book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

Vidyapati and Deben Bhattacharya (tr.)

Love Songs of Vidyapati

Vidyapati [Vidyāpati Thākura]; Deben Bhattacharya (tr.); William George Archer(intro);

Love Songs of Vidyapati

UNESCO / G. Allen & Unwin 1963/69, Orient Paperbacks / Hind Pocket Books, 144 pages

ISBN

topics: |  poetry | bengali | translation | devotional-physical


This is exceptional poetry, every poem speaks to me.  The constructions are
sparse, the working is elegant and lyrical.

Around 2004 I found this at the used books footpath in Koti, Hyderabad.  At
the time I was told that the authorities were going to close down this
Sunday market, but I was pleasantly surprised to read reports
that it is still thriving.

Being interested in translations, I had heard of this work, and it fully
lived up to its promise.  The cover was faded, but the pages and print were
flawless.  The poems were exquisite.

But whenever one encounters superlative work in translation, e.g. in Ezra
Pound or in Kenneth Rexroth, one always  wonders about the
French saying - La belle infidele: translations that are beautiful are
unfaithful to the original, while those which are faithful are often ugly.
Later I came across a scholarly review by N. H. Zide and S. M. Pandey, who
compare the originals with Bhattacharya's re-workings, and while they find
some problems with the liberties he takes, on the whole they praise the
fact that he has managed to "convey more of the poetic flavour" than the
earlier attempts by Aurobindo (uses a fixed rhyming abba structure),
Coomaraswamy, Subhadra Jha, and others.

I wish though, that Bhattacharya would have shown a little more respect for
the text by at least maintaining some pointers to the originals.  I mean,
how many translations of Neruda or Goethe do you see which don't refer to
the originals?  This lack of respect for the originals is typical of
indology translations, (e.g. Tagore's own Gitanjali) but fortunately the
tide is turning.  In any event, this makes it difficult to locate the
original texts - I have inserted a couple that I could find (in bAngla font
only, for now... any help transliterating into devanagari appreciated).
Not that I am rushing to try to understand and compare the old Mythili
texts, but it still would be nice to be able to index the originals.

In the poem selection, he avoids poems with excessive word play, but it
would have been nice if there was more of an introduction and some notes
on the translation, perhaps with a literal transliteration, as in
Vikram Seth's Three Chinese Poets, say.

Excerpts


Here are some of my favourites...

1. Signs of youth


Radha's glances dart from side to side.
Her restless body and clothes are heavy with dust.
Her glistening smile shines again and again.
Shy, she raises her skirt to her lips.
Startled, she stirs and once again is calm,
As now she enters the ways of love.
Sometimes she gazes at her blossoming breasts
Hiding them quickly, then forgetting they are there.
Childhood and girlhood melt in one
And young and old are both forgotten.
Says Vidyapati: O Lord of life,
Do you not know the signs of youth?[63]

2. Tangled tresses


Each day the breasts of Radha swelled.
Her hips grew shapely, her waist more slender.
Love's secrets stole upon her eyes.
Startled her childhood sought escape.
Her plum-like breasts grew large,
Harder and crisper, aching for love.
Krishna soon saw her as she bathed
Her filmy dress still clinging to her breasts,
Her tangled tresses falling on her heart,
A golden image swathed in yak's tail plumes.

Says Vidyapati: O wonder of women,
Only a handsome man can long for her.

শ্রীরাধার বয়ঃসন্ধি : Original maithili text (in bAngla font)


দিনে দিনে উন্নত পয়োধর পীন ।
বাঢ়ল নিতম্ব মাঝ ভেল খীন ।। ১ ।।
আবে মদন বঢ়ায়ল দীঠ ।
শৈশব সকলি চমকি দেল পীঠ ।। ২ ।।
শৈশব ছোড়ল শশিমুখি দেহ ।
খত দেই তেজল ত্রিবলি তিন রেহ ।। ৩ ।।
অব ভেল যৌবন বঙ্কিম দীঠ ।
উপজল লাজ হাস ভেল মীঠ ।। ৪ ।।
দিনে দিনে অনঙ্গ অগোরল অঙ্গ ।
দলপতি পরাভবে সৈনিক ভঙ্গ ।। ৫ ।।
তকর আগে তোহর পরসঙ্গ ।
বুঝি করব জে নহ কাজ ভঙ্গ ।। ৬ ।।
সুকবি বিদ্যাপতি কহে পুন ফোয় ।
রাধারতন জৈসে তুয় হোয় ।। ৭ ।। 

3. First rapture


There was a shudder in her whispering voice.
She was shy to frame her words.
What has happened tonight to lovely Radha?
Now she consents, now she is scared.
When asked for love, she closes up her eyes,
Eager to reach the ocean of desire.
He begs her for a kiss.
She turns her mouth away
And then, like a night lily, the moon seized her.
She felt his touch startling her girdle.
She knew her love treasure was being robbed.
With her dress she covered up her breasts.
The treasure was left uncovered.

Vidyapati wonders at the neglected bed.
Lovers are busy in each other's arms.

4. Dawn


Awake, Radha, awake
Calls the parrot and its love
For how long must you sleep,
Clasped to the heart of your Dark-stone?
Listen. The dawn has come
And the red shafts of the sun
Are making us shudder...

5. The necklace snake


Listen, O lovely lady
Cease your anger
I promise by the golden pitchers of your breasts
And by your necklace snake
Which now I gather in my hands
If ever I touch anyone but you
May your necklace bite me;
And if my words do not ring true,
Punish me as I deserve.
Bind me in your arms, bruise me with your thighs
Choke my heart with your milk-swollen breasts
Lock me day and night in the prison of your heart.

See how much tighter the above is, compared to this version by Azfar
Hussain perhaps, at oldpoetry.com :

--
For heaven's sake, listen, listen, O my darling:
Do not dart your cruel, angry glances at me,
For I swear by the lovely pitchers of your breasts,
And by your golden, glittering, snake-like necklace:
If ever on earth I dare touch anyone except you,
Let your necklace turn into a real snake, and bite me;
And if ever my promise and words prove false,
Chastise me, O darling, in the way you want to.
But, now, don't hesitate to take me in your arms,
Bind, bind my thirsty body with yours; bruise me
With your thighs, and bite, bite me with your teeth.
Let your fingernails dig deep, deep into my skin!
Strangle me, for heaven's sake, with your breasts,
And lock me in the prison of your body forever!

6. River and sky


Oh friend, I cannot tell you
Whether he was near or far, real or a dream.
Like a vine of lightning,
As I chained the dark one,
I felt a river flooding in my heart.
Like a shining moon,
I devoured that liquid face.
I felt stars shooting around me.
The sky fell with my dress,
leaving my ravished breasts.
I was rocking like the earth.
In my storming breath
I could hear my ankle-bells,
sounding like bees.
Drowned in the last waters of dissolution,
I knew that this was not the end.

Says Vidyapati:
How can I possibly believe such nonsense?

9. Brooding Love


Madhava:
Your moon-faced love
Had never guessed
That parting hurts.
Radha is tortured,
Dreading you will leave.
Love has robbed her of all power,
She sinks clasping the ground.

Kokilas call,
Startled, she wakes
Only to brood again.
Tears wash the make-up
From her breasts.
Her arms grow thin,
Her bracelets slide to the ground.
Radha's head droops in grief.
Her fingers scar the earth
Bleeding your name.

10. Tomorrow

He left me saying that he would return tomorrow,
I covered the floor of my home
Writing repeatedly ‘Tomorrow’.
When dawn returned, they all enquired:
Tell us, friend,
When will your tomorrow come?
My beloved never returned.
Says Vidyapati: Listen beautiful one,
Other women lured him away.

11. Shattered Desire

Swelling breasts, hard, like golden cups.
Those wanton glances have stolen my heart,
O beautiful one, protest no longer.
I am eager as a bee, let me take your honey.
Darling, I beg you, holding your hands,
Do not be cruel, have pity on me.
I shall say that again and again,
No more can I suffer the agony of love.

Says Vidyapati:
Shattered desire is death.

13. Returning Lover


O friend, there is no end to my joy!
mAdhava is home for ever.
The pain I suffered for the heartless moon
Ended in bliss
My eyes live on his face.

Lift up my dress, fill it with gold
Yet never will I let him go again.
He is my shelter in the rains,
Ferry boat on the river.
He is my warmth when the winter is hard,
Cool breeze in the summer months.
Nothing else I need.

[see a derivative version at http://www.andreepouliot.com/library/l-friend.html
O friend, there is no end to my joy!

O friend, there is no end to my joy!
My lover is home forever.
The pain I suffered for the heartless moon
ended in bliss
my eyes live on his face.

You may fill my pockets with gold
but I will never let him go again.
He is my shelter in the rain,
my ferry boat on the river.
He is my warmth when the winter is hard,
my cool breeze in the summer.
Nothing else I need.

ভাবোল্লাস : Original maithili text (in bAngla font)


কি কহব রে সখি আনন্দ ওর ।
চিরদিনে মাধব মন্দিরে মোর ।।
পাপ সুধাকর যত দুখ দেল ।
পিয়ামুখ দরশনে তত সুখ ভেল ।।
নির্ধন বলিয়া পিয়ার না কৈলু যতন ।
অব হাম জানলু পিয়া বড় ধন ।।
আঁচল ভরিয়া যদি মহানিধি পাঙ ।
তব হাম দূর দেশে পিয়া না পাঠাঙ ।।
শীতের ওড়নি পিয়া গিরিসের বাও ।
বরিসার ছত্র পিয়া দরিয়ার নাও ।।
ভনয়ে বিদ্যাপতি শন বরনারী ।
সুজনক দুখ দিবস দুই চারি ।।

14. Night of love


A fateful night I spent
Gazing at the moon
Like the face of my love.
Now are my life and youth fulfilled.
The air about me is free.
Home is home, My body is my body.
My god is kind to me.
All doubts are gone.
Kokila, you may sing a million times,		[conventional excitant]
A million moons may shine now.
Love's five arrows may become a million spears.
The southern breeze may gently blow.
So long as he is close to me,
My body shines as mine.

Radha's submission

[Alternate version, from
Sacred Sex: Erotic Writings from the Religions of the World by Robert Bates (1994)

"All doubts are gone.
The birds may sing a million songs,
A million moons may shine now.
When he is close to me,
My heart sings and my body shines.
Lift up my dress, beautiful lover,
And fill me with pure gold.
You are my shelter in the rain,
My ferry-boat across the river,
My warm fire in the cold weather,
My southern breeze in the summer heat.
Nobody else I need
Only you."]

16. Twin hills


Her hair dense as darkness,
Her face rich as the full moon:
Unbelievable contrasts
Couched in a seat of love.
Her eyes rival lotuses.
Seeing that girl today,
My eager heart
Is driven by desire.

Innocence and beauty
Adore her fair skin.
Her gold necklace
Is lightning.
On the twin hills,
Her breasts . . . .,

17. Scarred Moon

I cannot guess your heart,
O madhava
The treasures of another man
I offered to you:
I was wrong
To bring a she-elephant to a lion.
Relinquish then the wife of another.

Your kisses have wiped clean
The mascara of her eyes.
Her lips are torn by your teeth.
Her full-grown breasts
Are scarred by your nails:
The autumn moon is scratched by Siva's peak...

[treasures of another man: rAdha is married
she-elephant: graceful movement is more relevant than her bulk
Siva's peak: kailasa; as moon rises behind it, it is scratched by the icy
ridge
The maid was wrong not only because she brought a married woman to Krishna,
but also because his reckless lovemaking has left so many marks on her. ]

18. Night of rain


How the rain falls
In deadly darkness
O gentle girl, the rain
Pours on your path
And roaming spirits straddle the wet night
She is afraid
Of loving for the first time
O mAdhava,
Cover her with sweetness.

How will she cross the fearful fear
In her path?
Enraptured with love,
Beloved rAdhA is careless of the rest.

Knowing so much,
O shameless one,
How can you be so cold towards her?
Whoever saw
Honey fly to the bee?

21. As the autumn moon


The darkness of separation is over,
Your face glows as the autumn moon.
Raise your eyes, O lovely darling,
Listen to my words,
This is no time for shyness.

O mAlati,
My flower of fragrant honey,
Your lover is here.
Let the bee take
His fill of sweetness.
King of the season,
Spring, too, is here.
Fulfil your promise...

[AM: King of season? shd it be "seasons"? ]

22. Night of spring


Flowers in groves...

As death's agent, the moon shines
For women parted from their lovers.
More delicate than a lotus
How can their fragile forms
Endure such pain?

28. Time and love


As I guard my honor,
My love in a foreign land
Ravishes beauties
Who belong to others.
Safely he will come,
But he has left me dead.

O traveler, tell him
That my youth wastes away . . .
If time goes on
Life too will go
And never shall we love again . . .

29. Moon and night


When the moon is up,
O moon-faced love,
The rays from you both
Shine all around.
Your walk has the grace
Of the gait of an elephant
Come to the tryst
While darkness is thick.

0 moon-faced love,
The night is alight.
The fragrance of your skin
Floats free in the air
From afar, the unkind
Can gaze at will.
How can I bring you there, my love?
Your eyes look everywhere.
Your body is afraid.
I dare not bring you.

30. Mountains of gold


In joyous words he spoke
In joyous words he spoke
Of the beauty of my face.
Thrilled, my body
Glowed and glowed.
My eyes that watched love spring
Were wet with joy.
In dream tonight
I met the king of honey...
He seized the end of my dress,
The strings broke loose
With all the weight of love.
My hands leapt to my breasts
But the petals of lotus could not hide
The mountains of gold.

31. Gone away love

Hearing the signal,
She went to the tryst
But you were gone.
The shape of beauty
Longed to hear your voice
But in despair
The night dissolved ...

32. The end of youth

I hide my shabby cheeks
With locks of hair,
And my grey hairs
In folds of flowers.
I paint my eyes
With black mascara.
The more I try
The more absurd I look.
My breasts loosely dangle
My curving lines are gone.
My youth is ended
And love roams wild
In all my skin and bones.
O sadness, my sadness,
Where is my youth?

[Lament by an ageing woman; or perhaps Radha .  See commentary in
Zide/Pandey]

33. Remembered love

Harder than diamonds,
Richer than gold,
Deeper than the sea
Was our love.
The sea still washes the shores
But our love went dry.
I wish my lover,
Who is dark as the clouds
Would come in torrents...

How I remember
Those hours of passion
When he would swear to me
That day was night.

[Zide/Pandey: DB seems to be guided by Jha's translations.  Here the original
ending is: "This kind of love is never vyabhichAra" (misbheaviour,
adultery).  Translated in Jha as "No one has ever given up his genital
characteristics", which seems like an ideal line to get rid of.  However, DB
completely excises it, which perhaps weakens the poem.

]

34. Grief


Her flowing tears
Made pools at her feet.
The lotus that grew on the land
Now floats on water.
Her lips have lost their colour,
Like new leaves bitten by frost.,

35. Thinner than a crescent


Her tears carved a river
And she broods on its bank,
Hurt and confused.
You ask her one thing,
She speaks of another.
Her friends believe
That joy may come again.
At times they banish hope
And cease to care.

O Madhava,
I have run to call you.
Radha each day
Grows thinner
Thinner than the crescent in the sky . . .

36. Let no one be a girl


Let no one be born,
But if one must
Let no one be a girl
If one must be a girl
Then may she never fall in love,
If she must fall in love,
Free her from her family.
O make me sure of him until I end.

Should I meet my lover
And his love flow strongly
Like currents of a river,
Let his darling heart
Be free of other girls.
If he yileds to other loves,
Let him know his mind and heart...

37 Fear

My shyness left me
As he looted my clothes.
My lover's limbs became my dress.
Like a bee
Hovering on a lotus bud,
He lent across the lamp.

The god of love is never shy.
He brightens like the bird
That loves the clouds.
Yet still as I remember
My darling's wild tricks
My heart, shyly trembling
Is bruised with fear.

[chAtaka or hawk-cuckoo (Hierococcyx varius) is believed to live on
rain-water and hence to 'brighten' at the sight of clouds.

(see this poem compared with its original in [Zide/Pandey:65] review below. )

99. At the river (fragment)


I will not walk
With you, Krishna,
But at the river
By the lonely bank
There I will meet you.

Parted Love (100)


I could not suffer the least delay from fear of missing you.  i could
not live without you.  i could not think of our bodies parted for even
a moment.  when in delight the hair of our bodies rose, it seemed like
a mountain wall between us.  day and night, we lived that way.

How can I live now?

rAdhA is far away and I am in mathura.  and life goes on.  a lovely
city, the new city-girls and so much wealth around, yet all are
useless without rAdhA.  my eyes fill with tears.  in my startled
heart, i hear these girls there and the ripples on the river jamunA.

Comparative Review: Zide and Pandey 1965


    In their review, Zide and Pandey appreciate the quality of the English
    translations by Deben Bhattacharya, which by and large convey more of the
    poetic flavour with reasonable accuracy when compared to earlier attempts
    by Aurobindo (uses a fixed rhyming abba structure), Coomaraswamy,
    Subhadra Jha, and others.  However, DB's lack of pointers to the
    originals make it difficult to trace them.  Only Subhadra Jha provides
    details of the original, and also the full parallel text from the Nepal
    version. DB avoids, rightly, poems with excessive word play, but it would
    have been nice to provide one or two with transliteration and
    explanations.

REVIEW: Songs of Vidyāpati: A New Translation
Norman H. Zide and S. M. Pandey, The University of Chicago
Journal of the American Oriental Society,
Vol. 85, No. 2 (Apr.-Jun., 1965), pp. 197-204

Translations of Vidyapati: A comparison


The Maithili poet Vidyapati has probably- and deservedly - been translated
into English as many times as any author of short lyrics in a modern Indian
language. Writing in Maithili, he is claimed and taught as both Hindi and
Bengali' literature, and his padas exist in a great many Hindi and Bengali
editions of all kinds. They are also widely known and sung popularly,
particularly in Bihar and in Bengal. At least one complete and would-be
definitive edition of the padavali - that of the Bihar Rastrabhasa Parisad 2
-is under way. None of the earlier translations into English is adequate for
scholarly purposes, and none of them will give a reader interested in
Vidyapati's poetry much idea (or the right ideas) of his accomplishments as a
poet. The book here reviewed consists of translations of one hundred short
poems. Before taking up these translations, we comment briefly on the earlier
translations available3 to us. These are the translations by Arun Sen and
A. K. Coomaraswamy,4 Subhadra Jha,5 and Sri Aurobindo.6

Aurobindo: Stiff and metrical


Sri Aurobindo early in his career translated forty-one of the padas in
various rhymed stanza forms. His versions occasionally retain or reflect some
of the metrical and musical effects of the originals-none of the other
translators aspire to this-but otherwise Aurobindo's translations are not
particularly literal, and are full of inversions, line-padding inflations,
and hyperpoetic language not at all appropriate to these padas. Two sample
excerpts (from different padas) are representative:

Tis night and very timid my little love.
How long ere I see her hither swanlike move!
Dread serpents fill with fear the way;
What perils those soft beloved feet waylay. (No. 33)

Ah, who has built this girl of nectarous face?
Ah, who this matchless, beauteous dove?
An omen and a bounteous boon of Love,
A garland of triumphant grace. (No. 10)

Aurobindo's versions are least like the originals of any of these
translations since he uses a consistent style, and one which rarely permits
anything approaching the direct, colloquial-and powerful-language of the
original.

Sen and Coommaraswamy: Archaisms


Sen and Coomaraswamy also go in for editing, rearranging, and
atmosphere-saving (although slightly less so than Bhattacharya does). They
write in a language influenced by William Morris and Rosetti and make use of
a variety of archaisms and pseudoarchaisms. The translations are sporadically
effective, but the inconsistently 'medieval' poetic jargon they write in
hamstrings most of their poems and makes ungrammatical hodgepodges of lines
in almost all of them, e.g.,

Hearken, prithee, heartless
Hari, Fie on your such love!
Why did you speak of keeping tryst,
And with another maiden spent the night. (No. 74)

Another sample stanza:

Her gentle words she can but stammer,
Her shamefast speech will not well out:
Today I found her most contrary,
Sometimes consenting, sometimes fearful. (No. 42)

Subhadra Jha : Literal, but not poetry

Subhadra Jha in his edition of the poems in the Nepal manuscript follows a
very long (almost two hundred pages) and informative introduction with the
texts and translations of two hundred and sixty-two of Vidyapati's
poems. Jha's translations are useful for anyone working through the
Maithili 7 but for the reader of English poetry he has little to offer.8

Bhattacharya's objectives and accomplishment


Bhattacharya's Translator's Note on his intentions had better precede any
discussion on his accomplishment. Bhattacharya writes:

    The greatness of Vidyapati's songs depends on the fusion of natural
    phenomena such as lightning and clouds, the moon and the night lily, the
    lotus and the bee with the greatest of lovers, Radha and Krishna and their
    emotional reactions to love, anguish, passion, jealousy, joy and sorrow.

    Love poems, in particular lyrics, do not translate well. Therefore, in
    trying to render Vidyapati's songs into English, I have concentrated on
    the atmosphere of the originals rather than on scrupulously adhering to
    tiny detail. The poems, in their original versions, are often concerned
    with rhyme, internal echoes and play on meaning. None of these can be
    reproduced in word for word translation. In order to portray what I
    consider to be the spirit of the poems, I have sometimes had to condense
    Vidyapati's lines, content myself with fragments or clarify what might
    otherwise seem too concise. Following the example of most commentators, I
    have, in general, omitted Vidyapati's 'signature' lines. In the interest
    of meaning, I have added titles. It is hoped that with these
    qualifications, part at least, of Vidyapati's true poetic essence will
    reach the English reader" (p. 7).

First, it should be said that Bhattacharya has been fairly successful in
accomplishing his (and UNESCO's) aims. He does bring across something of
Vidyapati's 'true poetic essence,' and something of the atmosphere of the
(selected) originals, and these are not to be found in comparable amounts in
Aurobindo, Sen and Coomaraswamy, or Jha. His poems may 'further . . . mutual
appreciation of the cultural values of East and West' as UNESCO expects,
although Bhattacharya provides only a skewed sample of the 'cultural values'
to be had from Vidyapati.

Shortcomings


Critiques some inaccuracies in the translations, classifying these
under

 - Selection : DB rejects those padas where sound or wordplay is
 	significant.

 - Truncation  and Reshaping: DB tends to shorten and re-phrase
        some lines, e.g. in 33. Remembered love:
	        those hours of passion
		When he would swear to me
		That day was night . . .
	looks not only bad but wrong. A look at the original:
	   	Arati darasahu bolita (thi) rAti
	   	se save sumari jIvakA sAti (Jha, p. 40)
	confirms one's suspicions that 'those hours of passion'
	are all Bhattacharya's.  Jha translates 'Even at the sight of emotion
        of love, he would say it was night / Remembering all these I am
        pained at heart.) The BRP reading which seems to make more sense in
        context, and which translates Erati more normally as 'sorrow - reads
        Arati darasahu boli DarAti 'Even to show (my) sorrow, I'm afraid to
        speak.' If this reading is accepted, then _rAti, 'night,' the
        springboard to Bhattacharya's flight goes completely by the board.

	On the other hand, in some others the re-shaping may result in poems
	that read well in English, but these are not "translations".

Zide/Pandey also remark on the overall accuracy and the meter of the
translations.  Nonetheless, they agree that "Bhattacharya's versions of
Vidyapati are the closest we have to the originals."

Vidyapati biography


Vidyapati appears to have been born in or around 1352 in Bihar, in
the Madhubani village of Bisapi in Mithila (north eastern Bihar).
He was well read in Sanskrit, and appears to have been inducted into the
court of the Mathili king Kirti Simha (fl. 1370).

Vidyapati is known for his love songs, written in a direct, earthy voice,
which have endured for seven hundred years.  There appear to be about five
hundred songs, composed between 1380 and 1406, dealing with the love of
Krishna and Radha.  He was clearly influenced by Jayadeva's Gitagovinda, a
somewhat older (c. 1200) text in modernized Sanskrit, which also deals with
the Radha-Krishna love story.  Indeed, Vidyapati is sometimes referred to as
Abhinava-Jayadeva, or the new Jayadeva.

Vidyapati is claimed by the literatures in Hindi, Bengali and Maithili.
He certainly wields enormous influence on all three literary traditions.
He is the inspiration for the genre of
Bengali Vaishnava songs written in a mixed language, Vrajabuli.
In private life, he may not have been Vaishnava; in worship, he
followed the Shaivite tradition of his family.

Links



bio: Deben Bhattacharya


mainly known as a music producer and maker of films on world cultures.
initially worked on introducing Indian music
to UK, but later moved to folk music from around the world.

Grew up in Benares, where family had been living for 130 years.  Was
educated in the Sanskrit tradition, but rebelled and dreamed of going to
UK.

Has also translated the poetry of the bAuls, ''Mirrors of the Sky: Song of
the bards of bengal, and also Songs Of The Qawals Of India: Islamic Lyrics Of Love''

---links:
wikipedia: Deben Bhattacharya
interview at kevindaly.org

  Benares ... as a city, where people live one on top of the other. I like
  being in a city when I can be near people without being involved with
  them. Like in a village: when you are living in a village you are
  involved with them, but you are not near, because the distances and the
  spaces are far away from one another. And one of the strongest points in
  favour of Benares, as far as I am concerned, that when you were little
  kids, you could jump from one roof to the other for probably half a
  kilometre, from roof to roof, jumping. And flying kites is one of the
  regular features of the boy’s life and it happened always on the
  rooftops.

  Most of my father’s family were scholars, his eldest brother was a
  professor of Sanskrit literature and cosmology at Benares University, and
  my father was a doctor of Hindu medicine, and the family had very little
  to do with the English colonial education system. There was no interest in
  national politics; the family simply didn’t want to know that the British
  existed, so they ignored it. I was given a Sanskrit education – there was
  no question of anything else.

  But I had in me a kind of strange desire to rebel against the family
  traditions. I suppose partly because I felt a little bit isolated from
  the other boys of my age, because they were having the usual,
  conventional education at that moment, like, you go into an English
  school, playing football. I distinctly remember how I wanted to wear
  short trousers, but in our family European clothes were not allowed – you
  had to wear a dhoti. Possibly it was this sort of rigidity that made me
  want to rebel, so – I started to run away from the family at the age of
  sixteen, seventeen – coming back, and so on, and travelled all over
  India, completely like, almost like a vagabond. It was a kind of peculiar
  restlessness, plus a curiosity about other people that developed as I
  travelled. Already I was dreaming of getting out of India. ...

  [during ww2: There was no conscription in India, but ... the war created
  jobs. I could then just about speak English, and I got a job as a clerk in
  the Indian army. I didn’t get on with army people, I had trouble with both
  the Indian and British officers. Actually, I was almost court-martialled,
  because I slapped a British officer. One day on parade, he called me a
  ‘black son of a bitch.’ The moment he said it, my hand just sprang; I had
  no control over the hand! He fell, and the nearby Indian soldiers doing
  fatigue duty laughed and giggled as they’d never seen anything like that. I
  was taken under escort to the Field Artillery Training Centre. After a few
  days, I got a note saying the charge had been withdrawn. I found out later
  that some civilian lawyer had made a noise about it, that I was a civilian
  and not subject to military law.

  [but is beaten up when trying to see an english film in an army theater
  gives up job and goes back to his doctor father in Muzaffarpur, Bihar
  It is the time of the Quit India movement. ]

  Ghandi’s peaceful methods were not going to get Churchill out. Churchill
  would hang onto India until it dropped dead! And Ghandi was no match for
  him in that field. So what was the answer? Guns! Guns! Guns!

  They were made in secret by village blacksmiths. They were not well made,
  and were always bursting in people’s hands. But they were beginning to
  learn, you see. My people were buying these guns, and I looked so young
  and innocent (I was twenty) that my duty was to find these guns from the
  blacksmiths and bring them over. There were two of us working together; I
  was just one link in the whole chain. One day, one of my father’s patients
  came to see him (he adored my father because he’d cured one of his sons
  from a serious illness) and told him what I was up to. And I had four or
  five guns hidden! My father, a very quiet, simple person was very upset. I
  was sent back to the family home in Benares.

  I was at that time dreaming of going out of India. Just at that time, I
  met two Europeans who were living like Indians in Benares, a man called
  Raymond Burnier, and his partner, a man called Alain Danielou. He was a
  French man. I was excited by their involvement with Indian culture: one
  was working on Indian music, and the other on art and sculpture.

  ... Fifth of November, 1949. I landed in Tilbury. Then took a train to
  St. Pancras, where Alan was due to meet me. It was chaos – hundreds of
  Indian students being unloaded, arriving in Britain for their technical
  education. I had precisely eighteen shillings in my pocket, and here I
  was in a totally unknown land, except for a friend called Alan
  Colquhoun.
  I had an enormous steel trunk, carrying my very precious poetry books. I
  had very few clothes ....

  In Sweden I lived for ten years, but the Swedes have an extraordinary
  habit of non-communication which I could never reconcile. I began to feel
  isolated and lonely in spite of extremely kind friends.

  I know the French have a very bad reputation for being selfish,
  egotistic, this that and the other, but somehow, as far as I am
  concerned, I feel absolutely free. I’m not aware of my colour, I’m not
  aware that I’m different from the French, and so on, in Montmartre. My
  grocer scolds me, scolds my wife that I don’t let my girl go alone to the
  school! I never hear that, anyone giving that lecture in London or
  Stockholm. They wouldn’t dare. But this kind of scolding to me is
  communication, this is contact, affection, and that makes me feel at home
  in Montmartre. I wouldn’t say this is all Paris, but Montmartre has this
  village quality which I love, within the heart of a great city, and
  honestly I’ve never felt I was a stranger in Paris. You can have friends
  everywhere, and because of that you can choose a place to live. Here in
  Paris, I can live with everyone – not just the French, or the Algerians
  or the Turks – but with everybody.


amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at-symbol] gmail) 2012 Apr 20