy, eat only vegetarian dishes, no cereals, on the eleventh day of the moon, no talking while eating, no eating out, and the sacred thread continuously on my left shoulder. I tried for a couple of weeks, gave up thereafter.
Performancewise I was average at high school, completed in 1954. Then I left home with Tarun, hitch-hiking to Calcutta on an illegal truck carrying old and sickly goats for slaughter. As interstate carriage of goats was prohibited by road transport, we feigned ourselves shepherds and herded the goats on the roadside grasslands, heigh-hoing them at the border checkpost into West Bengal where the empty truck was waiting after showing documents at the crossing. We took baths at a village well in a bucketful of cold water. At sundown, stopping at a Punjabi dhaba, we ate handmade bread fried in sheep lard, pickled onion, and liquor made of mahua—my first taste of an intoxicant. The driver bargained with a suburban whore, went with her into the paddy field under a neap-tide eroded moon while we fought phantoms inside the dim-lit truck.
During 1954-60 we made several such forays in bus, train, steamer, or jeep, visiting Allahabad, Jhansi, Ranchi, Kanpur, a hundred to a thousand kilometers from Patna. Tarun died early of leukemia.
My first two years in college were a real academic disaster. At school I had studied physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, history, geography, along with Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, and English. At college, on Samir's advice, I opted for economics, political science, and mathematics, with Hindi, Bengali, and English; I found interest in none, devoting most of my time at various libraries of the town gobbling up the history of literature of various languages, history of art, philosophy, and the lives of poets; Western and Eastern names started reeling in my brain. For a time I joined the infantry division of the National Cadet Corps and practiced rifle shooting, but I was finding myself unsolvable, rootless, obscure, anonymous. My exam results were weepable.
In 1956 I got admitted in B.A. honours economics, regular subjects being English, Bengali, Hindi, and politics. An exclusive room was at my disposal now, a table and chair, a bed, and three almirahs on the wall for books on the first floor at the Dariapur house; the complete ground floor was used as a photo studio by Dad; Ma's cooking exercises reduced now to courses for only three persons.
Alone in my room I felt despair for no known reason and attempted in March 1956 to get a few crystals of potassium ferricyanide from the downstairs photo studio used for making sepia prints. The emotion withered on its own. To keep me absorbed Ma purchased a gramophone and some records.
In my B.A. honours class I met a bespectacled Nepali woman made of snow. Bhuban Mohini Rana was from the royal family and always kept me at a commoner's distance, never allowing me to touch her queenly complexion. The other woman I was in trouble with was Shubhra Ray, of whom I do not prefer to talk.
The years 1957-58 were the period of my introduction to Bengali poetry in a big way. I stumbled upon Bengali poet Madhusudan Dutt, who exemplified moral violence in his epic work Murder of Meghnad in such deft rhyming that he proved somewhat curative for me—a stunning perceptual accuracy that instilled purpose. There was something beyond experience in him I became enamoured to. I hero-worshipped him, read the turbulent story of his life, allowed my scanty beard and moustache to grow like his.
My memory of India's liberation movement is strewn with opaque scenes of Ma waving a tricolour in a crowd of ladies, horsemen ploughing through a procession, a fat lady donating her bangles to Gandhi under a green canopy, a leader in a marigold garland, and a burned junk of a 1942 van on a road crippled with monsoon weeds. When the British quit in 1947 I was eight years old, a student of Saint Joseph's convent.
Dad had no respect for Gandhi, did not forgive Jawaharlal Nehru, who he insisted was responsible for the partition and eventual plight of the Bengalis. He appreciated Hitler and highly esteemed Subhas Chandra Bose, the nationalist leader. Other uncles also didn't have much political knowledge. A Bengali newspaper I started reading was subscribed to when we went to live in Dariapur.
Prepartition communal riots I do remember: burning hutments, religious howls, shrieks, mutilated bodies seen through a peephole, vultures in the sky, groups being chased, army patrols, caravans proceeding toward nowhere. One day when Aunt Nanda was hospitalised for a tumor operation, Gandhi was murdered. I learned of it in the evening sitting inside mosquito netting and completing classwork, as Uncle Promod told everybody in a hushed voice.
Not until 1957 was I able to get out of the political confusion of our family and allow the formation of my own ideas and views, clashing then with Dad and the other uncles. Samir's progressive and liberal leanings had been worrying them for quite some time.
At the Dariapur residence Uncle Biswanath had presented to me a white puppy with brown patches, which turned out to be a country dog as it grew up. I named him Robert Lingchipula, caricaturing a British name. The dog ate spicy leftovers, became hairless, and died after six years.
Since we had a lot of space at Dariapur, Uncle Promod started an amateur drama group staging nonpolitical works, mainly Hindu mythologies; rehearsals of silky goddesses or woolly monsters barged into my study in gargling voices, characters in beards of jute with wooden swords and tin crowns delivered dialogues in nineteenth-century textbook Bengali occasionally interrupted by a sudden spurt of harmonium followed by a line of a song.
I never heard Dad singing or humming. Ma did a little bit of one line. Uncle Promod, who exuded a sort of holiday gaiety, had a clarinet he took out once in a while but never played a full tune. Aunt Kuchi knew some imitation of bharat natyam. That's all. My indulgence in music had to wait. Samir, before he left for studies at Calcutta, sang "Toofan Mail," a Hindi pop song of early movies; that's the name of a fast train of those days.
Whenever Ma and Dad went to Uttarpara, I'd go to the railroad station a few hours in advance, occupy a berth in a compartment attachable to the train, and keep a space for them so that they could join me a few minutes prior to departure. That was the lowest class we travelled in. My first train travelling was inside a compartment full of luggage, no space to drop a pin, myself hoisted throughout the night on a gunny-bag from which fresh potatoes peeped out.
The result of a B.A. in honours economics turned out quite good, making it easier to get admitted for an M.A. in the same subject at Patna University, where in the beginning of 1959 I got a glimpse of Toynbee, Marx, and Spengler. Pages of their books had been removed in several places with the help of a blade in the copies available at the university library. I went to other libraries, took notes, revelling in Spenglerian prophecy taking off from celebrations of decentralisation espoused by Bakunin, Kropotkin, Godwin, and wrote a hundred-page postmodernist treatise, The Marxist Heritage. For the moral vacuum laid bare, the printed book gave me shivers. I got all the copies dunked in gasoline and set them on fire, allowing Spengler to haunt me all along.
My journey into realms of poetry had started by literally setting intellectual bridges ablaze. Around the end of 1959 I had been scribbling in my notebook, trying to shape up a few poems.
Samir got a Fisheries Officer's job, posted at Chaibasa, a tiny hilly township of tribals surrounded by green sal, sesame, and teak trees splashed in spring with scarlet splendour of kapok and kino flowers. He was staying in a thatched hut on a hillock touching the moon. Distant cool nights flickered in the villages below amid the sweet aroma of handpounded tribal rice, roasted pig, faint drumbeats, sparkling laughter of Santhal women. During the day, fowls fought each other with knives tied to legs, a tribal gambling sport, and overloaded rickety buses passed by. I visited Chaibasa during vacation, and again after completing my M.A., the results of which were exemplary in view of my preparations. The caste factor didn't allow me to top the batch.
Involved with Bela, one of eight daughters of a local gentleman straight from Emily Brontë fiction, Samir married; I thought it better to keep myself out of the reach of the ladies.
After my disastrous start as an author I indiscriminately stormed through whatever works I could lay my hands on: Rimbaud, Poe, Baudelaire, Apollinaire, Pound, Eliot, Rilke, Mallarmé, Mayakovsky, Lorca. Surrealism thrilled me. I could imagine myself on the streets of Paris, Madrid, or Moscow with a young André Breton or Jean Cocteau. Samir brought for me from Calcutta collections of Jibanananda Das, Bishnu Dey, Buddhadev Bose, Premendra Mitra, Samar Sen, Amiya Chakraborty, and Sudhindra Dutta, as well as little magazines run by mentors of various groups.
From the notebooks I maintained Samir copied a couple of poems and got them printed in Krillibas in 1959, for which I feel embarrassed even now as I wanted to do something historical, an entry with a bang, an event to remember in literary history.
My perception of Bengali poetry was that it had a place in the sun, notwithstanding its treatment in Western media as a language of a handful. A Nobel Prize to Tagore was the last glory fifty years back. I wondered about the limitations of Bengali not being talked about in international literature as French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese were. No doubt the Indian government was spending millions for sponsoring Hindi, which was not my mother tongue; something had to be done in Bengali literature itself, I felt.
I found editors of literary magazines were not conversant with international writing standards, read very little, detested the avant-garde, had contempt for experiments in prose and poetry. Bengali novels thrived on the market of half-literate ladies. Poems were time servers, filling up spaces for which no ads could be procured. Bearded gentries in kurta pyjamas stitched of handloom cloth with dirty slingbags passed for poets, even the films invariably depicted them in such fixed attire. The entire corpus after Tagore had been a soft option for the creative writer, articulated in a language not spoken in a common Bengali household. Most of the poets till then were from upper caste, that is, Brahmin or Kayastha from urban areas.
I knew I could do nothing alone. I didn't have money. I didn't have access to reputed periodicals. I didn't have a group. I didn't have a mentor or a sponsor. I didn't know any writers or poets in Calcutta.
I found a queer name in a little magazine in early 1961, Mr. Haradhon Dhara, traced him out in a notorious slum at Howrah near Calcutta, winding my way through a stinky buffaloshit lane onto a hay-roofed mud-tiled clay hut with small cane windows nibbled by termites. In the middle of the room lay a high, squeaky antique bed beneath which were stacked magazines gathering dust. Further magazines were sprawled around with no room to move about except for a folding chair offered to me. Debi Roy, which was Dhara's pen name, had worked as an errand boy in a pedestrian restaurant, as a taxi washer, didn't have any knowledge of world literature, had written a few poems rejected by reputed magazines, belonged to a very low caste, and couldn't speak English well. Could be a genuine anchorman, I felt.
We sat together on the clay verandah beside heaps of gourdseeds and pondsnails, I gradually explaining my views of unleashing a literary movement to be called "Hungryalism." I had concentrated on the word Hungry from Chaucer's prophetic line "In the sowre Hungry tyme" with a Spenglerian perspective of the assimilation of cultures and ultimate decline thereof in view of the overwhelming infiltration of an alien ethos into Bengali culture. Hungryalism was a postmodern idea, not a philosophy but rather the apotheosis of self-expression, which accepted contradictions as a part of the human condition. Not a theory.
Debi Roy was happy with the coinage from a different perspective, as he thought Hungryalism suited the economic nightmare of a postpartition society suffering from unemployment, shortages of food and clothing, inhuman living conditions of the human individual, hunger of body and soul, mind and being, essence and existence, matter and spirit, known and unknown.
It was decided to print one-page handouts initially, when and as money permitted, for distribution, bringing gradually within our fold likeminded poets, writers, and artists as a beginning of a multicentered formlessness pervading all diversity where the individual was whole and the whole was individual. We should have sufficient activists to launch a cultural avalanche, we felt.
In April 1961 I got a job in the Reserve Bank of India with a monthly salary of one hundred seventy rupees (ten dollars) which required me to write owners' names on gilt-edged bonds. I wrote a piece on poetry printed on a foolscap paper and arranged for its distribution as the first Hungryalist bulletin in November 1961 in the Albert Hall Coffee House on Calcutta's College Street across from Presidency College.
The effect of the first bulletin was stunning as it started a swelling of the ranks and provoked editorials and literary headlines in newspapers and periodicals. The Hungryalist—later Hungrealist—bulletin went from five pages to twenty pages, quarto to scroll size, woodcut-designed cover to offset, black and blue prints to handpaint.
Between 1961 and 1965 about a hundred bulletins were released by participants, of which nine are preserved by Sandip Dutta in the archives of the Little Magazine Library and Research Centre. Poets, authors, and artists who had joined the movement are Subimal Basak, Rabindra Guha, Sankar Sen, Arupratan Basu, Basudeb Dasgupta, Asok Chatterjee, Pradip Choudhuri, Benoy Majumdar, Amit Sen, Amrita Tanay Gupta, Sayad Mustafa Siraj, Bhanu Chatterjee, Utpal Kumar Basu, Tridib Mitra, Phalguni Ray, Satindra Bhowmik, Shambhu Rakshit, Tapan Das, Sandipan Chatterjee, Anil Karanjai, Subhas Ghosh, Karuna Nidhan, Ramananda Chatterjee, Subo Acharja, Saileswar Ghose, Debasis Banerjee, Sukumar Mitra, Mihir Pal, Arani Basu, and Arunesh Ghosh.
I had drafted the manifestoes on poetry, prose, politics, and religion for the Hungryalist movement, reprinted in Kultchur Volume 15, edited by Lita Hornick, and Salted Feathers, Volumes 8/9, edited by Dick Bakken and Lee Altman.
Actually I personally didn't know all the Hungryalists as it was Debi Roy and later Subimal Basak who did the organisational work. I knew the authors, however, who came to be known as the major Hungry writers and was in correspondence with them: Debi Roy, Saileswar Ghose, Subimal Basak, Pradip Choudhuri, Subo Acharja, Subhas Ghosh, Tridib Mitra, Phalguni Ray, and Arunesh Ghosh. Later Phalguni died from drugs, Tridib gave up writing, and Subo joined a religious sect. Funny to note, a police informer by the name of Pabitra Ballabh had infiltrated the movement keeping a tab on us; we didn't even notice till he himself spilled the beans.
Until 1963 I visited Calcutta frequently, staying at Uttanpara, Ahiritola, Debi's place, or in Subimal Basak's uncle's goldsmith shop, which did not have a window, ceiling fan, or lavatory, compelling me to go to the nearby Sealdah railroad station, where I used the toilets of arriving long-distance trains. We slept on the cement floor using old magazines wrapped in our shirts for pillows. The shop had a castor-oil lamp that Subimal made use of at night for drafting his novel Chhatamatha, written in the dialect of horsecart pullers of Dhaka. Subimal was beaten up in December 1963 at the entrance of the Albert Hall Coffee House by a group of status quoists hostile to our movement.
There were other strange happenings too. A couple of presses refused to print Hungryalist bulletins; Pradip Choudhuri was expelled from Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan, for his association with the movement; Subhas Ghose was notified to vacate his apartment; Patiram book stall was threatened by a gang for selling the bulletin. Pressure kept on mounting. Refusal of auditoria led us to recite our poems at street corners, parks, cemeteries to the attention of growing crowds every day. The main theme of hostility to us centered round one single argument: that the movement was foreign inspired and against Bengali culture and literary tradition.
In fact all the major Hungryalists were from the lower middle class and came from outside Calcutta. Subimal and I came from Patna, Subo from Bishnupur, Pradip from Agartala, Debi from Howrah, Subhas and Saileswar from Balurghat. Almost all were firstgeneration literates. One researcher has argued that the breakdown of the extended family was one of the factors in promoting the Hungryalist movement.
The Indian press harped on the tune that the movement's origin should be traced to the Calcutta visit in the early sixties of Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gary Snyder, and Joanne Snyder. How far that is correct is a matter of conjecture and serious research. I did meet Allen Ginsberg but not the other people; none of the Hungryalists met any of them.
Ginsberg had been to Samir's place at Chaibasa and stopped over for a few nights at Dariapur on his way to a Buddhist pilgrimage at Rajgir in the summer of 1963. Ginsberg was saintly. Dad took him to be Bishma from the Hindu epic Mahabharata. In 1985-86 I translated his Howl and Kaddish into Bengali. In the sixties I had translated some poems of Lorca, Neruda, and Artaud.
All these three years from 1961 to 1963 I had been working on Shoytaner Mukh, a collection of my poems. Samir selected some of them for their ratiocinative abstraction and total effect in terms of sound and sight. Krittibas Publishers agreed to publish them. There were guarded critical reactions to the book at the time. The cover was based on a drawing made available by Margaret Randal, editor of El Corno Emplumado, who was in Buenos Aires at that time.
Exploiting Bengali etymology in the costume of a tyrant jester, I wrote a drama—Illot—assured of being staged by Nripen Saha of Gandharba. He retained the manuscript for a year then developed cold feet because of its political overtones. I got it published in the first issue of Zebra in 1966.
Karuna Nidhan and Anil Karanjai, painters, invited me to Banaras where hashish was available in plenty, the visiting hippies having passed on to them marijuana and LSD. Subimal and I took a train to Banaras, stayed there for a few days on top of a garage in smoke and hallucination. All four of us made a trip to Kathmandu where we rented a wooden room with four mattresses made of hay. Basu Sasi of the Royal Nepal Academy took care of our food and drink. I loved kachila, made of uncooked buffalo flesh, pickled deer meat, and white rum ela. There was unrestricted hashish and opium to float in, cool temples to meditate in, and hilltops to recite poems from. I got rid of the taboos of my milieu but reared instead some lice on my skin and hair.
As my presence became known in the Nepali media, Parijat, Nepal's foremost woman poet of the sixties, sent me a word for poetry, drink, and dinner. She was exquisitely beautiful, reclining on a pillow on a floor mattress, without the black panthers Cleopatra had by her side. Serving super-strong homemade liquor in brass saucers, she removed her black woollen robe to show her polio-stricken, cream-coloured legs. I placed my hand on them. She kissed my forehead and informed me she was an admirer of my poems. It was my first literary award.
I attended a few poetry recitations in Kathmandu and met Nepali poets Puskar Lohani, Madan Rengbi, and Padam Sudas. Ramesh Srestha took me to his village, Basantpur, for lunch, flattened green rice soaked in curd, a terrific taste.
Karuna Nidhan and Anil Karanjai talked to the owner of Max Gallery, a black American lady, who arranged for an exhibition of their paintings not for sale. I wrote the brochure. On the concluding day the paintings were placed in one corner and set on fire. Oh, one of the foreign woman spectators cried like a child. Karuna and Anil consoled her. Karuna afterwards became a Maoist, Anil migrated to the United States.
I came back to Patna where Rajkamal, the poet and editor who had introduced Hindi readers to me, was hospitalised. He loved to play chess with me after a pethidine injection. In 1967 he died after a long stint of hospitalisation, monomania, and lack of writing.
On September 2, 1964, Sub-Inspector Kaiikinkar Das of the Calcutta Police lodged a complaint based on a copy of a Hungryalist bulletin—made available to him by Pabitra Ballabh, a poet—claiming that it came within the purview of Sections 120(B) and 292 of the Criminal Code and I should, along with other members of the movement, be prosecuted. Section 120(B) was for conspiracy against society and Section 292 for the sale, hire, distribution, public exhibition, and circulation of obscene writing.
On September 4, 1964, I was arrested by police officers S. M. Baron and Amal Mukherjee, handcuffed with a rope tied to my waist, and paraded on the streets of Patna. A posse of policemen searched the Dariapur house, broke open Ma and Dad's boxes, seized a large number of books, magazines, letters, manuscripts, and a typewriter, which were never to be returned.
I was incarcerated without food and water in a dark cell with crooks and criminals. The corner of the lockup was used as a toilet by inmates, the flow of urine and shit blocked by a tattered rug; rodents moved around in search of food crumbs and bugs crawled the walls. Through the night I stood like a statue of flesh and bone aside the crooks and criminals, who thought I was absurd. The next day I was taken to the local court on foot in handcuffs with a rope around my waist, together with the bunch of criminals, and released on a bail of ten thousand rupees (six hundred dollars) with orders to present myself at Calcutta Court, which I did. At Calcutta I was interrogated by a group of officials and my interview recorded.
The first thing that happened was I was kicked out of the bank job, making money scarce. Worse still, Granny died, so there was no place to stay at Calcutta.
I was not chargesheeted immediately; the police required me to report to them every alternate day. I felt depressed except for some letters of encouragement from Octavio Paz, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others, which were edited and published by Tridib Mitra in 1969. A lawyer, Satyen Banerjee, volunteered to defend me and intervened to stop my visits to police headquarters.
News of my persecution appeared in the November 4, 1964, issue of Time, City Lights Journal, and Evergreen Review. The Time report said the Hungryalist movement was a "growing band of young Bengalis with tigers in their tanks." I appealed to the Indian Committee for Cultural Freedom for help, but they did nothing. Its executive secretary, A. B. Shah, wrote me in January 1965 that he had met the police chief, who informed him that a number of citizens to whom Hungryalist writings had been made available wanted action against me. Dipak Majumdar, a poet of the fifties, initiated a signature campaign in my favour, got rebuffed by a senior editor, and gave a hasty retreat. Most of the writers in my group were avoiding me; I was feeling alone, tormented, frustrated, estranged, and abandoned.
I made a trip to Bishnupur, Subo Acharja's place; a devout Hindu by then, he reeled off incomprehensible metaphysics. Went to Mursidabad for a change, discovered a cobra snake atop the mosquito-net roof. I was on the verge of breaking down. Hindi author Sharad Deora wrote The College Street Messiah, a novel based on me and our time.
On May 3, 1965, I was chargesheeted under Section 292 of the Criminal Code for my poem Stark Electric Jesus in the court of the presidency magistrate, Mr. Amal Mitra. Commissioned by Bonnie Crown of Asia Foundation, this poem was reprinted in City Lights Journal no. 3 with an essay on the subject by Professor Howard McCord. It was also published separately in the United States in 1965-66 in three ditto editions by Tribal Press with a verifax cover showing the sorcerer of the Trois Frères. The poem is included in my Selected Poems, published by Writers Workshop, Calcutta, in 1989. It is a poem of mourning based on speech rhythms.
The legal battle went on for twenty-to-thirty minutes every week; the prosecution produced witnesses to prove it was my poem, written and circulated by me, seized from my custody, and that it was obscene. Only Pabitra Ballabh testified that it was vulgar and that he had seen me distributing it. Defense witnesses were Sunil Gangopadhyay, poet and novelist; Jyotirmoy Dutta, critic and editor; Tarun Sanyal, professor; and Satrajit Dutta, psychiatrist.
Sunil, in cross-examination, told the court that he had read the poem several times and would read it out loud if the court permitted it. Stark Electric Jesus was a beautiful poem, he said, the expression of an important poet. Tarun said his students had liked the poem, that it was a piece of creative art. Jyotirmoy testified that it was an experimental poem and not at all immoral and obscene. Satrajit said there was no question of inflaming passion or depraving the mind of a reader.
The judge, Amal Mitra, in his ten-page verdict on December 28, 1965, found me guilty, directed me to pay a fine of 200 rupees (fifteen dollars) or be imprisoned for one month, and gave orders for the destruction of all copies of the issue. It being the maximum penalty, the judge did not permit me to appeal to the High Court. I filed a revision petition at the High Court and started searching for a good criminal lawyer.
Stark Electric Jesus was the first condemned poem in Bengali literature. The judge did not rely on prosecution and defense testimony, but rather drafted his own piece of literary criticism, aware of its going down in our literary history, as evident from this last passage of his verdict:
By no stretch of imagination can it be called, what has been argued, an artistic piece of erotic realism opening up new dimensions to contemporary Bengali literature or a kind of experimental piece of writing, but it appears to be a report of a repressed or a most perverted mind that is obsessed with sex in all its nakedness and thrives on, or revels in, utter vulgarity and profanity preoccupied with morbid erotism and promiscuity in all its naked ugliness and uncontrolled passion for the opposite sex. It transgresses public decency and morality substantially, rather at public decency and morality by its higher morbid erotic effect unredeemed by anything literary or artistic. It is an affront to current community standards, decency, and morality. The writing viewed separately and as a whole treats sex, that great motivating force in human life, in a manner that surpasses the permissible limits judged from our community standards, and as there is no redeeming social value or gain to society which can be said to preponderate, I must hold that the writing has failed to satisfy the time-honoured test. Therefore it has got to be stamped out.
Alhough The Searchlight, a daily newspaper, published a special supplement on the eve of my conviction, with a twenty-thousand-word essay by its editor, Subhas Chandra Sarker, life for me had become miserable all those six months. Living in a dark, damp, dilapidated room at Uttarpara, alone, shrinking, taking a bath once or twice a week in the Hooghly River to get rid of lice, eating at anybody's expense, begging around for money for the court, no editor agreeing to print my poems, in dwindling health, suffering harsh criticisms, and with dementia creeping in, I felt shattered. All these experiences I was putting bit by bit, being a slow writer, in Jakham, a long poem alternating sigh and shriek as I abandoned traditional metrics. It was translated by Carl Weissner in 1967, the German translator of William Burroughs, and reprinted by Joan Silva in Network, translated into Hindi by Kanchan Kumar.
Jyotirmoy Dutta introduced me to K. S. Roy, a barrister who had practised in London, and said top attorneys required big money. Professor Howard McCord had raised some money from three editions of Stark Electric Jesus. Carol Bergé organised a poetry reading at Saint Mark's Church, New York—by Paul Blackburn, Allen Hoffman, Clayton Eshleman, Armand Schwerrier, Carol Rubenstein, Gary Youree, Allen Planz, Ted Berrigan, Jerome Rothenberg, Bob Nichols, David Antin, Jackson MacLow—and remitted the collection. Special Indian issues of Intrepid by Allen De Loach, Salted Feathers, Fact, San Francisco Earthquake, Imago, Where, Trace, Work, Iconolatre, Kiacto were printed in the United states and the United Kingdom and the proceeds were sent to me. In Calcutta I got help only from Ashok Mitra and Kamal Kumar Majumdar. I also raised some loans and engaged the attorneys K. S. Roy, Mrigen Sen, Ananga Dhar, and A. K. Basu.
With my conviction most of the Hungryalists started deserting me; it was not possible to hold them together. Debi and Saileshwar, Subo and Ramananda, Subhas and Tridib developed a sort of George Oppen-Louis Zukofsky relationship, making it very difficult to carry on the group with me.
My attorneys were not sure when the case would come up for a hearing, maybe in six months, maybe in ten years. I had drifted around for food and shelter, voyeuring like a fool, depending on remittances from Dad and Samir, straying out to villages, unwanted at the residences of poets and editors, gloomy with plenty of time, when my ill health struck me. Subimal bought me a train ticket for Patna, which I reached in stupor and delirium; Ma weeped at my trauma, and I remained bedridden for a month. Tridib's letters were awaiting my recovery. He had written that Subhas, Saileshwar, Basudeb, Pradip, and Arunesh had launched a new group—keeping Subimal, Debi, and myself out—and that their magazine contained a vituperative attack on us. I felt sad. Phalguni came to Patna to meet me; I advised him never to come again. The doe-eyed nuns had returned in my dreams carrying Parijat's marble body, the candles were now replaced by castor oil lamps.
My ill health, Ma thought, might be due to drugs and sex, so she informed marriage agents to get me involved. The agents knew of my whereabouts and every now and then presented before me a nervous girl of marriageable age for my consent, I had to quarrel it out with Ma to stop the horrible affair.
Music was there to fall back upon as I came to know Robin Dutta, who drew me first into stories from Palestrina, Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel, Haydn, Berlioz, Franck and then to his discs and cassettes of compositions by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, and Brahms, an engaging experience relieving my burden. Dad purchased for me a record player with a sitar recital disc of maestro Ravishankar and thumri of Bade Gulam Ali. Ferlinghetti sent me Ginsberg's reading of Kaddish and Ezra Pound reading his Cantos, which I listened to in the evenings. I had, on doctor's advice, stopped smoking except for a rolled tobacco once in a while.
Subimal's younger brother informed Dad that the hearing at the High Court was fixed for July 26, 1967. I didn't feel like going to Calcutta. The life I had spent there was horrifying; I shuddered at the thought. July 26 came and passed away. Subimal arrived after a week, smiling, with newspaper reports of my exoneration and a certified copy of the verdict of Justice T. P. Mukherji of the High Court castigating lower court judge Amal Mitra for his judicial blunder and the Calcutta police for their harassment.
I felt blank, gave Subimal whatever books, correspondence files he wanted, gave up meeting people, withdrew into my loneliness. My blankness continued. I was unable to write, no images flitted by, lines refused to be composed in my mind. I sat at the table doing nothing, for weeks, for months, nervousness galloped, without a purpose; there was no request from any editor for my poems, no letter from anyone.
In the winter of 1968 I was introduced by Sulochna Naidu, a Telugu lady, to her bespectacled friend Shalila Mukherjee, a frail lady of peacock gait, a couple of schoolgirl tresses, deep eyes, and a voice shy enough to make me fumble for words as I controlled myself from placing my head on her lap and weeping. She had lost her mother when a baby; her father had left her with the maternal grandfather, never to return again.
On my first visit her uncle showed me eight rifles and double-barrel guns, the hides of predators he had hunted, and then whistled for his two pet Pomeranians, Suzie and Caesar. I got the message and obliquely told him to get in touch with Dad or Samir in case he felt uncomfortable about me. He did. Samir was hastily dispatched by Ma to descend to Nagpur, more than a thousand kilometers from Patna, for finalising any nuptial possibility.
I married Shalila on December 4, 1968, reciting full-throated Sanskrit mantras I vaguely understood, prompted by a bearded priest in a saffron robe who had Old Testament-prophet looks, in front of crackling holy fire and smoke, angels, gods, friends, relatives, in a carnival of midnight glory and glamour. The marriage rituals regenerated my lust for life, Wordsworthian fullness, an inspiration to live that was robust. Shalila's cousin married an airport official the same night and the joint marriage created a sort of flutter in the sleepy town.
To avoid the funeral gloom at Patna, where Uncle Sushil had died on the day of my marriage—why such things happen to me I do not know—I made a stopover in Chaibasa at Samir's in-laws' place. I reached Patna to find visitors arriving to celebrate the bridal reception and bereave the dead, provoking Cousin Dolly, Uncle Sushil's daughter, to give me a piece of her mind in chewed verbiage.
I left Patna with Shalila for the tribal jungles of Palamau, four hundred kilometers away by train, in the grip of spring, with a whiff of blooming kino and kapok. We lunched there on coloured rice, barbecued meat, boiled snails, and a dash of liquor made of mahua, rejuvenating my lazy tendencies in pluralist happiness. Pangs of not being able to write were subsiding. Palamau was soothing. The wild elephants, however, didn't give us an audience during the fortnight we stayed.
We made a trip to Shimla by train in February 1969, experiencing the first snowfall I ever saw. Our luggage was placed on the bus top for traversing between Kalka and Shimla and covered with three inches of flakes by the time we stepped down into the knee-deep snow. Then we fetched up a hotel room and finished a full brandy. We didn't have sufficient clothes to go out in the snow, so we remained indoors for the period of our stay.
When we were back in Patna, George Dowden was there, in a saffron dhoti, with the flowing hair of a sannyasin. He was working on Ginsberg's bibliography. Shalila fed him some Indian dishes. I felt a little embarrassed, with nothing to talk about, alienated from what was going on at Calcutta. He excluded me from his India memoirs.
Shalila introduced a Marathi dimension to our Bengali cuisine; we had a dining table now from her Nagpur job savings, curtains on the windows, flower-pots, stainless steel utensils in place of brass, a part-time maid.
Ma was free; she seized the opportunity to revive her interest in Hindu gods and goddesses she had forgotten after coming to Dariapur, sang holy songs in the evenings. Ma and Shalila enjoyed each other's pagan faith, solicited mantras from respective gurus, followed worship rituals. Ma's favourite god was Ganesha, a marble replica originally worshipped by Granny. Ma did abandon her Ganesha later and transferred her interest to stitching a kantha, a patchwork bedsheet for my daughter.
Dimple, as we called our daughter, born on September 5, 1969, got her name changed to Anushree fourteen years later when a film star named Dimple hit the screen. She introduced me to an infant's universe of wordless communication that I never knew so closely, her vocabulary growing sound by sound, deciphered by Ma and Dad in their new vocation of baby-sitting after Shalila went out to her job as an accounts assistant on a rickshaw. Annoyed with my impatience in teaching Anushree the English alphabet and numbers, she appointed a tutor.
On a day of cloudburst, driblets trickled down from the ceiling and entered the bookshelf, which had been shut for more than a year. I opened it to find corridors of hefty termites revelling through Sade's Hundred-Twenty Days of Sodom to Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers. I felt like weeping; my throat choked, I allowed the white ants to live and spread their colony. Why did I have this acquisitive streak? Since then I have been giving away books and magazines to others after I have read them. Lithe turning of water, Ezra Pound had written.
I got a bank officer's job in 1972, conducting credit utilisation studies and impact assessments in deep rural areas I had not been to earlier. I began to understand the life and living of cultivators and artisans. I loved the job. Now I could tell from afar whether a paddy stalk was wheat or barley, pulses of various plants, chillies or rohu, katla and mrigel fish in pond water; I acquainted myself with the daily life of a farmer's family, the ruthlessness of rural poverty, machinations of caste substratums, village violence, names of birds, herbs, shrubs, and trees I had not known, men and women ploughing, harvesting, threshing, levelling, jungle-clearing with their own hands. I thought of Whitman, Neruda, Mayakovsky, and the Bengali poets Jibanananda and Sukanta but was unable to write any line myself.
Talking to people was a part of my job—farmers, labourers, social servicemen, government officials, rural headmen, bankers, craftsmen—characters filtering through experience. Hundreds of thousands of kilometers I traversed from village to village—fifteen days a month—on train, steamer, boat, van, bus, horsecart, elephant, camel, bullock cart. Alone on a bed in a hotel or country house, I thought of poetry. I was barren.
Shalila bought me a Lambretta scooter on my birthday in 1973 (we started celebrating it after our marriage; Ma and Dad had not been aware of the custom). We drove into town Sunday evenings entertaining ourselves with Chinese dishes. I had become fond of rum and cola, given up smoking, gathered fat around my waist.
Our son, Bappa, was born on February 19, 1975, a caesarian.
Saint Joseph's convent, my first school (where I got Anushree, later Bappa, admitted), had expanded like a deep sea fish out of water: cement crawled to eat up violets, roses, marigolds, dahlias, chrysanthemums; doe-eyed nuns were replaced by serious-looking Keralites; children spilled out like mustard seeds from multistoried blocks onto grassless playgrounds; Saint Joseph's statue was full of crowshit. I visited the other school, Ram Mohan Roy Seminary, in ruins now, physically and ideologically, under a moneymaking buffoon of a principal, damn it.
The inevitable stroke in the winter of 1975: I pissed blood, my blood pressure shot up beyond limits, infarction of the heart, bedrest for two months, medicines, medicines, oh, pain in my thought process, fear of death, but no poetry came to my mind. Editors and poet friends might have forgotten me.
My office, the Agricultural Refinance and Development Corporation, in the summer of 1979 transferred me to Lucknow, city of nabobs during the British raj, which saw to the decimation of the Moslem aristocracy. The town was far better than Patna. I couldn't get a house and stayed for some time with Abdul Karim, a Telugu-speaking Moslem agricultural economist, and afterwards with Prabhakara, an analyst who spoke the Kannada language, who prevented me from lapsing into disorder as I was damn scared of loneliness.
The office gave me a newly constructed bungalow across the Gomti River and adjacent to the Kukrail Crocodile Sanctuary in early 1980 when Shalila and the children joined me. I developed a lawn of Bermuda grass and a rose garden in the front; Shalila took care of a kitchen garden at the rear. I planted guava, jujube plum, banana, papaya, and horseradish, got the fruits, felt fantastic. On the gate we had multicoloured bougainvillea through the entire year spreading a soft carpet for visitors. I regained my health.
Being the Section in Charge of credit deployment for poverty-alleviation programmes, I found myself in a tension of human misery, unredeemable through post-Keynesian methods. World Bank minions, dizzy with imaginative success, looked like jokers doling out cookies to the dead and dying from their Tutankhamen gold masks, from poems of Francois Dufrene or Gil Wolman, from paintings by Mondrian or Kandinsky. This entire period from 1979 had been one of regaining helplessness for me. I was a drawing-room intellectual, nuts, retheorising frightening abstractions, suffering from an inexplicable sense of guilt capped with a secret gnawing anxiety of not being able to write, which aggravated my nervous system. I knew that only ten percent of people had the freedom to pursue happiness, the rest were nonpersons, invisible pariahs of our polity. There was nothing I could do, nothing.
Ma and Dad came to Lucknow to spend the winter of 1981 with us, Samir having shifted with his family to Patna. We enjoyed winter, sitting in wicker chairs placed on the lawn, dozing off during sunny, shaded afternoons, disturbed occasionally by a couple of grumbling doves nesting in the bougainvillea. Flocks of low-flying Russian white cranes glided towards Bharatpur Sanctuary a hundred kilometers away, parrots nibbled ripe guava; there were sparrows, swifts, woodpeckers, mynahs, bitterns, thrushes, buntings, cuckoos, falconets, larks, kites, orioles, storks, warbiers visiting the garden, and the insects, frogs, butterflies of endless creations, and earthworms and lizards. It was a long way from Bakharganj days.
As the astrologers had predicted Dad would die first, Ma didn't reveal the severe arthritis she was suffering from, detected when her legs swelled, but not before wrong medicines prescribed by a physician led to a massive heart attack, hospitalisation, and death two days after the 1982 Diwali festival of lights. Samir rushed from Patna in response to my telegram, told me and Shalila we had neglected Ma. She was cremated on a funeral pyre the next morning on the banks of the Gomti River, turned into ashes from which I collected a small shining piece of bone and kept it in my purse. I remained in ritual mourning for thirteen days in a single piece of loincloth, barefoot, without shaving or combing my hair, at the end of which I shaved my head, took a bath in the Ganges, and fed Brahmins.
Ma had been in a coma for two days, cut off from us, in her suffering, oxygen pipe in nostrils, eyes closed, soundless. Where was she!
Personal loss is the exact description of the depressive void created by her absence. I brooded in blank anguish and aching insight; no death had absorbed me earlier. A few months later, returning from the office, I found myself weeping one day in the busy market square of Lucknow, overwhelmed by a sudden feeling choking my throat.
I booked train tickets for Dad, Shalila, and the children, journeyed two nights to the temple towns of south India, stayed for a month, and returned confused, mystified, unsettled, words and images in a whirling chaos in me searching for an expansive flow of ideation. I wrote several love poems as they kept on coming, mailed them to Kamal Chakraborty, editor of Kourab who had been pestering me for poems during the last couple of years. Floodgates were sprung open.
That spread the word. Poet and researcher Dr. Uttam Das with his wife, Malabika, visited us at Lucknow with the proposal for a book on the Hungryalist movement for which I made available all the material from Patna. His book appeared to stir a hornet's nest again, and I had to give several interviews clarifying my current thoughts on life and poetry, past and present. There was now a generation of poets who were not born or were infants when I was convicted for poetry, and they had their own image of me.
Uttam got the manifestoes and earlier poems collected and published in two volumes in 1985 and 1986, with covers designed by Charu Khan, turning them into avant-garde collectors' items. The manifesto collection was dedicated to Malabika, whose voice resembled Parijat's, and the poetry collection to Bhulti, my mother.
I reciprocated Dr. Das's consideration by a visit to his house and farm at Baruipur near Calcutta, a cool country greened with fruits, foliage, coconuts, and bamboos. Malabika, a teetotaler, cooked steamed prawns for me. I visited Debi Roy and his wife, Mala, and Subimal Basak; they had greyed and become old. Debi, now secretary of the Indian Writers Association, had purchased a flat and Subimal had constructed a double-decker house. Debi had become a prolific writer. Subimal had translated the Hindi author Premchand and published an Anthology of Superstitions.
On a request from Professor Sibnarayan Ray, a radical humanist thinker, I wrote a story for his periodical recounting the Hungryalist days, leading to an avalanche of special issues of Godhuli Mone, Swakal, Uttarapath, Jiraffe, Pat her Panchali, Goddo Poddo Samvad, Atalantik, etc., on the movement.
I was now experimenting for a post-Hungryalist, eugenic ethos in my poems, a diction to overcome the musical pattern of Bengali language, a possible perfection in timelessness, closeting myself in the back room when all had gone for work and school.
Prokash Karmaker, painter, who was in France for some years, suggested we bring out a one-page offset magazine with a drawing by him and a poem of mine on the theme of violence. Every month during 1985 and 1986 a sheet was published. These poems were collected, and publisher-poet Mrityunjay Sen of Mahadiganta Publishers brought out my book Medhar Batanukul Ghungur during the Calcutta Book Fair of 1987, with a cover designed by Jogen Choudhuri, head of the department of painting and sculpture, Visva Bharati University. The book was a great critical success.
Lucknow for me had become a small place now. I moved to Bombay as deputy manager in the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, staying for some time in a house inside a mango orchard in Borivili, shifting later to a Santa Cruz apartment provided by office. I could have gone to Calcutta but didn't, feeling scared of the collectivised response and streamlined thinking of the city and remembering my experience of having lived in squalor, filth, and poverty there despite the fact that my great-great granpa once owned the city.
Coming to Bombay, I loved it: its fast life, Zoroastrians, Moslems, Goanese, Orthodox Marathis, Iranian restaurants, Gujarati jewellers, the Western cultural inroads, and, above all, the sea. I visited Nissim Ezekiel, the grand old man of Indian poetry in English, Adil Jussawala, and cute Charmayne D'Souza of Bombay's Poetry Circle, dubbed by Professor John O. Perry of Tufts University, Massachusetts, as below international standards.
I have wondered why Indian poetry should be judged by Western native norms. Why can't the editors and critics in the West have a feel of the soil of one's Swahili, Nepali, or Bengali mother? And unless one gains a foothold in the U.S.A. and the U.K., international recognition remains a pipedream.
When Professor P. Lal of the Writers Workshop agreed to bring out my Selected Poems in English in 1989, designed by himself with a cotton loom sari cover, I saw the end of the tunnel. The translation is shabby but it certainly opens up the chance to work out my next ventures. Reviews have been wonderful.
Meanwhile, I have kept myself busy drafting my memoirs for Mizanur Rahaman's Quarterly—published in Dhaka, Bangladesh—going back in time, hazily remembering people and events, moments of joy and humiliation, breakdown and despair, challenges of loneliness, and Ma talking of Patna's devastating earthquake in which she lost her black-buck and swans, five years after which I was born.
(March 12, 1990)
Malay Roy Choudhury contributed the following update to CA in 2003:
Things have changed a lot during the last two decades, most visible being that I have grown a beard, salt-pepper by now, and look older after sustaining two heart attacks, one of them after undergoing angioplasty and stenting. I grew the beard not because I wanted to look like a philosopher, but just for camouflage during my job as a rural development investigator and facilitator when I was required to extensively tour India and meet farmers, weavers, artisans, landless labourers, fishermen, shepherds and such people living in villages who did not open up easily to an urban outsider's questionnaire. Since a portion of my name, Choudhury, would be found amongst Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs throughout the country and I could speak English, Hindi, Bangla, and a little bit of Urdu, I could feign to become an insider or outsider as the situation demanded. Apart from the official information collated and processed during these visits, I started maintaining a personal corpus of people's experiences, incidents, vagaries faced, as well as the nightmares they encountered, with a secret idea that I have been nursing of writing a novel after I completed the assignment of Hungryalist movement memoirs in Mizanur Rahaman's Quarterly, which was named Hungry Kimvadanti and published as a hard-bound book in 1994.
The beard proved to be a risky proposition as well, when Hindu-Muslim riots and terrorist bombing broke out in Mumbai (earstwhile Bombay) in the aftermath of the demolition of the disputed temple-mosque structure at Ayodhya. In Mumbai a bearded man ostensibly meant a Muslim. Violence and mayhem during the riot-week became so nerve-wracking that even some of my Muslim neighbours and colleagues shaved off their beards. I did not. I knew it would be a defeat. I disregarded everybody's advice and ventured out along with Shalila, attending to our normal routine, on to the streets of the city which were palpably tense. Mumbai came back to normalcy and I have my beard intact to this day. But strangely, looking back at my tenure at Lucknow, when I was serving as a member of the board of directors of the Faizabad Gramin Bank under whose jurisdiction the pilgrim township of Ayodhya is stationed, I do not remember anyone telling me that the structure was communally so relevant and sensitive. I had seen only one policeman dozing off his bored afternoon loneliness, who had asked me and the bank's managing director to remove our shoes, money purse, and waist belt before entering the precincts. Well, collective human happenstance may convert inorganic reality into organic imagination, without any rhyme or reason.
Since our Santa Cruz residential colony had enough parking space and adequate security, we borrowed some funds and added our savings to it to enable us to purchase a Fiat car (1990) after Shalila and I learned driving at an automobile school. Though we were able to drive the vehicle quite smoothly on Mumbai's busiest roads, both of us failed at the Road Transport officer's license awarding test, the reason for which was explained later by a tout, that for each license one has to pay a fixed bribe for a particular type of vehicle. We protested to the inchange of the automobile school and obtained our licenses. Visiting the sea every morning, to Chowpati, Marine Drive, Nariman Point, Juhu, and other shores in our car, all four of us, became sort of a daily fun-filled routine. Santa Cruz being a locality where severalHollywood film stars lived, we could see hourglass figures with pretty faces jogging on the shores in order to maintain their saleability. On holidays we went for long drives. My son, Bappa, now called Jitendra, did not go to an automobile school and learned to drive within a couple of days. Occasionally I resorted to drunk driving while returning from a friend's or relative's cocktail hungama, the neon signs and sodium lights of Mumbai streets blinking through the amazed windscreen. I met with an accident only once, while reversing the car, and the disfigured vehicle caused a sadness that quite surprised me, as this feeling was previously unknown; some sort of de profundis.
In one of my visits to Calcutta (now Kolkata) from Mumbai, I travelled to Kotrong to meet Dad who was staying with uncle Bishwanath for quite some time. Steeped in Hindu scriptures he looked quite lonely after Ma's death. That is the last time I met him as he went back to Patna to live with Samir, my elder brother, at our Dariapur residence, from where he used to write long sad letters to Shalila and to my daughter, Anushree. I learned of his death on October 8, 1991, when I was on tour to Bhubaneshwar and could reach Patna only after his cremation, as I had to pick up Shalila and the children from Mumbai. As a mark of respect to his departure, both Samir and I had to get our heads tonsured. I returned to Dariapur residence after a decade and found it desolate beyond recognition without Ma and Dad or my collection of books, emptied by Samir's cobrother Ranju Bhattacharja, who sold them to run his family, and with the huge framed photographs of Leo Tolstoy and Rabindranath Tagore absent from the walls of the room that was once my study and the originating station of the Hungryalist movement.
When I had met Dad at Kotrong he was quite annoyed with the Left Front government of West Bengal as the school books, which the administration had had written by historians, claimed that Job Charnok was the father of Calcutta. Dad claimed that it was our ancestors, the Saborno Choudhurys, who actually established the city, and advised me to trace out our ancestral lineage, which I did, as I had been toying with the idea of writing a childhood memoir with occasional flashbacks to antiquity, which every now and then used to be referred to during our poverty stricken Bakharganj days, possibly as a psychological safe heaven.
I researched and found out that our clan surname, Roy Choudhury, was bestowed on my warrior ancestor Lakshmikanta Gangopadhyay (1570-1649) by Emperor Jehangir of India when he defeated a few local rajahs backed by the Portugese armada. Lakshmikanta's grandfather Panchanan also was a warrior in Emperor Akbar's cavalry. Along with the title, Lakshmikanta was awarded revenue rights over several shoreline villages, sunderban forests, and water surfaces, which today is known as greater Calcutta. Since Lakshmikanta was a Saborno Brahmin, our clan, comprising about twenty thousand members spread throughout the world today, is known as Saborno Choudhurys. When Jehangir's discendants forced the clan to hand over the rights to East India Company in 1698, the Saborno Choudhurys lost their sheen and got decentered to eke out alternate sources of living. The Durgapuja festival, started by Lakshmikanta in 1610, is still celebrated every year in the remnant of his palace where the deed of transfer to the British was signed. I belong to the branch of Ratneshwar Roy Choudhury (1670-1718), great grandson of Lakshmikanta, who moved to the west of river Hooghly to establish Uttarpara township. My Granpa broke out of Uttarpara, became a roving traveller, and as a result of a chance meeting with English writer Rudyard Kipling's father, John Lockwood Kipling, curator of Lahore Museum (now in Pakistan), learned photography from him.
Dad would have been delighted to know that the Kolkata branch of Saborno Choudhurys sued the government of West Bengal at the High Court in 2002, and got the distorted history of Job Charnok removed from school books and all other records. While comparing our Patna clan with the Kolkata clan, I found myself and other members of Patna clan hybridised culturally due to the influences to which the family has happily exposed itself from Granpa's travelling days, a feature I have dealt with in my novel Ei Adham Oi Adham through the apparently incoherent discourse of a schoolkid whose childish discursive practices reveal that the precolonial-premodern self-definition of the adults around him had long been dispossessed, but the hybridised individual, collectively and singly, wants to repossess it which, however, does not exist. This novel, a risky proposition for a publisher, could be placed before readers only in 2001 when Utpal Bhattacharya of Kabitirtha Publishers was quite impressed with the strangeness of the narrative. Utpal had earlier published the second edition of my Hungryalist long poem Jakham.
For my daughter and son, though Mumbai proved to be far more crowded and fast compared to the leisurely city of Lucknow, they could get into and come out of jam-packed buses and sardine-tin trains quite easily, which initially appeared a bit difficult for me and Shalila. The Santa Cruz vegetable and fish market was so crowded that bodies were almost always pressed to each other, a physical experience I learned to bear with. Shalila could not, and found herself grumbling whenever she went for marketing. The parking lot was a kilometer away. Once when I was going to Anushree's Parle College, it was a quite dark early morning, she got down from the train at Parle station from the ladies compartment but I overshot the distance due to packed crowding in gent's compartment, and returned to find her laughing with friends on college steps as she outgrew me after coming to Mumbai. Both Anushree and Jitendra knew all the roads and routes of Mumbai much faster than we did.
Publication of Hungryalist memoirs in Mizanur Rahaman's Quarterly prompted editors of Bangladeshi magazines to seek for my collection of poems. Medhar Batanukul Ghungur contained poems written when I was at Lucknow. The poems I started writing at Mumbai took a completely different structural and dictional turn, not at all intentionally. I wrote a hundred-line poem called Hattali (Clapping), my last long poem. The bunch of poems I wrote while at Mumbai were published in two collections, Chitkarsamagra and Chhatrakhan. These poems are being called adhunantika, which, when translated, means postmodern; and not only mine, works of several other poets have been called adhunantika. After being told that my poems were postmodern, I started reading books on the subject, as well as on postcolonialism, postmarxism, poststructuralism, ecofeminism, and subaltern studies.
The knowledge proved quite helpful. Samir, my elder brother, had shifted his base to Kolkata in 1991 and established a publication venture under the banner of Haowa49 Publishers. He told me to start writing a novel, since on his return to Kolkata he was stunned to find that almost all dissenters have vanished, and writers were scared to write things which might be unpalatable to the political masters. I had not written a novel before. I did not want to write on the lines that mass or class novels were being written. Instead of beginning, middle, end technique with a few central characters, I started scribbling on paper sheets the actual life incidents of people I knew of, my university mates and Reserve Bank of India colleagues, their involvement in urban and rural micro level politics, violence, single and collective sexual extravaganza, unethical practices, vagabondism etc., that I could recollect. I took two years to write a hundred pages, and then arranged the pages to give a semblance of sequence. I allowed six months' incubation time, and then worked on the final draft, naming the book Dubjaley Jetuku Prashwas (Saved Breath in Deep Waters). On its publication in 1994 it was hailed as outstanding by writers of such diverse opinion as Kartik Lahiri and Sayad Mustafa Siraj. A second edition was published by Avishkar Publishers.
I had to withdraw from my writing table for some time in 1992 as Shalila suddenly became sick; her feet and flesh below her eyes got swelled every now and then, and her underbelly started hardening. Clinical tests could not reveal her ailment. A specialist doctor anticipated kidney trouble, and his treatment, instead of curing, further worsened her condition. On enquiry we came to know of Dr. Shankari, a lady gynecologist who was considered to be an expert in female anatomy. She diagnosed the problem and referred Shalila to Dr. Bhalerao, surgeon in charge at Hinduja Hospital. Shalila had to undergo an operation spanning five hours. We learnt that during the caesarian operation at the time of Jitendra's birth, a touch of knife had inadvertently slashed the stomach wall, and intestines had come out and taken the shape of a ball which went on increasing in size over these years, collecting fat around itself. I did the cooking and ran the show till she recovered. I thanked Ma as well as the bangle seller at Dariapur who had taught me how to cook normal and special dishes.*
Anushree was good at studies. She graduated in science, completed postgraduate work in marine biology, did a diploma in export-import management and a diploma in computer science. On August 21, 1993, she married herself to Prashant Dass, a gold medalist mechanical engineer and management postgraduate who was working with Times Bank. Prashant is quite handsome and smart. He is a Punjabi from Multan, now in Pakistan. Anushree also got a job at Tata Exports. They took an apartment in Virar about 50 km north of Santa Cruz. Shalila thought that Anushree might not be conversant with daily cooking and used to carry cooked food quite frequently to her office or her apartment, which I presume might have interfered with their convenience, as a result of which they shifted to new jobs at New Delhi. Anushree joined the Indian Express newspaper, gave up, joined a school for elite children, gave up, and decided to stay at home when Prashant purchased a house on the outskirts of Delhi. Since Jitendra's upanayanam (sacred thread) ceremony had not been performed till then, Prashant arranged for it at New Delhi Kali Bari temple, Jitendra being seriously religious compared to Anushree's staunch atheism.
After Anushree's marriage and departure for Delhi, Jitendra found himself somewhat lost and did not appear for his first-year graduation examination. My transfer from place to place and frequent change of his schools and friends might have affected somewhere deeper inside him. I got him admitted in Ahmadnagar Engineering College where he got hostel accommodation. Meanwhile I got transfer orders to Kolkata. Anushree in Delhi, Jitendra in Ahmadnagar, me at Kolkata, Shalila felt enough was enough, resigned from her Mumbai job, got our belongings packed and transported on a truck, booked the car by Indian Airlines flight to join me at Kolkata, where we had purchased a flat in 1988, unknowingly in a post-partition refugee locality, which gave us cultural nightmares, as we found out that the apparent Marxist bastion lived in sonic loudspeaker boom throughout the year in worshipping prehistoric idols of Shani, Shitala, Manasa, Kartika, Sankata, Vishwakarma, Jagaddhatri, and other gods and goddesses. People of the locality are so antiquated that curd, french chalk, and plaster of paris are not sold after sundown. Shalila says it is not West Bengal but Waste Bengal. The redeeming feature is that the vegetables and edible herbs in the local Bansdroni market are fresh from the field, and fishes swimming in tubs may be purchased just by identifying the ones the customer prefers.
I had earlier visited West Bengal for a few days to a few weeks on some assignments. Now I returned to the Saborno Choudhury homeland after twenty-five years to live the rest of my life, and found it changed beyond recognition. College Street, on which Subimal Basak was beaten up during Hungryalist movement by old-school writers, was now unwalkable due to hundreds of kiosks selling books. With the financial backing of a developer, a four-storied building had come up at uncle Bishwanath's Kotrong hutment. The Uttarpara villa, constructed by a Turkish architect three hundred years ago, was in complete ruins after uncle Sunil's death, with walls smithereened by tentacles of wild banyan trees. Sheathed swords, horse saddles, huge utensils, palm leaf scriptures, Persian books, etc., all had vanished. Uttarpara was a sylvan town in my childhood, now full of matchbox houses teaming with sweating people I do not know from where. The other side of the railroad, Makhla, was a sprawling green rice field to the horizon, even during Hungryalist movement days, now looked studded with matchbox houses and quarreling housewives. Hooghly River was no longer visible from Grand Trunk road as the shoreline was blocked by apartment houses. The famous Jaikrishna Library of Uttarpara, once lively with the presence of nineteenth century greats such as Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Subhas Chandra Bose, Arabinda and Mary Carpenter, now looked desolate and ghostly. As it had happened with Patna after Dad's death, similarly I could feel my relations snapped with Uttarpara. Driving the car from Kolkata to Kotrong and Uttarpara required magical skills, as the roads were potholed, encroached upon by hawkers, crowded with loafers, and nobody bothered to obey traffic rules. It was a world apart from Mumbai, and I never dared to drive in Kolkata thereafter.
My Kolkata job of rural development facilitator was a glimmer amid depression. I was deputy general manager now, and the Officer's Association members had elected me the president of their union. I could now prepare my own program and visit any accessible village or town in West Bengal accompanied by one or two junior officers who performed the requisite official work. I mostly gossiped with people, observed their life style, marked their way of talking, discussed their sociopolitical problems and vocational rivalries, and collected snatches of their life. Since I could not go inside people's houses to talk to the womenfolk to ascertain their private problems, Shalila started accompanying me to collate this segment of the information, especially the state of affairs in the kitchen. During these forays also my beard performed the camouflaging well. Shalila was born and brought up in Maharashtra, which gave her way of talking an attractive distance that relieved her of acting her role. I collected a lot of information to toy with the idea of extending Dubjaley Jetuku Prashwas into a trilogy, augmenting the narrative panorama in stages.
Pradip Bhattacharya of Raktakarabi Publishers was impressed with Dubjaley Jetuku Prashwas and asked for a novel. I picked up a few characters from Dubjaley just for linkage, and shaped out several new characters without allowing any to hold the centre stage. I selected the most underdeveloped district of Bihar as a backdrop and shifted the narrative from urban to rural locales in order to destroy the then reigning aesthetic reality of Kolkata-centric fiction. Halfway through I shifted the narrative to West Bengal, journeying with secret Marxist insurgents comprised of untouchable caste people who actually were fighting an agrarian caste war. I named the book Jalanjali (Water Oblation). Prakash Karmakar lent a drawing for the cover. Pradip Bhattacharya did not get the book reviewed as he claimed that his market niche was sufficient to get all the copies absorbed.
During my stay at Lucknow I had translated Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems and Kaddish for two magazines. In view of Ginsberg's readership in West Bengal and Bangladesh, two publishers brought them out in book form. I also translated Jean Cocteau's long poem Crucifixion, a bunch of poems of Tristan Tzara, and William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which I first got published in periodicals. From their small presses Prabhat Choudhury published Crucifixion, Kajal Sen published the Tzara poems, and Shubhankar Das published Blake's poem in book form. Bangla readers were not exposed to this side of the paradise, and all the translated books were sold out. At the response of readers to these translated works I traced out a translated copy of Blaise Cendrar's Trans Siberian Express from Subimal Basak's archive which was published in the 1960s in a Hungryalist bulletin, and requested Samiran Majumdar to reprint it in Amritalok magazine, which he did. He also brought it out in book form, but unfortunately most of the copies got charred due to the devastating fire which struck the Kolkata Book Fair that year. Another turnaround I created was in interviewing writers. I found out that most of the interviewers were asking only one-line questions. I introduced a different pattern so that the questions probe into the depth of the author's various works. I published interviews of Kedar Bhaduri, Dipankar Datta, Swadesh Sen, and Subimal Basak ranging up to seventy pages.
In August, 1996, one night while I was enquiring over the telephone about the condition of an officer who had met with an accident and was hospitalized in the morning, I sustained a heart attack, and while slumping down got my left ear slashed. Shalila was alert to put a couple of Sorbitrate tablets below my tongue, call for a cab, and get me admitted in the same hospital in which my colleague had been admitted in the morning. Shalila had held a kerchief on my profusely bleeding ear, which was stitched after I was shoved into the Intensive Care Unit, Shalila waiting outside throughout the night. Angiography revealed that some of my arteries were blocked, and in order to clear them, a balloon angioplasty was carried out and stenting done. In the process black patches developed on my right loin around which needles had been pricked, which, I came to know later, were not sterilized. The doctors might have panicked, and the heavy dose of drugs they administered caused severe arthritis.
It was a hell of an experience at the hospital. I found young doctors, instead of attending to patients, flirted during the day and slept during the night. Old patients wailing in pain were mimicked by menial staff. Since the hospital had a checkout time rule similar to hotels, dead bodies of patients were retained for a few additional hours to increase the stay by one more day. Clinical tests were carried out that were not required at all. One day the hospital employees went on lightning strike, and a few patients died in my block, from where I could hear the slogans being raised outside. Shalila had to run around for my early release. I got home with severe arthritis. Winter had set in, and taking off my sweater and shirt was possible only with the help of my son and daughter, who had come down to give moral and physical support to their mother. I had unbearable pains in my fingers and thought my writing career was over. Shalila had appointed a driver and took me every evening to the physiotherapist for exercise as well as a hot wax wash of my hands. But I developed a high fever which, the doctors of the same hospital I had been admitted to, failed to cure. Samir's cobrother Shanti Lahiri, also a poet—Samir has a museum of cobrothers—told him about Dr. T. K. Das who attended to only ten patients a day in the evening.
Right from ten o'clock in the morning Samir and my son queued up at the doctor's clinic to be examined at five o'clock in the evening when my turn came. In about six months; time the pains subsided, though I still suffer from joint pain every now and then when I am required to spend lot of time on the word processor. As a way out I have started drafting with a pen, which I get typed by a computer operator. I do not have an internet connection and visit cyber cafes once a fortnight to check my mails. My son also keeps a watch. However, the rest and recuperation proved beneficial for the fact that I could delve into the works of Theodor W. Adorno, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Umberto Eco, Edward Said, and Homi Bhaba, which created a knowledge bank in me that I could draw upon while writing subsequent short stories and novels.*
After my recovery, Jitendra went back to Ahmadnagar and Anushree to Delhi. The womenfolk in Anushree's in-laws place were annoyed with her because she could not bear a child till then. She had conceived twice but the gynaecologist got them aborted due to complications which further got her in-laws disgruntled. The third time, the baby boy died in her womb just a couple of days before delivery, and Shalila had to fly immediately to Delhi to handle Anushree's tension, and get the baby cremated, since her in-laws at that time were stationed at a remote place called Jajpur in Orissa. In view of her depression, and Prashant having been offered a lucrative executive job with Shell, they shifted to Mumbai. Prashant's father, Mr. Narayan Dass, died of coronary thrombosis at doctorless Jajpur.
I retired from the rural development facilitator's job in October, 1997. Since Shalila felt she was missing Mumbai, and Anushree had shifted to that city, we pooled our savings to purchase a one-room flat in Mumbai to enable Jitendra to use our flat in Kolkata to search for a job. Getting a job in West Bengal by someone not connected with the ruling party apparatus had become impossible during the last two decades. Moreover, postpartition refugee vandalism had led to the closure of almost all factories owned by ethnic West Bengalies. Factories owned by non-Bengalies had fled to other states. Whatever remained were stricken with lockout, strike, suspension of work, go-slow, complete standstill of the state called bandh, daylong obstruction of roads and railway tracks called avarodh, mob encirclement of executives or officials called gherao, roughing up and mugging of doctors and professors called prativad, etc. No author dared to write fictions concerning such a doomed condition. Even if someone did he would not get a publisher. But in February, 2000, the day we arrived from Kolkata to our Mumbai flat, I sustained a heart attack again, which I survived only because the neighbors carried my unconscious body to a nearby heart clinic and the doctor administered two life saving injections. Shalila said, "Thank God we were not at Kolkata."
My novel Naamgandho ("Fragrant Name") was rejected by all the publishers I approached, even by Pradip Bhattacharya, who had published Jalanjali. Somehow Mizanur Rahaman came to know about it and arranged for publication of the book by Sahana Publishers of Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 1999. In India the book was published only this year, in April, 2003, by Haowa49 Publishers. During my illness, I had maintained a notebook, scribbling therein, in my spider handwriting, uncommon association of words to construct sentences, which I used in the fiction. For linkage, I had brought into Naamgandho a couple of characters from Dubjaley Jetuku Prashwas and Jalanjali. The narrative base of the fiction was the plight of potato farmers and corrupt practices of storing potatoes in cold storages set against the backdrop of village politics of power and pelf. I had collected actual events, incidents and life stories of innumerable individuals. I weaved them into some political dirt that is regularly printed in vernacular newspapers, clippings of which I had preserved in sufficient numbers. I was provoked to write the novel by the shocking fact that whenever there was overproduction of paddy, potato, or mango, a large number of farmers committed suicide, as they were unable to recover production costs to repay their loans to usurers! At the same time a large number of landless labourers, mostly lowest caste people and tribals, died of hunger as they had no purchasing power due to nil income! Some womenfolk had informed Shalila that whenever there was overproduction of farm produce, they would invariably hide bottles of pesticides to thwart suicide attempts of the menfolk. Naamgandho had a great reception among younger generation writers and critics both in Bangladesh and India.
There were, however, a lot of arguments for and against my post-Hungryalist poems both in the small press as well as in academic circles, mainly because I had done away with the inherent lyricism of Bangla language. The problem lay, I found out, not with my poems but with the teachers of Bangla in most of the schools, who got their job simply because they were ruling party members and functioned as vote canvassing machinary. Most of the teachers had poor academic records or they did not update themselves. I selected twenty-three of my poems, including Stark Electric Jesus (this poem pops up quite frequently on personal websites of poet-aspirants in various languages), which had faced obscenity charges during my Hungryalist trial, and deconstructed them myself. The furor against my poems died down. I named the book A, which is the first alphabet letter of Bangla and may be of all languages of the world. The pathetic state of Bangla teaching was discovered by me during my tours throughout West Bengal as rural development facilitator. I also found out that abolition of teaching English language in government schools had harmed readers in many ways. Students from Christian missionary schools only read English books. I took upon myself to write essays on various subjects, ideas, and personalities with which Bangla magazine readers were not conversant. I got them first published in small press magazines. Half of the essays could be anthologised. About eighty published essays are yet to get bound in hard or paperback covers. I also introduced Bangla readers to Salvador Dali and Paul Gaugin's autobiographies as well as Tzara's Dada Manifestoes. Since Allen Ginsberg had stayed with my parents at Patna and I could trace out three of his letters from my pile of papers, on Utpal Bhattacharya's request, I wrote a book on him. On request I also wrote a book on Jean Arthur Rimbaud.
Samir took up the Herculean responsibility to get two hundred younge-generation poets and short-story writers of both India and Bangladesh translated into English, and anthologized. We were stunned by the absence of translators, which was the direct result of the abolition of English in both West Bengal and Bangladesh. My daughter, Anushree, who has been writing poems in English, and Samir's daughter, Drishadwati, a postgraduate in the language, came to our rescue for the poetry collections published in 2001 and 2003. For the short story anthology, the individual authors were requested to search for translators and get them translated, which delayed the project, but worked. This was the first time in the history of Bangla language that a massive translated corpus of poems and short stories were built up for foreign readers. Based on the poems and short stories submitted to the editors, I have written four Overviews in English which have already started stirring the English-knowing hornet's nests. Since this corpus was different from the earlier academic as well as regular kitch, I preferred for the word adhunantika coined by linguist Prabal Dasgupta of Hyderabad University. Since the expression adhunantika somewhat defines postmodern, post-colonial, subaltern, postmarxist, postlanguage etc discourses put together, I accepted the synonym post-modern for the benefit of non-Bangla readers.
Shalila and myself felt like visiting Lucknow in order to revive our fond memories. A friend arranged for our stay at the posh guest house of Bankers' Institute for Rural Development. On arrival I was amazed to see a changed Lucknow. When we were there, the Shias and Sunnies used to fight each other. In post-Ayodhya Lucknow, a strange distrust had developed in the city among Hindus and Muslims. The bungalow in which we had lived was a high-rise concrete structure now, my garden with all the trees completely wiped out. All the bangalows in the vicinity were now high-rises with a huge market complex teaming with people.
Other than crows not a single coloured bird or butterfly could be seen, which used to flock our garden. My son had requested for a couple of photographs of his St. Francis School, which too had become different, with iron barricades and new structures to prevent kidnapping of kids. I could not think of a plot of a novel based on Lucknow which I had nursed for some time, a fast narrative starting from the nabobs through British days to the present day multiparty rule. In such a short visit I could not make out the state of affairs of the Bangla-speaking people living there. In the case of present-day Patna, I know most of the Bangla-speaking people are fleeing to other states, since one has to take the law in his own hands if he wants to live in Patna.
After Prashant and Anushree shifted to Mumbai, Dr. Soonawala of Breach Candy Hospital took charge of Anushree. She delivered a healthy baby girl on November 21, 2001. We were with them at the hospital. They named her Mihica, a Sanskrit word meaning "dew drop." On her birth I realised that someone within me was waiting to be a grandfather, who wanted to play with a toddler, talk in incomprehensible baby language, and feel delighted to enjoy unexplainable ecstasy, a discursive space inhabited by William Blake, Jean Arthur Rimbaud, or Indian saint Chaitanyadev.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Murshid, A.M., and Arabinda Pradhan, editors, The Individual Malay Roy Choudhury, 2001.
Ahabkaal, winter, 2002, Dhurjati Chanda, review of Nakhadanta.
Amritalok, May, 1989, Nilanjan Chattopadhyay, review of Medhar Batanukul Ghungur.
Guerilla, July, 1990, Arun Banik, review of Medhar Batanukul Ghungur.
Intrepid, spring, 1968, review by Carl Weissner.
Kabiswar autumn, 2002, Shyamal Shill, interview with Roy Choudhury.
Lekhak Samavesh, January, 1990, Dipankar Datta, review of Medhar Batanukul Ghungur.
Pratikshan, December, 1988, Ranjan Bandopadhyay, review of Medhar Batanukul Ghungur.
Sahitya Setu, June, 2002, Shishir Dey, review of Nakhadanta.
Sunday Searchlight, Patna (Patna, India), December 25, 1966, review by Subhash Chandra Sarkar.