Face-To-Face With Subimal Basak
By Tanmoy Bhattacharjee
Translated by Uttaran Das Gupta
Tanmoy Bhattacharjee: The motive of the Hungry Generation was anti-establishment; the purpose was to go against the trend. But now, those poets who call themselves political and different, or for that matter the new dimensions that Hungry Generation has taken over the years, don’t you think that’s also a process of becoming entrapped in the establishment?
Subimal Basak: What happened in the Sixties was different. We were going against the establishment, the trends, through our writing. At that point, the establishment was Anandabazaar Patrika, big newspapers. We were against them. We were against the gatekeepers of culture. But, later we have seen that even political poetry has become an establishment, and even more dangerous. These people don’t listen to anyone who’s not in their party or group. They are all; nothing beyond that. They claim to see everything, know everything, and if you point out how they have, their groups have splintered, they get — as you just said — khepchurious; in other words, very angry.
TB: What’s the contribution of anti-establishment writers to Bengali literature? Isn’t it a sort of stunt?
SB: Those who are anti-establishment don’t care two hoots about the history of Bengali literature. They write as they please. And, those who are in the establishment, they stick to a form. For them, it should be like this, like that — a narrative should be like this, a story like that. They have a pattern. Those who are against the establishment, they don’t really care for all this. So what does it matter to them?
Say in the case of poetry or politics, don’t both those, who are anti-establishment and those, who are pro-establishment, desire success of their endeavours?
I don’t think there’s anything like that. Our writing often doesn’t even get published. Though, I have got an award for translating[i]. But translation is not one’s own work. It’s just changing the language. Success isn’t really that important. Some come, some leave, how does it matter? Those who taste success, do they also get money with it? If you earn money, if your books get published, that’s success. We don’t have such desires or aims; we don’t think about these things.
TB: When you started the Hungry Generation in the Sixties, you had some aims: to change the trends; to take comfortable literature and expose it to the stark reality.
SB: People continue to write whatever they want to and that is thought of as their literature.
TB: But didn’t you also desire successes or want to establish your style of writing?
SB: That’s different. Why did we write? To dissipate the writing, so that people read a different kind of literature. Our literary creations are a little different. Not like our predecessors. For those who are anti-establishment, publishing is no big deal. Satinath Bhaduri was anti-establishment but he published in big papers, even in Desh[ii]. No one accepts these as anti-establishment. You might say: he even accepted awards. That’s right. If you think of our writing as some sort of establishment, let it be. It won’t happen in our lives. If someone does it with commercial motives, they will.
I remember when we were publishing Hungry Generation leaflets, and were about to be arrested, I had a lot of unpublished works by different people with us. So, I went and dropped these off at someone’s place. Later, these were sold off for good money. Those who are commercial and interested in the business can sell it off for money. What will you call this? Our pro-establishment stance? That’s not right.
TB: In the course of my research, I saw that your writing was first published in the eighth Hungry Generation leaflet, which was accused of obscenity. Was that your first Hungry writing?
SB: No. Everyone who wrote in that leaflet had written something similar.
TB: You write more prose than poetry, isn’t it?
SB: Yes, I write prose mostly; poetry at times. There were three of us writing prose. Basudeb Dasgupta was very powerful. No one cared much for him; or he for others. There was also Subhash Ghosh. If you find Basudeb’s writing, do read.
TB: Would I get his writing in the Hungry collections?
SB: Yes, yes, Shaileshwar Ghosh had brought one out. When the Hungry movement ended, he and a few others started Khudarta.
TB: In ‘65, when Malaybabu got out of jail and all of you were acquitted, were you in touch with the rest of them?
SB: Perhaps in ‘66 or ‘67, Malay said he wasn’t interested in the Hungry Generation anymore. He stopped writing. We were in a strange place. Then, Subhash, Shaileshwar started the Khudarta.
TB: Shaileshwar had turned a state witness during your trial, isn’t it?
SB: Yes, he did a lot of different things. Shaileshwar used to do things according to the advice of Shankha Ghosh. So, we used to call him Shankha Ghosh’s…Thanks to him, Shaileshwar’s book got published, Khudarta collection came out. The publisher never asked us for permission. So, they went their way, and we went ours. So when Malay returned, Hungry Generation was over.
TB: Didn’t you all think, all of you, who were together in the Hungry Generation, of restarting it?
SB: Malay tried to. In 1985, he came back [from Mumbai] and met everyone. No one seemed eager. Then, Malay started dabbling in postmodernism.
TB: Did Malaybabu get enough people to support his new interest?
SB: No; and there is a reason for it. Postmodernism is a foreign thing. It doesn’t really work out in India. Yes, it changed the structure of stories that Malay started writing. Everyone has a different pattern. Malay has a style of his own; definitely in poetry. For me, every story or piece is different — the style keeps changing: new subjects; new language. For instance, my story “Chhayamatha” is in the East Bengali dialect and the “Guerrilla Akrosh” is in the West Bengali dialect. “Prantabeej” is in the dialect of those Bengalis, who live in Bihar.
TB: Malay Roychoudhury is known as the founder of your movement. He was anti-establishment. But now, he is playing the archivist, filing up paper cuttings, writing blogs. What’s this about?
SB: That’s Malay’s business; he would know. I can’t talk about it.
TB: Who of the Hungry are now alive?
SB: Malay, Tridib, Pradip Chaudhuri…Subho. I’m not really in touch with anyone, except Malay. Tridib calls at times.
TB: Samir Roychoudhury?
SB: He’s not really a Hungry writer. The thing about Samir Roychoudhury is that he wasn’t really there during the Hungry Generation movement. Debi Roy, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Malay…they started it. Samir’s friends were Shakti and Sunil. His writing was published in a few leaflets. Then, the leaflet over which the troubles started, he was named publisher of that. He was arrested at Chaibhasa and suspended from his job.
TB: Shakti Chattopadhyay was there at the beginning of the Hungry Generation. Then, he grew distant. Did you know him?
SB: No, no, he was there. Much later, at the entrance of the Coffee House… (There was a brawl between Shakti Chattapadhay and other Hungryalists – ed) The thing is, Shakti needed a job. That’s what I heard. Samir Roychoudhury now pretends that he was one of the initial Hungry members. Malay went off in 1967; only to return in 1985. During this time, I held on to all the documents. I had a file, too. Subhash Ghosh filched it. Samir Roychoudhury was a government officer, going here and there. He was friends with Sunil, Shakti, Samarendra…Hence, his writing is like theirs. The other day, a Hungry Generation collection came out, called Chandragrahan. It had everything: court documents, transcripts of witnesses’ testimony. Courtesy: Haowa 49[iii]. Now, where did Haowa 49 get it from? Shouldn’t they acknowledge it? That’s very strange.
TB: I have seen your cover illustrations…
SB: Yes, I did a lot of it. Some of it got lost. There’s some of it in my books.
TB: So, when you started writing for the Hungry, was there no objection to it?
SB: I didn’t write that much; translated a lot. In some selected magazines, like Kabitirtha, or Kourab. How does it matter what people say? He, who has to write, will write. Now, a lot of people say a lot of things to Sunil Gangopadhyay. How does it matter to him?
TB: Did Malay leave after the court case? Stopped all communication?
SB: Yes…Malay did a few things, not all of them very good. He thought the Hungry Generation was over. But Shaileshwar and company started it again. There were some helping hands.
TB: Did Sunil, Shankha, Shakti support the Hungry Generation, at least in principle?
SB: Yes, in principle, there were a lot of people. Not Shankha Ghosh, though; never. I had met him a few times towards the beginning. I was writing about Satinath Bhadhuri. Since then, we have grown apart; and I haven’t made any efforts either. I’m not in touch with many of them. The one person I liked very much was Shyamal Gangopadhyay. For his writing; his politics was very different. I had met Sunil-da also a few times…But then…
TB: Why did the big magazines not take Hungry writing? Was it because they thought it wasn’t literature? Or was it because it was obscene?
SB: What can you do if they don’t take it? You can’t go ask: “Why didn’t you take my writing?” They didn’t take it; that’s it. More importantly, I never sent my stuff to them. I knew they wouldn’t publish. But the first non-Hungry writing I had perhaps given to Golpo-Kobita. Subhash and Basudev also wrote in that magazine later. Then, I was also enmeshed in a lot of things…marriage, home, office.
TB: Did you have a job during the movement? Where did you work?
SB: I worked at the Income Tax department.
TB: Do you think writers should have some responsibility towards the society or the establishment?
SB: Does society or establishment have any responsibilities towards us? Had they had any responsibility, wouldn’t they have published our writing? Why should we have any responsibility?
TB: Now, most people think of Malay Roychoudhury, when they think of the Hungry Generation, perhaps because he is quite active on Facebook and on blogs. But you…I had read somewhere that when Malay was on stage, Subimal was backstage.
SB: He was outside; I was here. Since 1967, he was out of Bengal; returned in 1985. That was my time; how can it be Malay’s. What we can say is that he created the roots of the Hungry Generation.
4 November 2013
[i] Sahitya Akademy award in the year 2007 for his translation of ‘Meri Teri Uski Baat’ by Hindi novelist Yashpal
[ii] A Bengali language literary magazine published by Anandabazaar Patrika
[iii] A little magazine edited by Samir Roychoudhury
Subimal Basak is one of the notable members of Hungryalist Movement. Born on 15 December, 1939, at Patna (Bihar), he came to Kolkata on 1963 and got involved in this movement with Malay Roychoudhury, Debi Roy, Samir Roychowdhury and many others. His first novel Chatamatha, published on 1965, grabbed a lot of attention among Bengali readers. He has translated many poems, stories and novels in Bengali from different languages. His other notable works include,‘Gerila Akrosh’, ‘Pratnabij’, ‘Durukshi Gali’, etc. He was awarded Sahitya Akademy award in the year 2007 for his translation of ‘Meri Teri Uski Baat’ by Hindi novelist Yashpal.
Tanmoy Bhattacharjee is a poet and writer. His poems, stories have been published in Krittibas, Anandamela, Unish-Kuri and many little magazines. Tanmoy co-edits the little magazine ‘Karkatkranti’. He has also edited the collection, Subimal Basak Sankalan – Pratham Khondo, a collection of Subimal Basak’s works. Tanmoy’s first book ‘Belghariar Itihas Sondhane’ was recently published.
Uttaran Das Gupta was born in Calcutta, India, and read English at Jadavpur University. His poems and articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Reading Hour, Magnapoets, Raedleaf, Fulcrum, Open Road Review, The Sunflower Collective and Indian Literature, and have been translated into Bengali and Telugu. Also an amateur actor, he has written the award-nominated play, Murder and Create. He is a journalist with Business Standard, New Delhi, where he frequently reviews books and films. He is also the Assistant Editor for Prose at The Four Quarters Magazine and a member of The Sunflower Collective. At present, he is working on his novel and was at the Sangam House Residency in January.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.