Binoy Majumdar’s obsession with the goddess Gayatri
Aamra je jyotsna ke eto bhalobasi – ei garho roopkatha
chand nije janey na tow
(Moon has no knowledge of the deep fairy tale of our love for moonlight)
The moon is said to have driven many people crazy over the centuries, without having a clue of its charm and influences. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak served as poet Binoy Majumdar’s moon in Calcutta in the early 1960s, resulting in a series of poems that would propel him as one of the most important poets of post-independence Bengali literature.
“Sokol phuler kachhe eto mohomoy money jaoar poreo/ Manush kintu mangshorondhonkaleen ghraan sobcheye beshi bhalobasey (Even after being bewitched by the flowers, man still loves the aroma of cooking meat, the best),” he wrote in one of the poems, and in another, “Manush nikotey ele prokrito saros urey jay (Real storks take flight when humans approach).
The lines quoted above are from Phirey Eso, Chaka (Come back, O wheel), his book of 77 poems published in September 1962. It was dedicated to Gayatri Chakravorty. Soon this book became a sensation, albeit mostly among people with advanced literary interest – poets, writers, critics and scholars. Malay poet-novelist Roy Choudhury later compared the publication of the book to the “Cambrian explosion” in Bengali literature. Poet-novelist Joy Goswami described him as a man ravaged by his dreams.
Jenechhi nikotoborti ebong ujjwolotomo taraguli prokrito prostabe/
sob groho, tara noy, taap-heen, alo-heen groho.
(I learned that our closest and brightest stars are just planets, not stars, planets without heat and without light).
His poetry remained widely discussed and analyzed over the next six decades, not only in West Bengal but also in Bangladesh. In fact, one of the most comprehensive collections of his poems, essays, interviews and writings about him was published in Bangladesh. Some of his poems have been described as borderline erotic, while others are downright erotic. Some have called his poems “serene mathematical beauty” for his experiments in blending poetry and mathematics; that is, to seek to solve mathematical questions through poetry, seeing them as reflecting the same eternal truths.
But it is probably his one-sided and failed love, or rather his obsession, for Gayatri that has taken the lion’s share of discussions about him. Perhaps because this obsession has spawned collections of poetry filled with noteworthy quotes.
Bhalobasa ditey bet, tomra ki grohone sokshom?
Leelamoyee koroputey tomader sob-e jhorey jay –
Hasi, jyotsna, byatha, smriti, oboshishto kichhui thake na.
(I can offer my love, (but) can you receive it?
Everything overflows from your playful palms –
Smiles, moonlight, pain, memories, nothing remains.)
Tobu sob brikkho ar pushpokunjo i jar bhumite durey-durey
Chirokal theke bhabe miloner shwasrodhi kotha
(And yet all the trees and flowering shrubs standing apart from each other,
rooted to their own soil, keep thinking breathlessly about their union)
Often described as a mad genius, Majumdar was born in what is now Myanmar in 1934 and grew up in Faridpur (Bangladesh) and Calcutta in a middle class family. He graduated in Mechanical Engineering from BE College, Shibpur in 1957, in first class, and his first book of poems, Nakshatrer Aloy (In the Light of the Stars), was published in 1958. He became closely associated with members of the Krittibas group of poets and writers, who were the talking point of Bengali poetry in the 1950s.
From 1958 to 1961, he worked briefly at the Indian Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, then as a development engineer at the Indian Institute of Statistics, Calcutta, and taught at the Government Engineering College, Tripura, before taking full-time employment. at the Durgapur steelworks. He even received an offer from a Berlin institute to teach mathematics, but he dropped out after his parents opposed his going abroad. He has also translated five books on science and general knowledge from Russian and a book on the theory of relativity from English.
Then, to the astonishment and dismay of his parents and brothers, he decided to quit his fourth job to devote himself full-time to poetry.
As the account appears from the accounts of Majumdar’s friends and contemporaries, including Shakti Chattopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Sandipan Chattopadhyay and Malay Roy Choudhury, among others, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, now a world-famous postcolonial theorist, was studying at the Presidential College for her bachelor’s degree. in English in 1960-61 when Majumdar saw her. She was friends with some of his friends.
Although the accounts aren’t exactly clear, they may never have exchanged words with each other. Perhaps Majumdar’s fear of rejection prevented him from engaging in conversation with her. But his correspondences with Shakti Chattopadhyay reveal that he desperately searched for Chakraborty’s mailing address and asked many of his friends for it. He even found one of his relatives and wrote to him but advised him to stay away from her.
His obsession with her resulted in his second book of poems, a slim collection of just 14 poems, titled Gayatri-ke (To Gayatri), published in March 1961. It was dedicated to “Amar Ichwari”, meaning my goddess. The following year he developed it into the book of 77 poems, Phirey Eso, Chaka.
However, it was in 1961, between the publication of Gayatri-ke and Phirey Eso, Chaka, that he had to be hospitalized for six months due to mental health issues. By then, Chakravorty had moved to the United States to continue his education.
Ishwari, nevertheless, continued to dominate his writings. He published a third version of the book in June 1964, with 79 poems, and named it Amar Ishwari-ke (To my goddess). In the introduction he added to this version, Majumdar expressed his hopes that even though the poems dealt specifically with his pangs, they had universal appeal. “From my point of view, this book of poems is all about the pain of love,” he wrote, “focusing on a friend, this collection of poems solely about the pain of love is a appropriate newspaper.”
Three months later, he published another collection of poems, titled Ishwari-r (The Goddess’), in September 1964. It included all the poems contained in Ishwari-ke, the following year he published Ishwari-r Kobitaboli (Poems of the Goddess).
Much later he wrote to Tarun Bandyopadhay, who edited Majumdar’s poetry anthology in 1993, about naming his second book as Gayatri-ke“Gayatri Chakraborty studied at the Presidential College. She passed BA first class from the University of Calcutta in 1960 or 1961. I wrote the book gayatrike, addressing her, on the understanding that only she will understand my poems.
During 1963–64 he also associated with the writers of the Hungry Generation, the second major literary movement in post-independence Bengali literature after the Krittibas movement. However, he was not an active part of either group.
Since the 1960s he has been in and out of mental hospitals countless times. Majumdar left Kolkata in 1967 and returned to live with his parents in Thakurnagar, near India’s border with Bangladesh. In his day, he even crossed the Indian border, went to Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) and, according to his interview with Jogsutra magazine in 1993, he voluntarily surrendered to the police there and begged them not to send him back to India. He was expatriated after six months in prison, after which he lived in Thakurnagar.
He has become a recluse. He never took a job. He has neither married nor engaged in a romantic relationship. He lived with his parents until their death in the 1980s and thereafter alone until his death in 2006. He often stopped writing, for months or even years. But the editors of various literary publications from different parts of Bengal continued to urge him to write. His 1974 poetry collection, Awghraner Onubhutimala (Feelings in November) became another legendary status book.
During the last 10 to 12 years of his life, the state government paid him a monthly pension and some writers and poets in Kolkata made an agreement with the people of Majumdar district to look after him. He was awarded the West Bengal government’s highest literary award, Rabindra Smriti Purashkar, and the Sahitya Akademi Award, both in 2005.
Nevertheless, it seems that Gayatri remained his eternal muse. As late as 2003, he wrote a poem, titled “Aamra Dujoney Miley Jitey Gechhi Bohudin Holo”, whom critics considered to be none other than Chakravorty. Translated into English, it reads as follows:
We two have
We two won a long time ago
Your complexion remains unchanged, but the faith has changed from Christianity to Hinduism.
You and I have grown old
I have seen in photographs published in daily newspapers that you have
cut your hair short
Like me; Did we know that we would grow old
when we were young?
I hope you have children and grandchildren now,
you have my address
And I have yours
We will not write letters to each other.
We live together in the pages of the book.