The poet who gifted death its most striking metaphor yet, that of an “unimpassioned sculpture on life’s granite”, has left, having etched his part on posterity.
Hiren Bhattacharjya died at 11.30 this morning at Dispur Hospital. The end came after a quiet, 23-day pause, during which he was moved from intensive care to life support. He was 80.
Hiruda was admitted to the hospital with breathing problems on June 12.
Doctors looking after him said he had been placed under non-invasive life support till June 18, when he was provided “invasive life support”. He was being treated for multiple ailments.
The second child of Tirthanath and Snehalata Bhattacharjya, Hiruda was born at Borbheta in Jorhat district of Upper Assam.
Hiruda is survived by his wife Parul, daughter Santa and son-in-law Pranjal Sarma and two grandchildren.
In 1954, at the age of 22, he wrote his first poem. Since then it was the pen that was the tool of his turbulent soul, the voice that spoke of anger, anguish and hope.
Sometimes, in his space of the simple man who would, till the other day, spend an evening playing cards with friends at a coffee shop near his home, Hiruda would say that even after writing poems for more than 50 years, he did not have the courage to call himself as a poet.
The son of a jail warden, a transferable job that would involve a fair amount of travelling, a young Hiren would travel from place to place with his father.
After studying at Grehembazar Middle English School in Dibrugarh, he studied at Tezpur MV School, Tezpur Government High School, Cotton Collegiate (Class X) and B Borooah College in Guwahati.
The lines that would pen his picture of the world would first come accompanied with the tingle of music: Hiruda would write songs before stepping into the often angst-ridden realm of his poem.
He also liked to paint. His book Xois Pothar Manuh, where some of his paintings were published along with poems, bears testimony to the colours that swam in the poet’s dazzling mind.
It was not that the poet’s emotions were born of the seasons alone, clad as they are in their myriad mysteries.
Hiruda had a world vision. Even in the face of injustice in another corner of the world, the oft-cloistered soul of the poet would speak out from within the walls of Snehatirtha, his home on RG Baruah Road in Guwahati.
In 1973, when Caravan of Death, the Chillean army death squad, executed 75 people who were in its custody, Bhattacharjya protested.
In a small, four-line poem, the poet drew his parallel: of those killed, and Jesus Christ. In 1967, he wrote his poem Potoka (flag) for Vietnam; Aai was written for 100 years of Gorky.
Hiruda would have his moments of more localised sensitivities, though.
Ask him his address and pat would come his reply: “Ask anyone in Chandmari.”
Should one ask again, bewildered, his quiet voice would still come through on phone, this time a little firm: “Ask anyone in Chandmari.”
That would be the larger locality that a part of RG Baruah Road runs through.
Hiruda’s friend and translator Pradip Acharya offers a close view of the man and the poet Hiruda was: “Hiru Bhatta sails through life strenuously doing nothing,” Acharya wrote some years ago, “He is, by passion and profession, a poet.”
Hiruda, when he did write of himself as a poet, spoke perhaps of his kind as a whole. Acharya translates him:
I am a poet, I have overcome with glory,
Many a terrible day in history,
Words have given me inordinate resistance,
The restraint of meaning, the desire to be exact,
That is why, wherever necessary,
I re-establish the banished meaning of endangered words
I have no other entity
With words is my inseparable household,
With which I cut into fragments and lift up
My country, my time
An impossible future made of bonny dreams
Hiruda’s mind would meander at his will.
He would, at times, write a poem such as Jonaki Mon that would stretch over several pages; sometimes the tale would be told in just four lines (Karun Hat).
Sometimes, he would be the child that slept within the body of a man who had walked his years. Mok ratitor babe ubhotai diya mor lorali /Aair kolat aakou ebeli xum (For a night give me back my childhood/I will sleep once more on my mother’s lap).
“The epigrammatic terseness of his poems is derived from the aphoristic speech patterns of the Assamese and every individual word is propped up by felt life,” late Nava Kanta Barua, poet and novelist, had said of Hiruda’s creations.
Accepting the Assam Valley Literary Award in 2001, Hiruda had said, “Poetry is a complex long path of self-exploration. Poems are not spontaneous. They need to be constructed. There might be a cultivated spontaneity behind their construction.”
And carefully cultivated, and heartrendingly true it was, when it came to his country:
Name my country and I need no commands
In my teeming blood gallop
A thousand fighting horses
The words would cradle the memories of many a young martyr who fell in his age, during the Assam Agitation of the ’70s and ’80s, the rebellion in Assam thereafter, like headstones that marked his times.
“The loss is irreparable,” Sammujjal Bhattacharjyya, adviser to the All Assam Students Union (AASU), said this afternoon.
Hiruda’s words would bridge time and place, ringing in the relevance of the distant to his people. On Pablo Neruda’s passing in 1973, he would etch his thoughts thus:
Rulers turn whores on their own,
Serving pot-bellied traders
Does it befit a poet to renounce his world,
Whose pen is a waking sword
Poetry is no easy commodity,
Its imperilled body is made of another metal
Protest in its blood, revolution in its soul
Earlier, “In Self Defence”, he would have said in 1969 that he “does not know how to excuse inability, not me, I cannot buy Khadi, even at a rebate.”
Mother, I am really becoming fierce today
Just look at the sickle on my anvil
And you will know whose neck it fits
Forgive me, mother, if you could
For I have forgotten the sickle
At the reaper’s hand
That, too, I had made once
Bhupenda at 85, Mamoni baideo, though a little younger, at 69, now Hiruda.
Age, maybe. And then, there are ages.