Friday, February 29, 2008

A Call for a Beat Generation, a Movement

Self Discovery:

It was winter of 2005, in a bar called “Sathee” somewhere near Pune University. I was sitting with a professor and some other Bengali PhD students. We were being loyal to the bar owner with a 750ml bottle of Royal Stag on the table. We got drunk soon after we lit our cigarettes as alcohol is good solvent for smoke. We talked of various issues in Physics; hardly had I spoken as I knew little about Physics compared to these scholars. I listened, observed every word. But when it came to music I was the one who spoke most of the time.

I noticed a habit in few Bengali guys that whenever they got drunk they will just close their eyes and recite Bengali poems mostly by Rabindranath Tagore. That day was not a different day for them as they were drunk like me; they closed their eyes and started reciting Gitanjali in Bengali “….Let My Country Awake….” So, I thought I will also recite a Manipuri poem in front of them. I was ready closing my eyes, raising my fist in the smoky air. I opened my mouth but nothing came out of it, not a word, not a sigh, not a hiss. So I pretended as if I was yawning, being bored with the Gitanjali recitals. Indeed I was bored. I don't like spiritual poems. I would have been very much excited if they were reciting Nazrul Islam’s poetry. So that night I came back drunk cursing myself for not remembering a single Manipuri poem. Even if I had remembered a line from “Madhavi” I would have recited it like a poem by Allen Ginsberg. I would have recited it so powerful that they would think I was reciting a protest poem or something like that. But unfortunately I ended up yawning and smoking the cigarettes till it burnt my fingers.

Intervention in Literary Circle:

After that night, every time I got drunk with fellow Manipuris I asked them to recite a poem in Manipuri.

But they were same like me. They ended up yawning getting bored with my questions. But we heard English poems even as heavy metal songs. For example, Coleridge's “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” has been sung by Iron Maiden. W H Auden's “As I walked out one evening” was used in the movie “Before Sunrise.” So each individual, at least of my generation, don't bother about our own literature. We are ready to read a poem by William Blake or T. S. Elliot, but not the poems which are rooted to our pain and agony. Yes! We do have poets who speak volumes of our sorrow and disturbed lives.

A verse from the Poet Thangjam Ibopishak's poem “I Want to Be Killed by an Indian Bullet*”;

Whatever it may be, if you must shoot me please shoot me with a gun made

in India. I don't want to die from a foreign bullet. You see, I love India very much.

That can never be. Your wish cannot be granted. Don't ever mention Bharat to us.

No other Irish or British poem can speak to us like the above verse does. But the poem is known only in literary circles, not to the public. So there lies a gap.

The Beat Generation:

Amusingly, the same problem had happened back in 1950s in America. But the difference is how people retaliate back to such problem. In 1950s, a group of American writers/poets emerged. This group of people was called Beat Generation. There theme is to reject the prevailing academic attitude to poetry. They felt poetry should be brought to the people. Moreover their theme was a rejection of the prevailing American middle-class values, the purposelessness of modern society and the need for withdrawal and protest. Whatever the beat writers/poets wrote, they read it out often to the accompaniment with Jazz (What an amazing recitation it must had been). Eventually, hippies and antiwar movement followed Beat Movement and led to the environmental movement.

Radical poet Allen Ginsberg (Beat Poet) said that essential effects of Beat Generation artistic movement could be categorized as

  • Spiritual liberation, sexual "revolution" or "liberation," i.e., gay liberation, somewhat catalyzing women's liberation, black liberation, Gray Panther activism.
  • Liberation of the word from censorship.
  • The evolution of rhythm and blues into rock and roll as a high art form, as evidenced by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and other popular musicians influenced in the later fifties and sixties by Beat generation poets' and writers' works.
  • The spread of ecological consciousness, emphasized early on by Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, the notion of a "Fresh Planet."
  • Opposition to the military-industrial machine civilization, as emphasized in writings of Burroughs, Huncke, Ginsberg, and Kerouac.
  • Return to an appreciation of idiosyncrasy as against state regimentation.
  • Respect for land and indigenous peoples and creatures, as proclaimed by Kerouac in his slogan from On the Road 'The Earth is an Indian thing.’

So the Beat Generation was a real impact in American literature. They changed America. They changed the scenarios of American music. If they had not emerged in 1950s there may not have been bands/singers like Jefferson Airplane, Joan Baez, Country Joe and the Fish, Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Yes! These bands were heavily influenced by Beat Generation/Movement.

The recent phenomenon which struck my mind was the radical band “Rage Against the Machine” reciting Allen Ginsberg’s poetry “Hadda flash out in loud speaker”

Even if the Beat Movement was started to mean a revolution in American literature, they were heavily influenced by Walt Whitman (father of American literature), William Blake and Henry David Thoreau.

This shows that the Beat Movement kept the indigenous America in their minds and knew exactly how and where to hit the then contemporary literary landscape. The Beat Movement made a bridge between American literature and Rock n roll music. There could not be more beautiful synthesis than the movement had carved.

Back to Reality:

I am sorry to drag in this American stuff when my article is supposed to focus in Manipur. But we are imitating America’s Rock and Roll music. And we missed to imitate the most important part.

The truth is we have lost our shelters. We are the runaway children. We seem to enjoy being lost. Educated and rich ones are not bothered by our society and the ones who are concerned are poor. Their voices are silenced by someone who speaks for them. But there is a need of revolution to open our eyes.

Why are we defined as disturbed? We want a meaningful home. We will love peace.

We will love to hear Sharmila succeeding her struggle. We will love to read newspaper every morning without the pictures of gunned down youngsters. Blood-shed revolution is nowhere to make sense rather than losing our strength and diminishing the frequency of our bloodcurdling voices. And why lost a life that every mother sacrifices about.

We have not explored the power of music, poetry, painting and pen. All we need is a Beat Generation. Let’s fuse poetry and rock music, let’s fuse Meira Paibis and Alexandra, let’s fuse protest and blank canvases. Let’s not just paint or write for the sake of capturing human imagination. It is boring. We don’t have time to get bored. Our blood is getting warmer and warmer. Let us not miss any beats of our hearts. Let’s play guitar on the streets where the cops rule us with their Kalashnikovs. Let’s sing about Sharmila. Let’s write poetry of another December 12th.

And remember! A protest which lasts forever comes out only from the heart of creative woman or man.


* Translated from the Manipuri by Robin S. Ngangom. This poem was

censored out of a recent India International Centre publication on the Northeast edited by

Journalist/Development Expert/Mentor for the Region/World Bank Satellite Sanjoy Hazarika.

Poet Thangjam Ibopishak writes in Manipuri. He has published six volumes of poetry, three of which earned him some of the most prestigious awards in the state including the Manipur State Kala Akademi Award in 1986, the Jamini Sunder Guha Gold Medal in 1989, the First Jananeta Irabot Award in 1997 and the Ashangbam Minaketan Memorial Award in 2005. Ibopishak also won the Sahitya Akademi Award for poetry in 1997. He teaches Manipuri at the GP Women’s College in Imphal.

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