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21 May, 2018 11:10:17 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 21 May, 2018 11:24:37 AM

Belal Chowdhury : A modern-day baul

Belal Chowdhury played a vital role in making a bridge between the poets of Bangladesh and West Bengal
Saidur Rahman
Belal Chowdhury : A modern-day baul

Celebrated poet, journalist and literary organiser Belal Choudhury is no more. He died on April 24 last at the age of 80. With his demise another star has fallen from the literary firmament.  The loss is irreparable. Belal Bhai, as I used to address him, had been suffering from various old-age ailments and was on life support at a hospital in the capital. He lost his wife a few years back.
My association with Belal Chowdhury spans over three decades. A young promising poet introduced me to Belal Bhai on a sunny winter day during the late eighties. I was then working in the now-dufunct English daily Daily News. Perhaps he was then editor of ‘Bharot Bichitra’, a monthly magazine of the Indian High Commission in Dhaka. His art of speaking impressed me at first sight. Gradually, my intimacy with him grew.  Belal Bhai was fond of ‘adda’. He had the quality of befriending people easily. Whenever he wrote something, be that poetry or a prose piece, he wrote it with full concentration and dedication. In fact, he was a committed writer. He would re-write and brush up his write-ups time and again till he was fully satisfied. He was a perfectionist. He was a prolific writer like many writers of his generation.
Belal Chowdhury was a well-read person. He would like to while away time with the budding poets and writers at restaurants and at his residence. His residence at Purana Paltan became the meeting place for the elderly and budding poets and writers. He was a fountain of inspiration for young writers. He was the mentor of many young writers who earned fame later.    

It was my translation of Bangla poems into English extensively that brought me close to Belal Bhai. I translated some of his poems into English like many other poets of the country many years ago. Those appeared in different newspapers. Association with the poet was a matter of unalloyed joy.

A self-taught person, Belal Chowdhury used to lead a queer and colourful life. He had scant respect for institutional education. Bohemianism was ingrained in his character.

A person of adventurous bent of mind, he would like to experiment with life. He suffered incarceration for a number of times for his left-leaning politics. In 1963 he reached Kolkata boarding a fishing trawler. Life in Kolkata for him was full of uncertainties. He took shelter in a shanty near a graveyard. If he ate at noon he did not know what he was going to eat at night in a foreign land.

However, it did not take much time for him to make friendship with such literary lumanries like Sunil Gangopaddhya and Shakti Chattopaddhya and many others. He managed to make his mark in the literary circle of Kolkata. An avid reader of books, he read extensively Bengali literature and foreign literature.

With his sturdily built body, fair complexion and smartness Belal Chowdhury made many friends beginning from teenagers to elderly ones in Kolkata.  It was not an easy job. Such was his polpularity that literary enthusiasts including young girls of Kolkata would call him ‘Belalda’. In fact, ‘Belalda’ became a popular name in Kolkata.   Belal Chowdhury edited Krittibash, a Bangla poetry magazine edited by Sunil Gangopadhyay, at a quite young age. He made friendship with eminent writers like Samaresh Basu, Subhas Mukhapaddhya, Samarendra Sengupta, Tarapada Ray, Shankha Ghose, Kabita  Sinha, Nabanita Deb Sen, Shirshendu Mukhopaddhya, Samaresh Majumder and many others.

Belal Chowdhury was called a baul (minstrel) of poetry. He used to move from one place to other like a roaming baul. Very few people have sacrificed so many things in life for literature as he did. He spent the best part of his life worshipping poetry. Poetry was his polestar, his life force. In 1974, after the death of his father he came back to Bangladesh at the call of his mother.  His mother forced him to marry and return to disciplined life.  He got involved in all progressive and literary movements of the country. He was one of the organisers of Jatiya Kabita Parishad and Padaboli.   Belal Choudhury played a vital role in making a bridge between the poets of Bangladesh and West Bengal. During his stay in Kolkata, Chowdhury would write for many newspapers and magazines. He would write for newspapers and literary magazines like Anandabazar Patrika, Jugantar, Desh, Amrita and Krittibas. He was also involved with various newspapers in Bangladesh. He edited a number of books. Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Belal Chaudhury, Sarat Kumar Mukhopadhyay and Shankha Ghosh are regarded as Panchokobi (five certain poets) of Krittibas era.

He took part in the 1952 Language Movement. He worked in the weekly Bichitra, weekly Sondhani. He served as the editor of monthly ‘Bharat Bichitra’, published by the Indian High Commission in Dhaka for about fifteen years. He was also editor of the ‘Shaptahik Sandwip’ published by Rupali Group. Belal Chowdhury played his part in flourishing ‘Hungry Generation’ and ‘Sad Generation’ in Bangla poetry. He has mixed his life with the nectar of poetry. He cared little for his own personal benefits and used to think for welfare of others. While he was editor of Bharat Bichitra many people would take his help for receiving Indian visa. His poetry has a distinctive style. He was not follower of any poet. Cadence of his poetry written in prose style is enjoyable. His prose is equally rich in context and style.

In fact, he formed a parallel domain with poerty. He fled his own country in search of the unknown and unseen. His autobiography ‘Niruddesh Haoai Haoai’ befits the way of his nomadic life. He was the first to translate Latin American Literature into Bengali. He read extensively books of famous writers like Goette, Henrick Heine, Frantz Kafka, Gunter Grass, Jean Paul Sartre and Harold Pinter. He used to write a column in the daily Janakantha under pseudonym ‘Bollal Sen’.   

His literary works include 16 books of poems, eight books of essays, seven books of juvenile literature and three works of translations. Nishad Prodeshe (1966), Atmaprotikriti, Sthirjibon O Nisorga(1976), Swapnobondhi (1985), Jol Bishuber Purnima(1985), Protinayoker Swagotukti(1987), Jabojjibon Shashram Ullashe(1997), Botrish Nombor (1997), Kobitar Komol Bone, Volobashar Kobita(1997), Je Dhoni Choitra, Shimule (2008) Selai Kora Chhaya(2009), Belal Chaudhury 'r Kobita  are some of his well-known books.

He won many awards including Ekushey Padak, Bangla Academy Puroshkar, Alakta Sahitya Puroshkar and Gold Medal, Nihar Ranjan Puroshkar, Kabitalap Puroshkar and Mazharul Islam Poetry Award. Let his soul rest in peace.

The writer is an Assistant Editor of

The Independent





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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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