THIS IS that memorable mid-September. Forty eight years ago, like this mid-September Irwin Allen Ginsberg, an American poet composed his famous poem ‘September on Jessore Road’. This poem tells the stories of sufferings of refugees of Bangladeshis fleeing to India from violence of Pakistan military. After about a half-century of Jessore road’s September, we are observing another September on Teknaff Road, another September on Gaza Road and yet another September on Kabul Road, writes Md Monirul Islam
THIS IS that memorable mid-September. Forty eight years ago, like this mid-September Irwin Allen Ginsberg, an American poet composed his famous poem ‘September on Jessore Road’. Ginsberg’s poem ‘September on Jessore Road’ is an excellent depiction of the days of those long nine months, it can be considered as a touchy and emotional museum of images of those days’ sufferings and pains.
‘September on Jessore Road’ is a poem where the month ‘September’ is basically an indescribable period of our liberation war and ‘Jessore Road’ is an inexpressible passage of refugee and their solid struggle. It’s not just a poem, just a lyric, just a song; it’s a harrowing portrait of mass-misery, a unique caption of our liberation war, and a reality of our glorious history.
The Jessore Road was an important road connecting Bangladesh with West Bengal, India. The road was used by refugees during the Bangladesh liberation war and the Bangladesh genocides to move to safety in India. It was one of the lifelines through which nearly 10 million people fled the country for a makeshift refuge in neighbouring India as the Pakistani troops launched a cleansing operation against the Bengalis throughout the year 1971.
Most of the people particularly in the western region chose Jessore Road as a safe passage particularly in September — a very difficult time when the country witnessed a late monsoon deluge on the one hand and a wave of atrocities and misfortunes inflicted by the Pakistani occupation forces on the other hand. Jessore Road thus became the witness of many such untold stories of millions of fleeing refugees and appeared to be a topic of war and refugee migration.
This poem mainly reports on Ginsberg’s visit to the refugee camps located in the bordering areas of Jessore of Bangladesh and Kolkata of India in mid-September, 1971. Ginsberg did not stop just after composing this poem. With the help of his friend Bob Dylan and others, he transformed this poem into a song. They arranged a concert and collected fund for the help of Bangladeshi refugees by singing this song at the concert. Later, West Bengal singer Mousumi Bhaumik also gave a famous rendition of this poem in Bengali. This poem was later included in Allen Ginsberg’s famous book The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965–1971 and ‘September on Jessore Road’ is probably the best poem in the book.
Millions of babies watching the skies — this is the very beginning lines of Ginsberg’s September on Jessore Road and then he continued — …Bellies swollen | with big round eyes | On Jessore road — long bamboo huts | No space to shit but sand channel ruts.
This beginning keeps the readers to hold their breath for few seconds because of the bloody description of the war victims. In ‘September on Jessore Road’, Ginsberg gives a picture of utter despair and destitution. He writes of individuals of all ages with nothing but pain, mud, death and sadness.
Then Ginsberg expressed a pathetic caption from the ongoing brutality — Millions of babies in pain | Millions of mothers in rain | Millions of brothers in woe | Millions of children nowhere to go.
It was a miserable scenario and Allen Ginsberg was greatly shocked to see those things with another Bengali poet Sunil Ganguli. With tears in his eyes, he witnessed with pity and awes the inhuman sufferings of the people who were without food and shelter for months together. He also came across the mothers without food and children unnourished. He saw the hungry fathers and mothers holding the empty pots for food and succour in trembling hands.
He also experienced deaths of people in the camps. The plights of millions of innocent people in the refugee camps left a permanent sorrow on his mind which he later expressed in writing the poem ‘September on Jessore Road’. He made it an epoch defining poem by giving details of his on the spot observation. Ginsberg continued his courage and committed pen — Millions of souls nineteen seventy one | Homeless on Jessore Road under grey sun | A million are dead, the million who can | Walk toward Calcutta from East Pakistan.
Here he describes the sordid picture of refugee camps that accommodated millions of fleeing Bengalis. This poem also gives an account of individuals of all ages with nothing but pain, mud, death, sadness, anguish and anxiety.
Where are our tears? Who weeps for the pain? | Where can these families go in the rain? | Jessore Road's children close their big eyes | where will we sleep when our father dies?
What the repentance in this stanza! What a question in this stanza! Who will give the answer of these never ending questions? This issue burns the eyes of civilization, like the closing big eyes of Jessore Road’s children. September on Jessore Road, immortalised by the poet, forever remains a reminder that freedom comes by the sacrifices. To fulfil a nourished dream of freedom, tears, pain and deaths are the miserable element of this sacrifice.
‘September on Jessore Road’ has 152 lines, but it shows 266 days’ of war and heartrending sorrow of that period. This poem begins and ends with the same tone which resonate a dire humanitarian crisis born out of a war where the poet himself acts as the narrator who is narrating his first-hand experience of visiting the war-ravaged people in the bordering areas of Bangladesh and India.
Though, Allen Ginsberg composed his poem ‘September on Jessore Road’ almost forty eight years ago, still this poem carries the same significance and essence regarding different war affected countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, South Sudan, Somalia, Palestine, Syria et cetera. Because everywhere still the same scenarios are persisting, same miserable situation are found.
After about a half-century of Jessore road’s September, we are observing another September on Teknaff Road, another September on Gaza Road and yet another September on Kabul Road. Ginsberg has just brought the case-study of Bangladesh as a representative of the war affected countries in the world. So, the poem, ‘September on Jessore Road’ does carry the universal appeal with the description of the miseries and sufferings of the refugees and the war affected people.
Md Monirul Islam is a columnist and researcher
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