Red Salute, Nabarun Da!

August 7, 2014

Source: Liberation Newsletter

nabarun_bhattacharya

​Nabarun Bhattacharya is no more. The revolutionary poet, short story writer and novelist, passed away on 31st July evening in a Calcutta Hospital after his prolonged battle with cancer.

In the world we live in, his iconic poem, ‘This Valley of Death Is Not My Country’ could be the anguished cry and resolve of any citizen of the world; of the people of America or Israel; Iraq or Syria; Sri Lanka or India… The spirit of that poem lives in the struggles of people: struggles that, in renouncing the ‘Nation’ that the ruling class equates with violence, cruelty, and devastation, actually expresses a profound love for one’s land, one’s people and humanity at large.

Born in 1948 in Baharampur of Murshidabad district, Nabarun was the child of renowned actor-playwright Bijon Bhattacharya and Magsaysay award-winning writer Mahasweta Devi.

Nabarun won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1997 for his novel Herbert, a landmark in modern Bengali literature which synthesizes the lives of contemporary urban marginalized and stylised poetic sensibility into political statements. Bhattacharya relentlessly wrote about marginalised sections living on the city streets, in slums and dark alleys, using political satire, dark humour, and magic realism to telling effect to highlight oppression and exploitation of our times. He persistently challenged the dominant ideas associated with Bengali literature through his subversive writing style.

Bhattacharya was also a very close witness of the radical left movement of seventies’ Bengal, which is evident in his works. But it is not the romantic nostalgia for a radical past, but the turbulent seventies coming back to haunt the apparent peace of the present, which is a very familiar motif in his writings.

A fearless voice against state power, Nabarun always remained, in his own words, “an outsider to the circus of literature”. He returned the Bankim Award in 2007 against West Bengal Government’s Nandigram carnage. He was also a staunch critic of the Trinamool Congress government that is stifling democratic protests and civil rights. Nabarunda’s writings will always kindle fire, he will live on in our hearts and our struggles.

In memory of Nabarun Da – and Saroj Dutta’s whose martyrdom anniversary was observed on 5th August, below is an excerpt from a translation of ‘Ei Mrityu Upatyaka Amar Desh Na’

This Valley of Death is Not My Country
I spit on the father who fears to point at his child’s corpse
I spit on the brother and his shameless sanity despite everything
I spit on the teacher, the intellectual, the poet and the clerk
who do not seek to avenge this bloodbath out in the open

Seventeen corpses
lie stretched across the pathway of reckoning
I am losing my senses bit by bit
Seventeen open pairs of eyes look at me in sleep
I scream out
I will turn insane
I will kill myself
I will do whatever I want to do
I will eat the sun, the moon and the stars
I will smash all bridges between the viewer and the viewed
This is the exact time for poetry
Through stenciled manifestos on naked walls
A collage crafted of own blood, tears and bones –
now is the time for poetry
in the torn face of severest pain
right now is the time to hurl poetry
face to face with real terror –
keeping eyes fixed at the blinding headlight of the vans
at the three naught three and whatever else the killers have
It is time to face them with poetry

Through stone-cold lock-up chambers
Shattering the yellow lamps of crime investigation cells
In courthouses run by murderers
In seats of learning that teach lies and spew venoms of hatred
In the state machine churning abuse and terror
In the heartless chest of gunmen who serve that machine –
Let the anger of poetry echo out in fury
Let the poets of the world prepare themselves, like Lorca,
for their strangled corpses to disappear
let them be ready to be stitched up by machine-gun bullets
the hours beckon
the city of poetry must be surrounded by villages of poetry.
this valley of death is not my country
this executioner’s theater is not my country
this vast charnel-ground is not my country
this blood-drenched slaughterhouse is not my country
I will snatch my country back
I will pull the fog-kissed white kans flowers, the crimson dusks and the endless rivers
back into my chest
With all my body I shall surround the fireflies, forests burning in ancient hills,
countless crops of hearts, flowers, humans and horses from fairytales
I shall name each star after each martyr
I shall call out to the howling breezes, lights and shadows playing across the fish-eyed lakes of dawn
And Love – banished to places lightyears away ever since I was born:
I shall call it too, to join the carnival of the day of Revolution.

I reject
Days and nights of interrogation with a thousand watts of electricity blazing straight into eyeballs
I reject
Electric needles inside fingernails
I reject
Having to lie naked on chunks of ice
I reject
Being hanged upside down till blood gushes out of nostrils
I reject
Spiked boots pressed on lips, burning iron rods on every inch of skin
I reject
The sudden blast of alcohol on whiplashed back
I reject
Stark electric jolts on the nerves, pieces of rocks shoved inside vaginas, scrotums mangled to pulp
I reject
Being beaten and thrashed to death
I reject
Revolver-muzzles stuck against craniums

Poetry is eternal, irrepressible
Poetry is armed, poetry is free, poetry is fearless
Behold the warriors –
Mayakovsky, Hikmet, Neruda, Aragon, Eluard –
Look at them looking at you from the clouds.
Call out loud.

A Selection of Nabarun’s Poems
(translated from Bangla by Avijit Basak)

A bunch of bulletproof poems
A bunch of bulletproof poems
Stand in front of the Firing Squad
With their shirt buttons open, fearless
They stand.

The bleeding lips of a bird
Hang biting the hand of a big metal clock
Harpoon struck whales
Stare at the scene with eyes overturned
Stars watch the blood bathed sea
In their lights from far off days
Stupefaction dissolves
On the leaden pipe the Great Flag
Freezes in fear.

The head of the city spins
Cool air from the slaughterhouse
Runs after the school children
Those lost in love become
Between one kiss and another
Stunned photographs
Stones sweat
The heart of the terror-bomb weakens
Lawyers with black robes walk
Pocketwatch of moon in their dirty pockets

The news just came in
That long before men
Birds and butterflies conquered moon
We just learned
That each pole is affected with destructive melting
Seventy one Noble laureate scientists have confirmed
Men don’t watch t.v. after death

When newspapers throughout the world
Publish of us having no future
When all political leaders say
Our last efforts have failed
Inevitable missiles fly
Void swells within fixed deposits
Between fingers burns
The last cigarette of the world

Then, yes, right then
A bunch of bulletproof poems
Stand in front of the Firing Squad
With their shirt buttons open, fearless
They stand.

Life As We Live
The Philosopher said, Son
Life is indeed like watching
‘Sholay’ on big screen
A couple of daredevils run
With mouthorgan
Effortlessly, to catch the goon Gabbar
My child, go to sleep in night therefore,
Without fear, and with your eyes see
The garden is graced with gals and madrigals
But thinking of the world whole,
Which was supposed to be changing
A bunch of amateurs,
Fashionably revolutionary leaders
Metamorphosed into professional ministers
By night, and nobody cared
Villagers, oppressed, do not fear, well
Courage is like a soft towel
We can hear that comforting oracle from the stable
And that healthy poison, watertight and pure
Reaches every household for sure.
Apart from these mechanisms
We have kick-thief lawyers
Palm scratching police
And inhuman doctors
Due to whose indifferent cheers
The vat-ground is busy with supplies.
But what would we do with all these boss
WE THE PEOPLE, or ant-ish public
We are just toothless idiots
Slave-waiter class
Busy with frequent sex-tax drives
Feeding on flies
And casting votes with sickly wives
It is far better
To threat cut or chase in car
And very often than not
By different penal parliamentary acts get caught.

Buttons
I don’t party with the homeless
I have a room
I own one.
When lost, torn apart
The homeless me
Find my mouth
Agape in void.
The Living and the Dead
The Coward and the Daring
I know of their different heartbeats.

2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Red Salute, Nabarun Da!”

  1. atindriyo Says:
    November 7th, 2016 at 22:12

    a verbatim translation of ‘ei mrityu upotwawka…’ would say ‘…eight corpses…’ instead of ‘seventeen’. but the translator had written seventeen in memory of the victims of the sarkeguda massacre of bastar, where 17 innocent adivasis of villages sarkeguda and chimlipenta who had gathered to plan for the beej pandum festival were gunned down by the crpf, an incidence that had a deep impact on the translator….

  2. atindriyo Says:
    November 7th, 2016 at 22:14

    a verbatim translation of ‘ei mrityu upotwawka…’ would say ‘…eight corpses…’ instead of ‘seventeen’. but the translator had written seventeen in memory of the victims of the sar oikeguda massacre of bastar, where 17 innocent adivasis of villages sarkeguda and chimlipenta who had gathered to plan for the beej pandum festival were gunned down by the crpf, an incidence that had a deep impact on the translator….

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