Monday, December 29, 2008

Shesher Kabita

Shesher Kabita
(The Last Poem)
A novel by Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1913 AD, Nobel Laureate of 1913)

(Forwarding note and poems in Bengali by Tagore translated by RAJAT DAS GUPTA, KOLKATA, & )

Tagore had no dearth of his critics who had to beat a retreat for the time being after the Poet had the accolade of Nobel Laureate. However, in the mid-twenties of the last century they surfaced again and some young scribes ‘revolted’ against Tagore’s hegemony in Bengali literature and tried a ‘coup’ to dislodge the Poet from his supreme position. They declared that Tagore’s time had ended and that it was their turn to hold the rein of the Bengali literature to re-vitalize it with their ‘new’ contributions. Tagore foiled their move simply with a big laughter and affection towards this young group through his brilliant novel ‘Shesher Kabita’ (=The Last Poem). I read this novel in early fifties in my college life as it became essential for a Bengali young man at that time to be ranked ‘intelligentsia’ which all of them aspired. Later I read its wonderful English translation by Krishna Kripalani captioned ‘Farewell my Friend’. I do not know if Kripalani’s book is still available in the market but, I believe, some translation of ‘Shesher Kabita’ must be available. I would suggest any Tagorephile not knowing Bengali to read translation of ‘Shesher Kabita’. Seemingly, it is a story of triangular love, the theme on which numerous novels/stories have been written all over the world in all major languages. However, I daresay, this is the only novel/story of its kind on earth which marvelously echoes the contrast between ‘Finite’ and ‘Infinite’ as conceptualized in Upanishad (nearly 4500 year old Indian scripture) The story may be outlined as – Amit Ray, an accomplished Barrister, met Labanya in Shillong (the hill station in the easternmost part of India with superb natural beauty) and amnesiac of his first love Ketaki, fell in love with Labanya. Eventually, Labanya opted out of Amit’s life and he gets married to Ketaki. Amit was an ardent ‘modernist’ and would never miss a chance to downplay Tagore in the literary gatherings. One such example, Amit trashed Tagore’s widely celebrated poem ‘Shah Jehan’ [of the book ‘Balaka’ (=Crane) written in Allahabad in 1914], where the Poet compared ‘Taj Mahal’ with a ‘Drop of tear- on the cheek of Time, bright white’- ‘as a memento for Shah Jehan’s pathos’ for his wife Mamataj. However, the long poem concludes with the perception that ‘Taj Mahal’ is only a museum piece and that the ‘traveler’ (i.e. Shah Jehan) who had conceptualized this, had transcended this mundane ‘Taj Mahal’ for his eternal journey free from any earthly bondage. Amit discards this view with his antithesis of ‘Shah Jehan’ by offering ‘Basarghar’ (=Bridal Chamber) which is eternally vibrant with the perpetual visits of the married couple, giving a truer view of life, as Amit upheld. The poem is as follows –

Poem: Basarghar (Bridal Chamber)- of Tagore’s book Mahua (name of a flower) written at Bangalore in 1928.excerpted in the novel ‘Shesher Kabita’

[Translator’s note: It is a universal ritual that the couple spend their nuptial night ceremoniously in their Bridal Chamber which is gorgeously decorated for that night. But the euphoria is momentary as soon the couple will have to vacate the Bridal Chamber for their journey on the rugged road of their life. Yet, the eternal function of Bridal Chamber remains which welcomes the new couples every day to baptize them for their life’s new journey.

Thou hast to be left behind
As the dawn’s chariot wheel will grind
The night’s slumber,
O Bridal Chamber!
There the vast external
Is a separating demon terrible!
Yet, more it’ll massacre,
The Exchange Garland (*) in pieces will tear, (*)
Thou art there without decay
Night and day;
Thy gift ever festive
Won’t mute or strip.
The couple, who said,
Have vacated Thy bed?
They haven’t, no they haven’t,
Amidst new passengers to Thee is their bent –
At Thy call,
To Thy noble gate, they return all.
O Bridal Chamber,
Love is immortal, so Thou art.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(*) In Indian marriages the couple exchange their garland.

It may be safely observed, Tagore’s rival Amit was only Tagore’s brainchild, which never achieved a separate flesh and blood entity in Bengal, nay, in the whole world ever. Several more poems transposed to the novel from the book ‘Mahua’ of the Poet to capture the passions/realizations of the concerned characters at different times are as follows.

Poem: Achena (=Unknown) of the book Mahua (name of a flower) written at Bangalore in August 1928 excerpted in the novel ‘Shahser Kabita’

O Unknown, how Thou’ll elude me
Ere I’ve known Thee?
In which blind hour
Betwixt wake and slumber
As dawned the night
Thy face I did sight;
With my eyes on Thine
Asked, “What escape Thou pine
Amidst amnesia of self,
In the inane taking Thy delve?
Acquaintance with Thee
Will not be easy;
Not in Thy ear
By soft whisper;
But conquer Thee shall I
From Thy inhibition high
With all my vigour
From Thy shame, indecision and fear;
Lift Thee up into light merciless
Thy tears Thou to bless
To wake into self-knowledge
Thus to snap Thy bondage;
Liberation of Thine
Will be mine.

O Unknown,
Days pass, time will be flown;
A great mishap
Let all bondage snap;
Let that flamboyant be
For knowledge of Thee,
There my life to surrender
With perception of Thee serene for ever.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Poem: Daymochan (Absolving from onus) of the book ‘Mahua’ written at Bangalore on 23 August 1928 excerpted in the novel ‘Shahser Kabita’

[Translator’s note: We should not scramble for whatever precious we pine for in our life as that only blights the sanctity of our claim. Our glory is more to find accomplishment in life’s rewards with which we are blest in due course rather than lament those which we miss.]
You’ll remain beggar
Of my love ‘for ever’,
If you’ll say so –
This small moment let go
As that ‘forever’,
If you forget thereafter,
I won’t remind your oath,
Entry and exit doors both
Will remain open,
So, as time will pass, go then
And if you crave, be back again,
But if you are dubious
It’s no harm enormous;
Love me if you will
If you so desire still.

Friend, I know your journey is ahead,
Behind I lag, but tears I won’t shed
Neither curse my fate
To block your way desperate.
Your life’s aim I’m not,
If so from your mind I’ll blot
Your gift will remain green
In my memoir of tears unseen.
And my gift too
In your amnesia will leave its clue.

On your way if you’ll sojourn
And your eyes backward turn,
You may find my lost vision –
My eyes, tears moisten.
If you pity
My tears will never empty.

Let remain with me
The bare truth only
Out of your gift –
But shame will leave me bereft
If you offer anything beyond –
As, if grief I’ll abscond,
Its price I’ll miss
Which might be my supreme bliss.

The feeble weakens own right
With the reception garland’s slight;
One who takes it at ease
One’s competence for it doesn’t cease;
To beg he’ll care not
His claim to blot.
I’ll not blend the counterfeit
Love’s shortfall to meet;
But my border
I’ll honour.
Whatever I got is my treasure
Without decay for ever;
To me is not great
Whatever I didn’t fate.

· * * * * * * * * * * *

Poem: Asru (Tears) of the book ‘Mahua’ (name of a flower) written at Bangalore in July, 1929.

O Beautiful,
Thou appear with eyes tearful!
Convey in Thy heart flame fierce
Mine to pierce.
So is sorrow resplendent
Life’s charming spells snap blatant;
In the breathe of that fire
Blossoms the separating lotus dire.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Poem: Antardhan (=Disappearance) of the book ‘Mahua’ written at Santiniketan in July 1928 excerpted in the novel ‘Shesher Kabita’

On the canvas of your extinction
I see your eternal configuration.
Within my heart unseen
Your ultimate visit has been –
The un-decaying touchstone
As my gain I’ve known.
Your vacuum that I sense
You yourself recompense.

As darkened the life, in my heart’s temple I had the clue
The evening lamp there was gifted by you.
In its separating flame -
Grief’s brilliance that from it came,
Love shaped up into worship
With its solemnity deep.

· * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Rather than an encounter with the enormity of Tagore, if not to excel him, Amit eventually had his accomplishment in deeper perceptions through his life’s experiences. He realized that his love both with Ketaki and Labanya were equally true. Love with Ketaki was like ‘water drawn in pitcher from the pond for daily use’ representing our mundane life. On the other hand his love with Labanya was like a vast ocean, akin to Infinity, where he will swim never to find its shore where to anchor.
So, all roads lead to Upanishad!

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