Bibhas Roy Chowdhury’s latest chapbook Jessore Road-er Gach (Trees alongside Jessore Road) is “the sweetest song” that tells of “saddest thought.” It’s a spontaneous, melancholic flow of a sequence or series poetry, resting under the trees, in just fifteen poems. These fifteen well-crafted poems perfectly synchronize with illustrations by Biplab Mandal. Most of the poems are written in Aksharbritta Chhanda (Bengali prosodic name), namely, in Muktak Payar and Mahapayar (Bengali metrical names), and some are in free verse. Roy Chowdhury’s startling and sensual images, brilliant metaphors, pithy and highly suggestive poetic language, both lyrical and narrative voice instantly penetrate readers’ hearts. In each poem, with sensitively controlled passion, he has been successful to create a moving world that breathes, unlike the dead or artificial world of words. Even the line-breaks, use of space impart special effect to the poems.
The book explores the recent traumatic experience of felling of the old trees that stood either side of Jessore Road. Roy Chowdhury feels for the cut down trees, homeless birds, insects, and successfully transfers his agony to his readers. The collection not only entertains, it also awakens our soul toward a greener earth. The poet himself took part in “Save The Trees” campaign, walked around the frontier town, Bongaon, singing against the ruthless killing of trees. Through these highly stylized poems, Roy Chowdhury immortalizes the tree-protectors who actively led the movement. This unique book of verses may be called a green movement book. The poems, of course, versify the daily-living world; they represent some familiar incidents and characters, however, the poet brilliantly makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar. The journey transcends from known to unknown.
The book opens with the poem, “Tumi Valo Achho?” (“Are You Okay?”). With an inartificial voice that hints at the genesis of the universe and reveals the very truth that every entity of this universe is harmoniously interrelated to each other, however, man, out of sheer greed and selfishness, is always vandalizing this harmony. To Roy Chowdhury, all the life-forms are the great will of Nature, and to go against her will is but courting our self-destruction. So, the poet under the mask of Nature says in a biblical tone: “Never consider yourself the Master. Life is brief, so realize it as deep as you can. Believe in suffering, as it attracts neither violence nor jealousy. Love your neighboring trees, insects, birds, dogs, cats, and ants, over and again. Ask them—Are you okay?” This altruistic question plays the overture of the book; this is an undertow that flows under the surface of the poems.
In the second poem, “Udbhid Pratham Pran” (“Plant: The First Life”), he bemoans that man has forgotten that plant came first on this earth. And they are also ignorant of the fact that because of the trees they are alive. He vivifies the picture of the grief-stricken children clinging to, much like “Chipko Movement,” the trees during the killing operation along Jessore Road. And Roy Chowdhury asks the forgotten question, “Is this earth only for man?” The poem ends with a brilliant living image depicting the sunset, the reddish tint of sun rays as being bleeding song of the birds for their tree-friends that still stand alive. This reminds us of birds’ unconditional love which the selfish mankind has almost lost. This poem mesmerizes like an elegy, and the lines “Plant came first/Plant came fist” ring much after the poem finishes.
The third poem, “Barun Nadi Rahul Gachh” (“The River Barun, Rahul the Tree”), moves forward with Rahul’s (a medical student who is still walking for ‘Save The Trees’ campaign) walking with many others through ups and downs, through the ruins of moral degradation. Within Rahul the poet envisions Barun resurrect himself. Barun Biswas, a school teacher and social activist, who organized protest against the criminals who gang-raped to terrorize people in and around Bongaon; he was murdered back in 2012 by the goons. Roy Chowdhury, with some deft stroke, describes the painful pictures of the loot of the rivers, blood-bathed corpses, and the mammon’s eating out of the trees, birds, and rivers. But deep down, this poem tells about eternal love and faith. Barun Biswas (the word, Biswas, literally means faith), the river become the symbol of robust optimistic flow of life-force. The poet thinks people like Barun, Rahul will come and win over the killers; the journey has begun.
The fourth poem, “Ripan Aryar Chithi” (“A letter by Ripan Arya”), is a cry of soul under the garb of Ripan’s (a young poet from Habra) anxious letter to Mrittika (Roy Chowdhury’s daughter) after seeing thousands of trees being cut. Ripan cries: “I swear on my tears, I’m all upset/ Do something, do something, please!” He urges, “Have you not stepped in the street yet?”
The fifth poem, “Pralayer Pashe Hati” (“I Walk along with Pralay”), is a heart-rending narration, through some stunning images, of voracious urbanization, deforestation, and barbaric destruction of nature which, in turn, invisibly upsets the tranquility of mankind. Hence, goes the line—“People return home, they buy poison from being unhappy!”Pralay, the tempest is, in fact, an enlightenment of soul which Roy Chowdhury desperately seeks from every nook and cranny. Pralay is less a person, rather the awakened self.
In the next poem, “Rinam Gachh” (“Rinam the Tree”), the poet consoles the morose tree and warns us that nature will retaliate. He has foreseen knives of sunset on the river water, growing sharper with time.
In the eighth poem, “Bhalobasa” (“Love”), Roy Chowdhury brilliantly uses the Big Bang theory or the myths of creation of this planet, and asserts that our love, every kiss to the beloved owe to the trees, simply because they are the reason for our existence—this is a dazzling insight. The poet chants: “So, for every kiss, /with your tears, /repay the trees…/ repay the trees…”
The next poem, “Rimi,” narrates the heart-breaking story of the girl badly beaten by his tyrant father for standing against the felling of trees. At times, the father stands for the cruel society, or for the extreme poverty, and the tree or the girl herself stands for the humanity that bleeds. The red flower of Tarulata (a tropical creeper) implies the swollen lips of the girl.
In the tenth poem, “Shunya” (“The Zero”), emptiness or nothingness torments the poet; he desires to live a life as serene as poetry. The unparalleled poetry comes at last in the form of a tree.
The eleventh poem, “Debashis Gachh” (“Debashis the Tree”), is a superb portrayal of yet another tree-protector, Debashis, by telling his story and transforming him into a tree.
The next poem “Ghatak” (“The Killer”), demonstrates some people’s ungratefulness to trees. They have forgotten that only the trees fetch rain, give good crops and keep off famine. In return of such bounties, people kill them.
In the thirteenth poem, “Ke? Kara?” (“Who is it? Who else?”), the poet unveils the hypocrisy of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) which suspects the students who gather in the streets to save the trees, whereas they let some other offence go on. In Roy Chowdhury’s dream the blood-bathed tree appears to say: “Tell them, we’re the children of trees. Although man by birth, you’re still my children!”
The fourteenth poem, “Udbastu” (“The Refugee”), pulsates with the agony of the Partition of Bengal. Roy Chowdhury pours out his harrowing experiences of the time. The century-old trees along the Jessore Road sheltered innumerous refugee families, and they bear all memories of the highs and lows of Bengal. The trees sometimes embody his father’s departed soul. They somewhat repair the loss. They make his father’s presence felt. Cutting down those heritage trees means wiping out the history as well. In a trance the poet hears his father murmur: “The knife has divided the land, now the axe will hack the history off.”
The book ends much like the Jhala of Indian classical song with the poem, “Kabita Noy, thooh” (It’s not Poetry, Spit!), an emotional outburst of a maestro. It’s a tangible narration of Roy Chowdhury’s stupor of shock, frustration and tiredness from walking for the trees. He sobs silently looking at the clipped trees. He cannot withstand the verdict of death sentence for those innocent trees. But, no one stands against it except for the children and the students, however, the big fishes remain quiet. In that stupor, in daze, the poet sees hundreds of birds twittering, circling around the trimmed Shirish tree, driving the killer away. Then the poet repents—“Forgive me not, birds. Never sing me your songs. Let me die.”
Roy Chowdhury’s unique and powerful voice lingers long after it stops. It’s soft, warm and soulful. He writes, like he always does, either from epiphany or from peak-experience, so his every poem becomes real and living. Bibhas Roy Chowdhury creates magic reality out of the stark realities. He is the master of the craft.
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Work cited: Jessore Road-er Gach, Bibhas Roy Chowdhury (poetry) & Biplab Mandal (paintings), Chhonya Publishers, 2018
About Bibhas Roy Chowdhury: Bibhas Roy Chowdhury is a poet, novelist and essayist. He is considered one of the foremost poets of the 90’s in Bengali literature. He has authored more than twenty books that include five novels, and numerous essays in several prestigious Bengali literary magazines. Roy Chowdhury has been bestowed many awards including the Bangla Academy Award in 2013, Krittibas Award in 1997, among others. A chunk of his poems have been translated into English by Kiriti Sengupta under the title Poem Continuous—Reincarnated Expressions that has fetched much critical acclaim.