A noted Kolkata-based Bengali poet, Debarati Mitra has published eight collections of poetry. Her resolve to write a poetry that is resolutely ‘modern in subject and style’ has earned her a distinctive place in Bengali literature. Her first book, Andha Skoole Ghanta Baje, was published in 1974. Subtle, metaphorical and delicately wrought, her poetry has been widely acclaimed. She received the Ananda Puraskar for poetry in 1995.
Mitra studied at the Jogmaya Devi College and Jadhavpur University. She developed an early affinity for the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Jibananda Das, as well as the poetry of Keats and Eliot. Her poetic consciousness has also been shaped by the devotional Sakta poetry of Bengal.
Poet, critic and translator Sanjukta Dasgupta writes of her work, “Debarati Mitra’s poetry felicitously fuses idea, image and symbol in a poetic idiom of rare sensitivity and perception. There are obvious gender and culture specifics in her writing, but these are . . . presented in a subtle manner. Unlike Mallika Sengupta or Krishna Bose, Debarati steers clear of issues and polemics though a careful perusal of her poetry reveals that she is not indifferent to the complexities of her times.”
This is clearly a poetry that prioritises tonal texture and nuance over overt political critique. The theme of physical violence against women is explored in poems like ‘Extreme’ and ‘Kiki’ (both included in this selection). But what heightens the impact of the latter poem, for instance, is the fact that Mitra uses a vivid metaphor to make her point, a strategy that is more effective than mere statement or explication. We are left with a haunting nightmarish underwater image of a life that has been ruthlessly abbreviated:
Yet her lidless shark-nibbled eyeholes
Feet on sand bed
The sea pillows her head
Rippling brains sing along with the waves
Everything’s almost all right.
When asked in an interview one of those eternally difficult questions about being a woman poet, Mitra responded candidly: “If poetry writing were like war or involved excessive physical strain or was a sort of reckless adventure, then of course as a woman I would have faced some difficulties. But, fortunately, poetry writing involves the head and heart, the flowering of awareness and feeling. Therefore as a woman I experienced no difficulty in writing poetry.”
In her preface to her volume of collected poems, Kabita Samagra, Mitra writes: “Contemporary problems, strife, conflicts and deception do not emerge directly in my poems most of the time, for I dread the newspaper and regard books of theories and all isms as enemies of poetry. But being a person belonging to these times, I cannot hide, nor do I wish to hide the expressions of tears, laughter . . . surprise, enquiry and agony from my face. Rather I feel I am not a separate person, but a part of the current of time, floating in poetry.”
Andha Skoole Ghanta Baje. Satarupa, Kolkata, 1974.
Amar Putul. Satarupa, Kolkata, 1974.Jubaker Snan. Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1978.Bhutera O Khuki. Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1988.Kavitasamagra. Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1995.Tunnur Computer. Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 2000.Srestha Kavita. Dey’s Publishing, Kolkata, 2000.Khonpa Bhare Achhe Tarar Dhuloy. Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 2003.Website featuring Mitra
‘Dedication Page’, poem by Debarati Mitra, translated by Debjani Chatterjee