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A gifted and sensitive writer

By December 25, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu   –   Kuldeep Kumar

Shankha Ghosh’s ability to articulate his ideas and social stances without compartmentalising himself to any political ideology makes him atowering figure in the literary world

The title of one of his poems, translated into Hindi by noted poet and art critic Prayag Shukla as “Megh jaisa manushya” (A man like a cloud), fits him rather well. In the world of Bangla literature, Shankha Ghosh’s persona is shrouded by a mystique because of the gravitas that he exudes and the creativity and depth that his poetry and thoughtful prose contain. His writings are full of well thought out and wonderfully articulated ideas as well as social stances, but he has not allowed himself to be straitjacketed within the confines of one single political ideology or social philosophy. That’s why, when on rare occasions he speaks, Bangla literary world in West Bengal and Bangladesh listens to him with awe and respect.

Born in Chandpur (now in Bangladesh) on February 6, 1932, Shankha Ghosh did his B.A. in Bangla language and literature at Presidency College, Calcutta (now Kolkata) and subsequently received his Master’s degree from Calcutta University. He taught at various colleges affiliated with the Calcutta University for many years and later moved to Jadavpur University, retiring from there in 1992. In between, he had spent time at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, USA (1967-68), Delhi University, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and Viswa Bharati. He is widely considered to be an authority on Rabindranath Tagore and has been a prolific poet and critic. His books include “Adim Lata-Gulmomay” (Ancient vines and trees), “Murkha Baro”, “Samajik Nay” (A fool, not social), Kabir Abhipray” (The poet’s intention) and “Babarer Prarthana” (Babar’s prayer).

In Hindi, Rajkamal Prakashan brought out his poems in the Pratinidhi Kavitaen (representative poems) series in 1987. Last year, Prayag Shukla translated his poems from Bangla in a collection titled “Megh Jaisa Manushya” (A man like a cloud) while Utpal Banerjee translated his prose works in two volumes titled as “Nihshabd Ki Tarjani” (Index finger of wordless) and “Hone Ka Dukh” (Pain of being) as a part of Raza Foundation’s Book Series. Rajkamal Prakashan has published all the three books. All this has made Shankha Ghosh a noticeable presence in the Hindi readers’ literary consciousness.

When he was awarded the Jnanpith Puraskar in 2016, it came as a recognition and confirmation of his national status. He is also a recipient of many other awards including Padma Bhushan, Saraswati Puraksar, Sahitya Akademi award, Rabindra Puraskar and Visva Bharati’s Desikottam. Besides Hindi, his works have been translated into English, Marathi, Punjabi, Assamese and Malayalam.

Magical realism

The first poem “Megh jaisa Manushya” (A man like a cloud) in the collection of the same name, translated and edited by Prayag Shukla begins very evocatively. “Guzar jaata hai saamne se mere vah megh jaisa manushya, lagta hai chhoo den use to jhar padega jal”. (There is a man like a cloud who walks ahead / I think water may drop off him if he is stroked). And, it also ends in a magical realist way. “Sambhav hai jaaoon yadi paas mein uske kisi din to, main bhi ban jaaoon ek megh” (If I stand in front of him one day, I too might turn into a cloud – English translation from the original by Arunava Sinha)

In the introduction, Shukla informs us that Shankha Ghosh and he had collaborated in a translation project at Bhopal’s Bharat Bhavan in 1983 and one day they, accompanied by renowned painters Jagadish Swaminathan and Krishen Khanna, went to see the famed Sanchi stupas. Later, Ghosh wrote a poem titled “Sanchi” on this experience, depicting Swaminathan as Shiva holding a glass of whiskey in both his hands while evening descended on his unkempt hair. The portrayal suggested Shiva’s drinking poison and Ganga descending from the heaven.

The two volumes of Shankha Ghosh’s prose, translated by Utpal Banerjee for Raza Foundation’s Books Series, offer the vast panorama of the poet’s literary and social concerns and his deep study of Tagore’s oeuvre. One finds scintillating discussions of Iqbal, Kafka and Rilke and an objective analysis of the attack made on Tagore’s novel “Ghare-Baire” (The Home and The World) by the pre-eminent Marxist critic of the 20th century Georgy Lukacs. In a review written in 1922, Lukacs called the novel “a pamphlet” and painted Tagore in the blackest colour. “Tagore himself is – as imaginative writer and as thinker – a wholly insignificant figure. His creative powers are non-existent; his characters pale stereotypes; his stories threadbare and uninteresting; and his sensibility is meagre, insubstantial,” wrote Lukacs, damning Tagore for a sentimental and reactionary rendering of the Indian independence movement. Ghosh makes a sympathetic reading of Lukacs’s review and expresses a hope that had the Marxist critic taken up Tagore again for critiquing, he might have changed his views as he did in the case of Kafka.

These two volumes make us acquainted with the way Shankha Ghosh looked at the problems of life and literature. Whether he wrote a poem on a beggar or explained the significance of Iqbal, he displayed the empathy that is available to only a sensitive poet. The translation of his poems by Prayag Shukla and his prose by Utpal Banerjee will go a long way in enriching the inner world of Hindi readers.

The writer is a seasoned literary critic

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