Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Bengali poet Anjan Sen about river and water

Ganga -pen & ink drawing by Ganesh Pyne

Note: the poem by Anjan Sen has not been translated as of yet. It is about the River Ganga and water and flow of life. Ganga is the 'heart flow' of India; the river starts in the Himalayas and flows into the Bay of Bengal.

Notes to Anjan Sen


Hatto Fischer

Presumably everything starts with the cloud. Indeed, I have heard about those endless rain during that period called Monsoon. It can be imagined as a most common feature marking life in India. As Anjan Sen writes, it rains from June till September and this almost without interruption. No wonder if above all the 'black cloud' is noticed. It stands out in your poem.

Presumably it is not an evil spirit but a physical phenomenon observed with poetic reverence. That difference reflects what man cannot alter, but has to seek and to understand if he is to live with such a cloud. It requires wisdom and especially an inner tranquility, attributes which many of us lack in the West. To this is added the observant eyes of the poet who notices how many forms come and go especially in a river flowing fast past one. These forms poets may use to reflect the existence of things just before they dissolve again or disappear like the river does around the next bend.

Cloud Form / Anjan Sen

The cloud went after a cloud; Meghanåd also cried like a cloud when he was born; The tired cloud rest on a mountain's breast. A nervous yakßa said 'go and carry my news'; The cloud went stepping over the sky's undertow. Seeing the black cloud I thought of my dark Krishna. Lady you got wet in the corner of the courtyard And your dress oozes and oozes Pitter patter pitter patter I thought of my dark Kali... On the cloud, my heart, and on a tender stage, her frightening face sways. The cloud forms and it transforms...

(Translated from Bengali by Jesse Knutson)

Note by Anjan Sen:
"Perhaps these words are not known, but Meghnad means 'sounds of the cloud', a character in Ramayana, son of Ravana who fought with Rama.
Krishna is a lover of God during the medieaval period. More than 2000 poems on love of Radha-Krishna were written in the medieaval period in almost all Northern & Eastern Indian languages. An earlier Krishna was a philosopher who cited Bhagabhat Gita in Mahabharata.
Yaksha is a lover and character in Sanskrit poet Kalidsa's Meghdutam (messenger of cloud), who used to send messages through clouds to his lover. In Indian myth he is protector of weath.
Kali, Krishna are all of deep blue / blackish colours and remind of cloud (Megh)."

When standing by the river during the day, it becomes important to seek some shade. Otherwise even the coolness of the water cannot give relief from the heat. Out of this link between river and shadow bridges are formed. Once crossed over, thoughts like embankments draw the landscape existing alongside the river. Here change takes on a double meaning: the variety in the landscape and the flow of things. Together they give new linkages with the heart now on the cloud while the shapes and forms changing bring about a vision of her 'frightened face'. Thus sounds matter, but also the physical phenomenon of getting wet. Above all, there is the similiar feeling to be experienced when it rains or someone cries. And like the river being born when the cloud opens to let it rain, so stepping into a new life means transforming familiar sounds into forms.

The philosopher Ernst Bloch said water as such is difficult to imagine as concrete existence; only once we add river or lake, then through the form water begins to exist concretely. The same may be said about love. As long as it is a general notion, it remains vague and evasive; only when linked to a concrete person, does love begin to exist in reality.

There is something else Anjan Sen notices and wishes to make explicit. He does so when he transforms the matter of the shadow into something else. It begins with a simple observation of the shadow's shadow floating on the water, in the river. Here space created by the river continuing downstream in an ever widening valley till it reaches the sea alters in meaning. Suddenly it becomes a room with endless scrolls. Perhaps the ripples of water, the elongated waves coming off something sticking out into the river and the disappearance of it all around the next bend of the river, all this can bring about an image of the shadow's shadow floating.

Incredible is the conjured image, but by the river "stories come in pieces". How to gather them? How to overcome the fragmentation? How to put together the pieces? He begins to think of her. Critical is here that the unity of perception is linked to female power, but what is the connection between the scroll painted by the mind and her eyes which are painted? The answer lies in seeing "a body in the eyes" like a boat on a river but which cannot be phantomed. For she is not at home. So does the river flow on. There is no standing still for a moment. Consequently the linkage becomes an absence of speech, a wordless speech at that. It is only the shadow of the shadow which holds a speech.

Interestingly enough Anjan Sen perceives 'images cast by words' as "blessed illusions". It hands over the longing for her to the river flowing onwards, past those shadows of shadows. Speech floats by like words whose images have become illusions. It goes beyond a simple question if such a speech shall reach her. It is not the speech of reason but of illusion. And looking around, down by the river, everywhere images of words are transformed into shadows till dusk falls and everything goes silent.

Shadow / Anjan Sen

The shadow shakes The shadow's shadow floats In the room on the edge of the river Long long painted scrolls The story comes in pieces and goes on In the mind's long painted scroll Long painted eyes a body in the eyes But she's not at home There's no speech, only speech's shadow These images from words All blessed illusion

( Translated from Bengali by : Jesse Knutson)


In his poem 'Of Nature' these shadows are linked to unknown voices on the other side of the river; they belong to the ancestors.

Of  Nature / Anjan Sen
He walks to the beat of the madal 
Runs the whole field to
the river's morning
Leaves sing silently
Flowers suddenly blossom near the new sun
The water said to the sea come with me
The sea spoke of the sky
The sky began to grow larger
Touched a mountain and became infinite
The 'koel' bird found its song
A flock of parrots flew off in bunches
On the other side of the river
Many unknown voices float down from the sky
How do the sun and the light expand
The shadow of fathers, forefathers, ancestors
Touch the ground
Where were they where am I where will I go
Many more departures remain
The morning sunlight spreads its wings

Original title “prakritir”. First published in “Sundar” ,2000. ”madal” =folk drum . 
Collected in “Bhando Bevando” 2002
Translated by Subha Chakravorty –Dasgupta  


It stands for that ancient wisdom which the poet needs to carry on. That becomes very explicit in his poem 'Journey' for it cautions not to move on in search of new meanings when everything can be found down here, by the river.

JOURNEY / Anjan Sen
Flowers bloom in the footsteps of one who goes Pulling away all attractions and burdens And while going, sweat stains the chosen path. Flowers bloom , the journey becomes meaningful. A flurry in the path of speech Oblique attractions Starled, one hesitates And goes again And in going words become fire and water Earth and universe. Speech continues And the earthly rhythms of common speech Become verses Going.
1989(Translated from Bengali by Amlan Dsgupta ,Collected in Goudbochon Kothon Bisswa ,1993)

Since the imagination plays such an important role to keep up this linkage to common speech, it is interesting to see how Anjan Sen relates to ancient meanings. For he needs to bring about still other meanings of the imagination. This is because like the river moving swiftly on with ever changing forms, mankind exists in a fast changing contemporary world, one which is too often over shadowed by post modern interpretations and literary outcries. Anjan Sen is if anything could categorize his poetry something like a star amongst modern traditionalist in India. He retains the wish to be able to bring these ancient meanings into the present. Thus it is interesting on how he describes the role of the imagination as it is derived from Kalpa standing for the infinite: the source of creativity but also of destruction. This double meaning should not be forgotten for auspices are needed when the kalpadrum shudders and things keep falling. One example he gives: the woodcutter gathering wood from the forest of Kalpa trees.


From the Kalpa began imagination From the leaves of the Meghduta, a grey cloud Floated down in front of us. The Kalpadruma shuddered Gold Silver dust kept falling Diamonds coals mud kept falling The eyelid flickered One bird is flying become Bihag A woodcutter was gathering wood from Kalpadruma

(TRANSLATED by Amlan Dasgupta from Bengali)

Kalpa = endless time, fulfilment of desire, concept of creation and destruction. Kalpadruma= kalpa-tree
Bihag = Indian evening
melody (raga), Meghaduta-Kalidasa's Sanskrit epic

Always the river can be compared to the flow of thoughts. Both seek the sea. Men sing hyms in praise of this water. It comes with the rain but still the origin of the river remains a mystery. And thus there comes the time when it is wise to just sit beside the river and watch the flow.

Flow / Anjan Sen

And on it flows
Standing rock- deep in the holy river, the hibiscus sky
Where hast thou come, O river
The flowing looks at the destroyer, in mountains
When the fire of the skies cool, water
Drenches the soil and soothes the eyes
Life flows on through the rain,
And men discuss it as hope
And sing its praises
Call the river their mother,
Sing hymns
In their primal, magical belief
Sky rain mountain river water

Written 1989 (Translated from Bengali by Amlan Dsgupta, Collected in Goudbochon Kothon Bisswa,1993)




A combustion of energy, water has many different kinds of powers. With it people can clean their hands and clothes while others swim in its elements, but at other times once the rain comes and with it torrent floods, water is a force which can sweep anything in its way further down towards the open sea. Even small tributes can be transformed into streams.

Of interest is that the poem 'Jal / Paani' allows one to dip into different meanings behind words given to water. This presents a duality in understanding of nature according to Hindu Bengali and Muslim understanding. What makes these differences so vital to our contemporary understanding is that epistemological significances highlight not merely forms of whorships and believes, but also how much is being refuted when one world view is proclaimed and the others not included! Does it mean then that the land is truly divided? Anjan Sen writes with this open question in mind.

Jal / Paani
Should we call it 'jal' or 'paani'
On 'jalpaani' she has crossed the seas
Look the river of life is dying
The land is divided in the name of 'Iswar Allah'
The broken room houses a body
The mind has gone, unhinged
The child said 'Ma Amma'
She a blurr
Language is being partitioned
Language the dance of light in all directions
Language is my 'Jal - land Paani - sky'
May it attain completeness.

OriginalBengali title Jal /Paani , composed and first published in „Tista Torsha, 1996/Ccollected in 'Bhando Bevando' 2002“
(Note : water: a Hindu Bengali will call 'Jal' and a Muslim Bengali will call 'Paani.' Jalpaani in Bengali means scholarship. 'Iswar' and 'Allah': God for Hindu and Muslim respectively.)



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