Published:  01:07 AM, 10 September 2017

Poetry as modifier of human experiences

Poetry as modifier of human experiences Borshonsikto Haspatal by Obayed Akash, Publisher - Brikkhma in February 2014

Liton Chakraborty Mithun gets amazed by the contextures of sentiment, interpretation and significance of the poet

William Carlos Williams in his poem "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" opines,  It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. Obayed Akash, a leading contemporary poet of Bangladesh, does not die every day for 'lack of what is found there' in poetry. Over a career span of more than two decades now, he has published a number of volumes of poems. Poetry, particularly writing poems, is his key business and he extracts out of poems the fuel of his life. Even in a hospital cabin while ill with heart problems, he turned to poetry as his best medication.

He brought out a volume of poems titled Borshonsikto Haspatal in 2014, which records his hospital experience as well as meditation on life and death.  Throughout the volume, the poet is found to be at his emotional best and also imbued with a renewed sense of life.

The jacket copy of Borshonsikto Haspatal rightly says, 'A hospital, on the one hand, gets people soaked with tears and can get them soaked as well with joy, on the other hand; the key business of a hospital  is -  to soak people - with either joy or sorrow.' Our poet Obayed Akash was himself soaked with a mixture of emotions, feelings and experiences. He goes on to say,

Sarakkhon oshru chholchhol haspataler onishchit du'chokh Hasptale jetey keu karo jonno opekkha korar proyojon porhey na Haspataler bahu dirgho prosarito ar Drishtigulo snigdho pukurer joley podmopatar megh (The anxious pair of eyes of the hospital is tear-soaked/ Nobody waits for others to go to the hospital/ Arms of the hospital are spread wide/ and looks are clouds of lotus-leaves in a clear-water pond).

This romantic visualization of the hospital is undercut by a sense of anxiety, tension and helplessness of the patient. It prompts a closer cleaving to reality, a reality marked by hope and fear as the turbulence of mortality prevails all around. Moreover, one can easily locate the sensual immediacy of being in the melancholic ambience of the hospital through these evocative lines. On top of that, the hospital experience acts as the trigger for a new domain of Obayed Akash's poetic vision.

The Australian poet Peter Boyle once said: "What distinguishes the insights of poetry is that it uses a wider range of mental and emotional capacities to achieve insights and then to extend or supplement them." It is rightly the case that poetry is a powerful user and modifier of human faculties. It is also an effective tool to cope with physical and mental disturbances, and a hospital or a sickbed is a seat of meditation for a sensitive and creative personality called a poet.

Obayed Akash took the opportunity of his illness to handle bigger questions of life and penned pithy expressions such as: Byaktigoto proyojoniyo hawa boltey jetuku Ta sobi tomar ache. Ojothai ek Jhorher raatey ojosro shunno patro hatey danriyechiley bhoyonkor jhorher mukhomukhi

(The private breeze that you need is/ sufficiently available to you. Rather unnecessarily, at a/ stormy night with a lot of vacant pots,/ you stood against the ferocious storm). This courageous and valiant move to brave the 'storm', which is a metaphor of a dangerous situation or a strong opponent, is what the poet celebrated as the engine of human life. The poet speaks highly of human spirit and consciousness through this well-crafted verse. He also proves his knack for creating webs of images and metaphors via these lines.

Death is a constant companion in the thought-process of a patient of cardiac attack, or any fatal disease for that matter. It haunts the patient every now and then, and a creative person worth Obayed Akash's caliber can best describe how it feels like. He gives vent to his inner voice in terms of apprehending death. He says:

Gobhir thekey gobhirotoro hocche raat Paye dekhi roktojol jomey thir hoye achhey Hoyto aar koyek chokro porei dekhano hobe Amar paroloukik hiseber khata (The night turns deep to deeper./ My feet swelled with blood and liquid./ Maybe after a few rounds will be shown to me/ the ledger of my after-life). A poet with a sensitive bent of mind like that of Akash responds emotionally to situations like this. In my opinion, he fetches up the theme of death to introduce an element of camaraderie into this shared human destiny. He also establishes a dialogue between life and death, thus facing the development head-on. As readers, we get emboldened by the poet's easy acceptance of hostile situation.

However, not all the poems of the volume Borshonsikto Haspatal are squarely related to Obayed Akash's sojourn in the hospital. He maintains his characteristic poetic style and content in the collection as well. A committed thinker with his roots buried deep under the soil of the country, he never shies away from his social responsibilities. He rather questions the hypocrisy and opportunism of the parlor intellectuals and 'armchair generals' of academia who are at a remove from everyday life of common folks. He puts it squarely:

Ar jara matir putul hoye grihokoney Showcase-e kingba jadughorer sorboccho dorshoniyo shelf-e uthey Jiboner bhasha evabei rochona korechho Jotototro tomader dekha milleo Ami-i ki chiney nitey perechi konodin? (Those of you, who having become earthen dolls,/ got yourselves placed inside a house, on a showcase or/ on the most spectacular shelf of a museum/ and write the language of life in this style -/ despite your availability all around,/ have I recognized you ever?). The critic and rebel in the poet came into play through these lines. He does not stop then and there. He takes side with the minority communities of the country who routinely come under attack. He turns agitated and puts to shame the collective failure of the society in rooting out such evil gestures and practices. He ironically wishes:

Bhosmibhuto hoye nishpran thakuk Tomader mukher upor kotha bolar riti Rokter utsobe bhasuk kochuripanar bhrammoman swadhinota Chironidrito thakuk haategona niriho sahoser Haat-paa chhorhar unmukto ucchhwas (Let your convention of speaking out in the face/ remain dead-like and muted being burnt./ Let the mobile freedom of water hyacinths float on the fest of blood./ And let the jubilation of brandishing of feet and arms by a handful few humble braveries/ remain asleep forever.).

The poet Akash justifiably identified himself with PB Shelley's designation of poets as the "unacknowledged legislators of the world". He challenges the wrongs of society and wishes them away. He also anticipates a social movement that would bring up positive changes to the social fabric. So to say, this gesture on the part of the poet is quite inspirational.

In addition, Obayed Akash's poetry percolates with romanticism, and nostalgia of bygone days makes the meat and potatoes of this brand of romanticism. Memory of his mother surfaces in his mind and he cherishes the affectionate face of her. He creates a treasured image of his mother thus: "Ebhabei to saat somudro santrey periye asa! / Aar shotabdir nimogno odhorey joler torhey hariye fela / mayer mukh, machher pakhnar moto tar sonali anchol". (Thus is the crossing of seven seas! / Thus is the losing, of mother's face and her garment's border resembling a fin, / in the musing lips of the century and with the flow of water.). Images of our mothers are deeply embedded in our psyches and form the backbone of our romantic world(s).

Furthermore, discovery of beauty and mystery in the candid look of a simple-looking girl testifies to the poet's romantic self and, by extension, that of ours. He puts it brilliantly: "Sheshabdhi meyetike jara kachhakachhi kono abasonaloye / snan serey khola baranday chul shukotey dekhechen / ei prothom takey sottikarer prosadhonmoyi money holo." (Those who have seen the girl in a residence nearby / while drying up hair on the verandah after shower / [must agree that] she looked really cosmetic for the first time.). Hence, the poet articulates in his chiseled words the inner craving of romantic men for dream girls. 

Humor and comicality run through quite a few poems of the volume Borshonsikto Haspatal. He satirizes the deviancy and flaws of society and exposed them to negating laughter. He puts his observation of an election-time bluff in a deadpan manner: Jemon prithibitey rajnoitik neta-pronetagon  Astik nastik ba bidrohi ja-i hon na ken Vote-juddher prakkaley masjid mandir girja kingba pagoda Hothat-i kemon anagona barhiye den (Like political leaders of the world / - be theists, atheists, rebels, whatever - / increases their movement around mosques, temples, churches or pagodas / on the eve of an election.)

On top of that, the poet does not spare the showy people and humbugs who brag about themselves. He made fun of the phoniness of the bragadocious types by saying, Ebar prokashyei boli, byaktigoto protibhar bikiron Ajkal khub beshi oniyontrito jibonjaponey ovvosto hoye uthche- Horhamesha takey somudrey paharey abar Datobyo chikitsaloye shushrusha nitey dekha jay (Let me say it openly, the shine of my private talent / nowadays has become used to a desperate lifestyle./ Almost regularly it is seen to be in the sea, on the hill and / to take medication in a charitable dispensary.). Thus, the poet dismisses the bogusness and hollowness of the self-seekers and performers of publicity stunts. It appears that his gibe is sharp and scathing, which drives his social criticism home.

Being a significant poetic voice himself, Obayed Akash has done justice to his credentials in the collection Borshonsikto Haspatal. It registers the ambiguity of hospital experience, but it also embodies the type of poetry he practices. It cannot be said that he has reinvented the wheel; rather, he puts his own creative spin on some common human experiences. However, there are quite a few typos that merit editorial handling. Some of the poems are a little difficult to make an overall sense of. Nevertheless, what marks this particular volume out is that Obayed Akash deftly converts a host of mixed experiences into a wealth of poetic expression, and also that he employs an accessible diction. I submit that this is a brilliant volume to turn to again and again.

The reviewer studied English literature at Dhaka University and can be reached at

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