An Elegy for Poet Belal Chowdhury

Anwar A. Khan

26th April, 2018 12:13:29 printer

An Elegy for Poet Belal Chowdhury

Belal Chowdhury was a notable poet and literary luminary of Bangladesh who died on 24th April 2018 after a long battle with illness. He was 80.

People rarely like to dwell on the fact that they or a loved one will die someday, even though it is an inevitable part of life. No one wants to admit that life has an end, but his or her legacy, we should hold dear. Emily Dickinson wrote about death a lot, and I have chosen this following far-famed poem:


If I should die/And you should live/And time should gurgle on/ And morn should beam/And noon should burn/As it has usual done/If birds should build as early/And bees as bustling go/One might depart at option/ From enterprise below!/’T is sweet to know that stocks will stand/When we with daisies lie/That commerce will continue/And trades as briskly fly./It makes the parting tranquil/And keeps the soul serene/That gentlemen so sprightly/ Conduct the pleasing scene!

Grieving individuals often times find solace in poetry, even when the poems are not presented in a memorial setting but instead are used as a personal comfort. Belal’s work is actually life-inducing. The sounds alone are enough to keep us alive; the language is pulling away from meaning like flesh from bone. He was our opus; he was our valuable; and the pure gold poet.

He was a poet and writer whose delicate and soulful lines made him one of the most influential figures of the Bengali literary canon. I love how far into the universe it goes, and how close into his memory—from a million galaxies to the inside of poet Belal’s pipe. Maybe the dead know, his eyes were widening at last seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on at twilight. Hearing the engines flare; the horns are not letting up, the frenzy of being. We want to be one notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial wide open. So, everything floods in at once and is sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time which should curl in on it and loop around like smoke so that we might be sitting now beside our dear poet as he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe.

Belal Chowdhury was Bangladesh’s eminent poet, journalist, columnist and translator. During his illustrious literary career, he was awarded the Bangla Academy Literary Award in 1984, Mazharul Islam Poetry Award in 2013 and Ekushey Padak in 2014 for his contribution to Bengali literature. He served as the editor of Bharat Bichitra, a magazine published from the Indian embassy in Dhaka. He was also an editor of the Shaptahik Sandwip published by Rupali Group and Krittibas, a Bangla poetry magazine, edited by Sunil Gangopadhyay.

He was a bohemian persona, but he never thought of his own personal benefits. He used to think for others and their well-being. As a nonconformist writer, he lived an unconventional life. Poet Chowdhury’s work is as a hushed, simultaneously comprehensible and intelligent whisper with an uncanny pulsating rhythm that vacillates like a wave between peaks of sharp clarity and watery droughts of profundity and apathy demonstrated by a sense of emotional reactions. He was proficient in an abundance of poetic techniques, and often enjoyed highlighting the traditions in which he worked.

His poetry is poetry. His protest is protest. He was a very cultured sort of Bengali gentleman who knew and read all the classics. He was a revered figure for many poets and indeed, his eminence has been one of the few things the un-contentious world of Bangladesh’s poetry could generally agree upon. And he was increasingly visible in the broader culture. I think his writings are easily accessible if anyone cares to access them. He can be read as the ocean makes grasses, and in doing so refurbishes a lighthouse and on a distant hill, or else lets the whole picture slip into foam. His work is a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a Bengali commitment.

Methodism has played a significant role from the beginning in Belal's work. Describing his writing process, we may say the body feels it is melting into what it has seen… the 'I' not being important. That is the ecstasy...Ultimately, it is what Yeats says: “Such a sweetness flows into the breast that we laugh at everything and everything we look upon is blessed.” That’s always there. It is gratitude, really. The more of that a poet keeps, the more genuine his nature. I also note if one thinks a poem is coming do make a retreat, a withdrawal into some kind of silence that cuts out everything around you. What you are taking on is really not a renewal of your identity but actually a renewal of your anonymity.

His life and work were preoccupied with issues such as gender relations, power and inequality, as well as the ways in which these were framed and affected by Bengali cultural beliefs. Since his death, academics and general readers alike have come to appreciate the unique power and considerable contribution of his writings. This considerable body of work has secured his status as one of the most prominent voices on and from the Bengali point of view.

I see a deep strain in his work, the predominant strain perhaps, of following and exposing how people will find themselves, explore new paths, rebuild their lives, gain a strange and remarkable courage, and inspire others. He managed to collapse ideas of beautiful and ugly, desirable and undesirable, into each other, and insisted on a new language for our warped, wanting bodies. It never seemed like a coincidence to me that he spent more of his life in writing about poems … and his work understood the writing as the first and last reality, a thing of blood and bone and miracles. The writing was not something to be escaped; it was the best thing he had to offer. He understood that beautiful and frightening are just two words for the same thing. His writings offer its readers a ladder by which to climb up into the world and our ugliest selves into radiant with humanity. His message is in the form of a testimony, repeated and deepened through the works of a great author.

He is celebrated for writing that dives deep into social issues, usually centred on the lives and experiences of people…We are seeing plainly the loss of a significant literary talent and we continue to mourn him deeply. Death has a very black reputation but, actually, to die is a perfectly normal thing to do. And it is so wholesome: being a very important part of nature’s big picture. Trees die, don’t they? And flowers? I think it is always prissy to know that poet Belal is not alone even in death. Let us think about ants for a minute. Millions of ants die every day, and do we care? No. And I am sure that ants feel the same way about us.

The only real comfort is that one of the best poets and writers have produced work that will stay with us for many years to come, and so instead of grief, we can feel thankful for the life he lived and the literature he left us. He was a writer and poet of great eminence. A poet legend Belal Chowdhury, we are living. We remember you always.


The writer is a senior citizen.