Madhusudan Dutt was one of a multifarious personality, having mastered himself as a polyglot, an exceptional dramatist, poet and one of the earliest writers of Bengali literature, whose works and their contents are incomparable to anything that exists till day.
The narrative takes us back to 1824, almost two centenaries from the present moment. In the village of Sagardari, along the gurgling waters of the Kopotakkho, a child was born to change the face of literature, a child who would go on to disregard conventional traditions and transmogrify himself into a resplendent legend. He was named Madhusudan, the divine epithet of Lord Krishna.
As Krishna’s lyre harmonised tunes that moved the immovable and performed the impossible, Madhusudan’s tapering quill spurted out immortal ink on the paper, through which flew out words that possessed the ability to locomote one to the imperishable world of creativity and on a perdurable romance with letters.
As for his denomination, Madhusudan was one of a multifarious personality, having mastered himself as a polyglot, an exceptional dramatist, poet and one of the earliest writers of Bengali literature, whose works and their contents are incomparable to anything that exists till day.
In the words of Ketaki Kushari Dyson, “Michael’s exceptionally colourful personality and his unconventional, dramatic, and in many ways tragic life have added to the magnetism and glamour of his name. Generous in friendship, romantic and passionate by temperament, he was also fond of the good life, financially irresponsible, and an incorrigible spendthrift.”
Michael’s exclusion from the stereotypical writer community laid in the fact that he analysed every incident from a different perspective, a point of view none had earlier approached.
For an instance, in his widely celebrated and critically acclaimed Meghnadbadh Kavya, Madhusudan characterises Indrajit as the central protagonist, presenting him with virtues that are heralded by a “patriot, a loving husband, a caring son and a friend to his countrymen”, rather than those possessed by a wicked Asura prince or the successor of a demon king.
In the words of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, the epic poem is a “rare treasure in Bengali literature”, further adding that “through his writings, the richness of Bengali literature has been proclaimed to the wide world.” Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, one of the foremost pioneers of Bengali literature and a social reformer, lauds Madhusudan, appraising his work as “a supreme poem.”
In his days, Dutt was the first litterateur to have effectuated the metrical but non rhythmic Blank verse poetry, popularly called the Amritakshar Chhanda, marking its introduction to Bengali literary works. Dutt’s attempt is reflected in his classical play Sermista (Bengali: Sharmistha), for which he was later felicitated at a congregation, organised for the purpose by author and philanthropist Kaliprasanna Singha. Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, impressed by the personal charisma of the playwright and his indomitable talent, highlighted through his works, quoted, “Ordinarily, reading of poetry causes a soporific effect, but the intoxicating vigour of Madhusudan’s poems makes even a sick man sit up on his bed.”
Madhusudan is literally one of the greatest innovative geniuses of all times. After having toured extensively across the European Continent, he came to know of sonnets that had been developed during the final years of the Holy Roman Empire and had gained a great deal of popularity among the Europeans, that included the French, the Tuscans, the Italians who were themselves its progenitor and of course, the English. None ever expected an outlandish poet to take to its style such rapidly, and include it in his verses.
From the February 1961 edition of Mother India, it is known that Dutt penned down his first sonnet in the name of Rajnarayan Basu, one of his bosom confidantes. He sent Rajnarayan a letter along with the poetry, that was embellished in the high soaring hopes of Dutt, who wrote, “What say you to this, my good friend? In my humble opinion, if cultivated by men of genius, our sonnet in time would rival the Italian.” Such was his confidence in his innovation gaining limelight, surpassing even the creators themselves!
Ramanial Kanaiyaial Yajnik, in his 1933 book entitled “The Indian Theatre: Its origins and its later developments under European influence, with special reference to Western India” states that the King of Italy, Victor Emanuel II praised Dutt’s sonnet, written on Dante Alighieri, and sent him a response that read, “It will be a ring which will connect the Orient with the Occident.”
Regarding his disillusionary stay at London, Arabinda Poddar expresses Dutt’s repent to his dearest friend, Gour Bysack through a letter that stated, “If there be any one among us, anxious to leave a name behind him, and not pass away into oblivion like a brute, let him devote himself to his mother-tongue. That is his legitimate sphere, his proper element.”
Choturdoshpodi Kobitaboli is another of his biggest assets. Two stanzas comprising fourteen lines of poetry, each line having been bestowed with intricately crafted words, is an example of the finest display of such, in the Bengali poetic genre.
Dutt also wrote poems based on romance and sorrow, both of the niches having a woman’s perspective in them.
Not having been acclaimed the way he should have, Dutt died a penniless poet, reciting passages from Macbeth, that expressed his “deepest conviction of life.”
Largely unrecognised for almost another decade since his demise, Madhusudan found his repute soon after, his works being highlighted throughout Bengal, as the greatest literary creations in the history of Bengali literature.
His pilgrimatic tombstone, situated at the Lower Circular Road Cemetery in Kolkata, carries an elegy of his own, one that reads:
“Stop a while, traveller!
Should Mother Bengal claim thee for her son.
As a child takes repose on his mother’s elysian lap,
Even so here in the Long Home,
On the bosom of the earth,
Enjoys the sweet eternal sleep
Poet Madhusudan of the Duttas”
Writer is a Fellow at the Royal Asiatic Society of London