Red Salute, Nabarun Da!

This house of words I have built

will break down weeping

after I die

Nothing so astounding about that

I’ll be wiped away from the mirror in the home

The walls will be empty of my pictures

Thinking about it

I never did like walls

Now the sky shall be my wall

On which birds will use chimney smoke

to write my name

Or the sky shall be my writing desk

the moon a cold paperweight

and stars will twinkle on a black velvet pincushion

No need for you to grieve

in my memory

My hands do not tremble

as I write these words

But yes they did tremble profusely

when they first held your hands

partly in passion partly hesitation

My lovely wife my love

my memories will ever surround you

But you need not cling to them

No you must shape your own life

My memories will ever be your comrade

If ever you love someone

gift him all these memories

make him your comrade

Of course I leave all of these up to you alone

assured that you will not make mistakes

When you start my son

on his journey to learning

teach him to love people, sunlight and stars

He will solve the most complicated arithmetic

and fathom the algebra of revolution

much better than me

He will teach me to walk in marches

on rocky paths and on grass

Tell him also of my shortcomings

see that he doesn’t scorn me

My dying is no big deal

I knew

I was not long for this world

But my faith never wavered

transcending all death

rejecting all darkness

Revolution has lived long

Revolution has lived eternal

(Last wish, Nabarun Bhattacharya)

Have you ever heard such a “last wish” as this? How would that life have been, whose “last wish” this was? On 31 July 2014 when all of us were celebrating Premchand Jayanti in our cities, Nabarun Da bid a silent farewell to the world at 4.30 in the morning. I met him for the last time on 23 February at Max Hospital in Patparganj, Delhi. Amidst talk of the Lok Sabha elections, Left unity, and some light-hearted banter, discussion about his health was not very detailed. He mentioned that if radiotherapy reduced the size of the tumour, an operation might be possible. And also that he might be able to complete a novel and some stories.

At the national conference of the Jan Sanskriti Manch at village Khewli in Dhumil (Banaras) in 2008 he was requested to read his “Yeh Mrityu Upatyaka nahi hai mera Desh” (translated by Manglesh Dabral into Hindi). After reading two lines in Hindi he started reading the rest in Bengali. It was like the roll and rumble of storm clouds. The memory of that reading gives me goosebumps even today.

As an intellectual Marxist the strength of Nabarun Da’s character lay not just in his activism and his creative work; it was seen aso in the way he fearlessly stood up personally against instances of tyranny, oppression, and treachery against humanity in India or anywhere else in the world. He never waited for anyone’s approval for telling the truth. I remember an incident before the last West Bengal Assembly elections. After Singur-Nandigram the defeat of the Left front seemed definite in these elections. Even intellectuals who had basked in the patronage of the Left for decades were now singing the tune of Mamata’s “Maa, maati, maanush”. All the former (and not so former) revolutionary intellectuals, even those who called themselves Maoists, were eulogising Mamata. Nabarun’s was the sole voice which spoke out and said that the alternative to the Left front was not Mamata but a revolutionary Left alternative. If such an alternative is currently unavailable in Bengal, should intellectual Marxists not work towards making it available? Instead, to support one of the available bourgeois alternatives is an abdication of responsibility by the intellectual. This could only be said by a person who had seen the role of intellectuals in organizing the Naxalbari movement and communicating its message to the people and who himself had played a part in this role. Nabarun was an intellectual whom the Left front as well as the Mamata government found greatly inconvenient. It was not for nothing that when his 2003 novel “Kongal Maalsaat” (Warcry of the Beggars) was made into a film by Suman Mukhopadhyay in 2013, the Mamata government could not tolerate it and it had to face all possible obstacles from the censors. In the original novel Choktor (practitioners of black magic) and Fyataru (flying humans) are imaginary characters who are at war with the rulers. These rebels have been trained by Dandbayosh (an ancient, talkative crow) and the ghost of Begum Johnson. These characters are not like traditional “upright” soldiers but often lie and cheat for their livelihood. They reflect the harsh realities of oppressed and marginalised people. Nabarun wans to show that none but the common people can be the strength of revolution, no matter how bad their physical or emotional condition might be. A few pure and idealistic revolutionaries can never replace the people. These rebels do not have modern weapons but only spades, knives, vegetable choppers, and broken bits of furniture. They also have supernatural help in the form of small flying saucer-like objets which can sever the head of the enemy. The screenplay of the 2013 film made some significant changes from the original novel; keeping in mind the change of government in Bengal, characters like Choktor and Fyataru who used to be representatives of rebellion, are shown to become part of the ruling trust for the sake of power, prestige, and financial security. That is why Dandbayosh says, “The fight will go on. This (the change of rule) is only temporal”. The Mamata govt and the censor board may have ostensibly objected to abusive language, poking fun at movements, showing and making objectionable comments about Mamata’s swearing-in ceremony, but the true objection was to this intrinsic change from the original story.

Nabarun was not only the son of Bijon Bhattacharya and Mahashweta Devi, he was also the inheritor of a great tradition of Left cultural activists, which he never forgot for a moment. Addressing the 13th national conference (2010, Durg-Bhilai) of Jan Sanskriti Manch, he said, “They ask me...from childhood onwards, you have seen many people, you are Bijon Bhattacharya’s son, you were with him, you have seen Utpal Dutt, you have Ritwik Ghatak’s film, you have seen Manik Babu, Arun Mitra, Vishnu De, Subhash Mukhopadhyay, Makhdoom Mohiyuddin, Balraj how do you plan to review life? What will you do now? Should I go and join the market forces and create something for the market? Might be that will fetch me some money. Actually I require money, but I cannot afford to earn it by indecent means...bcause you of my novels is ‘Auto”...about an auto driver. So I told a young aspiring film maker that you go ahead and make a film based on it. It is his dream to make a film. And then the bigest hero of Bengal, who has a production house of his own, he said to me, give me “Auto”, you will get a very good ‘this’...price. But I told him that ‘Bhai! this is not for sale. It is my word as given to him an he is a young man. If I don’t help the young man, he will reject me and all the youth will reject me in future.’ That is one thing I am afraid of. I don’t want two face. that will be ‘paap’—our Indian concept ‘paap’. Certain things should be renounced to gain something. And there’s another thing. There was a French intellectual, Guy Debord. Bahut pagla tha. If I remember right, he committed suicide. There’s a book of his, ‘The Society of the Spectacle’...This damn bloody capitalist society is always trying to create spectacles...This society of spectacles must be challenged and that is the risk. That is what, not only our forefathers have done, it is also done by the international literati...a great man like Aragon, like Eluard, like Neruda, like...everyone. So we belong to a very great heritage which we cannot renounce.”

Nabarun Da did not merely possess the joyous imagination of revolution. Again and again he saw the obstinate head of revolution raise itself even after it was crushed by oppression, even after it was pushed to disillusionment and distortion. He had researched deeply into world-revolution attempts. In the speech quoted above he said, “And this is the heritage we must keep alive, and this is the struggle in which we cannot lose...May be, we will die. You see, defeat is nothing, defeat is nothing. All the wars cannot be won. Che Guvara didn’t win, but he has won it forever. That is the main thing. We must keep everything in perspective. We must fight globalization, we must fight local reaction, we must fight the show of military state power in the adivasi area and we must protest everything illegal, evil and pathetic that is happening in my country.”

Nabarun was an intellectual of the Bengal Naxalbari movement, whose basic pledge and significance he had an immense capacity to renew according to changing world situations. Poems like “Yeh Mrityu Upatyaka nahi hai mera desh” and all his stories like “Aamaar kono bhoi nei to?” are inspired by true incidents which he saw as well as experienced. Talking to Amar Mitra and Sabyasachi Deb about the creative process of her immortal novel ‘Mother of 1084’ Mahashweta Devi said, “...I knew about the two big carnages at Barasat and Badanagar. Naxal youth were massacred at both these places. But prior to this a murder took place at Shri Colony near Vijaygarh. My student Sujit Gupta was murdered, whose father was a doctor’s compounder. I was witness to one part of the incident. The other things I came to know through my son Nabarun and other people. Nabarun was associated with the communist party. He tried to help the Naxal panthis in many ways.” (Mahasweta Devi: In Conversation with Amar Mitra And Sabyasachi Deb(Indian Literature, Vol. 40, No. 3 (179), (May - June1997)

For Nabarun Da Naxalbari was never a past story. He assimilated the historic significance of that movement, and tested its relevance in the new situations and in the context of the traditions of the Indian Left movement and revolutionary struggles all over the world, and he also continually renewed it as a living truth for the artist within himself.

Nabarun possessed the eternally passionate heart of an artist, which enabled him to move to and from all genres. His creativity flowed to and from film, theatre, story and poetry, often breaking banks. The story teller in Nabarun Da collects ammunition against an inhuman system. The mould of the story is shattered in his stories and novels, narration scatters and merges into other narrations, the inner world of the characters is also immensely divided, as though they inhabit and are exiled from many worlds simultaneously, their actions and dialogue also seem superficially illogical (but not unrealistic). As such, what gives unity of aim and structure to his story-world is the deep anti-system consciousness of the storyteller which was forged in the fire of the Naxal movement of the 70s and the 80s. His narrative is armed with weapons such as magic and fantasy. It is ‘dangerous’ to look at the business of our society from up close because such a view will show clearly how uncontrolled, illogical and unequal this society (the capitalistic world) is. When the handful of people who run this world cover their willfulness, wrongdoing and crimes with the veil of logic and realism, it seems beyond the ken of common sense to distinguish between the logical and the illogical, the real and the unreal. The capitalistic world covers itself with the armour of realism, and it is to pierce this armour that great writers use the weapons of magic and fantasy. Nabarun Da was one such living and working great artists of our time. The humour and banter of his characters are clad in the sickness and distortion which the obscene controllers of this world will not allow them to shake off. Even the distorted humour of his characters reveals the art of laying bare life’s illogic and cruelties. Novels such as ‘Herbert’ (1993) and ‘Kangaal Maalsaat’ (2003) are examples of this artistry. The protagonist of ‘Herbert’ is Herbert Sarkar, so named because he is ‘white’ (‘gora’). Brought up in North Kolkata, Herbert is an orphan. He is insecure, lonely, self-hating, half-mad, a self-proclaimed medium who communicates with spirits of the dead, and a bad poet. The one love of his life is at once tragic and comic. He seems to be a character whose destiny is failure and anonymity, but he continually startles the reader with his feints and tricks. It is as if he is telling us that however broken, scattered, cursed, and ridiculous a life may be, it is never meaningless; it has infinite possibilities of originality. The novel starts with Herbert’s suicide and takes through his life in flashback. It takes us into the depths of not only the protagonist’s life, but also those of Kolkata city’s unique culture, politics, and human nature over the last many decades. Herbert’s self-proclaimed skill of communing with spirits, through which he had carved out his destiny, was declared fraudulent by the logical intellectuals. Faced with legal action, a shocked Herbert commits suicide. But just as his body is placed in the electric crematorium, there is a terrible blast and the whole building is shattered. Many people present are injured. The headlines are full of Herbert’s posthumous ‘terrorist’ activities, and a high level enquiry committee is set up to investigate into the matter. The blasting impression of his miraculous powers becomes deeper in that moment of his death. The symbolism of this magic realism can be interpreted in innumerable ways. The magic of Nabarun Da’s art is indelible even after his death. Without doubt, this magic will terrorise the ruling classes forever, no matter how many enquiry committees they constitute.

For this moment, even his physical absence invites us to tea from the kettle which is boiling at the mouth of the volcano.

By simply stroking pen on paper

you will not be able to spring

the picture to life

For none can do this.

The gunpowder and coal

that lie beneath the picture

Can you light

a spark there?

That’s when the picture will

rise to its boiling point

flowers will blossom on the red-hot earth

on the parched, burnt, tattered earth

flowers will bloom.

A kettle sits

at the crater of the volcano

I’m invited to tea

there today.

Hey writer, the strong and mighty wielder of the pen

will you go there?

(Hey writer, Nabarun Bhattacharya)

A Selection from Nabarun Da’s Poetry and Prose


This Valley of Death Is Not My Country

I abhor

the father who fears to identify his child’s corpse

I abhor

the brother who is shamelessly normal despite everything

I abhor

the teacher the intellectual the poet and the clerk

who are not on the streets to avenge this bloodbath-

Eight corpses

lie stretched across the pathway of reckoning

I am losing my senses bit by bit

Eight open pairs of eyes look at me in sleep

I scream out

They call me at all places and at all times

I will turn insane

I will kill myself

I will do whatever I want to do

Time is just ripe for poetry

On manifestos walls stencils

in collage-form with one’s own blood tears bones

now is the time for poetry

In severest pain with a face blown apart

now is the time to pelt poetry

face-to-face with terror –

keeping eyes fixed at the blinding headlights of the vans

Rejecting the .38 and everything else the killers have

it is time to read poetry out loud

In stone-cold lock-up chambers

Shattering yellow lamps of post-mortem cells

In courthouses run by murderers

In seats of learning that teach lies and ignorance

Within the state machinary of exploitation and terror

On the chests of military and non-millitary authorities–

Let the protest of poetry reverberate

Let the poets of Bengal prepare themselves like Lorca,

for their strangled corpses to disappear

let them be ready to be stitched up by sten gun bullets

Yet, it becomes necessary

to encircle cities of poetry with villages of poems

This valley of death is not my country

This executioner’s theater is not my country

This vast charnel ground is not my country

This blood-drenched slaughterhouse is not my country

I will snatch my country back

I will pull fog-kissed Kans flowers dusks immersion festivities

back into my bosom

Fireflies over my whole body or forests burning in ancient hills

countless hearts crops fairytales flowers women rivers

I shall name each star after each martyr

I shall call out to the teetering breeze the chiaroscuro on fish-eyed ponds

and Love – from whom I have like an untouchable been lifelong banished to places light-years away -

I shall call her too, to the carnival on the day of revolution

I reject

days and nights of interrogation with a thousand watts of electricity blazing onto eyeballs

I reject

needles inside fingernails having to lie on chunks of ice

I reject

being hung upside down till blood gushes out of nostrils

I reject

spiked boots on lips burning iron rods on every inch of skin

I reject

sudden blast of alcohol on whiplashed bloodied back

I reject

being bludgeoned to death revolver-muzzle point-blank against the cranium

Poetry is irrepressible

poetry is armed poetry is free poetry is fearless

Behold Mayakovsky Hikmet Neruda Aragon Éluard

we haven’t let your poetry lose

Instead a new epic is being written throughout the country

in guerrilla meters and rhythms

Let the Dalmadal cannon roar

Adivasi hamlets like coral islands

Indigo fields crimson with blood

The wounded Titas river her face struck with the king cobra’s poison-foam

Death-soaked toxic roots

The bowstring of Gāndīv plucked hard to hurl at the blinded sun

Sharpest edges of pointed arrows

lancets spears javelins shafts

glistening in their mad rage charging out to reclaim all lost shores

Red-eyed tribal totems swaying to thundering of a million drums

guns cutlasses daggers

and courage heaped in abundant piles

so much courage that there’s nothing to fear anymore

And there are more- cranes tusked bulldozers conveyors workers’ marches

dynamos-in-motion turbines lathes and engines

Stern diamond-eyes sparkling in methane darkness of coal mine-slides

remarkable hammers of steel

A thousand fists raised against the firmaments of docks jutemills furnaces

No there’s nothing to fear anymore

The pale face of fear belongs to some stranger

when I know that Death is nothing but Love

If I am killed

I shall become a million tiny flames spread across all the earthen lamps of Bengal

I am indestructible

I shall return each season as the sprouting green hope from the soil

I am indestructible-

I shall live in joy I shall live in sorrow in childbirths and last rites

As long as Bengal is alive

As long as humans are alive

Death that rises like kindled bubbles through the winter night

bring that day bring that war bring that death

Let the indigenous Saptadingā Madhukar halt the advancing Seventh Fleet

Let the trumpets and conchshells declare war

When the winds are drunk on the smell of blood

let poetry explosives and soil of gunpowders be ignited

Villages boats towns temples and patterns made on the earthen floor and mud walls with rice-flour

When the expanse from the Terai to the Sunderbans

are inflammably dry after a night of exhausted tears

when the soil of the birth-land has become one with the mud of gallows

Then why falter

what doubt

what fear

Eight of them are touching my skin

In the pitch dark of eclipse they are whispering into my ears the whereabouts of the sentinels

A million star-clusters milky ways oceans

Rights passed on from forefathers to breeze freely from one planet to the next-

the blazing torch of poetry

the molotov cocktail of poetry

the toluene flame of poetry

Let each of them hit ground with yearning of this fire

Two Basic Questions

Several villagers

have been squatting since morning

outside the morgue in the town headquarters

for the corpses of four of their comrades.

A worker -

pity his union which is so meek -

is staring at the railway tracks and wondering

if suicide can save his life.

A group of kids

have dropped asleep in their play

in a room full of posters and heaped packing cases

they would get something to eat only when their mother returns.

Does it suit me to practise art at this juncture?

Trees behind the old mountain are soaking up the storm

Dust risen from the ground is blinding the sky

The dark clouds of yesterday are crimson today

Is this the time to think of my personal woes?

Poem of Petrol and Fire

Met a chap along the way

He was coughing

I asked him- Hey boss, shall we move?

He said- No

Am on my last trip and about to park into the garage for the day

Can’t pull it anymore

Having said that he left, coughing

He is a double-decker bus.

Then I met

a ten-storied house

Wearing a rubber glove

he was strangling

a baby road by its throat

and the lamp posts were

flapping wings like caged birds to escape.

The sharp-edged moon sparkled on night’s neck

The electronic clock hung up on the Planetarium facade

was running high fever

A tipsy-toed tram tottered

in the dark and empty Maidan

Suddenly a police van whisked by

scaring the dogs out of their sleep

It scares them every night.

I know that

even if I write very well

none of the impending hangings

can be stopped

I know that

all of these are meant to scare the shit out of the poor-

last trip, coughing, instilling fear

flapping to flee, panicking by the scare of

shrill vans, drunken steps

till death, burning to ashes in fever-

None of these

can be stopped by writing poems.

I have not learned

to keep eyes closed while walking

in a dust storm.

One day with petrol

I will extinguish all fire

I will extinguish all fire

with petrol.


Two naughty kids

One holding a stringed rotor spool

Another an out-of-tune percussion

a yo-yo, a rattle

The news channel on the TV

was showing those two kids

when you switched to Star Movies

The two kids were not being playful then

Both of them were lying down

If they were dreaming

is hard to tell


they did not have heads on their little shoulders.

Prose Excerpts

“The century that raised the highest hopes is ending in a state of fatigue, gloom and excruciating pain. What I see on a regular basis - daily, up close and far, and always - is the weight of overt and covert handcuffs and blindfolds of oppression, newer colonisation and cultural-imperialist dehumanisation heaped layer upon layer, fold upon fold on different classes of the society. This is more alarming, disgusting and humiliating than the visible cruelty inflicted in the early years of feudalism or capitalism. I am living in a strange kaleidoscope of these crushed and trampled people and their lives. This is what I see around me. However as the last word I reject the permanence of this reality. This reality must change. It must. Literature of course has an important role to play in building the consciousness necessary for change. Not just my country or other poor and developing countries, but the people of this entire world have been cruelly dumped into a cursed and evil swamp. I despise this evil spirit and wish for its unconditional death. It tries to bring me into submission. To convince me that history has no road left ahead, that ideology is like the useless shirt-sleeve on a dismembered arm that may never be rolled up. The more it insists the more I refuse to budge. Humans, not evil spirits, shall have the last laugh. History assures thus.”

(Preface to ‘Nabarun Bhattacharjer Chhotogalpo’/Short Stories of Nabarun Bhattacharya, December 1995)

“This will happen in 2020. This story proves that it is possible to write down in advance what will unfold after seventeen years.....Only literature can. 2020 – the number might change. But the story will surely enact out.

...That night the sailors of the Baltic navy will revolt. The revolt will spread to Moscow garrisons. Workers in their thousands will come out with red flags and under their feet the ice will melt into the night. Tornado slogans will hit Kremlin walls. St. Petersburg will again turn into Leningrad.

That very night the Indonesian communists, not without guns, will stage an insurrection. Strikes will take over one port after another in Australia. Tin workers will burst into protests in Bolivia – students and middle class folks will halt every Latin American capital clasping to their hearts portraits of Lenin and Che. France, Italy, Greece, Spain will be halted by striking will pour in from Africa, the Arab world..

Communists will return all the world over. Yes. They will. But for that, each hour and every minute over the next seventeen years must be put to work. The entire world will see a return of the communists. It is bound to. And the world will shake for not ten, but ten thousand days.

This, is being foretold in this story.”

(Prithibir Sesh Communist/The World’s Last Communist, Short Story, 2003)

Liberation Archive