Sunday Fiestas with Contemporary Poets of Tripura

By Saibal Debbarma

February 23, 2024

Writing poetry is essentially a solitary act. Solitude is the pool of inspiration from where writers especially poets and novelists often dive in to seek pearls of inspiration. But it has its toll on an individual. The ideas and attitudes which a writer cherishes in her heart cannot be communicated to a general populace. The secret vagaries of a poet’s heart do not conform to our everyday familiarity with the world we live in. Reading becomes the only act by which a writer can commune both with the banality and magic of human experience. Yet brooding over a book in a room away from the rush of human existence is also a solitary act. Exile is thus the primary state of a poet and it often consummates in madness. And what does madness seek but the recognition of the method inherent in its superficiality.

            My adventure of finding a commune with contemporary poets (or madmen) of Tripura began during my college years. Ignited by the writings in my academia I sought out the companion of other fellow poets of my age to share my discovery of the pleasures and angst of reading poetry. I was lucky to find friends and seniors who shared the same love of poetry as me. It culminated in a poetic fervor of reading the great modernists of World Poetry namely, Rabindranath Tagore, Jibananda Das, Guiseppe Gioachino Belli, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, W.B Yeats, T.S Eliot, Pablo Neruda, and Charles Bukowski.

 I first enjoyed the pleasure of listening to poetry when my friend Addeya Nandy’s father Anirbun Nandy read out to me P.B Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ in a deep bass voice like the angry sea. My friends Sayantan Mallik and Pubag Rai Choudhury were also excellent elocutionists which in Bengali culture is famed as ‘abritti’ and is a highly sought out cultural accomplishment among the masses. They both could recite by heart almost 50 poems and snatches of prose from the canon of Bengali literature. I drank from the luxurious wines of their voices and developed my own style and poetic voice. So in my university days my poems were selected as part of the ‘Kirat : Anthology of Contemporary Poets of Tripura’ a one of its kind of anthology published by Niharika Publishers which is a collection of the young burgeoning poets of Tripura writing in English all of whom I happen to come across in my life at some point or other.

The cover of the author’s debut poetry anthology, titled “Skin of the Earth” by Akshar Publications available in the Agartala Book Fair 2024.

            In the year 2021 I had the occasion to meet Chandrakanta Murasingh , the doyen of Kokborok literature, whose writings have since then seeped into my own and influenced me with its lyrical power. I interviewed him at the precincts of the Oral Literature department of Sahitya Akademi  at Nazrul Kalakshetra. He had an astounding knowledge about the comparative similarities between Hindustani classical music and Kokborok folk songs called ‘Jadu Kolija’. I have lost the audio recording of the interview but Chandrakanta Murasingh’s lyrical fervor and rootedness in his own culture and knowledge of world literature left an indelible impression in my heart. I began to plan my new volume of poetry ‘Skin of the Earth’ which is greatly influenced by the lyrical hermeticism and political conscience of Chandrakanta Murasingh and Pablo Neruda.

In the book fair of 2022, I met with Apratim Kar, the writer of ‘Fragments of Time’ who introduced me to Subhadeep Deb, a young but already a famous name in the terrain of Bengali poets writing from Tripura. At that time, I was translating the poems of Pallab Bhattacharjee, largely his volume ‘Samanyo Tamak Pata’. Pallab Bhattacharjee’s poems had a voice that spoke from the deep of the earth. His subjects were the ephemeral objects of nature. His thought-evoking and somber voice captured my imagination and I learned the technique of giving voice to the voiceless through the act of Translating his poems. I published these translations in my blog – ‘The Pineapple Express’ and surprisingly I found a readership among the poets who seek inspiration from their own locale. Subhadeep Deb introduced me to Pallab Bhattacharjee. He was a man who had worked in the bureaucracy for the Tripura government for almost a lifetime and had retired recently. He had a vast knowledge about the lives and customs of the people of Tripura which made him a very good story teller with an excellent resource of seeing things both from the perspective of a poet and a superannuated bureaucrat. But what made him endearing was his ability to embrace propositions and ideas that were diverse and contrary to each other. He has an empathetic view of the world which could understand the root of all differences. His insisted on the virtue of toleration and respect. Although I am a young writer with eyes full of dreams, he treats me with a respect and love that always makes me eager to rise up to be deserving of it.

            Pallab Bhattacharjee introduced me to Pradip Majumder and Partha Ghosh and soon we began to meet at ‘Baithak’ a tea shop located near Colonel Chowmuhani. And we gathered opposite to the famed tea shop ‘Babuana’ where there is a Bakul tree which showers the road with its pretty blossoms in spring and Pallab kakku named the place ‘Bakultola’. Our conversations were blessed with Debraj Deb, a writer who writes poems in Bengali and reportages burning with the fire of truth in English. Our conversations riveted around the blatant to the highest aspects of literature. All of them were repositories of knowledge about the cultural and literary history of Tripura Bangladesh and the world. And we struck up a plan to gather on Saturdays and Sundays of every second and fourth week of the month to discuss the classics of World Literature. I don’t exactly remember who exactly gave the idea but everyone readily assented to the idea and we decided to meet the next Sunday at the residence of Pradip Majumder. They selected me as the first speaker and I decided to speak about Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’.

In one of the sittings of ‘Sunday Fiestas,’ where poets from different backgrounds discover inspiration, camaraderie, and purpose, debunking literature’s solitary stereotype and affirming its power to unite in shared exploration and celebration.

            Most erstwhile two-story buildings belonging to the Bengali community has a space reserved for the act of leisure and contemplation. That part of the building is called as ‘Chilekotha’. The third floor of Pradip Majumder’s was designed for the act of aesthetic contemplation. It was ornated with abstract colorful paintings done by him and his son. And the shelves were bursting with books of classical European and Bengali literature which I believe only few houses in Tripura can boast of. The oblong windows let in a fair amount of light. We assembled there on a sunday and for the first time I spoke my heart out about a book I absolutely love before a group of people who truly want to hear about the book. We named our adda as ‘Chutir Dupur’ – an afternoon of leisure filled with the bliss of conversing with friends about literature and the arts. After every such session I found myself writing with new vigor and managed to put together a bunch of poems for my volume ‘Skin of the Earth’. If I had not been a part of ‘Chutir Dupur’ I would not have been able to write with any sort of self-confidence.

            Since then, our Chutir Dupur has gathered great momentum not only fiction or poetry but contemporary books that speak about the political and social forces that shape human identity and existence became a part of our discussion. Since most of the group members were engaged in public service we met sporadically on Saturdays and Sunday and soon we began to eagerly wait for the day we will meet. Among the many intellectual superstars of Agartala – Dr. Sutapa Das, Dr. Sauvik Bagchi, Nandita Dutta, the owner of Niharika Publishers, Tirthankar Das, Ashoke Deb etc. has taken part in our adda.

On those Sunday literary fiestas filled with discussions about classics of European and Bengali literature I realized that Literature need not be a solitary act. And there can be no life in Literature if the poet detaches himself from the common touch, as Pablo Neruda says in his poem ‘Ode to the Book’ – “send books back to their shelves, / I’m going down into the streets.”

The formation of the literary group, ‘Chutir Dupur,’ a focal point for poets to gather, discuss literature, and address broader socio-political issues.

Saibal Debbarma is an author of anthology of poems, ‘Skin of the Earth’ published by Akshar Publications. When not writing poems. When not writing poems he acts as Assistant Professor, Department of English, Government Degree College, Gondatwisa (Gandacherra), Dhalai District, Tripura.

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