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Issue 41/42 : July - December, 2008 : Volume 11 No 1/2
Sometimes I write, but not poetry. Writing poetry is a difficult task and I do not have the talent and patience for that. Unlike many of the Shabdaguchha readers, my knowledge of poetry is quite limited. I have a few poet friends though, and that helps me sometimes. When people see me roaming around with poets, they think I understand poetry. Sometimes it feels good.
As a close friend, poet Hassanal knows about this weakness of mine. Yet, for reasons not quite clear to me, he has given me a daunting task: to write about a book of poetry. I was reluctant and hesitant. Hassanal gave me a copy of Carolyne Wright's book. It looked attractive: small paperback, beautiful design and I noticed that it had a luring title for a 35 years old Bengali bachelor: Majestic Nights: Love Poems of Bengali Women. So I decided to give it a try.
Therefore, my experience of reading this book is that of a reader, not of a poet.
As some might know, Carolyne Wright is already an established poet in America. She has published eight books of poetry. As a poet, she has received many awards at national level. She has held research and teaching fellowships at many prominent institutes, such as Harvard University and Emory University, in the USA and abroad.
What, however, I found quite amusing is her keen interest in Bengali poetry. As a Fulbright Senior Research Fellow, she had spent four years in Kolkata and Dhaka. Because of her enthusiasm and love for Bengali poetry, she had even mastered Bengali language. She studied and read Bengali poetry and poets in their originals before translating them into English. She's worked with many eminent poets of West Bengal and Bangladesh and published their works in English. Her works, therefore, stand out and a reader anyone can't help noticing the touch of passion and devotion in them.
Majestic Nights, as I have already mentioned, is a compilation of love poems of a diverse range of Bengali women poets. You see the presence of Bengali women poets, as old as Radharani Devi (b 1904), Begum Sufia Kamal (b 1911) and as recent as our time such as Taslima Nasrin(b 1962), Mallika Sengupta (b 1962), Anuradha Mahaptra (b 1957) and many of those in between, such as Dilara Hashem (b 1936), Kabita Sinha (b 1931),Vijaya Mukhapadhay (b 1937), Nabaneeta Dev Sen (b 1938), Khaleda Edib Chowdhury (b 1939).
Although it's titled as "Love Poems", the poems in this anthology goes beyond how we view love in a conventional sense. As we see in Vijaya Mukhopadhay's poem the "Companion,"
“The one with whom we always live
is not called love, but worry.
Love like a visitor
Drops in sometimes, with a little smile,”
We know love is manifested in various ways. One could express it through affection and tenderness as much as it could also be shown through anger, passion and protest. Yet I'm not yet convinced that love changes with time. Love, as we see in Nabaneeta Dev Sen, is "the most ancient virtue within the first sin."
Love does not and need not always include a gender. Sufia kamal felt it when she said,
“Even now the night's intoxication has not passed,
eyes filled with passion;
the string of suli-flowers in the parting of my hair
has wilted, the world is overwhelmed with scent.”
Taslima Nasrin could not help noticing it either. She says,
“If the sweet scent of love is found in my blood and flesh,
it's Nature only which plays me,
I am the sitar of its whims.”
The group of translators who have assisted Carolyne Wrights are also well-trained in their subjects and have done a remarkable job. Carolyne's first hand knowledge of Bengali poetry and those Bengali translators' expertise of English language have made this book more than just a translation.
I am not sure if such a well-compiled book of love poetry of Bengali women exists even in original Bengali. Carolyne Wright's service and literary contribution to the enrichment and growth of Bengali literature would remain unforgetful for years to come.
I would request the readers to collect and read this book, and to give it a gift to your children and friends who may not have learned Bengali language but can read it in English.
Majestic Nights: Love Poems of Bengali Women (White Pine Press, 2008).