ঢাকা ১৮ই জুন ২০২৪ খ্রিস্টাব্দ, ৪ঠা আষাঢ় ১৪৩১ বঙ্গাব্দ, ১১ই জিলহজ ১৪৪৫ হিজরি

Bangla Poetry and Poet Aminul Islam: A Maverick Critical Overview

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প্রকাশিত জানুয়ারি ২৫, ২০২২, ০৮:৪৩ পূর্বাহ্ণ
Bangla Poetry and Poet Aminul Islam: A Maverick Critical Overview

 

Shujayet Ullah

Poetry is the oldest branch of literary practice, indeed, it is as old as human civilization. Oldest books, even those known to us as Revealed Books, have come down to us in poetry format. It is believed that in olden times, people spoke in the poetic language. Poetry varied in definition, style, format, dimension, subjects and purposes. Scholars are often found divided in their opinion. But there is hardly any debate with regard to the fact that only the greatest minds of mankind devoted themselves in poetry practice. No wonder that the subject matter, style and purpose of poetry would change and adapt with the change of time. Bangla poetry is no exception to this universal tradition. Early Bangla literature has poetry as its principal format. Medieval Bangla literature is dominated by poetry. In the life time of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, the great five poets of 1930s, namely, Jibonanda Das, AmiyaChakraborty, Sudhindranath Dutta, Budhadeb Basu and Bishnu De, introduced modernism in Bangla poetry. Tedium, worry, frustration, loneliness, faithlessness, restlessness associated with urban life found artistic expression in modern Bangla poetry. They brought about significant changes in poetic style also. Of them, Jibonando Das established himself as the most influential. He introduced revolutionary changes in poetic imagery, metaphor and hyperbole. Myths, historical events and human experiences found new life in his poetry. JashimUddin became famous by treatment of rural, idyllic life in his poetry. ShamsurRahman, Al Mahmood came to be known as poets perplexed by urban issues although rural life also found place in their poetry.

In post-liberation period especially during the 70s, Bangla poetry embraced patriotism, revolutionary dreams; dreams for success and poetry with sad undertone to achieve success, social unrest as predominant themes. In the 80s onwards, poetry experienced debates as to what should be subject matter of poetry, whether or not poets should have serious social commitments. Poetry for poetry’s sake seemed to be espoused by some although it did not get that much importance…Poet Aminul Islam is one of those who came out to preach the popular dictum….poetry for change. His poetry is full of everyday experiences wherein social incongruity, human sufferings, love and hate, harassment in public offices, post-colonial and imperialistic evils across the globe were prominently featured.

Poet Aminul Islam has a natural predilection to express his feelings in poetic terms. His day to day experiences often find expression in his poetry, and of course, in order to suit his purpose. Thus his poetry becomes a platform for him where he gives vent to his views on various contemporary issues and incidences which have social, economic and political ramifications and implications. As he does so, his poems at times assume the format of journalistic records of contemporary social and political upheavals, inconsistencies and wrongs perpetrated against weaker humans. He also draws upon, and often makes allusions to, incidences of human tragedies taking place here and there around the world. Look how he refers to a human tragedy that took place along the nearest border…

The bird-watching-accustomed eye closes fast
As if I am a Rohingya child
At a sudden turn of my face
Instead of birds, my eyes watch
A group of Burmese monks robed with red fire
Rajamoy(full of kings)

His poetic mind works like a crucible where events across the globe find entry and later on, getechoed in his stylistic poetical terms. Lofty issues at times are referred to while rendering down-to-earth affairs. Take, for example, the last three lines of his poem Dighi Dighi Mon NodiNodi Bhalobasha (Lake-like mind River-like love) ;

মহাকালের নক্ষত্রচোখ সাক্ষী—
শুধু আকবরীয় মনের অভাবেই
মোগলে আজমের মহা-ভারত আজ ত্রিখণ্ডিত

Witness is the Star Eye of the Time unbound
Only for not having Akbarian heart,
The Great India of Mughal-e-Azam is trisected today

Contemporary historical and social malaises across the globe frequently find mention in his poems. His poetry is full of sympathies for the oppressed people all over the world. He is aware of the plights of the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay concentration camps, who, the poet wishes, might have been listening to Pankaz Udas’ Gazhal (Chandi jaisa ranga teri sone jaise bahl) composed by sub-continental Ghazal Gurus. He is shocked at the sight of the Nazi style extermination of Rohingya people while being painfully aware that might perhaps is right in a world where it serves the political economic interests of super powers.

The Poet is not at all oblivious of what is happening in his surroundings while composing the love poem ValobasharUponibesh (ভালোবাসার উপনিবেশ) . His love poem is full of vocabulary and expressions normally found in political economy literatures. Notice how he makes use of political economy jargons in his poem ValobasharUponibesh: Cosmetic Company, Superpower of love, Wealth, Capital with interest, Capital, Labour, Owners, Colony etc. to mention a few of those economic parlance that find mention in his poetry.

No wonder that the poet Aminul Islam is to be found standing on the bank oftheNaf River where one of the most barbaric atrocities of history was/is being staged. In the poem Naf Nodir Teerey Dariye we hear the poet’s heart-rending voice against the evil and the atrocities so brutally unleashed against a people, the Arakan Rohingyas, who are lagging behind in every aspect of human development index. He recalls the rich tradition of poetry in the Royal Court of Arakan where a potential civilization was in the offing, but very likely to have got stalled owing to the onslaught of the imperialistic colonial forces in this part of the world, and now a battle ground of evil forces bent upon uprooting a people from their homeland – all under a diabolical and perverted pursuit of political economic goals. The poem contains expression of the poet’s disturbed feelings at the noxious odor of rotten human bodies spread by air, description of a terror-stricken human exodus largely consisting of women and children who left their home land as well as the slain bodies of their near and dear ones. And the helpless poet bemoans utter helplessness at the loss of a pristine nature and a human group on the verge of extermination. The poet is also critical of the absence of any serious engagement on the part of world bodies to stop such a deplorable human tragedy.

While composing a song for the overseas Bangladeshi laborers, as we see in his poem Ovibasir Gaan we visualize the poet’s concern for the plights of laborers who contribute for the progress of the economies of both the destination and home countries. As he depicts the blissful aspects of the labor migration, the poet is not at all forgetful of the seamy sides of migration and flagrant breach of the rights of laborers by employers in some cases. The poet also attacks those who are found to be against accommodating migrant sand their rights, despite themselves being beneficiaries of migrants and migration. Hence the lines:

কেন তারা অস্বীকার করতে চায়
নিজেদেরই রচা ইতিহাস ও ঐতিহ্য?
আমিতো কোনো জবরদখলকারী নই
আমার সাথে নেই কোনো
উপনিবেশবাদী জাহাজ কিংবা সাম্রাজ্যবাদী সাবমেরিন;
(অভিবাসীর গান);

Why are Men so hypocrite?
Why do they want to deny their
Self- composed history and heritage?
I am not a forceful occupier
No Colonialist Ship is with me,
Nor any imperialist submarine
(Songs of the Migrants)

And the poet painfully observes that the ILO standards intended for the welfare of laborers working abroad are often flouted when he says…

জাতিসংঘের ওয়ালে হেলান দিয়ে নীরবে কাঁদে
আইএলও কনভেনশন
বোবার মতো গোঙায় আন্তর্জাতিক মানবাধিকারের ঘোষণা।
(অভিবাসীর গান);

The ILO Convention weeps in silence
Leaning against the wall of the United Nations
The International Declaration of Human Rights
Moans like a dumb
(Songs of Migrants)

The poem OvibashirGan brings into focus some important migration issues currently discussed in various international forums. Migration is a phenomenon traceable since the beginning of human civilization. The developed world successfully reaped the benefit of their migrant population since the advent of the mercantile economy. The colonizers, who may well be termed as migrants, usually arrived in colonies with political and business motives supported by guns. But migrant laborers do not have any such ulterior motive, the poet observes, and their only motive is work which is beneficial for both the employer and the employed. But laborers working abroad are often found to be deprived of their legitimate rights and that too by those who once reaped the benefit of migration.

Aminul Islam’s language, as we see in his poetry, is that of common middle class people of Bangladesh. These people are often seen to choose words from non-vernacular sources while they speak. Words from English, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic language often find their place in speeches of Bengali middle class people. They hardly remain strictly faithful to their mother language while communicating with others. So, why should Aminul Islam? Indeed, caught in the process of globalization and technological advancement, Bengali language is also undergoing some sort of metamorphosis and generously receiving foreign words and technological jargons in its stock. And Aminul’s poetry is, so to speak, a record of this process of linguistic transformation. It is useless to quote one or two lines from his poetry as his poems are littered with foreign words and expressions commonly used by middle class Bengali people.

His poetry is completely free from what Wordsworth called ‘inane and gaudy phraseology’. This made his poetry popular and easy to understand and this is perhaps only natural for a poet who comes from a very rural background. Prior to emergence of the generations of English Romantic poets like Wordsworth and his friends, language of poetry had to be in line with the language used by upper class people, thus maintaining a clear borderline reflecting the sharp division prevailing in the society. It was a declared policy, as we find in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth would “make incidents of common life interesting by tracing in them … … … the primary laws of nature …. …. Low and rustic life was chosen because in that situation our elementary feelings exist in state of greater simplicity and consequently may be more accurately contemplated and more forcibly communicated.” (Preface to Lyrical Ballads, W. Wordsworth).

Aminul Islam’s language as we find in his poetry reflects the feelings, manners and ideas of common everyday life as he is keen to reproduce and copy life as we experience. Thus we see that his experiences in his workplaces naturally creep into his poetry naturally without much exertion.

Take for example his poem, বিজয়সেনের রাজধানী এবং ভালোবাসার রাজকন্যা, as a classic example of this tendency where he uses some terms available only in official environment.

His poetry deals with diverse issues as randomly as can be imagined. It is indeed very difficult to find internal thematic connections, if there are at all any such thematic connections, contained in his poems. It would be interesting to conduct researches and research findings may be interesting…we would like to leave it for the posterity.

Aminul Islam successfully uses dramatic technic in some of his poems. This enables him to give vent to his feelings more directly, intimately and accurately. The poem, বৃক্ষ বিষয়ক সেমিনার contains some dialogues addressed to the audience to press home some poignant points on behalf of the flora and fauna which find their habitat on earth in imminent danger and are on brink of being extinct. The poet appears very much concerned about the threat to the world of nature – a theme so poignantly felt by men of letters of twenty first century.

A skeptical Aminul Islam is to be found in some of his poems – a theme that has made its crowing appearance in the poem ভালোবাসার সুপ্রীম কোর্টে দাঁড়িয়ে. Here is a poet who is face to face with his Creator questioning the very propriety of His decisions with respect to the prime creation, i.e. human beings. Clearly frustrated by some inhuman misdeeds of some of the human beings responsible for stigmatizing civilization, the poet makes a serious pronouncement that Azazil was almost right when he refused to bow Adam. Referring to atrocities committed upon human beings by the fellow humans, the poet is of the opinion that the Creator’s pronouncement of supremacy of humans over other animals has been put to test by none other than the humans themselves. The poet bemoans that these humans could not be corrected by more than hundred thousand heavenly emissaries sent by the Creator. Here is a poet who echoes what Jonathan Swift said, through Brobdingnagian King in Gulliver’s Travels, about humans, “… the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth”.

But Aminul Islam is not a misanthrope. He claims he loves human beings and he is saddened at the plights of human beings caused by fellow humans. He yells at the perpetrators of the systematic extermination of humans across the world. Dominant presence of the world of nature in his poetry, his urge to maintain a pristine nature and championing the causes of environmentalist can only be justified by a sympathetic outlook he maintains for everything that ‘crawls upon’ this earth.
Aminul bemoans the loss of love among humans and is full of complaints at the rise of hostility across the world instead of comity of nations. His poem জলচিঠি নীলস্বপ্নের দুয়ারে among others, bears testimony to his love for mankind,

একদিন ভালোবাসা ছিল দোটানার দুনিয়া-
আর আজ পৃথিবী হয়ে উঠেছে কাঁটাতারের বেড়ায়
সদর আকাশ দখল করে নিয়েছে বারুদনখর ঈগল
ফাইটারের তাড়া খেয়ে ফিরে এসেছে
বসন্তসখা ও বসন্তদূত … … … ,
(জলচিঠি নীলস্বপ্নের দুয়ার)

Once there was love in the Earth of Dilemma
And Today the Earth has taken the fence of barbed wire
The front sky has been occupied by the eagles with gunpowder claws
That too bounced by the Fighter planes
O friendly Spring! O the forerunner Spring!

And his optimistic mind surfaces when says, in the same poem, –

এই সমবেত শুভকামনা দিয়ে শুরু হোক নববর্ষ
স্বাগতম নববর্ষ! স্বাগতম প্রীতিময় সম্ভাবনার সকাল!

Let the New Year be started with the gathered good wishes
Welcome, O New Year,
Welcome, O the morning of friendly prospects!

One of the most common striking features traceable in Aminul Islam’s poetry is repeated reference to river system of Bangladesh. No doubt, his birth and growing up in and around Padma, Mohananda rivers has had a lasting impression in his psyche. In fact, not only rivers, other objects of nature available in Bangladesh find honourable place in his creative works. This trend in poetry introduced by Wordsworth in his poems is generally termed as a revolt against the upper class literature that dominated English intelligentsia till eighteen century before the advent of romantic poetry. This revolt in literary tradition was part of a forward movement of English society from a feudal setting to an emerging middle class dominated society. In case of Aminul Islam, he cannot but believe in the dignity of commonplace objects of nature and has to embellish them aesthetically in his poetry in order to generate sublime feelings aroused by natural scenery. This he did with modicum success and thus he could draw attention of those who take interest in poetry even in this decadent age overtaken by a keen sense of material loss and/or gain.

Every poet has his own unique style of poetic language. Indeed, originality of style determines whether a poet can be called an original artist. Poets treat similar or identical issues in their poetry but difference lies in how individual poets treat them stylistically and the way they present their work before the audience. In Bangladesh, language of poetry marked changes in style and language since the beginning of the 1980s and this culminated in the 1990s in some experimental mode where subject matter was relegated to a secondary position while style and language took the upper position. But, Aminul Islam was an exception to this common path, he took the road not taken by others. This was a time when poets loathed using metaphor, simile, imagery, hyperbole in their poetry, but Aminul Islam was using these age-old poetic techniques.

Aminul Islam’s poetic style, his diction and expressions smack of archaeological overtone. History, tradition, social legacy & myth found novel meaning, new expression, in his poetry. Poets like Eliot, Jibonanda Das emphasized blending of tradition and individual talent for creative works. A poet is not a historian, but he does recreate history for the generation and while doing it his individual talent adds novelty to it. This he does by gathering experience from his day to day life, from his interactions with the society and by effective fusions with tradition and history. Thus we see how terms and terminologies used in officialdom crept into his poetry without much difficulty. Satiric tone, oblique comments and corrosive observation often find expression in sugar-coated language. And all this in no way impedes spontaneity of his poetry. And here, perhaps, lies Aminul Islam’s greatness.

It is a common knowledge that every successful poet enriches the language in which he writes poetry. Shakespeare’s and his contemporary’s contribution to the development of English language is known to the English speaking world. Aminul Islam gives new meaning or adds new dimension to the ordinary words which was hitherto unknown to the readers of Bengali language.

Shujayet Ullah
Director (Rtd)
National Archives of Bangladesh
Mobile no: 01712296396

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June 2024
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