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  • On Sudhindranath Dutta - by Buddheva Bose [Parabaas Translation] : Sudhindranath Dutta
    translated from Bengali to English by Buddheva Bose




    On Sudhindranath Dutta
    excerpts from An Acre of Green Grass by Buddhadeva Bose






    An Acre of Green
    Grass, subtitled A Review of Modern Bengali Literature by
    Buddhadeva Bose provides an excellent review ("and not history") of the subject, as it existed when the book was first published in 1948. Even after more than fifty years, the essays, because of the brilliant analyses and the very distinct and uncompromising critical point of view of the
    author, are still indispensable for understanding Sudhindranath (and others such as Rabindranath, Nazrul, Pramatha Chaudhuri, etc.) The following excerpts are taken from the chapters
    titled
    Modern Bengali Poetry and
    Modern Bengali Prose respectively.





    From Modern Bengali Poetry:



    The majority of our modern poets have welcomed the prose poem, but two have
    stood firmly against it, both in theory and practice, Sudhindranath Dutta
    and Annadasankar Ray. It is well worth saying here that the two, in two
    different worlds, are great artificers in prose: Sudhindranath's critical
    essays are an illumination, and Annadasankar, in his fiction and
    belles-lettres, is a writer of beautiful prose. He began as ardently
    in verse as in prose, but turned more and more to the sumptuousness of the
    latter, and for some years wrote no verse, or all but none. His recent
    appearance in the sphere of limericks, clerihews and doggerels is a joyful
    event: for he is master of light verse, and light verse is not necessarily
    slight. Annadasankar has effected that marriage between poetry and wit
    which is at once so happy and rare; he has the secret of turning topical
    comments to an art, and his fun ranges from the 'People's War' to
    mosquito-bites. That rippling, dancing lightness which marks his prose
    also animates all the verse he has written, and has led him to rediscover the
    chhada, the measure of our old ballads and nursery rhymes.



    Sudhindranath Dutta is altogether different. There is nothing in him that
    is happy or light or sparkling; all is dark, darkly and bitterly
    passionate. There is a profound unity in all his poems; each is a part of
    a larger whole, and that whole larger than the sum of his poems. Poem after
    poem, he is working on a theme, expounding and elaborating it, repeating
    and correcting himself. His first mature work, Orchestra, is in some
    way an unique book in our language. It is a book of love poems, not the
    mystical love of the Vaishnavas, nor the idyllic love of Rabindranath's
    Ksanika, but a blind, violent and terrible love, born and bound in
    the body, without relief, release or hope of release. The poems have an
    unprecedented setting; for the lover is blase' and past his prime, and the
    mistress a young foreigner whose country is the place of action. The moment
    of time is when the lovers have been separated -- irrevocably; and the
    whole drama, seen and revealed through memory, is charged with an anguish
    and a fury that the poet strains every nerve to hold in leash. It is
    characteristic, and also a measure, of Sudhindranath's powers that, in
    these poems, he has combined the passionateness of youth with the
    contemplation of maturity. Separation, in Indian poetry, is traditionally
    sweet and serene, and even a channel of grace; but to this poet, separation
    is infernal and serenity death. yet this has not made of him an youthful
    idolater of the flesh; his is a mind that can see the clay in the idol,
    though not the symbol in the clay; a mind brave and self-reliant,
    desperately holding on to the ceremony of the intellect when all his world
    appears to be doomed. Orchestra is breathless with pain, the pain of
    memory which the poet can neither bear nor bear to think that time will
    deaden; it is 'heavy with the burden of Fate', for the present is dead and
    the future lightless, the only reality being the past, red with the flames
    of memory. the poems have caught the glow: they are as living as the love
    they describe.



    Sudhindranath Dutta appeared on the literary scene rather late in life. His
    equipment was enviable, his discipline exemplary. His splendid poems were
    not an immediate 'success' -- for it is not easy to fall in love with them
    at first sight -- and the recognition he deserves has not yet come to him.
    He, too, has been blamed for obscurity, and mentioned in the same breath
    with Bishnu Dey, though the two have little in common. Sudhindranath, far
    from being obscure, is a model of lucidity, in as much as he does his best
    to give his verse a prose-like regularity. He is ratiocinative, and
    delights in pursuing an argument from point to point, and from stanza to
    stanza, right to its logical conclusion. Indeed, I should rather find fault
    with him for being, on occasions, too logical, too conclusive, and making a
    poem, with an array of `although's, `therefore's and `yet's, almost like an
    Euclidean proposition. The only difficulty we are likely to encounter in
    him is a highly Sanskritic vocabulary, and here it is not the words that so
    much trouble us as their connotations, for he often uses some word in its
    original Sanskrit sense, a sense lost to Bengali, or coins new forms from
    old, well-known roots, and that for a very good reason. His aim being to
    charge words with maximum meaning and reduce their number, he is not to be
    blamed if the current Bengali vocabulary does not suffice him. On the
    contrary, he is to be praised for the directness he has brought to our
    language, for the number of vital words and compounds he has coined, for his
    having made us newly and differently aware of the riches of Sanskrit, and
    lastly, for his effective harmonization of the commonest idioms and a
    classical diction, of dramatic declamation and meandering soliloquy.



    Rabindranath once wrote of him in a letter :




    I know Sudhindra Datta's poetry from its beginning, and have grown rather
    partial to it. One reason for this is that it has taken much of its shape,
    and that quite unhesitantly, from my work. Yet its nature is entirely his
    own. His individuality, free from arrogance, has never neglected to make
    acknowledgements to the proper sources. This courage comes from power. (Translation mine.)



    The above is aptly said, for Sudhindranath gleans freely from Tagorean
    harvests, not, like Bishnu Dey, archly, self-consciously or with implied
    sarcasm, but in a straightforward manner, never trying to conceal what is
    true for him and each of his contemporaries, that Rabindranath lives in
    him. He does not have to employ any startling or oblique means to show that
    he is unlike Rabindranath; often has he allowed Tagorean utterances to be
    heard through his voice, and yet his difference is throughout irresistible;
    his individuality, uniformly and totally beyond question.







    The following extract is from the chapter titled Modern Bengali Prose:





    A singular figure in our recent speculative prose is Sudhindranath Datta,
    the poet, Svagata (the title, meaning 'Soliloquies', is at once a
    challenge and a confession), a collection of essays in literary criticism
    and his only prose book so far, gives the impression that the author, aware
    like the others of the inequality of the spirit and the medium, the
    subject-matter and the language, refused, unlike the others, to adopt any
    evasive, though practically effective strategy, but thought out each
    sentence completely in English, translating it, almost word for word, into
    a rich and fabulous Bengali. I say fabulous, for this apparently impossible
    task he could achieve only by sacrificing lucidity and all manner of
    'surface' attraction, by bewildering the reader with Sanskrit words
    unheard in Bengali, technical terms of Hindu metaphysics, old words in new
    senses and, finally, words of his own coinage. There is not the least
    deviation or compromise; the sentences, strained to the utmost for
    attaining a directness and a precision not natural to Bengali, are in
    structure as involved and elaborate a they would be in English, though
    necessarily heavier. But what matter if they grow heavier still?
    Sudhindranath is out to have all his say: he does not leave out a subject,
    or a thought, nor even a slight modification of it because it 'just won't
    go' in Bengali, a form of compromise we can discern in both Pramatha
    Chaudhuri and Annadasankar.



    This prose, produced cerebrally with almost a foreigner's fastidiousness
    might, in effect, appear to be the work of a highly gifted European who has
    taken the trouble of studying first Sanskrit and then Bengali, and the
    additional trouble of speaking out his mind on European and Bengali
    literatures in the comparatively insufficient language of the latter. But
    this is only appearance, for in reality Sudhindranath, as in his verse,
    blends a rigidly Sanskrit diction with common spoken idioms, some of which
    cannot even be suggested in English. This blending vitalizes his work but
    by no means relaxes the tension of thought. What makes his prose look
    'foreign' is that, unlike his verse, it is untraditional; neither Pramatha
    Chaudhuri whom he ardently admires, nor Rabindranath whom, this side
    idolatry, he worships, is its moulder or starting point, or if so, he has
    concealed the fact so well as to make a complete denial. He gives us a new
    prose, or a new mode of prose, sombre, ponderous, of a compactness not known
    before, an enhancer, we might say, not only of the potency of our language,
    but also our own capacity for abstract thinking. For language modifies
    thought as much as thought organizes language; the more words we have, the
    more variously we learn to use them, the better we can think. Bengali as I
    have already implied, is in its present stage practically debarred from
    certain abstract subjects; Sudhindranath, at least, has shown a way. It is
    a way he has found, but not traversed; he has worked hard to forge new
    implements but not long enough to devise new means. Here and there in his
    prose we come upon sparks to ignite our mind, exquisite, memorable,
    quotable phrases and sentences; yet on the whole he makes us wrestle too
    much, sends us too often to the voluminous dictionaries, confounds us too
    frequently with an almost mathematical compression; and although the few
    who have submitted themselves to the hardship of unravelling him have been
    amply repaid, the great majority of readers have not been disposed to
    follow suit. Some other writer or writers, it is likely, will, in the near
    future, use him as a base, modify, extend and adapt this new mode so as to
    combine its advantages with the primary quality of ease which Sudhindranath
    admires but lacks. He would have done it himself if, like Atulchandra
    Gupta, he had not practically abandoned writing.





















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