Book Review: Ghot Bhorechi by Satyen Chattopadhyay

Tuesday, 1 April 2014 - 12:01pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Book: Ghot Bhorechi 
Author: Satyen Chattopadhyay
Publisher: Mudar Patherya (Trisys/Kolkata)
Pages: 244
Price: Rs 150

Satyen Chattopadhyay is not a regular member of the contemporary Bengali poetry world. He says himself that he has always written poetry, but never had it published or printed before. 

As a professional, he has managed a great many responsibilities. His turf was the lanes and corridors of the Calcutta University, and before that, Presidency College (now a separate varsity), where he was a professor. Later, he joined the central administrative cadre and was a senior administrator with the Union government. 

Now, at 80 years of age, he has compiled 125 of his poems into a collection titled Ghot Bhorechi. Most of these were written between 2009 and 2012. If he can choose 125 poems from just four years’ of writing, one can only imagine the volume of his life’s work.

The title, Ghot Bhorechi, suggests fulfilment. It could also refer to Vaishnavite allegory, with strong reference to “jia bharali”. Though Chattopadhyay does not mention if he was inspired by the Magadhi distortion of the expression, readers could be reminded of the pangs of separation Radha suffered throughout her life and in the course of her relationship with Krishna.

Since none of Chattopadhyay’s poems in the collection can be directly attributed to the title, one can only surmise that he sees his life’s poetical work as water, with the collection as the ghot or the container, the word referring to a brass urn-like pitcher in Bengali. As one moves through the poems, one sees that they deal with a variety of issues and emotions. It is evident that the poet is at ease in handling the somewhat offbeat subjects. 

The book is largely divided into seven sections based on the emotions conveyed in the poems: Bodh or feelings (46 poems); Rabindranath, referring to the influence of Tagore (5 poems); Kabitaar Aami, or the inherent poet in the self (17 pieces); Prem, romance (15 pieces); Shishu, or child and innocence (9 poems); Bangali ak khnoj, or the discovery of the Bengali people (10 poems), and finally, Charachar, the horizon and the journey therein (23 poems). 

Most of these poems talk about contemporary events or thought processes, sometimes referring to politics, regionalism, language and religious divides, among others.

Chattopadhyay does not try to cross the limitations of his own thoughts and writes of things as he understands them. Though he might not experiment much with imagery, allegory, symbolism and syntax, unlike other contemporary Bengali poetry, his poetry should be looked at from a new perspective. Though his work might not have led to the coming of a new school of Bengali poetry, he is nonetheless surely part of the tradition of how folk poets have looked at the contemporary world.

Chattopadhyay is city-bred and urbane, but that has not stopped him from writing for people in general. 

He writes as the words flow along with his thoughts, and he sees and looks at things. He does not just want to be a poet but an aware spokesman of things he notices. He has penned his angst, dejection, sorrow and other negative emotions line after line, adding rhythm and meter. A discerning reader would see his poetry is a reflection of modern society. He has what TS Elliot refers to as ‘a spark’, which provides an insight into him and his poetry.

It might sometimes seem that Chattopadhyay is somewhat aloof and socially conscious, but he is also a bit of a cynic. In terms of possible influences, he is probably closer to British painter John Constable than to indigenous cinema’s genius, Ritwik Ghatak, who was of the opinion that happiness is the sole source of great creation. Constable, however, believed, “Art is not a pleasure trip, it’s a battle.” Chattopadhyay would probably agree.

Ghot Bhorechhi will also please its readers because of its striking production quality and the effort that has gone into it. Most of the pages of the 244-page book are adorned with sketches by Partha Pratim Roy, as is the cover. Roy and publisher Mudar Patherya deserve special mention for bringing out such a sophisticated book. The book’s cover and the layout is definitely a milestone of Bengali publishing. 

Poet Satyen has presented Bengali poetry with something fresh. We can only hope that someone takes up the onus of translating his works for a larger pan-Indian audience.

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