Impact of the Hungry Generation (Hungryalist)
Literary Movement on Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg, the American Beat poet, was influenced by the Indian worldview in general and the Hungryalist movement in Bangla literature in particular in more ways than one. This was the main refrain of my discourse which I presented to Bill Morgan, the Beat researcher and Bob Rosenthal, Secretary, Allen Ginsberg Trust who along with Sharmy Pandey and Subhankar Das, poets and Ginsberg’s Bengali translators, visited me at my Kolkata residence during the last week of January 2004.
The Hungry Generation literary movement was launched by me in November 1961 with the publication of a manifesto on poetry in English. I had to resort to English as I was residing at Patna at that time. Several manifestoes had been published before Ginsberg reached Kolkata in July 1962. Since they were in English, the Hungryalist bulletins were distributed for free throughout the country and Ginsberg had started collecting them right from the first one when he visited New Delhi on arrival to meet Pupul Jayakar who had requested Beat poets and writers to visit India and popularize use of Khadi wear among hippies. He mailed these bulletins regularly to his friends at California and New York, as well as to his personal archive at New Jersey, later sold to Stanford University.
Allen Ginsberg, the poet of Howl and Kaddish, after his interaction with the painters and poets of the Hungryalist movement, could never remain the same person who had departed for the orient to get rid of negative image he had himself cultivated in the USA after the success of Howl. Ginsberg’s biographers and critics, most of whom are American, are almost ignorant of Indian complexities, have never taken into account the contributory factors that impacted the poet to such an extent that his post India poems changed structurally, semantically and semiotically, though his Indian Journals reveal that he had been making vain efforts to regain rhymes, meters and breath-spans in Howl-Kaddish refrain. Poems written by Ginsberg after his India visit are composed in the breath-span of mantras, pranayamas as well as Bangla poetry of 1960s, all of which remained beyond Euro-American academic comprehension. Unlike T.S.Eliot, whose usage of mantra was a modernist technical intervention outside the Indian world view. Ginsberg’s chanting and singing of mantras were pregnant with values inculcated in a historical faith-penumbra of the people he lived with in India.
Whether be it Benaras, Kolkata, Tarapith, Chaibasa or Patna, Ginsberg invariably visited the burning ghats (where the dead are consigned to flames), accompanied by one or several members of the Hungryalist movement. The experience was so earthshaking for him (quite a normal one for any Hindu) that he could, for the first time in his life, understand the difference between the occidental quest for immortality and the oriental quest for eternity. From the collection of letters of another Beat poet Gregory Corso, An Accidental Autobiography, edited by Bill Morgan, it is evident that Ginsberg had been conveying his state of mind on the subject to his friends in America. His biographers and critics, who are either Jew or Christian, have never taken into epistemic consideration the dedication page of Ginsberg’s Indian Journals. Why were the Hindu sadhus and sannyasies been crelentlessly sought after by Ginsberg consequent upon his association with the poets and painters of the Hungry Generation movement needs to be examined by researchers.
Prior to Allen Ginsberg, another Beat poet Gary Snyder had visited India but instead of directly trying to contact the Hungryalists he sought the help of US consulate. Unfortunately the consulate receives feedback from their Bengali agents who are driven by their personal interests. Snyder was sent by the consulate to the Krittibas group of poets, a pro Establishment commercial renegade coterie whose machinations had led to the arrest and trial of the Hungryalists between September 1964 and July 1967. When Dick Bakken, editor of Salted Feathers wanted to bring out a special issue on the Hungryalist movement, this is what a vocal member of Krittibas group wrote to him on December 12, 1966:
My Dear Mr. Bakken,
I am still bewildered why any one in Portland, Oregon, should be interested in publishing a special issue on the Hungry Generation. Is there not enough local talent in Oregon to fill up the pages of ‘Salted Feathers’, which you describe as a small magazine? Or is it due to an interest in the out of the way, the quaint, and the fantastic? It is like someone in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, bringing out a special number on the Trotskyite poets, revolutionary American poetry by bringing out the ‘Penny Paper of Iowa City’. Hurrah for the public relations work and promotion by Allen Ginsberg, Time magazine and the silly magistrate who convicted Malay.
Very sincerely yours
What Jyotirmoy and critics like him failed to comprehend was that it was we Hungryalists who had created a great impact on Allen Ginsberg and that special issues or supplements US, Latin American and European periodicals such as City Lights Journal(Lawrence Ferlinghetti), El Corno Emplumado(Margaret Randall), Kulchur(Lita Hornick), Evergreen Review(Barney Rosset), Tribal Press(Howard McCord) and Burning Water, San Francisco Earthquake, Intergalactic, Ezra, Damn You, My Own Mag, Vincent, Panic, Ramparts, The Los Angeles Free Press, Eco, Iconolatre, Imago, Where, Work etc on the Hungryalist movement were not for nothing.
Another Krittibas writer Sandipan Chattopadhyay had volunteered to become police witness against the Hungryalists after he dissociated from the movement and submitted the under noted statement to the Police Station on March 15, 1965:
I am a graduate of Calcutta University and employed as an Assistant Inspector, Calcutta Corporation. I am also a writer and used to visit the College Coffee House where young writers of Calcutta generally assembled in the evening. Samir Roychowdhury is a personal friend of mine. I came to know the sponsors of Hungry Generation, Namely Shakti Chatterjee, Malay Roychoudhury and others. Although I am not directly connected with the Hungry Generation but I was interested in the literary movement. Some of the manifesto of the Hungry Generation contains advertisements of my literary works. In one of the publications my name was cited as publisher. This was probably done with a motive to exploit my reputation as writer but since my prior consent was not taken I took exception. The publication in question also came to my notice. As a poet myself I do not approve either the theme or the language of the poem of Malay Roychoudhury captioned Prachanda Boidyutik Chhutar(Stark Electric Jesus). I have severed all connection with Hungry Generation. I had correspondence with Malay Roychoudhury who often sought my advice on literary matters.
Though in court Sandipan had testified against the Hungryalist movement, in 1974 while writing his own introduction in Adil Jussawala edited New Writing in India published by Penguin Books he had claimed, ‘He was also responsible for starting the Hungryalist movement in Bengal, along with Shakti Chatterjee the poet and Utpal Basu, a writer now living in London’. The leader of Krittibas group, Sunil Gangopadhyay, in his letter to me dated June 10,1964 had threatened the Hungryalist movement in these words, ‘I had not destroyed your Hungry Generation in the very beginning quite affectionately as some of my friends are there in that team. Remember, I still have those powers’. Obviously, police swooped down on six of us in September 1964 on charges of conspiracy against the state and obscenity in literature.
As against the cultural politics such as above resorted to by Bengali intelligentia, the impact the Hungryalist movement had created on Allen Ginsberg is evident from the under noted letter dated September 28, 1964 he had written to me from New York.
I saw clippings from Blitz, Sept 19, 1964 p.6 and also I think Calcutta Statesman 17.9.64 that you were arrested as well as Samir and two boys named Ghosh whom I don’t know, for your Hungry Generation Manifestoes. Are these the same as were printed in the issue of Kulchur 15? As soon as I read about it, I racked my brains what I could do to help and so today wrote a whole bunch of letters to the following; A.S.Raman, Editor Illustrated Weekly, Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Road, Bombay. Sharad Deora, Editor, Gyanodaya, 18 Brabourne Road, Calcutta. Abu Sayeed Ayyub, Editor, Quest (sent message to him indirectly) and member of Indian congress for Cultural Freedom.Shyam Lall, editor, Times of India, New Delhi. Khushwant Singh, novelist and member of Congress for Cultural Freedom, 49 East Sujan Singh Road, New Delhi.
I also wrote to Jyoti Datta and phoned Lita Hornick of Kulchur. I asked, the Indians above all, what they could do to help you, suggested they activate the Congress for Cultural Freedom as this sort of thing is the proper activity of the Congress and Quest magazine and told them that the manifestoes were printed here in City Lights Journal and Kulchur and were not obscene. So the whole mess was scandalous bureaucratic illiteracy. Please, if you need literary help or advice do try to contact these people for support. And in addition perhaps ask for advice/help from Mrs. Pupul Jayakar, 130 Sundar Nagar, New Delhi – she was our protectress in India, we stayed with her, she’s friend of Indira Gandhi and others. I also notified Bonnie Crown here in New York, the Asia Society, 112 E 64 Street, NYC – she commissioned poetry to be translated by Sunil and others and that pack of poems plus your Rhythms etc will be printed together by City Lights. She can send you a letter on her official stationery saying your manifestoes are known, published and respected in US and not considered obscene. I will also enquire of Mr. S.K.Roy, the Indian Consul General here in New York who I do not know what he can do at this distance.
If there’s anything you want me to do, let me know. Write me and let me know the situation is and what the cause of the trouble is. Judging from Blitz I suspected jealous ideological Marxists or something. Are you ruined at the bank? I hope not. Regard to your family. Get the Congress for Cultural Freedom to supply you with a good lawyer who’ll take no fee. If the Indian Congress doesn’t cooperate, let me know, we’ll complain to the European Office. Who are the Ghose brothers? The manifestoes on prose and politics are pretty funny. I thought they were a little literary-flowery, but they must have hit some mental nail on the head. Good luck.
The Congress for Cultural Freedom did nothing; rather Abu Sayeed Ayyub had written a dirty letter about the movement to Ginsberg himself. Bengali literati such as Shankha Ghosh, Pabitra Sarkar, Debesh Roy, Ashok Mitra, Amiya Deb, Amitabha Dasgupta, Arun Sen etc who get alarmed if a Latin American or African writer suffers from a sore in his arse, were conspicuous by their stony silence all though the ordeal of the Hungryalists. However non-Bengali intellectuals such as Nissim Ezekil, S.H.Vatsayana Ajneya, P.Lal, Dharmaveer Bharati, Phanishwar Nath Renu, Srikant Verma, Mudra Rakshas, Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre etc supported us. It is these particular brands of Bengali authors who, in order to conceal their guilt, are found to denigrate the Hungryalist movement.
One thing which annoyed me at that time was that Ginsberg was unable to differentiate between the members of avant garde Hungryalist movement and the MNC-funded commercially inclined pro-Establishment Krittibas group.
Ginsberg, however, could comprehend that the Hungryalists had dispensed with the colonial compartmentalization such as Good/Evil, God/Devil etc binary opposites. We had explained to him that each of the triumvirate Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara embody traits which exist in nature itself and nature was never monocentric. This idea has been articulated by Ginsberg to several of his interviewers. The human body is consigned to flames, he was told by Hungryalist artists Anil Karanjai and Karuna Nidhan at Benaras, as it is part of nature, and erecting a graveyard stone on a dead corpse would be against the cosmic spirit. Bob Rosenthal informed us that on death Ginsberg was consigned to flames and his ashes handed over to two different Tibetan Buddhist sects, immersed as per Red Indian ritual and sowed in Jewish cemetery flanked by his parent’s graves.
Ginsberg was overwhelmed with ordinary Indian human being’s tolerance, tenderness, resilience, pluralism, hetero glossia, synereticity and eclectic capabilities. While talking about the moment on the Kyoto-Tokyo Express on his way back from India to USA he had expressed: ‘My energies of the last, oh, 1948 to 1964, all completely washed up’, and that ‘to attain the depth of consciousness that I was seeking, I had to cut myself off from the Blake vision and renounce it’, he was actually revealing the impact of the Hungry Generation on him, a newness beyond Howl and Kaddish which sought ‘cosmic consciousness’ not in visions but in ‘contact with what was going on around me’. It was the Hungryalists who weaned him away from Hollywood world of Judeo-Christian visionary flashes.
The three fishes with one head which became Ginsberg’s logo after his India visit was brought to the notice of Allen and Peter (Orlovsky) by the Hungryalists when they had gone to Emperor Akbar’s tomb. Akbar wanted to combine the basic tenets of Indian religions of Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism into one which the Emperor called Deen-E-Ilahi, Ginsberg’s biographers and critics have never bothered to unravel Allen’s Deen-E-Ilahi fascination and the correlation thereof to his post-Planet News poetry. Ginsberg came across a Persian book at Patna Khudabaksh Library, the leather-bound cover of which depicted the three-fish and one-head design in silver colours.
In April 1963 Ginsberg had stayed for sometime with my parents at Patna. My father was quite angry with him for Allen’s addiction of taking photographs of beggars, paupers, crippled men, lepers etc. We had two vacant rooms at our Patna house which used to be the halting station for hippies on their way from Benaras to Nepal. A tanned Ginsberg in Khadi pyjama-kurta, oiled long hair, a red ethnic towel on right shoulder and vermillion dot on his forehead looked completely Indian and treated as one by my parents. Ginsberg had narrated to me an incident which explains as to why, although his book Indian Journals is full of references to Hindu deities, pilgrim places, saints and sannyasies, he ultimately became a Buddhist.
Allen Ginsberg had come to Patna after a trip to Bodhgaya which had not been developed as a tourist centre at that time and he had no place to stay. There were no toilets. Allen had to sit on two bricks beside a bush for morning chores when he was stunned to find that one of the bricks was actually a broken stone from a temple wherein small replicas of Buddha were curved. He got up, collected the stone, washed and cleaned it with his tooth brush at the nearby pond. The incident had an indelible impact on him.
Ginsberg had carried the stone with him to Patna and used to meditate in front of it. Prior to this incident he used to meditate in front of a wooden Chaitanyadev collected by him at Nabadwip, the paints on which had flaked off due to overuse. The Bodhgaya incident was recorded in his April 1963 notebook which was stolen from Ginsberg’s sling bag at Patna. Allen thought that the theft was the handiwork of some fellow from the Detective Police Department who had been keeping a watch on him from Benaras. His premonition may be correct since his visa was not extended thereafter. Since it was illegal, Ginsberg did not carry the Buddha stone to USA. Bob Rosenthal informed us that Ginsberg had kept an ordinary brick-like stone on his windowsill at New York home.
Allen had accompanied me to my elder cousin sister’s house where my nieces were playing on the harmonium. My sister showed him how playing the instrument was easiest. He had seen ordinary people at Benaras and Patna play the instrument with ease while reciting the classical Hindi poet Tulsidasa. On his way back to USA he had purchased a harmonium at Benaras and used to play it at poetry recitals, of his own or of William Blake’s. Who can deny that Ginsberg’s poetry reading methods had not been indianised? With harmonium hung from his shoulders he started composing extempore poems on the lines of Bhola Moyra, Jaga Kaivarta, Nitai Boiragi etc, pre-modern poets of Bengal who were called Kaviyal. Having come in touch with the Hungryalist writers and painters, Ginsberg’s understanding of relation between language and reality encountered a sea-change due to Indianisation of his being. However, in case of other Beat poets, including Gary Snyder who visited India, they remained at the same metropolitan cultural level.
How and to what extent the Hungryalist movement had been able to invade micro level American poetry circle may be felt from the under noted two letters written to me at that time by poets Carol Berge and Lawrence Ferlinghetti:
My dear friend Malay New York, November 26, 1966.
The Poetry Reading Benefit (St. Mark’s Church) was one of the evenings of great beauty in our lives. As the evening approached, I found that many of the New York poets wished to be included, so that by Wednesday evening we had a fine group and a fine, eager audience. But the feeling of the evening, the emotion, the waves of wishes are what I can only try to describe to you.
The time began by my reading of a selection of excerpts from your letters to me; so that these people (poets and audience) could have an image of you as a man and poet and of your life as you live it. I introduced the poet Allen Hoffman, who then read aloud your poems.
I will tell you the names of the poets who read their work for you that night, with my comments, so that you may know the names of your friends here who have had a part in gesturing on your behalf. Paul Blackburn read and he made a tape recording of the entire night’s events, so that anyone who wishes may know of the evening’s occurrences. Others who read were: Armand Schwerner, Gary Youree, Carol Rubenstein, Allen Planz, Ted Berrigan, Jerome Rothenberg, Bob Nichols, Clayton Eshleman, David Antin, Jackson Maclow. It was unbelievable. When the day comes for you to be with us, we shall share further. Tell us, if you can, how you are faring. We care about you.
Your friend always
Dear Malay City Lights, SF, California.
March 26, 1966.
I have received the legal decision on your case and thank you very much for sending it .I find it laughable. I want to publish it together with your poem ‘Stark Electric Jesus’ in the next City Lights Journal which will be out this coming summer and I enclose a small payment immediately, since I know you must need it desperately. I am sending a copy of this letter to Howard McCord .Perhaps he knows the answers to the following questions and will send them to me right away, time is of the essence and it may take some time to get a reply from you. I think it is a wonderful poem and I will certainly credit McCord for having first published it. Bravo.
Allen is in New York and his new address is 408 East, 10 street (Apt 4c), New York, NY.
I need to know the answers to the following questions:
1. Was the poem first written in Bengali and was it the Bengali or the English version which was seized and prosecuted?
2. Is this your own translation or whose is it?
3. Do you wish me to use the type written copy of the poem which you sent me last year or the version printed by McCord? (I find some differences).
Let me hear as soon as you can. Holding the press. And good luck. I hope you are still able to survive.
American academicians and researches working on Allen Ginsberg will have to rethink the issue and examine the work of the poet in the light of his India visit.
Malay Roychoudhury:Founder of Hungry Generation Movement in Bengali Literature.Has written more than 60 books by now. Poetry, Novel, Essay, Drama, Criticisms; translated some works as well: Neruda, Ginsberg, Lorca, Tzara,Artaud, Rimbaud, Cendrars, Dali, Gaugin, Blake in Bengali (a language spoken by 250 million people)