Translation: The Call of Pous by Buddhadev Bose
[ Pous – The ninth month of the Bengali calendar, from mid December to mid January]
It is three o’clock. Keeping aside the work in hand, I leant back in my chair. My handwritten long row of small words on the white sheet of paper – just like dead flies on a white wall; each line resembling a slithery black snake. I had finished one page after an hour of hard work. I have transformed an atomic part of the vast and unclear world of the thought processes in my brain, into decipherable human language – watered through eons of years, the developed feelings in symbols, in conversations. The process involves extreme anguish and pain. Despite that being so, I just have to go through it… I have to bear the pain through the whirling days and sleepless nights, through weeks, months, years upon years, until the day death will bring the last and ultimate respite. When I look at the sheets of paper filled with my handwriting, I shudder to the bottom of my soul. Words, words. Endless, unending words. Maybe these words are meaningless to everyone except myself.
Are there six people in this land who’d understand what I wanted to say upon reading my writings? The way I want my works to be read, will there be three men to read them? I know what happens. On a summer afternoon, closing the doors and windows of the room, turning the overhead fan on, the deputy homemaker lies down on the mammoth cot holding my book in her hands, (if she doesn’t have any boy or girl nearing the ‘about to be fallen’ age) then after reading two pages, the printed words become hazy, she turns aside and dozes off to sleep. The weight of her fat hands would squeeze the open pages of the book with three hours’ of sweat. And the guys from the public library vie with each other in order to get hold of my books; only the fortunate returns home clutching his prize within his armpits, jumping with joy, gobbles up the book from the first to the last pages – turning the pages like a madman, to get whatever he wants, whatever he understands, for which he has saved his pennies with extreme diligence. Instead of offering these at the pious feet of the screen’s gods and goddesses, he turns the pages of my books ravenously, in search of the same pleasure. Then after his disillusion, he creates various juicy stories and anecdotes about me and in this way, takes his revenge. I know, I know.
If this is the case, then why do I write? Why do I suffer this excruciating, cruel pain? Does it mean to sit behind closed doors and weave words upon words, sitting? The money which I am going to earn from this book will sail me through to my next book, keeping me alive. Words, more words. Thousands of words, lakhs of words. The mere thought of how many crores of words I will have to write before I die, is enough to shiver me. And that too for this reason – that people should misunderstand me, praise me for the wrong reasons, that a particular set of readers should be able to swallow my books in the hope of a particular kind of satisfaction. In a country where, by an average study, people’s minds fail to develop after crossing the third standard in primary schools, in a country where by the dint of a few additive letters behind one’s name, a person gets deemed as a literary figure, in a country where the sales of a book has to be raised by its glossy cover, in that land what more or else can we expect.
Anyway, recently I have written a lot to cool my conscience. With the shake of my hand, I move my writing pad aside, as if it is a dead body which waits to be enlivened by my life. As many times that I have to open it, I’ll have to part with a portion of my life. It is very dangerous to be born with a special capability. His life is cursed by those who are born with some special capability. He will never be able to concentrate in any other work, and at times, his own work also will appear intolerable to him – because he has that intelligence to understand its extreme and heartless fruitlessness. It will be during this time only that disappointment will ensnare him when he’ll realize in his innermost heart that despite saying so much, a lump sum has remained unuttered. But he has to go forward, keep on going forward; because he has a dangerous, untamed demon inside him – he has no respite from the latter.
If this is the case, then why do I write? Why do I suffer this excruciating, cruel pain? Does it mean to sit with doors closed and weave words upon words?
I got up from the chair and stood beside the window. It is three o’clock – by God’s grace. It has come close to teatime. If the hands of the clock move a bit, then it’ll be dusk rightfully. I’ve found a pretext to stall my work, anyway. But it is going dark by now! Three o’clock – it is already dark. Outside the sky is pale, dry as a sheet of paper. This room on the ground floor is cold inside; my ever naked Bengali hands and feet are getting frozen, as if. The light inside the room is lessening; through the window, the undulated corner of a two-story building is seen. By looking in that direction, I realize that there is light outside still – in the sky, on the roads, at the crossings, in the Maidan and at the heart of the Ganges. I try to think about sunlight, but my body always keeps shivering with the cold. I look at the clock with anxious eyes – how long would it take for some tea! I know, that by the time I’d finish drinking my tea, the light outside would go out, it’d be time to switch on the lights of the room – and it’d appear as if someone had opened the pitcher of folklore upon our street – a smoke genie would get unleashed under the open skies, cover the faces of the stars, smudge the lines of the city – and within that, beneath that, will lie our ashen, breathless gosh lives! Oh, the cold winter evenings!
The influence of the seasons upon my mind is very deep and intense. I feel the seasons with intensity – like the acceptance of an undivided experience within the soul. I can recall a particular incident very vividly, when it is juxtaposed against the particular season in the backdrop. Perhaps on a cloudy day, when the weather was unpredictable, the sky appeared to be falling down due to hidden excitement within, the sequence of events that had occurred in my life that day, if they get repeated in a like manner on a day down the years, I will experience it in the same way as before. All of a sudden, an indefinite smell, by the whims of the breeze, the past in my life comes alive again. A sudden pain here and my memory’s long chains ring aloud with a sound. The seasons possess an uncanny hold over my soul. The appearance of the skies and the whims of the breeze and the accompanying many small things which normally we tend to overlook – all these, with an unseen force, control how happy or unhappy I am. It is as if these are the ebb and flow of the human blood – the influence of the moon over the tidal waves of the ocean.
And I fear these winters the most – when the room gets dark, when the clock strikes three, the chill in my backbone – the horrible Calcutta winters. This smoke, the non-existent skies and the poisonous, serpentine firmament. But it appears ugly when the dusk suddenly turns to night. If writing in English, then I’d have said that night ‘drops’ – it is more appropriate here. Night drops in this cold Calcutta winter, just like something which falls down from the skies, a dirty and damp blanket, under which the entire creation gets concealed. All lines get juxtaposed, all intricate corners get lost, the hues of colors get evaporated – all get hidden under the damp and grey-coloured blanket. We have all noticed that the Calcutta winter night’s darkness isn’t dark enough – it is pale and discolored. Where are the droplets of density of a rainy night – it is as though some ancient, shapeless reptile in an unclear and endless manner continues to expand itself relentlessly.
My life during this time is largely unproductive. I cannot write in the winters. During winters, I feel so unhappy that I lose all capabilities to even overcome this inability. The days get shorter – even more so – and in my mind grows an unreasonable fear, meaningless foreboding, nightmares, and a disappointment much akin to death itself. They stand on all sides of myself – like rows of skeletons, groups of goblins. They speak among themselves, in hushed whispers, breathlessly. H-u-s-h – their cold breaths touch my face, my blood begins to curdle. The impending gloom of the evening engulfs me as I sit and various kinds of superstitions attack me, nameless fears; I always start feeling as though I am standing on the very edge of some disaster. This feeling, at times, becomes so strong that if someone knocks the door during this time, I shudder; even if the postman throws down a letter through the window, I fail to gather the courage to go and collect it. There is always a sense of cold fear during the day – I know not what. It is as though a closed door in my mind has suddenly come askew – out have come the gang of goblins, my own creations – the month of Pous has called them. Pous called them – the half-felt fears of sometime, the disappointment which lay hidden for the past two years, the nightmare of some naps during the day, the subconscious trauma of childhood. All of them get completely re-enlivened by the touch of Pous. They get stronger, lay their claims forcefully and do not let go of their bastion. The days get shorter, soon after dusk, night descends like a curse, suddenly – long, dead night – from which can be heard only goblins’ stifled cries, in the nooks and corners of the room, in the lanes and by lanes of my mind, in the corners of the walls, beneath the chairs, on all sides around my bed, only goblin cries, only the smoky night’s dull and torn pieces of thread.
During this time, all the windows of my mind close, as if. There is a cold shivering sensation in my mind – my entire soul shrivels and tries to go to sleep. The ego which pervades around the world suddenly freezes into an island of aloneness. I become crestfallen in the extreme distress from life’s tides. My mind turns to stone; no line can be marked upon it. Mind weaves a wayward web of thoughts – while taking a bath, or riding on a bus, or lying down quietly – but from these my writing emerges, like Aphrodite from wayward waves. But now, that game of the mind has stopped. How can it occur – there is no light from the dusky hour; it is dark night soon after dusk. Where is the long, dusky, colourful afternoons of summer – when the south winds blow, the mind flies over the waves of the Southern seas, the mind loses itself amid the golden skies, drowns in the fiery lines of the horizon. Ah – that moment of dense golden calm! Each moment is mingling with the sky just like the sound of bells. That surprising self-realization – through which the mind always thinks, but knows not what about. It is from this boundless ocean of thoughts that writing finally emerges – just like pure white Aphrodite from the ocean. But now there is no sign of that ocean, now there are walls on all sides, the nightmare circumscribed by smoke-filled walls. Now it is the sleep of the soul, laziness surrounds its body like fatty hairs. I try to shake it away, but I fall weak by the sheer effort.
No, not now. I cannot write now. Summer is my time. In summer do I flourish! In that warmth, my mind flowers like ever-blooming petals. I prosper amidst the much-criticized summers of my country; the incessant rumblings within my brain do not end. What I love the most is, during summers, late into the night – when it is not crowded with girls or young music aficionados – to go to a park and sit down upon the grass there, maybe with one or two friends. If there is a moon in the sky, well and good – but if it is dark, it is even better. Just by sitting, uttering unrelated words, by one’s whim and fancy; those words will not carry us anywhere – those words will revolve around our own selves, like the untamed southern winds. Sitting and smoking cigarettes – to sit and watch silently, the meandering white smoke emanating from the stub thrown away just now. Until the mind calms itself under the weight of completeness – until the night, in its silent and secret flow engulfs the distant corners of the soul.
But till then what happens? Till summer arrives? Until then I have to accept this sleep, this death. There is no use by fidgeting. Because this is needed too… this death. Behind the curtain of this smoke – somewhere maybe there remains the seed of creation. Creativity needs this intermission; this partition brings new blood into life. Through this death it will become anew – it will overcome life in the end; the sky will get aglow in the resurrection of life.
This is hope. But in recent times, the hours do not seem to be over. I have to bear with pain; but if I fail to bear it, it becomes all the more excruciating. I never utter in my mind ‘How can I become happy?’ If I find myself established within the perimeters of my ego, I become happy. Whenever this fails to happen or occur, then I understand that ‘I am unhappy, I am unhappy.’ I start grumbling within my mind, and it is then that something amiss is realized. If we do not suffer an ailment of the mind, then man never fumbles after happiness. Right now, this has what happened to me – ‘the sense of being one with oneself’ has broken down, and I am unable to forget it. So my mind wants to wander, wants merriment, some colourful joys, even sorrow to some extent – to annul this sleep anyhow, to clasp upon a handle so as to come out from this deep hole. My mind has become weak on the inside; that is the reason why it is of some support from the outside. It has lost its ability to create its own happiness by itself. So it is asking for items from the outside, where, keeping the self aside, acceptance is the key.
I performed an examination that day. Now-a-days, I harbour a kind of fear in my mind on the subject of cinema. Despite that, I went to watch a film by a world-renowned actress and assess her world-renowned creativity. The kind of films which have run for several shows in our motherland, the names of which make boys and girls of recent times to faint, (meaning, they fainted, if not these had been antiquated enough) these so-called ‘putting the city on fire’ kind of films in the past two years or so, this had been my first exit. I had gone there harbouring a lot of hope, but…
Even ten to six years ago, when I used to watch such films and return home still full of their mesmeric spell, I often sat down to write a poem, in all probability. And I felt a sense of true satisfaction upon the realization that my mind has evolved and sharpened during these years – but I did not have the proof to establish this fact, without a doubt. Truly speaking, after watching this film, I returned home only with this sense of satisfaction. But is it that I am beginning to lose my ability for enjoyment? Am I getting old? But it is true that the perimeters of my enjoyment have undergone contractions. But what I have lost in diversity, I have gained in depth. But how can I say that my borders of enjoyment have been marked or cut down! Now-a-days, whenever I look at a tree, a road, or a lizard, I experience a kind of happiness which was not possible even six years ago. I have entered a new dimension of enjoyment. But whatever the case may be, if watching the kind of film where one constantly reiterates, ‘Now let the last kiss get over, so we can make an exit’, one has to prove that one has got enlivened, then I think it’d be better to spend the rest of my life like a rock.
Lastly, it is observed that it is better to remain silent about one’s own distress. If you can take recourse to outside help to alleviate your pain, then it gets all the more painful. You have to have courage; you have to endure. There is nothing beyond one’s own firmament. Maybe sometimes we need to become unhappy. Then if we try to make ourselves happy by force, or by will power – it would be a mistake. And that is the reason why I am sitting down with my writing, again.
INTRODUCTION OF THE AUTHOR
A prominent author, poet, and critic of the post-Tagorean era, Buddhadev Bose is credited with introducing modernity into Bengali poetry after Rabindranath Tagore. He had published and edited the flagship Bengali poetry magazine, ‘KAVITA’, which was alluded to, by Edward Thompson in The Times Literary Supplement while discussing Bengali poetry in the issue dated 1 February, 1936. Bose, after his stint as a Professor of English at the now Surendranath College of Calcutta, founded the Comparative Literature Department at the Jadavpur University, in 1956. His RAAT BHOR BRISHTI (translated as RAIN THROUGH THE NIGHT by Clinton B. Seely) was banned by the government on charges of obscenity. His experiments with language, had introduced a new diction and direction in Bengali literature. The present essay, ‘THE CALL OF POUS’ has been taken from his ‘Collected Essays’.
The journey of writing, for Haimanti Dutta Ray, began with sending articles to newspapers, mainly The Statesman. Having an English Literature background was a big help indeed. Writing for blogs, and contributing articles and short stories paved the way ultimately for the publication of IN LOVING MEMORY (Rupali Publications of Kolkata, 2015) and THE CIRCLE OF LIFE & OTHER TALES (Locksley Hall Publishing, 2018). Creative writing, which started as a hobby, soon became a passion. If people get reading pleasure out of my writing, then she will consider that all her efforts have been worthwhile.