Underground Poetry From West Bengal and Bangladesh Translated by Rajat Chaudhuri

In the pages of Bengali little magazines of India and Bangladesh and the obscure recesses of an ever-vibrant literary culture, spring other voices, other words – another art of seeing. Hidden from the glare of mainstream writing and often ignored in the portals of high culture, secret wizards of verse are chiselling away at experience, conjuring up the poetry of a stricken time.

A poetry which genuflects before no one while delivering its irreverent message in whispers or cat calls. The subterranean chambers of Bengali underground poetry echo with angst and experiment, glow in the blurry heat of passion or slip into a meditative silence as it plumbs the depths of the heart.

These aren’t exactly subaltern poetry. The poets here thrive on the periphery. They prefer remaining in their psychic wilderness, content with being published in little magazines, mostly intentionally maintaining a distance from mainstream Bengali verse-writing. Perhaps the idea here is to remain receptive to alternative perspectives, to never forget the dark corners of life.

Writer/translator Rajat Chaudhuri brings together poets from both India and Bangladesh, from cities like Kolkata and Dhaka, who write in Bangla. Here the poets cover a gamut of emotions that span life and death, passion and disenchantment, philosophy and dark laughter in their work.


Selected poems from – The Great Bengali Poetry Underground (Kitaab,Singapore, 2022)
Translated from the Bengali by Rajat Chaudhuri


Mitul Dutta

Comrade, a stale smell of corpses
Rises from our rose garden

Comrade, what flowering season’s this, no flowers
Hermit, what sort of spring is it then? 

Comrade, fellow-travelers roam around, who to trust
In the horizon of hatless heads

Where to go on holiday, the sea or jungle, or else
Return to the room that suffocates?

If counting lizards on the wall, starving cockroaches, in lakhs 
Come crawling down the drapery

As if they’re hunger-stricken, Comrade, give me cadres
Give me a betting hand, without dilly-dally

Comrade, our spades were real great, and the bibi
Was the ravishing Sultana

And in that tale of the saheb, were sitting rooms proper, and we had
The six and nine annas

Sans logic and fireflies, what’s this healthy times
Comrade, appearing over the horizon?

Touching the harvest fest perfunctorily, a jaundice coloured cloud lightly
Flies away to the parched heavens.



Tanmoy Mridha

So much have I spent buying books
And all this while buying books didn’t feel that bad
Really liked Gorky’s words, even in translation
Had deeply perceived Rilke’s Duino Elegies’ lines,
That I had wanted to leave out the last few pages of Resurrection
Was only because I liked to read books.
From time to time I would read Rupashi Bangla to ensure
My eyes are working right. Now me and all my books
Sit and stare, open-mouthed at each other.
Rows upon rows, well settled on my shelf,
They try to enhance my respectability.  But sadly my respectability
Doesn’t seem to get enhanced. From reading books, one day I had discovered—
Van Gogh, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Gauguin these superheroes
The stories of their glorious deaths. The glory of their deaths
Like luckless mosquitoes, dead and crushed on the pages of books,
Now dry as bones. Brush and they fall, shake and they
Splinter into impossibly fragile bits and pieces.
Once I make some money I will do away with the bookshelf and put
A long tub there, and you rightly guessed,
Plant red and white water lilies with care —
Small room — blooming in the cool breeze, a weightless wisdom
Sans commentaries and explanations, the love of aquatic flowers.


The Hooker
Agni Roy

Awake in this chilling winter, like an owl
Who are you prepaid disenchantment?
Swaying like a drunken bear
Behind you the urban symphony’s dhin-tinak-dhin!
Who are you that crawls out of a broken home
Each night, from under the rail bridge
Holding hands with the glowing drunk
Into communal new-moon nights



Gouranga Mondal

From the planting of a kiss to the cleaving line
I travel alone, the flesh encircled isle

Fire comes close. Half-burnt hand of God
Blocking my way, in the fog —
                                                                        Wild tuskers

Refusing to quit, like poison ants,
              I romp senselessly around
  On my feet                            Adding distance to separation

To overcome you, dammit, my manhood to cinders burn



Shapla Shawparjita

There’s no coffee here.
Besides I don’t like coffee
At most an espresso out of the blue
Very bitter. One gulp.
And it’s over. Done —

This night so still.

I’m free — an open verandah
With a life exchanged
It’s very breezy here
Many birds arrive, just as they do in the morning
Flitting and darting about, pecking
Away at the midday sun, ushering in the evening.
Ah! Now a heavy rain inside my room
As if the rains of Lalmai are still falling relentlessly here.
Here, that spring sky, turned into a miniature.
Where had these been! All along!

Inside and outside meld indistinguishably …
Disintegrate by themselves.
The glass walls’ very cold here
Still I cannot concentrate on coffee
I don’t light matchsticks
Finishing the espresso in one gulp
Then … Look at our photograph.
The night — deep. The cold — of many winters.
The distance — much too vast …

Image by Wim Kantona from Pixabay

Rajat Chaudhuri

Rajat Chaudhuri's work includes climate novels, edited anthologies, translations and a cli-fi video game. He writes in English and Bengali. He can be found at https://www.rajatchaudhuri.net/