Jibanananda Das: The poet of melancholy and reincarnation
February 17 marked the 121st birth anniversary of Jibanananda Das. On the ocassion, different socio-political and cultural organisations held various programmes.
Jibanananda Das emerged as the most popular surrealist poet of modern Bengali literature. His unfamiliar poetic expression, selection of words and thematic preferences took time to reach readers' hearts.
Jibanananda was born on February 17, 1899 in Barisal, then East Bengal. In 1915, he completed his Matriculation exams from Brajamohan School and two years later, completed Intermediate from Brajamohan College.
Later, he enrolled in Presidency College, Calcutta and graduated with a BA (Honours) in English Literature in 1919. The same year, his first poem appeared in print in the Baishakh issue of Brahmobadi journal. He joined as a lecturer in the English department. In Kolkata, Buddhadeb Bose, Premendra Mitra and Samar Sen were starting a brand new poetry magazine called Kobita. Jibanananda's work featured in the first issue of the magazine, a poem called "Mrittur Aagey".
Of course, the Jibanananda Das of political economy is relatively unfamiliar to us-or whose relevance is tellingly deflated in contemporary criticism. But I argue that Jibanananda is politico-economically engaged in both his poetry and prose-more in his prose than in his poetry-particularly in his short stories, relatively unexplored as they are. By offering brief, symptomatic readings of two of his short stories, I would submit that Jibanananda Das is one of the few creative writers in the history of Bengali literature who powerfully and productively enact a dialectic between the aesthetic and the political-economic, and that his poetic understanding of political economy variously informs and inflects much of his oeuvre that indeed looks forward to a world better than the one we live in.
Although Jibanananda wrote a number of remarkable novels, I am not concerned with them here. In fact, some, if not much, work on them has been done, and I think more work needs to be done. But what remain most unexplored are his short stories. In my reckoning, Jibanananda Das is a first-rate short-story-writer by even international standards. There is something Chekhovian-Pushkinian and even occasionally Lawrentian about Jibanananda's stories, many of which directly mobilize-among other things-the themes and tropes of political economy, fashioning what might be called the poetics of finance. I will call attention to two of his short stories. Their titles themselves are not only striking but seem unparalleled in the history of Bengali short stories: "Hisheb-Nikesh" [Transactions] and "Kotha Shudhu-Kotha Kotha Kotha Kotha Kotha" [Words Only-Words Words Words Words Words]. Both stories were written in the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929 when capitalism's crisis adversely affected not only the US but also the global economy by and large.
Young Jibanananda fell in love with Shobhona, daughter of his uncle Atulchandra Das. He dedicated his first anthology of poems to Shobhona without mentioning her name explicitly. The poet, however, married Labanyaprabha Das in 1930. A clash of personalities erupted and Jibanananda gave up all hope of a happy married life. The estrangement with his wife never ended.
Jibanananda's notable poetic works are "Jhora Palok", "Dhushor Pandulipi", "Bonolota Sen", "Mohaprithibi", "Shaat-ti Tarar Timir", "Shrestho Kobita" and "Ruposhi Bangla". Jibanananda died in 1954.
February 17 marked the 121st birth anniversary of Jibanananda Das.