Pune: Aju Mukhopadhyay

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Haiku like creations of
Rabindralnath Tagore and Nishakanta

By Aju Mukhopadhyay

Short poems occupy a conspicuous place in the history of literature. In Vedas, Upanishads, Bible, Koran and in other scriptures we find couplets, tercets or quatrains.

Persian Sufi and other poets, Japanese Haiku and other short verses have still been encouraging and influencing the poets of the modem age. Brevity, witticism, sarcasm, devotion, mysticism and imagery are the intrinsic part of short verses. Among the short verses, those up to 4, 5 lines, dazzle like stars in the sky. Such poems are very popular throughout the ages.

Poet Rabindranath Tagore was a real creator who touched almost all genres of literature. Though he is known mainly as the creator of lyrics to which he gave tunes and sung, he wrote almost all other types of poems except epic. Not only in literature, in other spheres of life; religion, art and culture, thoughts and ideas, he was one of the tallest men in the world stage of his time. His English prose is considered as a testament of modem India responding to all other changes of the century and in this he represented India. 'He was India's internationalist par excellence,' Nehru thought (Discovery of India).

In introducing the Gitanjali by Tagore, W. B. HYeats wrote, ‘(in him) We have met our own image, as though we had walked in Rossetti’s Willow Wood, or heard, perhaps for the first time in literature, our voice as in a dream . . . . ..‘Charles Whibley of Macmilan considered him as a student of Bible and that Songs of Solomon influenced his creation.

Five books of Rabindranath Tagore containing short verses in original Bangla and English and those translated from one language to the other exist, though it is not known which language was the medium of creation of the original. Of them Kanika in Bangla, meaning fragments, was published first in 1899. In his introduction to The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Vol-1, published by Sahitya Academy (1994), the editor wrote that the source in respect of many such poems was epigrammatic and didactic tradition of Sanskrit and the Persian poems in Bengal during the period.
An example is,

We shut the door, lest error enter in
But truth asks, 'How shall I admission win?'

In 1916 Tagore visited Japan and was reverentially welcomed. Afterwards he wrote a travelogue with details of life and culture there as he perceived. He profusely praised Japan and Japanese people. Tagore was attracted by their traditions of haiku and mentioned Basho’s ‘A mud puddle/ A frog jumps in / splash.’ This haiku took a different form in Bangla as I have translated as Tagore presented by way of example in his travelogue.

Though he did not imitate haiku or introduced it in India, his admiration for this poetic art form is worthy of mentioning. This tendency to economise one's expression may be found in their poems also. No where else in the world is found this three line verse. Three lines are enough for their poet and reader. And for this I have not found here anyone singing on the road.
Their hearts do not make a sound like waterfall but are silent like water in a tank. However much of their poems I have seen so far, all are picturesque, not lyrics. Emotional burning of the heart tends to vital lavishness. They do not so spend. Their expression is limited to the feeling of beauty. This feeling is selfless. We do not cry for flower, bird or moon.

The only relation we have with them is the relishing of beauty. They do not beat us, rob us or deprive us of anything. For this only three lines satisfy them and it does not break the peace of their imagination.

Two classic examples of their poems will clear my point.

Old pond,
Frog's leap,
Sound of wa'ter.

Enough. Nothing is required. Enough for the mind's eye of the Japanese reader. ..

Another poem:

rotten branch,
a crow,

‘….. Autumn carries the impression of death. A crow sitting on a rotten branch evokes the idea of decaying poverty of autumn……… the power of imaging of the Japanese is very strong.

Let me give you the example of another poem which is greater than the simple ocular capacity to visualize:

The heaven and earth are flowers
The Gods and Buddha are flowers-
Human heart is core of the flower.

I think here we find some similarity between Japan and India. Japan sees the heaven and earth as blossoming flowers, India has to say that this heaven and earth, two flowers in one stem, like God and Buddha, would be outward things if man had no heart- the beauty of this beauty is hidden in the heart of man.'

When the poet was taken to a grassy meadow and was told a tale of olden times; of two chieftains of rival clans who fought from morning till sunset until both lay dead smeared with blood. The poet was asked to write a short poem on it. C.F. Andrews, who accompanied the poet, wrote (quoted from Krishna Kripalani's Rabindranath Tagore: A biography. P.256)-
'I could see, at that moment, tile strained anguish of the Poet's face as he quickly grasped the incident just as it had occurred and shrank back from it in his own mind in horror. In a moment of quick gesture he wrote these words: "They hated and fought and killed each other! And God in shame covered their blood with His own grass."

One more example from the book, Stray Bird, published in the same year of his visit to Japan-

Some unseen fingers, like idle breeze, are playing
Upon my heart the music of the ripples.

Lekhan was first published in the poets own handwriting in 1926 from Hungary. The editor of his English Writings has noted that the book contains 420 short verses of which 72 are in English and 413 are in Bangla whereas 150 poems are in both the languages. A considerable portion of the English part of the book was reproduced in another book, Fireflies, published in 1928 containing 256 verses. In his introduction to Lekahan the poet wrote, 'The lines in the following pages had their origin in China and Japan where the author was asked for his writings on fans or pieces of silk.' He visited Japan in 1916 and China in 1924. Three beautiful examples are given which appeared in Fire Flies also.

Feathers lying in the dust
have forgotten their sky.

In the swelling pride of itself
The bubble doubts the truth of the sea
And laughs and bursts into emptiness.

The lonely light of the sky comes through the window
And borrows the music of joy and sadness from my life

Sphulinga (spark) in Bangla was published in 1946,after the poets demise. The title of this book was drawn from the first poems in both Lekhan and Fireflies:

My fancies are fireflies
specks of living light
twinkling in the dark.

The editor of his English Writings has informed us that many more epigrammatic writings of Tagore have been collected in Rabindra Biksha, titled Tukro Lekha and short autobiographical poems.

Born in 1909, Nishakanta Roy Chowdhury lost his mother at a very early age and then lost his father after a few years. He was brought IUP at Poet Rabindranath's abode and institution at Shantiniketan or abode of peace in Bolepur District of West Bengal. Nishakanta means moon and he was fond of writing poems, so Tagore affectionately called him Chandkabi or moon-poet. Full of conceits, Nishakanta often maneuvered to outwit his elders in many ways to drop out from school or to find time and place for writing poems.

He was full of humour but innocent with a philosophical bent of mind. He was famous for his greed. He immensely loved delicious foods and relished them. The great Tagore was before his eyes to influence him as a poet. Tagore took much interest in him and often asked for his small exercise book where he experimented with rhymes and rhythms, we are told by his biographer, Dalia Sarkar (Kabi Nishakanta. Kolkata; Ananda Publishers. 1996).

Nishakanta once decided to write short verses recording the common affairs, talks among men and women and about the nature and surroundings. He named such group of poems as Tukri or wicker basket as he would fill it up with such verses. Introducing the subject he wrote,

Markets are full of uproar
for the whole day.
I move about to collect talks
to load my wicker basket.

At that time girl students often escaped from his sight lest they might be caught in his poem. Tagore changed, amended many such verses and arranged for their publication in Bichitra, a renowned Bangla magazine, in 1931-32. Afterwards Tagore regretted for having changed and altered so much of the originals. But many of the originals remained.
Stories, incidents, scenes as they happen, occur or are seen around us were loaded in his basket. Some such poems in their originals, of near haiku length, are given below-

Ashar moves in dark sky
with basket of clouds
to give rains to various localities
with bag on his shoulder ringing the bell
runs through the lonely path
Parankesta the runner.

It is as if two haiku are joined together. Ashar is the first month of the rainy season.

Tricoloured picture

As far as I can see
the field is lush green;
In it moves the bulky idle cow,
a rook sits on its back,
jet black.

The touch of colour

The Sun sets under the breast of the dark pond
That sunk colour blooms as lotus.

Lotus Hand

Your fingers are like grapes full of juice!
will you place your hands on mine
to read your palm-line?

On the 70th birthday of Gurudev Rabindranath Nishakanta sent him a poem from Pondicherry

You have dyed golden with golden light
white hairs of your head;
Covered by violet robe
with rolling red

Sixty-nine years you have remained on earth
fixing your gaze to the top of the hill for the Sun to rise,
You stroll on the roof; poet Rabindranath.

Tagore's short verses were published from 1899 onward, as we have seen. He wrote series of stories in poems, both long and short, at different times. He had affectionate relationship with Nishakanta, who later in his life moved to Pondicherry, living with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Nishakanta became their disciple and was guided by them on the path of yoga and poetry. Sri Aurobindo commended some of his poems and translated a few. Rabindranath also commended many of his poems. Poets are influenced by poets. Even Rabindranath might have been influenced by a few ideas and words of Nishakanta and the later was a follower of Tagore and he developed further after he settled in Pondicherry. Tagore experimented in all genres of poems, introducing prose.poems in Bangla. Nishakanta began writing short poems and others much later.

Nishakanta was a student of Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose in Shantiniketan. With poetry he practiced painting. He became an accomplished poet and painter. His poems in later years, lyrical and devotional, have been highly esteemed by many. Though he was not a singer his lyrics were tuned to music and sung by Dilip

Kumar Roy which was recorded in discs. Nishakanta, the sadhak-poet of Pondicherry, must have a place in the history of Bangla Sahitya as a creator of short verses, spiritual poems and devotional songs.

N.B.- All the poems of Nishakanta have been translated by the author of this article.

© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2006


Pune Haiku Meet, December 2006


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