Selected Bengali Poetry

Presented by KAURAB

ALOK SARKAR:: Mirroring thru Void

An introduction to Alok Sarkar's poetry
Subhashis Ganguly & Aryanil Mukherjee

Alok Sarkar (pronounced - aalok sircar) is a stellar Bengali poet from generation-50 (b 1933). His poetry is founded on cultural and linguistic traditions that are deeply vernacular. Rather ascetic is nature, Alok Sarkar's poetry is made with words and images that are carefully weighed and optimized. Absence is a key element of his poetry. Many of his images are mirrored thru the void. A color scheme is often expressed via a complete absence of colors. Meaning is anointed with meaninglessness. Subjectivity is either reversed or pushed out of focus to the periphery. Similar to African Creolic traditions, Alok, at times, tends to reiterate lines and phrases within a single poem in an effort to slow down the theme and linger pensiveness.

As the pronouncement of existence gets sharper in his poetry, Alok tends to follow more avidly the "non-existence of existence". Nought always occupies a special place in his poetry. The occupancy of space by nought is one of the most imperative constituents of his entire thought-process. Nought, too, signifies existence. It is the presence of nought that complements the existence of nothingness. Says Alok Sarkar, commenting on the poem ‘Shunyata’ or ‘Void’ in one of his interviews, "Existence announces itself – at times it is ecstatic, at times fluttery red. That non-existence, that all pervasive relinquishment, its vast expanse gradually moving into further expanse, that immeasurable expanse and its gradual spreading into an unplumbed depth cannot be seen or heard, its unsurpassed presence measured only by the vastness of a lonely autumn stretching further and further away into a blue mist." An attempt has been made here to present translations of some of the most representative poems of Alok Sarkar.

Selected Poems of Alok Sarkar

Deathvictor [মৃত্যুঞ্জয়]

Its absense becomes the visual
becomes action and reaction.
Retiring summer afternoon
reluctantly trickles from one history
to another. This sluggishness
this change of state and transformation
will be brought to the table. The completion
of what's completed will be up for talk.
All of existence is death-rigged.
Completion remains untouched by it. Midday of June
proves the scorched landscape. A scorched landspace
swallows emptiness - now emptiness has been tagged, ensured.
A suntanned reaction
makes its action verb

Translated from Bengali by Aryanil Mukherjee.

Identification [শনাক্তিকরণ]

Of all the seeings
few are favored.
The ones disliked are
being pronounced more often.
The disliked seeings are up all day.
The more they stay up
the more enthusiasm -
this moment I cross the street
the next I animate my speech.
Upon returning home, the first thing
I drew was a dislike.
I draw a dislike
and then another.
See how sharply night descends!
Spreading out my arms and limbs
under the big top, I realize
I am within wider quarters.
As sleep drizzles
I can see it hasn't brought
any colors with it today - no black
no white.

Translated from Bengali by Aryanil Mukherjee.

Void [শূন্যতা]

There was a tree by the riverside, it has been long
since the tree isn’t there any more. Before falling asleep
I think of the tree – one of the branches bent over, prodding the water-surface.
This summer Krishnachura has been in full bloom and Jarul ecstatic
All my day within the hues of Krishnachura, all my day within
the ecstasy of Jarul
Whatever fills up the day is sharp pronouncement... spiky summer days.
The rest are all autumn alone along a Sheuli-strewn soggy forest road.
Sheuli-strewn lone and cool mesmerisms. Before each slumber
I think of the tree – one of the branches prodding the water-surface.
A transparent cloudless emptiness spreads over like mist. This summer
Krishnachura has been in full bloom and Jarul ecstatic
I plant...carefully...just in between the two...a transparent and cloudless emptiness
There was a tree by the riverside it isn’t there any more.
Krishnachura - A large tropical tree producing bright red and fire-coloured flowers in bunches.
Jarul- Also a tropical plant shorter in height producing enchanting purple flowers.
Sheuli- A typical plant available in Bengal, its little white flowers with saffron stalk heralding the advent of autumn.

Translated from Bengali by Subhashis Gangopadhyay.

Obeisance [প্রণাম]

A dark thin man. As expected
a blue bag dangling from his back.
He is returning home now – just like the descending evening
that is, he’s returning home just like the descending evening.

As a matter of fact there's truly nothing to worry about. Watch him
approaching soft- toed
feet never making a sound too loud.
There appears to be no need to shift eyes away from him
nor casting a watchful glance at him - a dark thin man, no more.

It’s only that the afternoon is gradually stretching itself,
the whole of it trying to overshadow everything around.
It seems to be a coming on that can barely get noticed,
one that can never be referred to as an invasion – all these –
all these of a mere afternoon.

Just as a dark thin man, on his back –
a blue bag on his back –
these can never be things to worry about.

How easily it can be comprehended now that
the time for final obeisance has arrived at last –
the all-pervading sunset has brought into a zilch
that eternal non-corroboration.

Translated from Bengali by Subhashis Gangopadhyay.


Every soul was deep asleep when the first rooster called
from the otherside of the wall. I climbed down to the courtyard.
only to find the half-closed petals of Krishnakali

I felt nocturnal dew under my feet as I stood beneath the mango tree
A more careful observation indicated they were all asleep
just to comprehend that alone in a sleeping world
the rooster's call
had beckoned the petals
to slowly rise from dissipating slumber.

When in a sudden gush diamond-mind leapt out from behind the leaves
and crossed over the wall in unspoken darkness
I realized once again, they were all asleep, truly asleep.

Under a mango tree, awake to it's desolation
awake more than the awakening, I moved towards the well
to rinse my face, my eyes.

A lily sprouted breaking dark, the Cape Jasmine too
As light began to play boisterous with the Mango leaves
They were all asleep in their rooms
I too, returned to crawl back into my bed under the mosquito net
and turned to the other side to doze off again.

All my day revolves around a bunch of errands, awake all the while
within the overwhelming frame of non-awakening.

You give me a fresh flower
You bring me inside this house of commotion
I place the Cape Jasmine in a corner table
in the house of commotion, where I ask around
the name of this street.

Krishnakali - (Mirabilis jalapa) plant, occurs in a variety of colors; was probably brought to India by the Portugese in 16th century C.E

Translated from Bengali by Aryanil Mukherjee.

The Red Light [লালবাতি]

Suddenly one day I discovered
there was no friend around.

At once
the red light began to glow.
Nothing emerges clear under red light
but red light is conspicuous from a long distance.

I do not have the mind now to clearly observe anything
when there's no friend around.
Am I visible to them
from a long distance?

What can they see!
Nothing is visible in the red.
A hazy silhouette
an uncertain existence.

I never knew when my friends had left
one by one.
All of a sudden I felt a shudder
there was no existence of any friend by my side!

Red light subsists.
Red light is visible from far away.

The red light is there
and this dreadfully still existence.

Translated from Bengali by Subhashis Gangopadhyay.

God [ঈশ্বর]

The child who had
killed his mother
is today guiding the blind man

He is finished with his games, the cover of dusk is gathering all around.
How far precisely is the blind man’s home!
Cars are hurtling past; all men are in a hurry.
He is not in a brooding state but merely casting a cursory glance around.

He kicked the kitten, just kicked it from the causeway onto the road.
He possesses a pair of strong feet indeed!
The child who had killed his mother
all of a sudden stopped, confronted by the sweet smell of night jasmine.

How far precisely is the blind man’s home!
God in white robe!
On the way back from the blind man’s home
a sly hand swiftly picked up a fistful of peanuts from the old vendor’s basket.

Translated from Bengali by Subhashis Gangopadhyay.


How complete a picture!
The picture is enjoying itself
within itself.

Its earth, the colour of its trees and
the wind and the light that surround them
they, too.

I am beckoning you
I am beckoning you all.
Scurry in your festive dresses.

There’s no dent anywhere,
the color of the tree, the stirred up earth
and that picture

it is not thinking of anything additional
of anything lost.
Listen to the sound around –

the sound that generates
in the absence of any sound.
Can’t you hear it … loud and clear?

Translated from Bengali by Subhashis Gangopadhyay.

Flowers in red thread [লালসুতোয় বোনা ফুল]

Our breakfast – from ages long past
All I remember of it
are flowers embroidered on the table cover
Do you recount other details ?
the menu ? realistic conversations ?
Ravaging memory has displaced objects from their real space
and it scares me.
I repeatedly think of the red-threaded flowers on the table cover
Red-threaded flowers with black designs mixed in.
Me, the realist
I think of those red flowers knit on the table cover
speckled with black thread
and dread to think how much of our conversation
you still bear in mind.
I felt afraid even to look into your eyes.
Just thought of those flowers in red thread
Constructed, alive red flowers and the
methodology of construction -
certain specific methods, each one uniquely expressed
without the ravage of memory
without the enigma of imagination
Do you remember other details ? Self-obsessed you.
My eyes don’t ever meet yours.

Translated from Bengali by Aryanil Mukherjee.

Alok Sarkar's photograph: copyright Kaurab


Alok Sarkar


Roudramay Anupasthit(1959)

(Sunlit Absentia)

Bishuddha AraNya(1969)

(Pure Woods)

Amulsambhab Ratri(1978)

(Unrooting Night)


(Private Space)

Selected Bengali Poetry
Selected Bengali Poets Generation-1930
Selected Bengali Poets Generation-1950
Selected Bengali Poets Generation-1960
20th Century
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