The adage goes that almost every Bengali is born with poetry in his/her heart. Note the word - almost! There exists, blissfully, exceptions to this byword. Happily, simply because 'yours truly' falls in that category of poetry schnooks, and so can have some company to mitigate my misery. So it was with much trepidation that I undertook to give an assessment of the contents of a collection of poems, Ottegsahon, composed by Mashuk Chowdhury, a poet and journalist. 56 poems, to be exact, covering a variety of topics and issues. Some of them will be easily understandable to someone like me; others are more esoteric, not always immediately comprehensible to - yes, someone like me.
As I was delving through the poetic offerings, and neared their end, I was struck by a general pattern of themes and subject matters that the author has been partial to in this book. He has arranged them more or less according to clusters of poems fitting a particular thematic motif. So there are compositions on the themes of childhood, love, and nature, with smatterings of personal philosophy on other subject matters, and, indeed, the odd poem on a single topic that does not recur.
Almost all of the first nine poems (from “Manush Howar Golpo” to “Gochhito Smrity”) are centered on children, childhood, and reflections on a yearning for the innocence of childhood. In “Manush Howar Golpo” he recalls those he characterizes as doll-children, and observes that they eventually become adults, and then (unlike in their childhood) behave like wild horses which do not care about fetters at all. In “Shishuful” he bemoans the death of innocent children who do so because their poverty-stricken country was denied the donation of polio vaccine. Chowdhury provides several instances of his humanism, such as in “Shob Nodir Naam Roktogonga,” which he ends (I am rendering the lines here in English phonetics in order to induce their original significance for the general readers): “Aar koto roktopat hole Bongoposhagorer naam hobe Lohito Shagor” (on a sidenote, I am struck by the Bangla term for the Red Sea as Lohito Shagor, though I doubt that it was termed so because of all the human blood that was spilled into it!).
Thus, the poet is drawn to the plight of children. In “Agaam Shokegatha,” for instance, he goes on lamenting as his poems cry for the hundreds of thousands of children stating, “Eder jonnoi amaar kobita kande, eder jonnoi ami aaj likhe gelam agaam shokegatha.” He seems particularly galled by the plight of underprivileged children in the poem “Tritio Bishwer Shishu” as he says, “Tritio Bishwer Shwadhin Desher Shwadhin Bhukhonder… ek shishu ami, amra dujonei durbhaggyer srinkhole bondhi poradhin manush.”
Chowdhury, not unexpectedly for a poet, talks about aspects of love, including in “Nyaeshongoto Premer Pokhhe,” where he pens these powerful lines: “Prem amake dukhher cheye beshi diechhe agun…Prem amake eka poriparsher birudhhe bidroher prerona diechhe.” Love has the potential of having/creating significant impact on people as this poem (“Premer Bondhone Shwadhin”) illustrates: “Premer bondhon jotota shorgo chhayar shukh o shantir moto, opremer shwadhinota tototai bedona o bishakto ovishaper jontronay neel.” Chowdhury, not surprisingly for such a caring person for children and their welfare, is equally a strong lover of Nature, and laments its degradation at the hands of human beings. Several poems attest to this, but I am more interested in a couple of thoughtful poems, since they use the symbolism of Nature to represent other critical elements of life. In “Pakhir Rashtrokotha,” for example, he constructs, “Uronto danaee pakhider jatio potaka, shey potaka kere nao, kere nao shwadhinota, gorib pakhider eto shwadhinotar proyojon nei.” Likewise, “Cactus” is also highly interesting where the poet asks the readers to imagine Bangladesh, including the Sundarbans, becoming totally infested by the thorny cactus, replacing its greenery, and, in the process, making its people heartless. The point to note here is that the cactus in its usual arid environments is actually a critical fountain of life for the inhabitants there. Bangladesh's greenery would simply wither away if transplanted in those regions.
Still on nature, the poet (in “Hemonto”) provides a colourful depiction of the season, “Hemonto hochhe rohoshshomoyee neelakash.” He includes a few poems on his philosophy of life. The following one, “Ostittobad” sounds profound: “Ashole shob baad-i opo-baad , opobaade osthhir kalponik ostithho… Jibono kolpochitro --- ekta niret chhayamurti.” And he discloses his own lamentation by stating, “Dirghoshwasher moto jibono shudirgho shunnota.” He pleasingly marries Nature and love in “Pritikhhar laal golap,” “Tomar protikhhae ekta laal golap phute ache, amaar ridoyer moto ek tukro shobuj patar arale.” The next poem, “Jibon” is on life itself and can be either interpreted as a poetic expression or the poet's actual pessimism about life in general: “Amaar kokhono kokhono mone hoy, jibon maaer mritodeher moto dukhher pahaar…mone hoy jiboner shopnogulo laalbati.”
There are other poems that deal with the core issues of life as well as the reader goes through the pages of the collection. One, “Chhinno Bhinno Mohakabbo,” builds up on a garland of 33 little poems to expound on the poet's life perspectives. There is an interesting poem on “Bibaho” where the speaker utters, “Aaj ratei amra boron korbo shohomoron…tomra esho…amaar shohomoron dekhte, amaar korun mrittu dekhte.” Several pieces of nostalgic references can be detected in this group of the poems in the last section, as there is a touching eulogy to Bangladesh in “Jononi 1971”: “Jagroto chetonar pourushe bidhho amaar jononi jonmobhumi - ei Bangladesh,” and also a touching tribute to the generic idea of poet and poetry in “Kobir shadhona.”There is also an artistic portrayal of the dilemma of doubt as well as the dual character of the mind in “Bishwasher Agun Shondeher Chhaya,” “Amaar bhitore ekbar bhalobasha jole, ekbar na. Ek chokhhe jole bidroho, ek chhokhhe prem.”
A collection of poems by one author provides an opportunity for the reader to at least get an idea of his/her talent, and, often, life philosophy. Mashuk Chowdhury's Ottegsahon will, in varying degrees, provide all of that, and some more, to the many Bengalis who have been touched by the creative soul of the Muse himself.
Shahid Alam is a thespian and Professor, Media and Communication Department, IUB.