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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Saturday, September 15, 2007
Star Books Review

All about sexual, textual politics

Saiful Islam spots contemporary issues in passionate poetry

Phoolo Unmotto Rangeen
Kajal Bandyopadhyay
Ankoor Prokashoni

Impervious to temptations around them, speakers in Kajal Bandyopadhyay's poems, included in the anthology Phoolo Unmotto Rangeen, are dispassionate truth-seekers. They question established systems and beliefs; they challenge the authenticity of the so-called thought-provoking discourses. They deconstruct grand narratives. God and his devotees, politicians and their lackeys, thinkers and their followers, and especially women and feminism; all these are subject to the poet's bold scrutiny. In short, Kajal Bandyopadhyay's poems are political tracts in verses.

A close watcher of the contemporary scene, Kajal Bandyopadhyay combines the critical eye of a neo-Marxist with a literary critic's insight as he dismantles some of the most influential trends. The poet shows that some of the leading groups of people, for example, religious gurus or nationalist leaders, have lost their moral high ground. However, they have kept on leading because the strategies they use to deceive people have become widely acceptable. Unfortunately, though, they acceptable to people who are victims of oppression.

If we think of an issue that veers around most of the poems included in this anthology, it is the poet's unforgiving analyses of sexual politics between women and men that crosses the borders of home. Phoolo Unmotto Rangeen not only outmaneouvres the sweeping views of feminist orthodoxy but also subverts age-old assumptions and certainties. His central argument is that the home (a macrocosmic world) has ceased to be hierarchical, as the power struggle between men and women has taken a new turn.

In 'Kshamotar Deho, Shoktir Shitolota', Bandyopadhyay shows how women seduce men into becoming the slaves of lust as they take their revenge in the dead of night through simply withdrawing themselves from giving pleasure. Men can only force. When they apply force in bed they rape! Women never use force to win. They use subtle weapons to conquer men. However, the delineation of men as helpless creatures is a lopsided view that stands in the way of the poet's pursuit towards becoming an unquestionable authority on such a delicate subject.

Sexual politics earned its theoretical stature through the rise of feminism. The power struggle of the sexes took refuge in the pages of texts. Though Mary Wollstonecraft emerged with enlightened theories about love, sex and 'universal benevolence', her turbulent romantic life overshadowed much of her revolutionary ideas. In an essay presented at an Ibsen conference in Dhaka, Kajal Bandyopadhyay tried to unmask Nora, an icon for feminists, by pointing out her games and maneouvres of power in A Doll's House. Who is the doll in the house, Torvald Helmer or Nora? In 'Punji Nari Gale Khai', the poet, a Marxist by practice and a non-conformist at heart, shows how feminists have fallen into a snare cleverly designed by neo-imperialists and capitalists.

Kajal Bandyopadhyay has published seven collections of poems. Introspective and reflective in mood, his poems draw in a diverse range of subject matters. Whilst his poem 'Kon Aranya, Kon Prokriti' raises its voice against the drawbacks of modern civilisation in a glitzy city-life, 'Kutshit Kaal' denigrates the mad rush for amassing wealth. His works are philosophical and serious in mood, concerned both with the outside and inside of man and the world he lives in.

Writing for more than three decades, Bandyopadhyay has created his own domain in Bengali literature by establishing his signature taut and tight structure, which avoids a single unnecessary word. He handles sensitive issues with great care and subtletysometimes directly addressing the issue, sometimes hovering discreetly alongside the subject.

However, he writes terribly personal poems which are sad and compelling. 'Drishyer Porihash' is such a poem which deals with philosophies similar to Charles Olson's: 'What does not change / is the will to change' (from 'The Kingfishers I'). What is missing here is the detachment of an artist who considers his creative indulgence a superior source of knowledge from other scholarly sources of knowledge.

The forms of Kajal Bandyopadhyay's poems do not conform to conventional rules, complementing the subjects of his poems which are far from being ordinary and predictable. Bandyopadhyay's obsession with precise and intricate structure building is obvious. His fastidious care for words sometimes makes his works difficult to digest. Linguistically flawless and perceptive in approach the sentences of his poems run from one line to another, transposing a previously unidentified but experienced problem into a wide context.

A common and influential trend in contemporary Bengali poetry is the use of mixed metaphors which often leave their marks on the poems as structures are being loosened by the encroachment of a bulk of meanings unintended by the poet. Bandyopadhyay's poems are free of that. Though metaphors in his poems are delicately subtle, they bring home the intended meaning quite reliably. His poems are meant to be experienced on the pages. His line enjambments, use of parenthesis, and reliance on punctuation, italics and other visual cues do not translate when read aloud. A few excerpts, rich in suggestiveness, can be provided in translation for the reader:

(1) I am doubtful of my being dead, restless.
Is Blake
A happy fly?
Life and death are but similar in nature.
The way I have come
The grasshopper's life
Is not my life;
I live in my death
(“Blaker Machhi, Jibonanonder Phoring”)

(2) Do you see the dark,
Trapped inside you?
You are against all that,
Aren't they sealed in you?
(“Ohom”)

Kajal Bandyopadhyay's poems, though bleak in their prognosis for human life, are all the more necessary since they celebrate words and crafts of art a difficult struggle in search of hope through abstractions, signs and characters.

Saiful Islam is lecturer in English at Stamford University.

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