Eternal Mulberry: Manindra Gupta

sl_mg-still-7Translator’s Note: Akkhay Mulberry Vol.1 [Trans. Eternal Mulberry] is an auto-biographical sketch of Manindra Gupta – an eminent writer of Bengal who has been penning poems, short stories, and novel for a long time.

Born in Barishal, Bangladesh [Erstwhile East Bengal], Akkhay Mulberry gives a fleeting account of the rural life of East Bengal. His in-depth analysis of rural living and the vivid account of his childhood memoirs has given a lyrical manifestation to the novel. Reading the novel one can get easily transposed into the rural world that the author has tried to depict.

Joint family has always been the standard family structure, especially among the Indian. However, with the growth of so-called Western Modernism joint family lost its essence as people are now succumbed to a nuclear family system. Akkhay Mulberry takes the reader to that phase where a house was always filled with different members of the family, all interacting with each other, living together sharing happiness and sorrow, along with the neighbors who were once considered a part of an extended family.

Translating Akkhay Mulberry is a daunting task since there are many colloquialities used by the author to maintain the original rhythm. However, keeping in mind to maintain the balance this work cited many references, keeping the original word as and where needed to keep the flow.

It is my sheer audacity that I took this challenge to translate Akkhay Mulberry with my limited source of knowledge. The translation would not have been possible without the genuine co-operation of the author himself, Bikash Gon Chowdhury and Atanu Guha. Their constant support is helping me all through to translate this un-translatable book for the English reader.

Here we go round the mulberry bush
The mulberry bush     the mulberry bush
Here we go round the mulberry bush
On a cold and frost morning.

This is the way we wash our hands
wash our hands
This is the way we wash our hands
On a cold and frosty morning.

This is the way we wash our clothes
wash our clothes
This is the way we wash our clothes
On a cold and frosty morning.

This is the way we go to school
go to school
This is the way we go to school
On a cold and frosty morning

This is the way we come out of school
come out of school
This is the way we come out of school
On a cold and frosty morning.

Merry go round the mulberry bush
The mulberry bush   the mulberry bush
Here we go round the mulberry bush
On a cold and frosty morning.

OVERTURE

Hundred autumns is human’s lifespan. But the happy, sad and sinful being do not live so far. A dying man looks around with stupid eyes and see: all is incomplete. He sees the light[1] of his life like grain of sand, inconsistently rising upwards. Yet, there were so many events faced in this short life- so many fascinating moments, affliction, delight and dissolution! Simply unforgettable! Still, there comes peace on top of it – temporal peace, eroding peace.

Circling fast around the imperishable mulberry tree, I suddenly come to realize that I have got estranged from my mates. Shadow hovers over the elderly face. I cannot fathom myself more to feel like a human. I feel like an animal. I breathe, therefore, I exist. Inside I am alone, not content, yet again, not sad. What prevails all around me is infinite void and everlasting mystery.

 

BIRTH

At the end of autumn and in the beginning of the month of Kartika[2], in our land of granaries, when the semi-ripe paddies in the field gets its due layer of frost in the early morning, when the water in the pool looks like a mirror, when the floras are deep green and a lazy sense of sadness slowly prevail in the atmosphere, it was then my grandfather, happily constructed a makeshift labor room by the side of his favorite pomegranate tree, all on his own. This new room was built out of cattails leaf[3], green bamboo and almond-colored cane.

There I was born in the middle of puranic[4] love. No doctor, no wet-nurse, no dissecting instruments – there were only those experienced elderly women of the village, in all excitement and joint co-operation brought me from in utero into this earth. Instead of scalpel they gathered green bamboo splinter from the bamboo grove situated on the west of the pool to cut the umbilical cord. This incident when I heard later always makes myself feel somewhat different. Green bamboo splinter is sharp compared to a blade. The bamboo splinter may not carry tetanus virus, but it surely does carry the essence of greenness.

MOTHER

My mother left me when she was nineteen. I was then ten months old. She left me in this world without much notice and the motherly-love and affection, which I failed to acquire   has always remained due. The incomplete life of my mother passing at a very young age or her permanent absence from my life is simply a result of natural phenomenon. But as the women in particular share strong bond on the matter of life and death, I was often scorned by those women from the neighborhood for the loss of my mother. They used to say, “What poor fate! So you took your mother away!’ On the other hand those comparatively young girls of the neighborhood used to say in remorse, ‘Oh! His mother is no more!’

Whom I have taken away? Who does not exist? All these comments led to development of a naïve discomfiture on me, further leading to guilt complex, hovered over me like a shadow. It is like for some incomprehensible reason in the family that I felt strange and alone.

This artificial sadness seems to be self-pity. In my childhood, when I got admonished for a mischief I used to search for that ‘sadness’. With a somber face I used to wander alone, sometime by the side of the pool or at times sitting on the top of a mound under the Lebbek tree (Bimbima, 2013) where no one usually came around. From there I would see, something dark forming over the cloud at the distant horizon. I looked down and searched for the ‘sadness’, which was stuck somewhere firmly into the earth as a fragmented portion of a green bottle.

At last my innate male-instinct uttered -this moisture laden wind is not at all good. And from that point when confronted with those unjustified evaporating comments made by the female members, the sinew of my young body slowly would start rising straight towards the blue. It is as if the way when a potter put a mound of earth into the potter wheel and upon pressing fingers tightly the conical shape would stagger, rising high and getting thinner.

After so many years, I realized there is no happiness, neither sorrow. It is rather the social institutions that raises concern on happiness and sadness – what pain shall we not bear, we bear. Later with the age of maturity, when I scrutinized my mother’s picture, I immediately rejected her. Standing erect, a slender woman wearing a stone-curved nose ring. Mother archetype is a distant aspect! Her eyes, lips and chin still misses the feminine spirit. This is my mother! Still I probably needed her at one time. But now, on my 55 years of age, if she comes and stand by my table, I will say – Take a sit! Have something to eat! – Cookie or Sweet? If you can arrange my grey-black hair, it would be nice. And when you leave keep the door ajar. You were my mother in the previous birth.

FIRST MEMORY

Man lives on humane memory. Memory is itself complex. Human after death as they are unable to attain Nirvana, is simply because of the persistence of memory. Past-life regression is the biggest magic – it cleanses everything. Would have been such I had to bear the weight of pain and cognition.  As I live on less, therefore I survive. But being alive for long a sense of regression occur within me. It is as if the light of the old theater is lit and its color is getting deeper.

This is what I recall as a first memory after my birth: daytime, afternoon rolled by, evening has not yet landed. It was raining outside or maybe just ceased to rain. Next room to the kitchen, I am lying on a makeshift bed, made by placing a mound of cloth & pillow over a low-lying big stool. Inside the room dark shadow prevail, smell of damp cloth & pillow, wet smell from the pouring rain. Some women wearing sari are moving around my resting zone, showing no inclination to stop at any point of time. One of them wears a blue bordered white sari. All I could see of these women was till the ankle, while the upper part of their body was beyond my vision. Unable to get up, unable to walk, unable to crawl, unable to talk. Every time I think someone will pause for once in front of me, pick me up on the lap and not leave me unattended, but each time my hope got crushed. For long I was able to hear their conversation, when suddenly I realized that I am getting livid –a shrill, like a hawk came out from inside of this small sack of flesh and blood. The anger has spread all over my body. But how could I vent my anger? And here, my memory of being livid got ripped apart. Later I can’t recall if I have cried while trying to roar or someone finally showed mercy to pick me up on the lap. The incident was trivial, but indicative. The pain of being unwanted and hopeless anger –this dual feeling is probably the summary of my life.

 

GRANDMOTHER AND HER FRIENDS

In this sea of earthly possession, as a parasitic child, like an anemone, I first took shelter under my paternal grandmother. Dark-skinned, uncouth, yet a character of dynamic personality. Her figure exemplifies an uncared simple body. Her wide black forehead was adorned with a big vermillion bindi, her long hair flew at the back, white conch-shell bangle and red-coral bangle worn on both hand[5].There was nowhere a trace of gold in her touchstone like body. Save her only interest was to enjoy paan[6] with grounded raw tobacco leaf roasted on fire of husk. This practice was often joined by her friends turning into a lively meet-up.

My grandmother’s friend used to turn up by late noon. They sat inside this shadowed room, over the spreading mat and stool. In the middle they used to place the betel leaf bowl stacked with betel leaf along with slacked lime, betel nut, betel cutter and catechu. At one end of the room lay one earthen malsha[7] where the raw tobacco got roasted on briquettes, emanating a pungent odor. She used to sit on the floor keeping her legs straight. I was glued to her legs, sleeping, sitting, and occasionally tormenting her with unusual childish caprice. Her breast in this age has gone barren. But I still used to suck the nipple for milk, but nothing came out of it. My granny used to tell to her friends, “Enemy! Enemy! Can’t even to go toilet; always following me”.

My grandmother never bore the idea of class consciousness. Most of her friends are the elderly members from the neighborhood of Kamarbari[8] and Goalbari[9]. From late afternoon to dusk they used to make discourse sharing good-bad news among them. As a child I used to scrutinize each of them in rapt attention. A sort of coldness at this old age could be felt. Slack breast, deep patch of stains on their teeth from the long use of betel leaf and tobacco; still there was such a variety among them. Undi’s young mother, wife of Radhu Ghosh[10], sister of Sashi Kormokar[11], mother of Surya Kormokar and Manikya granny –the continuous misery which was a part of their life shape different definition on each of their face. Saggy eyelid formed a shadow on the lap of the eye, lock of grey-black unkempt hair made an earthly hazy look on their face – as I fit looked like a dilapidated temple where the long old hanging roots of the tree had covered the structure. Inside the premise -a broken door, darkness unbound. Some faces covered with numerous crisscrossed lines, as if it looked like the mark of bird’s feet seen on the river bank at the end of the day. One of them, her front teeth got eroded and bent so badly that it left literally nothing but two long teeth at both end firmly locked on her lip. This curious shape of her teeth looked like the fang of a ferocious and gigantic prehistoric tiger, now disturbed and slow. And Manikya granny – she among the group was the most ancient one in the matriarchal community. Her thick white crew-cut hair neatly trimmed, tough straight nose, tough-creased chin and strong body -she, at any point of time could raise sword in her hand to join a battlefield, though she would earn by rearing goats and by usury. Unlike others in the group she only indulged on tobacco leaf, not on betel leaf.

Our female relative, though their visit to our home was rare, used to come neat and clean. Their physique and personality always reflected a sense of unknown mystery to me. Also, watching them one more thing also became palpable: they hail from so-called decent class of the society.

My grandmother had one more friend – mother of Amir Ali & Babur Ali Sheikh. During the time of Durga Puja festival, Kali Puja and Ratanti Puja they used to take the role of drummer playing the traditional Dhak[12] instrument. During winter they used to carry cotton-cleaning bow[13] quilts and mattresses for the villagers. Since Babur Ali’s mother was a Muslim she was forbidden to step inside the house of a Hindu. Her place was at the eve of the house on a stool, just below the terrace and my grandmother used to sit there on the terrace to interact. I had a clear vision at that age. If there would have been no concept of untouchability, my grandmother would have embraced her dearly.

One day, sitting on the shoulder of Babur Ali I visited their home, accompanied by my grandmother. As the surrounding trees have created a dusky shadow circling the hut, which was built of woody stock of jute plant, Babur Ali’s mother was seated there right at the front of her hut. She was a widow. Because of her white attire she resembled to that of Four O’clock flower[14] bush. As a child, I wandered aimlessly trying to gauge the surrounding. The thick bushes all around was slowly invading the hut simply because of neglect. Inside, it was dark. An earthen pitcher, its handle broken was placed at one end of the room. Besides the usual bird in the trees there were no other traces of animal, like goats or chicken. They probably did not have beef in their lifetime. Where would they get it from?

Later, I have crossed many times the wooden bridge all by myself or sometime with my grandmother, visited Kamarbari and Goalbari. They are aged, but lively. Compared to the goldsmiths the blacksmiths are more powerful and lively. Their nuptials used to get accomplished at a very tender age. With the coming of a wedding ceremony the women used to sing the traditional rural song of marriage in a monotonous fashion. When a women used to reach their period after marriage, the other women of the village used to celebrate the event in a typical girlish way. They used to say, they saw that fruit, and further passed the news murmuring into other’s ear, spreading the news all around. I always failed to understand what actually is meant by this ‘fruit’? Our women never saw that ‘fruit’. Yet this secular word seem so insinuating!

Every evening these young girls and women used to make flat but big coiffure sticking decorative pins with pendants into it. They wore Pachapere[15] sari, adorned heavy anklet and used to frequent from one room to another. Sometimes, gently swaggering they used to visit to the poolside and called their domestic duck– quack, quack, quack, quack!

The daughters of the dairy farmers were tender than that of the blacksmith’s kin. The women of the blacksmith community bore traces of sharp metal and rust whereas the women of dairy farmers exudes sweet milk-like elegance. The daughters of dairy farmers used to experience ‘fruits’.

 

References

Upanishad. (n.d.). Kaushitaki Brahmana Upanishad. In Second Chapter (p. 156). Asiatic Society of Bengal.

[1]  First lunar day of the month. Symbols: Lamp, Light. [http://www.moondayinfo.com/moon_day_1.htm]          

[2]  In the lunar Hindu calendar, Kartika begins with the new moon in November and is the eighth month of the year except in Gujarat, where it marks the New Year that falls on Diwali.

[3]  Floriculture in India, Gurcharan Singh Randhawa & Amitabha  Mukhopadhyay: Page 37; It is found growing in dense stands in areas with shallow water or seasonal flooding, or as a narrow band along the margins of deeper water. It is a widespread plant, found throughout most of North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. [http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/plants/native/cattail.html]

[4] Purana in Sanskrit means old or ancient. Here in this context ancient is more applicable.

[5]   Hindu Bengalee Women: The Symbols of Marriage; Bhattacharyya.A;

[6]  Betel Leaves.  The word Paan is now added in the Oxford Dictionary

[7]   “http://nittygrits.org/malsha [Earthenware pot in which rice, dhal or vegetables are cooked for ritual purposes]”

[8]  “Blacksmith’s community”

[9]    “”Dairy farmer’s community”

[10]   “Ghosh – They are cattle farmers or milkmen. There are 4 kinds of Goyala or milkmen caste, as Ghosh, Gop, Sadgop and Yadav. There may be several castes in the same occupation. Example is Tili and Teli. They are different caste but in same occupation. [http://bangladeshibengali.blogspot.in/2013/02/bengali-surnames-titles-and-origins.html]”

[11]   “Karmakar is a Bengali Hindu caste spread throughout West Bengal and Bangladesh. The Karmakars are traditionally blacksmiths or goldsmiths by trade. They are recognized as Other Backward Class by the Government of India and Government of West Bengal. [http://www.anagrasarkalyan.gov.in/htm/obc_list.html / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karmakar]”

[12]   “Dhak is an old and very big percussion instrument of Assam and one the most popular instruments of Bengal. It is used to in religious festivals especially of Saiva and Sakta faith. [The music and musical instruments of North Eastern India, Dilip Ranjan Barthakur]”

[13]  “A dictionary of the Bengaliee Language in which the words are traced to their origin Vol.2 – William Carey (Pg:697) – A Type of San”

[14]  “Sandhyamani, সন্ধ্যামণি – 4 O’Clock (Mirabilis jalapa) [https://www.flickr.com/groups/46891044@N00/discuss/72157604057839571/]”

[15]   A type of sari.

dhruba
Translator’s bio: Dhrubajyoti Biswas was born in 1977. Though his birthplace is Kolkata he spent first 18 years at Bhadreswar in Hoogly Dist., later relocated to Kolkata. He was graduated from Vidyasagar College [Arts], and a IT marketeer by profession. Beside his job, Dhrubajyoti enjoys exploring arts, music and books, and often indulge in writing.

 

**Photographs used with this translation is taken by poet Shri Shankar Lahiri. He has so far published four books of sl_selfie-oct-2016-tntpoems and one book of prose. Apart from these, ‘Samudraprishthagulo’ (OceanPages) is a book of collected poems and ‘Coral Alor Silhouette’ is a selection of his prose writings, -all published by Kaurab. Shankar loves photography & visual art and is a maker of documentary films of a new genre, involving poets & poetry. He has conceptualised, written, narrated and directed two such films in the recent years. In one of them, ‘UTTARMALA, BERIYE ESO PLEASE’ 2016, nine poets of modern & postmodern Bengali literature (three of them are Sahitya Akademi award winners) including Shri Manindra Gupta have taken part (132-mts). It highlights the unending search for answers to the maze of contemporary and complex issues that the human life & civilisation is faced with today. This film too is a ‘tantrachitra’ -a new genre of documentary film -created by its writer-director Shankar lahiri, and is named after a book of poems authored by him.

About author

Manindra Gupta
Manindra Gupta 1 posts

Born in 1926, Manindra Gupta has been a prolific poet. His creation has made his place permanently among the luminaries of Bengali literature. An octogenarian, Manindra Gupta still actively contribute to the literary world with equal fervor like his early days. His birthplace was Barishal in Bangladesh, erstwhile East Bengal. Having graduated from the University of Kolkata, the author served as an engineer in the Indian Army for a brief span of time. Afterwards, settling in Kolkata he worked with many organization, and his writing went side-by-side his job, producing some classic works in Bengali literature. He was the recipient of Sahitya Akademi in 2010. Manindra Gupta now lives in Garia, Kolkata with his wife, poet Debarati Mitra. Some of his major works include: Lal Schoolbari [Red School Building], Chander O’Pith [The other side of moon] and his famous biopic Akkhay Mulberry [Eternal Mulberry]. One of his seminal work is the Anthology of Bengali Poetry, published in 3 volumes, that covers the poem written during Chorjapod till the modern times.

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