Saturday, October 9, 2010


A pleasant journey into the rural corners of South West Bangladesh. Few better ways to spend Eid ul Fitr, when most Bangladeshis have headed out of the cities to return to their rural roots for the holiday.

But Allen Ginsberg, the famous American poet of the ‘Beat’ generation, whose literary giants included Kerouac and Burroughs, has an altogether different ‘take’ on this very area, at this time of year, 39 years ago.

One of the starkest, rawest piece of contemporary verse paints a picture far removed from the rural idyll that is now to be found thereabouts. It explains, better than any official history, better than any play or movie, just what transformed the flourishing lands of east Bengal into the struggling, evidently still traumatised land of contemporary Bangladesh.
It is hard for anyone today, who grew up in the postwar peace of Europe, to even imagine the real meaning of, even, natural disaster, or all out war. But Ginsberg, in so few verses, conjures up, vividly, the awful reality of man’s potential for inhumanity to man.

‘September on the Jessore Road’ was certainly written by an anti militaristic figure of some reputation, but leaves no doubt, this is not the fruit of his imagination, rather, just like the beauty of such as Wordsworth’s Daffodils, a picture in words of real experience. 

There is photography, there remain the mass graves, there are lurid canvasses, but none that can force the imagination, with such lethal power, to conjure up such a human hell.
And if the visitor is ever tempted to criticise what Bangladesh has become today, they should read this  poem again, and reflect. And perhaps remember, too, that the Liberation War it so startlingly conjures up was, probably, the inevitable consequence of the previous years suppression of the Bengali language, the refusal of a military dictator based far away to accept the result of one of the freest and fairest elections the post partition  Sub Continent had seen, and, finally, ignoring the devastation of the 1970 Cyclone in which 1.5 million  are believed to have died.

In 1971 Jessore Road  led from human rights abuses, authoritarianism and natural disaster; it led to Bangladesh, this free country, still struggling to come to terms with its past, with its environment, and realise its extraordinary potential , sharing its outstanding natural beauty, its visible history and extraordinary endeavours for self development with a world that, perhaps, never noticed its devastating past, and remains so unaware of its human, social, cultural and economic potential.

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