Dr Kajal Bandyopadhyay, Professor of English, University of Dhaka, is at the same time a poet and prose-writer. He has a number of works of editing and translation also to his credit. He was born in Barisal in 1954. Ideas, ideology and profession of his father, who had been a left activist and a Headmaster, might have inspired him. Dr Bandyopadhyay wrote his doctorate on the plays of Wole Soyinka, the first black writer to get Nobel Prize for literature. African literature in English is one of the prime areas of his interest. Some books of his essays on African literature in English and Ibsen's plays have been published and found warm response. Eight books of his Bangla poems have so far been published. Recently, Dr Bandyopadhyay has shared his thoughts on Female Power with The Asian Age. He has been interviewed by Tusar Talukder.
The Asian Age: Describe the route to being first published … Kajal Bandyopadhyay: I write under pressure of thoughts and emotions very genuine. I enjoy handling and ventilating such pressures also. It happened similarly with my being first published. I don't exactly remember, but the item I remember right now is a short prose piece, and surely it is one of my earliest compositions in Bangla.
The theme is human beings' vacillation between materialistic and idealistic quests. Faith-centered activism was trying to re-assert itself right in the opening years of Bangladesh state; the aim was to bring back theocracy of the Pakistani brand; and we, in Bangladesh Chhatra Union, were trying our utmost to face these forces of darkness. My essay was published in Jagannath Hall Barshikee brought out by Jagannath Hall Chhatra Sangsad in the early nineteen-seventies.
Chhatra Union had been elected to the Sangsad or Union there, and one of our friends, Samir Biswas, was the elected secretary for the annual journal. But, Samir was anyhow absent for quite a long time, and I was assigned by the Sangsad leaders the task of editing that particular number of Jagannath Hall Barshikee. I edited, and I wrote one short essay, "Dharmo Bishwas Banam Bijnyan Bishwas" also for it. As the title indicates, it contained seeds of my atheistic consciousness.
You may remember that I was born to an atheist father and a mother who was very artistic in temperament. She sang very well, and sometimes she would sing not knowing exactly that that was a song by Nazrul she was singing.
AA: What do you think about how you have evolved as a poet over the years?
KB: My sensitivity and passion come to explain all these. As I said, I write under pressure of thoughts and emotions very genuine. In my case that means how I always respond to situations or reality. For example, I scribbled many poems-mostly lyrics-in 1971, but I lost those. In independent Bangladesh, it was a slow progress with my poetry.
It gained some pace with my coming in contact with Poet Mohammad Rafik who helped our family in getting me released from the Dhaka Central Jail. (In October, 1975, I got arrested for carrying leaflets of the first condolence procession for Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman.) Our family shifted to Jahangirnagar University Campus in 1979, and my life lived there in a closer contact with nature changed my poems both in form and content. I was then working closely with the Dhaka District committee of the Communist Party of Bangladesh. A close association with Mohammad Rafik also impacted. Kangal Deerghokal, my first book of poems, bear marks of all I did and went through at that time.
Coming over to live in Dhaka city in the early eighties, I lost the particular life I was living at Jahangirnagar University campus, and my poems also got changed. I had been writing lyrics for a long time and in my second book, Dagdho Dhulikona, you find a good number of them. And, it is in my third book, Prithibeer Grihakone, that you find poems very different from those one finds in Kangal Deerghokal. Thus, I return to the mainstream language and ways of modern Bengali poetry. But again, these were not at all anything I consciously did. It happened.
AA: Do you write with particular readers in mind?
KB: You might have marked that I'm an introvert type and not very much given to easy communication. But, a poetic disposition also is true for me. That's how I find it hard to be choosy in the matter of readers. Any kind of communication, if it takes place, is good enough for me. Expressing my ideas or truths is the first purpose, and I stress more on that. I hope that truths will find their own readers or listeners.
I should admit that my language, particularly in poems, might not have facilitated communication of my secular and socialistic ideas. This is less true in case of my prose items, however. In essays, I'm more lucid and racy. I remember how Poet Shamsur Rahaman once raised the question of language appropriate to poems written by progressive-claimers. That was during a program of discussion and poetry-reading arranged at PATC, Savar in the early-nineteen-eighties. Poet Mohammad Rafik was present, I remember.
AA: Two years ago you wrote a book titled Female Power and Some Ibsen Plays. What do you mean by 'Female Power'?
KB: We are always being told about male power, male domination, etc. Female power is gender-wise simply the opposite of those. It is power, sense of which women also go by and the kind of it they exercise. Power is not gender-specific; it is a vital drive present in any kind of life or a living being. Even inanimate things may exercise power and assert their existence. So, I very confidently think that human beings have been foolish in claiming that power or domination is male only; or, that it is limited to any place or time even. And, it is high time that we recognize our huge mistake in this.
There is another aspect to this situation. By talking only about power of the males, we highlight the gender issue at the cost of other issues more important, like class, like professions which are thus relegated and very profitably for certain quarters. None benefits more from this than the exploiters and ruling class/es.
It's however very relieving that culture and literature contain many pointers to female power. Henrik Ibsen is one great playwright some of whose plays bear clear testimony to and proofs of women's senses and exercise of power. I wrote some six essays about these Ibsen plays and got them anthologized in the book you have mentioned, Female Power and Some Ibsen Plays. I'm very happy over being able to do this. It's mentionable that Prof. Frode Helland, Director of Centre of Ibsen Studies, University of Oslo, wrote the "Foreword" for this book.
I may, in passing, mention one great writer and a great break among the female writers. She is Doris Lessing, a Noble Laureate. As Barbara Allen tells us, Lessing, in an interview with The Observer, "even went so far as to renounce today's women as 'smug, self-righteous' and far too quick to 'denigrate' men." Lessing tells Barbara of The Observer the following also:"If it was some polemical crusade, it might be something, but it's like young women have got 10 minutes to spare, so they may as well spend it rubbishing men.
It's part of the culture now. There's an unconscious bias in our society: girls are wonderful; boys are terrible. And to be a boy, or young man, growing up, having to listen to all this, it must be painful." Barbara has then the following also: "Granted, nothing is assured for men anymore, but is anything assured for anybody? 'Well, no,' concedes Lessing. 'It isn't assured for women either. But I think that children respond to what is expected of them, and all boys are hearing now is that everything about them is terrible. And men, boys, whatever, are just expected to take it.'" We can't deny the truth of Lessing's observations and may go on wondering what kind of an insensible culture we are living in at present.
AA: This year you have published a poetry collection Pratiprem, Prati-Akhyan. I loved reading the collection. How did you put together the thoughts on female power in the collection?
KB: There must not be any doubt about my initially romantic self and rather my very strong pro-women view-points. My earlier books of poems are full of varied expressions of my romantic mindset. That was, however, mostly what we call revolutionary romanticism. But, circumstances around me changed hugely, and brought about very big change in my understanding of life in family and society.
It happened gradually. And, I congratulate myself on my present capacity to make out women correctly. But, still, in my book of poems you mention, Pratiprem, Pratiakhyan, mine is not at all any kind of misogyny. The title also makes that clear. If questioning males is not misandry, why pointing out lapses with women should be condemned, with the help of words like misogyny. If misandry is not a charge there, misogyny also should not be here.
AA: What exactly motivated you?
KB: My experience, of men and women around me. I feel baffled thinking why it did not happen in cases of others. For, women are, in any case, humans. And, no human can be free from errors, wrong-doings or lapses typical of his or her own kind, class or gender. One very big probability is that whatever like feminine charm empowers them to prevail and dominate also disables the males in the matter of exposing the lapses with women that are there.
The situation in this case is rather physiological or natural, and therefore very formidable. In Tagore's Shesher Kabita, Amit Ray is found to be saying, "Women's bags are full of opium. Satanic nature ensures its supply." The word 'satanic' is remarkable, it cannot but be consciously here from Rabindranath's part, indicating how he felt both very annoyed and overpowered in this regard. Many male writers wrote to expose lapses with people of their own gender; but very rarely did they go to mark and talk about wrong-doings by the females.
This is a very difficult, mysterious and true part of the whole gender reality. I felt it due and rather overdue to raise voice. I do not care for whatever charge is brought against me. And, I'm sure that so long this other part of domination, arrogation etc. will not be duly marked and addressed, there won't be any solution to the problems of gender discrimination, violence, etc.
AA: Two poems, namely 'Puji Nari Gale Khay' and 'Samsarei Ganikara' strike me much. Would you please explain what motivated you to compose these?
KB: It will be better if, along with this interview, you publish English translation of these two and some other poems. Do that if possible. Still, right now,I shall draw your attention to how feministic movement might have been relegating class struggle--issues of class-division in society and class-exploitation. The very title of the first poem 'PujiNari Gale Khay' reads as follows in English, "Women's Cheeks Absorb Capital." This is to caution women about the pernicious role of Capital in making them beautification-crazy, and women thus lose all consciousness of the exploiter role of capital.
For, rarely is any woman free from the craze for cosmetic decoration. Such craze for getting and accumulation is present in a big number of women who do it like whores living at brothels. Of course, it requires very sharp eyes to see through and make out women's whorish conduct in family and society. I clearly remember how once a senior professor at Dhaka University was telling a junior colleague in my presence to go to the Registrar's Office and use her feminine charm to get her difficulty removed.
AA: How would the feminists of our country react to the poems? What do you think?
KB: As I find and you also may know, there are professional feminists here and everywhere else also who eke out their career and livelihood by what roles they play, what jobs they do. Of course, there are many groups and many individuals in the whole area, and there are differences in their commitment and quality.
There are exceptions also. But, what impression can follow when others' right to expression of views is curbed in the name of feminists' disliking of certain non-feminist or anti-feminist views. If you can't accept difference, what kind of a feminist are you? This is being fanatic and fundamentalist, like the political and religious zealots. You, Tusar, very closely know how a review of my book of these poems was rejected by the concerned people in a progressive Bengali daily with the excuse of their apprehension of general readers and feminists' getting agitated. The totalitarian world of Begum Rokeya's Sultana's Dream is almost literally present here. So, I do not care much.
AA: Which other writers, past and present, have influenced you?
KB: You know how in an essay titled "'Shesher Ratri': Rabindranather Bhinnataro Naribhabna", I have placed and quoted from a host of great writers both from our part of the world and the West to point out the big need of change in the guiding ideas regarding man-woman relationship. The schematic and sectarian approaches are quite inadequate for handling this hugely big and complicated matter, they are rather harmful. Do you find any true improvement in people's life, peace and relationship? And that cannot be without a comprehensive and holistic approach.
AA: What advice would you give to an aspiring poet?
KB: In writing-either prose or poetry-one should try to be one's true self and find a voice of one's own. In content or thought and ideas, the deeper and wider one goes, the better.
-In conversation with Kajal Bandyopadhyay