Kaurab is a Bengali literary
magazine published from Jamshedpur since 1970. The core members of Kaurab are
poets and writers whose work represents an interesting break with earlier
traditions of literary writing in Bangla. Kaurab’s entry into the Bangla literary
context was at a crucial juncture when mainstream Bangla literature was in
the thrall of the social, political and cultural upheavals precipitated by
the Naxalite movement. While Kaurab, as a literary group, had a cameraderie
with the Hungry and New Generation writers of Bengal, it largely attempted to
accentuate a fresh and marginal voice that was unheard in Bangla literature.
Being a Bangla literary magazine published from outside of Bengal (from
Jamshedpur, erstwhile Bihar, currently in the new state of Jharkhand), Kaurab
had an outside-in identity that it shaped and reshaped over the years with
This group of poet/writers, led by Kamal Chakraborty, Barin
Ghosal, Debajyoti Dutta and Shankar Lahiri, despite their apparent urbanity,
invested deeply in making connections with the emerging industrial culture
(Jamshedpur was the hub of industrial activity) of a small town gradually
transforming itself into a city, and the surrounding hinterland, rich in
adivasi cultural traditions. In fact, their urbanity itself was intricately
layered – never quite the Kolkata urban though retaining strong creative
links with its literary production, the lived memories of the Tata steel
furnaces and the robust energies of changing adivasi languages and cultures.
The literature they produced demonstrates a complex,
sometimes inchoate interweaving of these worlds, in sharp contrast to the
ennui and despair of a post-Naxalite Kolkata-centric Bangla literature.
Kaurab subsequently went on to win the prestigious D.K.Gupta award as the
most distinguished Bangla literary magazine in 1982. Noted litterateur Sunil
Gangopadhyay, wrote in a leading Bangla daily in 1988, "...it is sad
that the best Bangla little magazine today (Kaurab) is published from outside
of Bangla." And perhaps that was the secret of its distinctly different
Kaurab's literary work is also marked by a starkly
different notion of literary language. Curiously, in both prose and poetry,
their use of language gave currency to a ubiquitous urban Bangla language of
everyday, while it resonated deeply with the changing adivasi language around
them. However, this attempt defied all acts of “museumification” (Paul
Hoover's famous book on American postmodern poetry talks about “anti-museumification”
as a core postmodernist attitude) of the adivasi languages through ways of
embodying these others of Bangla literature with new subjectivities. Kaurab
also pioneered new methodologies of poetry appreciation in the form of Poetry
Camps or workshops, a technique that found many followers in the later years.
Kaurab's poetry, often fuelled by rediscoveries of innovative language
patterns from the past, went through austere experiments with language,
speech and reading. During the 1990s
Kaurab almost emerged as a literary cult, influencing several contemporary
Bangla little magazines.
However, Kaurab continued to experiment, to learn, to
dream, perhaps of impossible futures. The reason why it was important to
briefly calibrate Kaurab’s journey is because the energy and the spirit of
Kaurab has always been spilled over, refused to be contained within the
definition of a little magazine, as we know it. It was a way of life and
literary production and, perhaps, the germs of Bhalopahar lay there.
A black carpet road runs beside the existing hundred
odd acres of land on which germinated the first seeds of this
ambitious project. Bhalopahar hosts on its premises today, an exemplary
school for adivasi children.
The long term vision for a self-sufficient economy for
Bhalopahar production of handloom, terracotta work, wood carving and
ceramicware taking from existing artistic traditions in the region and giving
them viability in the market. The aim of this society is the continuation of
life, free of fundamentalist attitudes and political reservation.
In the first phase, we planted more than 1,50,000 trees –
species that had given that geographical area its particular vegetation
profile, but had, over time, were being threatened by extinction due to rapid
deforestation. Teak, neem, subabul, sonajhuri, sal and many more species
(some extremely rare), came back on
the vegetation map, through this man-made forest.
Today, wild cranes lay their eggs and
rear their offspring and the gradually decreasing species of indigenous birds
and insects have found their natural habitat once again!
Bhalopahar, was formed on September 1, 1996. Financial help – small and big –
came from members (of which there were 48 soon) and common people. Even the
villagers chipped in with what they could. The Kaurab team, from the
beginning, saw Bhalopahar as a meeting place of creative minds, but creative
minds that are suffused with the need to give back to the community.
So, while there
is the annual poetry mela, Bhubanmela, organized every year, there are
artists, doctors, social workers, students, teachers who spend considerable
time in Bhalopahar every year, contributing in so many different ways to the
development of this community of young learners.
For the moment, Bhalopahar school functions only till
standard II, yet, it is a school with a difference. There is a need to
educate the Santhal children and the children of other “backward castes” who
make up the community, but the overwhelming need is to give them an education
that does not make them look askance at their own culture. There are quite a
few government schools within a radius of 10 kms. However, these schools do
not provide any space for the imaginative development of the children,
rather, cuts them off from their own vital and living cultural traditions
that are so much part of their everyday life.
What is held up as “education” in these schools is a
process of forgetting who they are, of being “civilized” into men/women
without histories. While our modest effort cannot bring in policy level
changes like including Santhali as a taught language in school (though we
have been campaigning for it and hope that in a few years, even government
schools in this area would be forced to offer it), our fledgling school is an
attempt to connect these children with their own culture, so that they begin
to take pride in it, while learning to read and write in English and Bengali.
So, their stories and songs are as important to us as teaching the English
alphabet. Currently, we have 46 students of which 18 come from Santhal
communities and the rest belong primarily to the Mahato communities of the
One of the things that has given us tremendous boost, is
that parents have quite often taken their children out of the govt. schools
and enrolled them in Bhalopahar, even at the cost of a nominal school fee of
Rs 30. Though the people in this area are poor, we made it a point to charge
a fee because we wanted to instill in them a sense of the value of a
different education. While there is a very high dropout rate in the govt.
schools, we have not faced it yet. Those whose parents cannot pay, come and
help us run Bhalopahar, whether by gardening, growing crops or by doing odd
jobs for the school.
For those who come to Bhalopahar, formal education is only
one of the many things that they pick up along the way. They learn to see
their own songs, stories and rituals differently. They also learn how trees
are planted and how plants yield crops. They learn about their own
environment – the plants and birds and animals that are part of their world.
All this, and more, we believe, reinforces their sense of identity as
adivasis. However, though we believe that there is much that is wrong with
the formal education system, as we know it, we also feel that much can be
done within it. So, instead of defining ourselves outside the system, we
chose to take it on and transform it. Can our children be schooled
differently while they read what the curriculum prescribes? Can they take
examinations with the confidence of children in privileged schools in the
cities, while being true to their own adivasi identities? Can they continue
to express themselves in ways that are consistent with who they are, while
they bond with other children with their own histories and identities? Can
they learn from each other, a respect for other traditions and cultures? Can
the education we provide improve their quality of life without delinking them
from their context?