Friend, and one of the sublime minds in the 60's poetry scene of Bengal. Pradip Choudhuri was a poet of extraordinary courage and irreverence and formed the link between the Hungryalism movement of Kolkata and the Beats of America. He was a prolific writer in Bengali, English and French, apart from being the publisher of Pphoo - triilingual magazine that published the likes of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Brion Gysin, Kaviraj Dowden, Claude Pélieu, Jeff Nuttall, Carl Weissner, Harold Norse, Charles Plymell, Ed Sanders, Norman Ogue Mustill, Charles Bukowski and other Beat luminaries
Pradip passed on from COVID at dawn April 25, 2021. As we grieve, below is an old interview he gave for The Odd Magazine to Snigdhendu Bhattacharya. Rest in Power, poet!
Frankly, don’t you think it is really tough to interview a poet?
Well, it depends on the interviewer. But yes, it is tough, especially if the poet is not ready to share. And normally poets are quite reluctant to share. Because they know sharing is useless.
But you do share. And that’s why you write. Isn’t?
Who knows? I’m not very sure. That’s a different issue. And I don’t think you have any right to ask me this question. I’m not bound to prove anything.
But won’t the answer be an answer to yourself?
(Pause) Yes, an answer to myself. Answering to a dead silence. You face a lot of bloodshed and such other things when you get into the core of the facts. Finally it’s a great alchemist’s job to grapple with the situation. Situations come and you have to earnestly grapple and then I don’t know what happens... then of course the whole thing, the entire cteative is passed into texts. Sometimes there may not be any texts at all. But there is no end to this grappling act. Things will come up and you have to face toothand nail. You bleed. Sometimes I just become very silent and don’t even feel like writing.
You’re one of the Hungry Generation poets who continued writing and yet have always avoided limelight.
Almost all of my friends are dead and gone. So I should not comment on them to clarify my position. A few of them are still alive and I don’t know why they should always run after limelight. Of course, in the beginning of the Hungry Generation it was an activity to effect a change of the existing human situations and to devastate the fomal poetry of the Bengali mainstream liturature .. But then, the initial perspective of Hungry Generation underwent several changes. The irony is, it’s the anti-hungry people and vested media that brought the hungry generation to more dazzling limelight. Maybe, just like the Beat generation, hungry generation, too, would have faded away much earlier had there been no resistance on the part of the social establishments. There was great resistance to our genre of literature- academically politically and culturally. The Congress used to call us communists and the communists used to call us CIA agents. And most people that time did not have an iota of creative education to get into the root of HG texts.
I am not a stage actor, performer. I never felt the need of any limelight. Personally I prefer candlelight. Darkness, more than that. Everything comes to me when the light is out!
Why do you write?
Only to simplify my life. Only to simply my thoughts. I like to compare then assimilate my life with my written texts, to find where I’m actually. I write and then read my own poems. It’s a kind of self-judgement. And I don’t believe in any other justice but this poetic justice. I’ve no other illusion about this.
Is disillusion a kind of enlightenment?
Only if you had some illusion. And to get rid of this illusion, let me tell you, is a unique exercise.
Laurence Ferlinghetti once said your poetry proves that poetry is still the desiring machine of all our dreams. Do you agree with him?
It reads well. But everyone has his personal way of thinking, having his personal perceptions. Who am I to disagree!
But your writings are so much full of desires… need, want…
That is why. May be I just burn myself up there. But now I feel much freer.
From your desires?
Not free from desires, it’s a different kind of freedom- liberation. Desires in most cases have something to do with commodity. Even when a man desires a woman, he is treating her as a commodity. It’s not love. Love has got nothing to do with desire. But sometimes desires come floating into the very wave of love and make things juicy and give shape to human love. At this point, I think you are breaking the very ephemeral quality of love. Desire is not outside love, love encompasses everything, it gives you a new vision, it gives you rebirth. A man in love is always reborn. Personally, each time I fall in love , I stongly feel, I’m not bound by any space-time love. That’s why it is unending.
You seem to have fewer friends from literary world here and more friends abroad?
That’s not true. From one sense I don’t have many friends either here or abroad. SurelyI have some friends both here and abroad. Yes, at certain periods my literary existence. connections abroad helped to survive many dull phases, while at other times, fellow writers in Bengal or the Northeast came to help out of my many "poet’s burnt outs". May be my ability to write in English and French helped me get channels of communication beyond national and linguistic borders.
When did you start writing in English and French?
I searted writing English since my early 20s. I was a student of English literature at the University - so, nothing enigmatic there. In 1964,I published a bilingual version of my second book, Charmorog (Skin Disease). I did the translation myself.. Since then I have translated many of my poems into English,
Also composed original poems in English. Friends like Malay Roychoudhury, Jyotirmay Dutta and Kaviraj George Dowden, too, have translated some of my Bengali poems into English. I started writing in French about 30 years ago and, I must tell you, I had to give tremendous effort in learning this language until I could express myself in this language.
Your writings give us the feeling that you had never been a family man.
The very word family is very controversial. Yes, I had a family and I was supported by my wife and my parents. Family is a kind of bondage, which has got certain rules and norms. And if you cannot abide by those norms (that don’t suit your type or temperament), then at some point you have to come out of it. Altogether a complicated phenomenon. Family is not made of Creams and Frigidaires and gadgets. It also consists of human beings. If the human beings communicate in a human way, then why should you come out of family? One can supplement, help another. But if it does not work then why should you stay in a family?
I asked this question because you published a book within a year of your wife’s death and it was titled “Love, death and immortal life placed on the same wavelength”.
Oh no, that book consisted of so many other things... prostitutes, rivers and mountains and a part of my life when I lived outside my family. May be that’s why I have a kind of weakness for my family. It’s not feeling of guilt, it’s kind of a feeling of unfulfilment. It could have been different. There was no divorce because of the society and other complications. Otherwise there could have been a divorce. Sometimes my friends ask, are you still living with your family? I say, no, my family (son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter) is still living with me!
There is always a strong conflict between poets and the society, or the rest of the world. This conflict often got reflected in your poems.
Where is the society? You know the society as a whole, you need to go through the social institutions, you buy from the same market, use the same public lavatory and transport. You are very much part of the society. It’s not that a poet who apparently keeps aloof from the society is unsocial. He knows every nook and corner of the society. But he is simply busy with something else. He doesn’t spend much time on socializing & the creative people do not expect to make much money either at society’s cost. On the contrary, this aggressively consumerist society is making life really tough.
Is the crisis of an artist increasing due to this aggressive consumerist culture?
Of course! It is impossible to survive without money in this consumerist society. But one has to be aware that he is not overworking for money. The creative man must know what his real work is, and thus not get engaged in the rat race. He has to fight the tendency of getting addicted to making money at expense of his creativity.
And doesn’t this deepening crisis make better opportunity for an artiste to excel?
Provided, he’s alive. Unless, he’s finished due to pressure of this inhuman consumerism. Sometimes, he cannot stand this crisis. He must get out of this.
Would you say an artiste could get back to life only if he revolts?
The thing is that he cannot help revolting. He has to revolt. Even if the revolt is just a momentary reaction of a creative person. By nature he is calm and silent. But he has to revolt for his survival. There are only two ways: either you revolt or you’ll have to go to an asylum.
Your first book was titled My Rapid Activities. Restlessness is palpable is many of your writings. Are you still the same restless or rapidly active?
Well, there have certainly been some changes in these years. I’m calmer and much more at ease with life. But yes, I’m a seeker. I’m constantly seeking. And often I don’t even know what I’m seeking. May be I’m trying to dig life deeper. That keeps me restless at times.
It has often spoken in Europe and the United States, your sources of inspiration: The Beat Generation, Rimbaud and Lautréamont... what do you think?
Rimbaud ... yes, as the natives Jibanananda Das and Manik Bondopadhaya. In Lautréamont - its long impassioned cry of the sea I remember. In addition, since always, I wonder why he, Lautréamont was so brutally murdered. Historically, I would like to have information about the murder. Besides, maybe you could help me in this search?
With the exception of a few personal friends: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, John Montgomery, Harold Norse, Kaviraj George Dowden and Claude Pelieu I hardly liked rootless writings of the Beat generation. The sole author of this movement that inspired me a lot, it was Jack Kerouac who, in turn, was inspired by Rimbaud, Celine and his longing for France and Quebec. It is often said that Jack was "King of the Beat". In my opinion, all his life, Jack was obsessed with finding its own philosophical and religious identity, both. Despite some similarities between the Beat Generation and the Hungry generation, none of the Hungry writers was totally influenced by the Beat, unfortunately!
Currently, the spiritual heritage of this movement is on the verge of extinction!
(Pradip Choudhury, born in East Bengal in undivided India in 1943 and brought up in Kolkata, was rusticated from Rabindranath Tagore’s Visva Bharati, Santiniketan in 1963 for writing a “semi-obscene” poem and, two years later, was arrested by Kolkata police for writing obscene poems during his participation with the Hungry Generation movement, in which he became one of the key literary figures. He started publishing and editing literary magazine Swakal in the early 1960s and later published-edited a multi-lingual magazine entitled Pphoo. He spent much of his professional life in teaching, including in a Paris college. He composes original writings in Bengali, English and French and has been published in literary magazines around the world.)