Vol. 5 Num 689 Mon. May 08, 2006  

My poet of the green mango season

The seasons of the year probably meant more to Rabindranath than to any other Bengali poet. Rabindranath wrote hundreds of songs of the rains, pouring or wind-driven or merely diaphanous, that call the kadamba to life; the autumn of the fragrant white and orange siuli sprawled on beds of grass, bathed in dew; the winter of the golden harvests and departing leaves; the spring of glorious blossoms and scented breeze; and the summer of the searing sun and the tempestuous kalboisakhi. The poet lived them all.

Was Rabindranath perhaps partial to any season? Hard to tell. The largest number of lyrics in his Gitabitan is devoted to barsa, the season of the rains. Basanta, spring, follows closely. Sarat, early autumn, is a distant third. There are only sixteen songs of Grisma, summer, out of almost three hundred on nature in Gitabitan. There are fewer songs of Hemanta, late autumn, and Sit, winter. Still, numbers do not prove preference. After all, this is what the poet says he wished for at the end of the journey of his life:

[Jeno] Chaiti ritur phule phate bhorte pari dala

--that I may fill my basket with the flowers and fruit of all six seasons. (Translation, here and later, with apologies to the poet, is mine.)

Life offered him an unending variety and he cherished it all. He wished nothing better than to be able to stop at exactly the sam of the constant cycle of rhythm of the music of life -- Jeno amar ganer sese thamte pari same ese. Elsewhere in Gitabitan, the seasons are the celestial strings of biswabina, where each plays its part, and the bina can only be conceived as a whole.

Yet when it is Boisakh in Bengal, Rabindranath is its poet. That is not just because the twenty-fifth of the month happens to be his birthday. That is because few poets, if any, witnessed, experienced, and lived the summer in their poetry and music like Rabindranath did in his. Indeed few Bengali poets cared to sing the song of summer as such, and the sixteen songs in Gitabitan devoted to the season were probably the most that any poet in Bengal has ever written about those scorching months.

Who else would care to sing, for example:
Darun agni bane-re rhidaya trisay hane-re
Rajani nidrahin, dirrgha dagdha din
Aram nahi je janere.
Susko kanansakhe klanto kapot dake
Korun katar gane re...?

(O! The terrible arrows of fire kill the soul with thirst/ The sleepless night, the long, scorched day, know no respite/ The dove on wilted forest boughs coos its tired, melancholy song…)

It is rarely that we find anyone singing the song of such suffering. But also who else other than Rabindranath would take it all in its stride with such equanimity?

Bhay nahi, bhay nahi Gaganer royechi cahi
Jani jhanjhar bese dibe dekha tumi ese
Ekada tapito prane-re.

(Fear not. I gaze into heaven/ I know you will, in your tempestuous cape/ Come into this scorched soul of mine.)

The equanimity is even more remarkable in the following lines where it comes close to willing submission to the cruel season:

Nai ras nai, darun dahan bela
Khelo khelo taba nirab bhairab khela...
Pran jadi karo morusama
Tabe tai hok-he nirrmam...

(No moisture, none. The sizzling day/ Play your silent Bhairab act/…[Still] If you wish to turn my life into desert/ Be it, O pitiless one/Let us, you and I, alone meet, in cruel union.)

The month that dominates the summer season in Gitabitan is of course Boisakh. The seven songs devoted especially to the month lay at the core of Griswa. The poet invokes Boisakh thus:

Eso, eso, eso he Boisakh
Tapas niswas baye mumurrsare dao uraye
Batsarer abarrjana dur hoye jak.....
Muche jak glani, ghuce jak jaral
Agni snanesuci hok dhara.

(Come, Boisakh! Come! Come in the hermit's breath/ Blow away the near dead/ Let the refuse of the year be swept aside/Let disgrace be wiped away and decrepitude die/ Let the shower of fire purify the earth.)

Still, the relentless heat of the Boisakh day can be much too much:

Cokshe amar trsna ago,
Trsna amar bokso jure
Ami bristibihin Boisakhi din,
Santape pran jay je pure...

(O the thirst in my eyes/O the thirst that spreads in my heart/O the rainless Boisakhi day/The heat burns my soul…)

The near-dominant theme of the Boisakh day is suffering but a magnificent variation of theme makes up the whole symphony of summer's music. The poet finds, for example, Boisakher ei bhorer haoaasemardu mondo... adho ghumer pranto chhoa bokulmolar gandha Here comes this Boisakh dawn's gentle breeze.. the scent of the garland of bokul from the edge of slumber. He writes of the sizzling mid-day when even birds stop singing and the heat parches the soul. But, finally, Oi bujhi kalboisakhi/ sondhya-akas dey dhaki here comes kalboisakhi eclipsing the evening sky; and bosundharar tapto prane bipul pulak lage -- the suffering soul of the earth fills with tremendous joy. Rabindranath's invocation of kalboisakhi is just as remarkable as his quietude towards the suffering that the season inflicts.

For the rest of us too, kalboisakhi is the epitome of Boisakh. Generations of Bengalis have witnessed it, and have by turn feared it and been fascinated by it. The sun has baked the rainless expanse of the paddy fields for days on end. The earth's suffering appears endless. So seems the pain of the human being trapped in unmitigated heat of Boisakh. Then one day, perhaps late in the shimmering afternoon, a tiny cloud appears low in the horizon. In no time it spreads and rolls and grows into enormous dark nimbus mass, obliterating the heavens. As if on cue, the wind sweeps down the paddy fields, flattens the young paddy, picks up strength, and lashes the hamlets, the mango tree, the palm, and the bamboo with barely credible fury. Here, a tree crashes to the ground. There, the thatched roof of a house is blown away. A deafening clap of thunder is soon heard. Finally, the rain comes. It comes in slanting, piercing, torrent. A lightning splits the sky. Soon it is a tumult of twisting trees, crashing branches and flying house fragments while the rain lashes and drenches them all with swirling, furious abandon.

In the din one can hear the distant voices of children in the mango groves. They shriek, more in joy than in fear, their voices muffled by roar of the storm. The fear is partly a frisson from a chance tree branch crashing down on them or the lightning striking. The joy is from the harvest of fruit that kalboisakh has shaken free from the mango trees in gigantic blasts -- the green mango. Soon the gathered ends of the children's little wet lungis, the frocks, the dhotis, all wet and clinging to the body, fill with the fruit. And they run home.

The kalboisakhi is the climactic and sudden end of a Boisakh day; the green mango is the embodiment of a slow progression of the seasons from the mango blossoms of spring to the luscious fruit of Jaistha. Rabindranath the poet wrote adoringly and longingly about the mango blossoms, especially when evoking spring, but never about the green mango. Which is a pity. The millions of mango trees of Bengal, laden with billions of green mangos waiting to ripen is as much a part of Boisakh as the scorching sun, the baked earth, the scorched heart, and the kalboisakhi. No Bengali worth his or her salt can afford to ignore it. The very thought of it is enough for him, and especially her, to salivate.

I digress -- perhaps a sign, like the progression of the season, of the passage of life itself. Not for Rabindranath was Keats' "mellow fruitfulness," or the "maturing sun" conspiring to "fill all fruit with ripeness to the core." That would be too sensuous for him.

No matter. Tabe tai hok. Let us not talk about the green mango but only of the season of it. Today, far away from home, under my mind's mango tree, laden with green mango, I sit and celebrate the birth of the greatest poet of Bengal and her greatest son -- and see Boisakh as he saw it. And I sing:

He nutan
Dekha dik ar-bar janmera prothamasubhakhan...
Udayo digante sankha baje, mor citto majhe
Cira nutanere dilo dak
Pacise Boisakh

Mahfuzur Rahman, economist, lives in New York.