Shambhunath Chattopadhyay – Silhouette of a Secluded Countenance
Muazzin! Do you walk up that enchanting tower, alone?
… The circuitous stairs are built of such miraculous words
….where the sky declares I’m the beginning…
Else are temporary—dawn!
(Morning Azaan in the Nakhoda Mosque)
A melancholy alienation enthralls the entire perception of these lines. The reader’s comatose unconscious is torn off and hit by the sheer agony of one’s existence. Shri Shambhunath Chattopadhyay whose background did not reflect any conventional academic history, has always been one of the most isolated poets of Bengali language. His poems however, have been widely accepted in spite of not fitting into any element of the comparatively familiar rhythmic poetry practice. He does not decorate his lines with image and allegory. Whatever he says comes straight from his mundane and somewhat distant survival.
Working as a factory-worker, train-vendor, and hawker on footpath for several years restrained his exposure towards the ease of a ‘good life’. Later, he worked as a proofreader for ten years. All these years, his poetry saw scattered appearances in literary journals and poetry periodicals:
Not diamond-ruby–emarald, I pass my days cutting grief stones…
…I hit rocks…sparking fireflies fall…
(Alone in the Stone-cutter’s Island)
In his poems, the apparent reluctance of his narration is found in abundance. The simplicity with which he discloses the coarseness of his verve, his responses to the exhaustion caused by it— stuns the reader.
Memoir plays a vital role in Shri Chattopadhyay’s approach to deal with the relentless contravention of urban countenance. He induces a very familial sensitivity in his poetry. It connects to the basis of our social constitution, which though amended much in present days, is always being searched for by the victims of a restless era. Hence, he remembers the blessings of his mother and grandmother on his birthday—which effortlessly burns for him like a lamp and reminds us about the morbid inevitability of life:
Tender heart’s warmth will pray for my long life—
I remember these fairy tales more on my birthdays now.
I travel alone in forlorn turbulent path
Still, why does the birthday appear to ask if I’m fine?
His writing approach has been identified to be similar with another legendary Bengali poet—Shri Jibanananda Das. But I feel that Shri Das’s poetry carries a strong, distinctive allegorical jargon that becomes elemental in the representation of his subtle reluctance. Shri Chattopadhyay’s poems, however, are more simplistic and interact directly with his readers—without any trace of disinclination. We start to interpret the enormity of his seclusion, and it feels justified. It feels real:
Solitude is, as if, Lord Buddha—still living in Gridhnakut mountain,
at his favorite monsoon abode. Alone.
(Palash in the Gridhnakut Mountain)
**Palash is a red flower that blooms abundantly during Spring.
Cover Photo Credit: Debarshi Sarkar