Allen Ginsberg’s letter to Abu Sayeed Ayyub about Hungry Generation Movement

704 East, 5th Street, NYC, Apt 5A, USA, October 6, 1964

Dear Abu Sayyed

Obviously my note to you was stupidly peremptory or short witted and I am sorry I got your goat, possibly or probably I deserve to be put down for the irritant discourtesy of my writing & the presumption in it, telling you what to do, etc. butting in where it is not my affair and possibly ignorant of the quality of the texts. And chiding a senior. For which I do wish to apologize, offering as excuse that I wrote in great haste — many letters on the same subject the same afternoon — and that the situation as I understand it is a little more threatening to the young scribes than you understand it to be. May be it has settled a lot since I wrote. But from what I understand, from the letters from Malay, as well as Sunil Ganguly & Utpal Basu ( & the latter two seem to be mature in judgement ) ( Malay I like as a person & do actually admire the liveliness of his englished manifestos — to my mind a livelier prose wit than any other Indian English Writing. ) ( though I realize he is inexperienced & impetuous and part of the charm is the naivete of the manifestos. or, better, innocence of them ) ( this simply being a matter of of gut taste preference intuition & certainly not the sort of literary matter to be settled by police action ) : the police situation at one time was that not only Malay but his brother Samir ( an excellent philosopher ) as well as Debi Roy as well as two young boys I never met Saleswar and Subhash Ghose were all arrested. Then let out on bail. In addition a general police investigation, according to Utpal, “those arrested are already suspended from their jobs & if they are convicted they may loose it.” Further Ananda Bazar Patrika, Jugantar, Janata and other Bengali papers fanned the fire against “obscene literary conspiracy.” Simultaneously the Supreme Court judgement of Lady Chatterley as obscene also, has, according to a clipping I read, from Times of India, “led many people to complain about the lewdness in the writings of many Bengali poets and novelists. Says Basu, “impossible to get any other job if one is lost.” The arrested five were tied and locked up for one or two days each. Utpal Basu was detained by police and questioned for five hours. I understand also that Sunil was questioned by police. As far as I know it is still not decided whether or not the police will actually prosecute, and that decision will depend on the support given to the younger writers by older established writers and like the cultural groups Indian Congress For Cultural Freedom. Everyone I hear from has said that the Congress for Cultural Freedom has not spoken up in any way. All told the situation, whether or not one approves of the literary quality of the texts, is much more threatening than I would gather from your letter. My own experience of the bureaucratic complications of police investigation in India — it is endless and Kafkian grimness — led me to a much less light-hearted view of the matter that yourself. As you may remember I was followed for months in Benares, visited by the police, threatened by Marxists, given a ten day quit India notice on vague charges of distributing obscene literature & corrupting the young. It took intervention by friends in Home Ministry in Delhi & a letter from Indian Consulate in New York to begin to straighten it out. So I have no confidence that a dismal legal process on literary matters once started, is so easily to be dismissed. Particularly where young apolitical inexperienced enthusiasts is concerned.
I do not agree with you at all in your evaluation as obscene & filthy the sentence :”Fuck the bastards of Gangshalik School of Poetry”. Not that I even know which school that is. But it is common literary parlance both in speech and public texts from cafes of Paris or Calcutta to old manifestos by Tristan Tzara. The style, the impetuousness, the slight edge of silly ill-will, the style of “Burn the Libraries”, an old charming XX Century literary cry. I do not really feel very “shocked” to hear that they let a lady show people her breasts in public. Do you seriously find that offensive ? I suppose it is a little bit against the law — of course they had a woman completely naked on the balcony last year of the Edinburgh Festival — brightest moment of the Fete I hear tell — Yes, certainly I do approve. However I did not think of it myself nor “promote” it from half way around the world. And I do not really think that mere publicity is the deepest motive one can find in such typical Dada actions. In that I think you are really doing them an injustice, however low you grade their literary productions. Because, after all there is considerable difference of opinion, as to the literary quality. Ferlinghetti, who does not know these writers, is publishing a self-translated section of writings by Malay, Sunil & basu in his City Lights Journal. The texts were collected by Mrs Bonnie Crown of the Asia Society, who found them as interesting as any translated texts she had been able to collect. The magazine KULCHUR here — which has considerable avantgarde circulation — also reprinted three of the manifestos in question ( on prose, poetry & politics ) earlier this year. This is independent of my correspondence with anyone.
In sum, what I do know, in translation of the poetry & manifestos of Malay & the other poets arrested or questioned by the police, was pleasing. So, despite half a world difference, and acknowledging your greater familiarity with the literature, I must claim my prerogative as poet and also as critic ( since I edited and acted as agent here for such unpublished writers as Kerouac & Burroughs & Artaud as well as several different schools of US poetry ) to stand by my intuition and say I do definitely see signs of modern life well expressed in their works. Not claiming they are geniuses or even great — simply that in certain precise areas expressing psychic dissatisfaction with their society, they do reflect well their thoughts, and reflect uniquely –their other contemporaries & seniors being more interested in classical piety or “sociological” mature formulations, Marxism, Humanism etc. I do not think it would be correct to term them Beatnik much less Beatnik imitators, since that is primarily a journalistic stereotype that never even fit the US supposed “Beatniks.”
Regarding the Congress for Cultural Freedom, I do stand by my fear that it is 1) possibly supported by Foundation funds connected with US government. 2 ) Less alert to dangers of suppression within the Western world and allies than within the Iron Curtain. In the US we have been all this year undergoing a seige of legal battles over stage works, books, movies, poetry etc. which has nearly crippled the public activity of avantguard. I contacted the US Committee for Cultural Freedom head Mr A. Beichman who said himself, the Congress is only a skeleton group in the US now inactive. And this year I had a contact John Hunt from New York to move the Congress to defend Olympia Press in Paris. This is a lag. My criticism was more just than you will allow, though overstated. OK Best Conscience.
Do you really insist that the Manifestos can NOT be classed as “Literature” & therefore it is not a literary repression problem ??? Really ?????????????????????????????????
I will write to the Paris Office as well as Mr Karnick. You must remember that the Russians denounce Brodsky and Yevtuchenko/Voznesensky as 3rd rate writers, worth no official attention. And I have heard that often enough about myself from US Police agencies.
( Allen Ginsberg was not aware, when he wrote this letter to Mr Ayyub that among the persons who complained to the Calcutta Police about the Hungry Generation movement was Mr Abu Sayeed Ayyub himself. )

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Malay Roychoudhury and the Rebel Poets of 1960’s Bengal by Sara Hussain

There is a certain kind of magnetic attraction that literary figures of the past hold over young struggling writers of today. We often look to their work, their lives and lifestyles for inspiration, adopting their methods and styles into our own experimentations with finding our own writer’s voice. We look to the past movements and revolutions that have created the literary landscape of today. Nothing seems to pull a writer in more than the Beat generation in 1950’s America. Young, scruffy anti-establishment writers living life on their own terms and rejecting dominant societal rules has a kind of attraction that makes you fantasize about travelling across cities with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, with the sun shining on your face – there’s definitely someone playing the harmonica – living the ideal hippie writer’s life you’ve imagined through romanticised notion of the Beats.

But once you wake up to the reality of adulthood and working, these images slowly start to change. Depending on the kind of writer you want to be you still strive to change the world with your words, create worlds of wonder, magic and whimsy, or even trigger entire revolutions. While we may all not end up being these ideal selves we’re created in our minds, there was a literary movement in India itself, our own Beat generation, in a way, that changed the way Bengali literature was received, read and written in the 1960’s.

The Hungryalist Movement was founded by what is referred to as the Hungryalist quartet by Dr Uttam Das in his dissertation ‘Hungry Shruti and Shastravirodhi Andolan’ – Malay Roychoudhury and his elder brother Samir Roychoudhury, Shakti Chattopadhyay and Debi Roy, alias of Haradhon Dhara. These mavericks of the avant-garde shook an unsuspecting Calcutta’s (as it was named at the time) literary and cultural world and became a real force to reckon with. Members grew in number as more and more poets and writers came into the folds of this new generation of writers, resulting in one of the most historically and culturally significant trials of the Indian literary world.

Source: Hungryalist Photos
Source: Hungryalist Photos

The Hungryalist movement picked its name from Geoffrey Chaucer’s phrase “the sowre hungry tyme”. “When a civilisation falls, people tend to eat every thing that comes their way,” said Malay Roychoudhury in an interview with Nayanima Basu. “Today when I look at West Bengal, the Hungryalist premonition appears prophetic.”

The 1960s was host to a generation of disaffected youth in post-partition Bengal. They voiced their anger and sense of displacement by creating literature that challenged the pre-existing colonial perspectives and traditional readings of Bangla writings to make reader’s question how Indian literature is perceived and received. As Prof. S Mudgal explains, “The central theme of the movement was Oswald Spengler’s idea of History, that an ailing culture feeds on cultural elements brought from outside. These writers felt that Bengali culture had reached its zenith and was now living on alien food.”

The Hungry generation was more than just a group of angry young men. At the time, Bengali literature was, for lack of a better word, limited and inaccessible for most people. The Hungryalists wanted more – they wanted a new language, a new literary space that was open, accessible and representative of all Bengalis, not just limited to an elite few. “Their entire position was extremely iconoclastic. To break whatever was held sacrosanct till then, including the way n which they wrote poetry and the way in which they lived their lives,” said Ipshita Chanda, professor of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University, to the BBC. Their frustration was shared with not just other poets, she explains, but with an entire generation of over-educated people who felt they had no future.

The Hungryalist quartet grew in number and was soon joined over the years with writings by renowned Bengali voices such as Subimal Basak, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Saileswar Ghose, Basudeb Dasgupta, Tridib Mitra, Subhas Ghose, Falguni Ray and Arunesh Ghose, to name a few. These were young writers who came from humble backgrounds and meagre means, and the political and social climate of the time only made their voices louder.

Source: Hungryalist Photos
Source: Hungryalist Photos

This was a difficult time in the region’s history. Thousands were displaced and forced to migrate following partition, with no money and no place to go – no place they belonged to. There was rampant poverty, food shortages and homelessness, but this immediate reality would never find its way into the writings and literature of the time – into the living rooms of the elite who lived sheltered lives in the comfort of their homes. The Hungryalists were very aware of this reality, and carried these people’s stories, their histories through words into the limelight in their pamphlets/bulletins.

The movement broke all conventions of writing – they were different in form, in content and rhythm from the traditional, ‘elitist’ works that dominated the literary sphere. These used language that was polite, cultured and ‘civilised’ and the Hungryalist’s disruption came into this space with a sense of pure anarchy. While they viewed Tagore’s language as ‘vegetarian’, their’s focused on being streetwise and colloquial, for the people, raw and relatable – the “language of life” that was viewed by the rest as vulgar and obscene.

As Malay Roychoudhury explained, they identified themselves as a part of the post-colonial period that disconnected itself from colonial canons. They published their work through single-sheet pamphlets that they would then distribute in coffee houses, colleges, and offices. While their anti-establishment antics may have carved for them a special place in the heart of Allen Ginsberg, who the Roychoudhurys met during his trip to India in the 60s, it definitely wasn’t for everyone, especially dominant Bengali society. Criticising society meant a harsh critique of politics and those in power. As Nayanima Basu writes, “The administration’s ire towards the Hungryalists reached its peak when the poets started a campaign to personally deliver paper masks of jokers, monsters, gods, cartoon characters and animals to Bengali politicians, bureaucrats, newspaper editors and other powerful people. The slogan was, ‘Please remove your mask’.”

Source: Hungryalist Photos
Source: Hungryalist Photos

Arrest warrants for eleven of the movement’s poets were issued, and Malay Roychoudhury, viewed as the face and leader of this bunch of troublemakers, was arrested on September 2, 1964. His poem ‘Prachanda Boidyutik Chhutar’ (translated as ‘Stark Electric Jesus’) didn’t sit well with the good Bengali people of civilised society, and he was charged with conspiracy against the state and literary obscenity. The trial went on for 35 months, he explains, during which he spent a month in jail. While many of the Hungry poets slowly began to break away from the movement during this time – many lost their jobs, faced regular police raids and some ventured into different fields altogether – Malay Roychoudhury received tremendous support from other friends and family, even from writers and poets abroad who read of the news in a Time magazine editorial, such as Octavio Paz, Ernesto Cardenal, and Allen Ginsberg, who even wrote a letter in his support.

The charges were subsequently dropped by the High Court of Calcutta, but in the mean time the Hungry generation seemed to have dwindled to a handful of people. “Some of them carried the news to Europe and I started getting translated for the little magazines there,” said Malay Roychoudhury. “My poems were read at New York’s St Mark’s Church to raise funds to help me. It would have been impossible to fight the case up to the High Court without this help. I was poor, all my friends who were part of the movement deserted me, I lost my job with the Reserve Bank of India during the case, my grandmother died hearing the news of my imprisonment, and thus, I stopped writing.” But the spirit of the movement still lives on in the hearts and works of the Roychoudhurys and many other writers of the time, even if they separated themselves from the group.

The Hungryalists left an indelible impact on not just Bengali literature, but that of India. The Hungry generation are remembered as literary heroes, however romanticised our notions may be. These were writers that were hungry for a new voice and found themselves in a storm of politics and bold, brave words that stood as a declaration for a change, one that they themselves put into motion.

Read Nayanima Basu’s interview with Malay Roychoudhury and listen to BBC’s podcast about the Hungry Generation.

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Kapil Arambam : The Hungryalist Movement in Bengali Literature.

I wish I was there during the three decades from the Fifties to the Seventies. Those were the days, as I loved, when the whole world was witnessing a literary tsunami, yet of the good kind. No tsunami, but say, a revolution. With Jack Kerouac touring around North America, the Beat Generation was driving all across the globe; then we have the Malay Roy Choudhury and other Hungryalists, describing in plain words how literature can pinch hard the arses of the authority while producing great works of art; and closer home, the three poets, Yumlembam Ibomcha, Wahengbam Ranjit and Thangjam Ibopishak published the anthology of Shingnaba (Challenge/Resistance) in volumes.

In music, the Fifties was archaic yet the rise of Led Zep, the Doors, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and the other bands in the Sixties was changing the way how we rock and roll literally. Anyways, a few decades down the revolutionary road, now we have a multiverse of art and literature that thrills us, amazes us, and intellectually excites us.

Today, I will be sharing a few essays from a wonderful blog The Hungry Generation (  that I had discovered a while ago on the Hungryalists. Some day, I would love to do a comparative analysis of these guys and the Beatniks. So, I will start with a paragraph textually from one of the posts on that blog and then continue graphically:

Since 1961 when the Movement started, till date, there have been many articles written on the subject, in India and abroad. Essays and criticisms in Bengali are easily available at the Little Magazine Library and Research Centre, Kolkata. English material is not easily accessible to readers and researchers. An attempt is therefore being made to locate, collect and bring as many articles as possible, in one place. Those left out by me may please be added to this web by anyone interested on the subject Lot of things written about the participants have become outdated which may be discerned from various websites. Some of them have even been bestowed with National literary awards. For historical reasons, however, entire discourse should be kept on record.

(Read Stark Electric Jesus by Malay Roy Choudhury below)

For clearer references

Malay Roychoudhury and Bengal’s Hungry Generation of Anarchist Writers
By Sara Hussain, Homegrown

“No Hungry Generations Tread Thee Down”? — Exploring the Poetics of Alterity
By Sanchari Bhattacharya, Information and Library Network Centre

The Bohemian Hungry Generation Assemble at Kolkata
By Abhijit Pal, Bohemian Hungry Generation Poets, Novelists & Artists of Kolkata

Art, the Hungryalists, and the Beats
By Juliet Reynolds, Café Dissensus

Stark Electric Jesus
Malay Roy Choudhury

Oh I’ll die I’ll die I’ll die
My skin is in blazing furore
I do not know what I’ll do where I’ll go oh I am sick
I’ll kick all Arts in the butt and go away Shubha
Shubha let me go and live in your cloaked melon
In the unfastened shadow of dark destroyed saffron curtain
The last anchor is leaving me after I got the other anchors lifted
I can’t resist anymore, a million glass panes are breaking in my cortex
I know, Shubha, spread out your matrix, give me peace
Each vein is carrying a stream of tears up to the heart
Brain’s contagious flints are decomposing out of eternal sickness
other why didn’t you give me birth in the form of a skeleton
I’d have gone two billion light years and kissed God’s ass
But nothing pleases me nothing sounds well
I feel nauseated with more than a single kiss
I’ve forgotten women during copulation and returned to the Muse
In to the sun-coloured bladder
I do not know what these happenings are but they are occurring within me
I’ll destroy and shatter everything
draw and elevate Shubha in to my hunger
Shubha will have to be given
Oh Malay
Kolkata seems to be a procession of wet and slippery organs today
But i do not know what I’ll do now with my own self
My power of recollection is withering away
Let me ascend alone toward death
I haven’t had to learn copulation and dying
I haven’t had to learn the responsibility of shedding the last drops
after urination
Haven’t had to learn to go and lie beside Shubha in the darkness
Have not had to learn the usage of French leather
while lying on Nandita’s bosom
Though I wanted the healthy spirit of Aleya’s
fresh China-rose matrix
Yet I submitted to the refuge of my brain’s cataclysm
I am failing to understand why I still want to live
I am thinking of my debauched Sabarna-Choudhury ancestors
I’ll have to do something different and new
Let me sleep for the last time on a bed soft as the skin of
Shubha’s bosom
I remember now the sharp-edged radiance of the moment I was born
I want to see my own death before passing away
The world had nothing to do with Malay Roychoudhury
Shubha let me sleep for a few moments in your
violent silvery uterus
Give me peace, Shubha, let me have peace
Let my sin-driven skeleton be washed anew in your seasonal bloodstream
Let me create myself in your womb with my own sperm
Would I have been like this if I had different parents?
Was Malay alias me possible from an absolutely different sperm?
Would I have been Malay in the womb of other women of my father?
Would I have made a professional gentleman of me
like my dead brother without Shubha?
Oh, answer, let somebody answer these
Shubha, ah Shubha
Let me see the earth through your cellophane hymen
Come back on the green mattress again
As cathode rays are sucked up with the warmth of a magnet’s brilliance
I remember the letter of the final decision of 1956
The surroundings of your clitoris were being embellished
with coon at that time
Fine rib-smashing roots were descending in to your bosom
Stupid relationship inflated in the bypass of senseless neglect
I do not know whether I am going to die
Squandering was roaring within heart’s exhaustive impatience
I’ll disrupt and destroy
I’ll split all in to pieces for the sake of Art
There isn’t any other way out for Poetry except suicide
Let me enter in to the immemorial incontinence of your labia majora
In to the absurdity of woeless effort
In the golden chlorophyll of the drunken heart
Why wasn’t I lost in my mother’s urethra?
Why wasn’t I driven away in my father’s urine after his self-coition?
Why wasn’t I mixed in the ovum -flux or in the phlegm?
With her eyes shut supine beneath me
I felt terribly distressed when I saw comfort seize Shubha
Women could be treacherous even after unfolding a helpless appearance
Today it seems there is nothing so treacherous as Woman & Aet
Now my ferocious heart is running towards an impossible death
Vertigoes of water are coming up to my neck from the pierced earth
I will die
Oh what are these happenings within me
I am failing to fetch out my hand and my palm
From the dried sperms on my trousers spreading wings
300000 children gliding toward the district of Shubha’s bosom
Millions of needles are now running from my blood in to Poetry
Now the smuggling of my obstinate legs are trying to plunge
Into the death-killer sex-wig entangled in the hypnotic kingdom of words
Fitting violent mirrors on each wall of the room I am observing
After letting loose a few naked Malay, his unestablished scramblings.

[Poem sourced from Poem Hunter]



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Marina Reza : The Hungryalists


Marina Reza

Supervisor: Mary Storm, Ph.D.

Subimal Basak, Hungryalist Poet

SIT: Study Abroad

India: National Identity and the Arts, New Delhi

Spring 2012


It has been such a privilege working with the following people, all of whom I admire immensely.  I owe the results of this project to them.

To Dr. Storm and the staff of SIT: National Identity and the Arts—Katherine Ernst Mehta, Arjun Singh Chauhan, Yogesh Wadhwa, Savita Borges, Prahlad-ji: For not only doing their best in their professional roles, but also in their roles as mentors and friends.

To my ISP advisor Subimal Basak:  For being incredibly avuncular to me from the day he received my letter in the mail.  I greatly thank him and his wife Gayatri for their love, support, and patience as they stay over for days—just so I could sift through all of Subimal-da’s primary materials.

To Malay Roy Choudhury: For constantly checking in with me, for keeping me apprised of all Hungry-related news.  For encouraging me, through Skype, to pursue further research.

To Samir Roy Choudhury: For his wisdom, support, and anecdotes that gave me greater insight into the movement.

To Devarshi Roy Choudhury, Sandip Dutta, and Jyotsna Chattopadhyay: For their time, and for equipping me with background knowledge about the Hungryalists.

To my homestay mother Sree, many times over: For giving me the gumption and encouragement to keep questioning, always.

To my family—Mimi, Papa, Sharina: For rooting me on and allowing me to be here for this experience, for sending their love, support, and warmth from New York.

To Lisa Cohen, my English-major advisor at Wesleyan: For raising questions about biographies, many of which I encountered in portraying the Hungryalists.

To Carolyn Sorkin and Gail Winter at the Office of International Studies at Wesleyan: For their encouragement and assistance with my SIT application.

To the Olin Fellowship from the Department of English at Wesleyan University: For supporting me and enabling me to continue research on the Hungryalists come Summer 2012.

To all the Hungryalists I have not met: For pursuing the authentic, then going after it with all their hearts.

Table of Contents




The Trajectory of Kolkata as India’s Literary Sphere……………………………….7

Bengali Language and Literature in Early Kolkatan History…………………….7

    Hungryalist Grievances Against Kolkata’s Litterati………………………………8

Literary Influences: Indian Writers………………………………………………10

    Working in a Destructive/Regenerative Space…………………………………..10

Literary Influences: A Visit from the West………………………………………11

Philosophy on Conceptual Space………………………………………………………12

Employing Public Space………………………………………………………………..13

Methods of Distribution………………………………………………………….14

Methods of Employing Space on the Page…………………………………………….16


Malay’s Infamous Poem…………………………………………………………17

Subimal’s Writing Style………………………………………………………….18

Establishment language (Diction and Syntax)……………………………………19

Repercussions of Hungryalist Writings

The Trial………………………………………………………………………….20   

The Post-Trial Space

Cross-Pollination with the West…………………………………………………22

Retrospective Views of the Movement in Periodicals……………………………23



Suggestions for Further Research……………………………………………………..27


The object of Hungryalism (hungrealisme)……………………………………………30



In 1962, Malay Roy Choudhury launched Hungryalism, a Bengali avant-garde socio-literary movement that his elder brother Samir and a few others joined in Kolkata.  They called themselves the Hungryalists, or Hunger Generation, and responded to the rapid changes in 1959 post-partition Bangla polity, when displaced people flowed into Kolkata and politicians reigned over dominating spheres of influence.  These Anti-Establishment writers wrote against conventional, mainstream Indian literary genres and focused on hybrid, experimental forms—many of which were considered anti-Indian, controversial, and landed some of them in jail for obscenity and subversive conspiracy, such as Malay’s poem “Stark Electric Jesus.”  The Hungryalists’ writings reached beyond Kolkata—to Bombay, New Delhi, and eventually across to Europe and the Americas—after the infamous trial. The trial caused many to stray away from the movement and deny involvement, which caused many fractions within the group and its eventual demise. I have compiled portions from interviews and correspondence with the Hungryalists in a set of polyvocal prose-poems that follow this paper.  This is only the beginning of a longer collection that I will complete this summer when I continue researching the Hungryalists thanks to a fellowship I have received from Wesleyan University.


“I’ll go on defending Obscenity,” poet Malay Roy Choudhury wrote, “until I’ve forced the society to embrace the total vocabulary of MAN.” (See Appendix 1).  This declaration encapsulates the earnest and raucous spirit of the countercultural “Hungry Generation” writers and poets of 1960s Kolkata, India; they were also known as the Hungryalists, Hungrealists, Hungry Gs, or simply, The Hungries.  Their journey commenced in 1961 from founder Malay’s house in Patna, Bihar, bringing in co-founders Samir (Malay’s elder brother), Shakti Chattopadhyay, and Debi Roy (real name Haradhon Dhara); thirty-five more poets, writers, and artists joined in the next few years.  Other prominent Hungryalists include Subimal Basak, Basudeb Das Gupta, Falguni Roy, Pradip Choudhuri, Subhash Ghosh, wife and husband Tridib and Alo Mitra, and painters Anil Karanjai and Karunanidhan Mukhopadhyay (See Appendices 2-5).

The Hungryalists yearned to shake up the stagnant literary environment in Kolkata by revolutionizing the way a group of writers could occupy a post-partition, postcolonial sphere structurally, syntactically, and ideologically.  They griped about the Indian cultural establishment and the sorts of literature it delivered. They critiqued the decadence and dislocations of modern Indian life, and sought to examine these issues through writing poetry, prose, manifestos, and distributing different forms of ephemera.  Co-authorship and collaboration with each other—both in public space and on the page—was a critical part of the Hungryalist identity-formation process.

How do you approach a literary movement backed by a glaring paucity of reliable, secondary material regarding it?  What gets lost when limiting one’s self to reserves of the little “hard history,” or secondary material, that does exist?  Many Hungryalists are alive and reside in India, and there’s an urgency to hear what these writers have to say, if only to grasp the nuances, sensibilities, and micrographic history of their lives, that movement, and the role of the movement in India’s literary history.


This paper draws from secondary sources, primary sources, and a frustration in determining which one certain materials would qualify as.  Which might a retrospective essay on the movement by a Hungryalist poet be? What about a literary compilation that published a collection of Hungryalist correspondences, manuscripts, and experimental works?  I realized that their versions of the movement were going to be inherently biased, so part of my research felt like a careful process of gleaning facts and knowing how to weigh in nuanced responses about “history.”

The primary sources include interviews with three Hungryalist poets (Subimal Basak, Samir Roy Choudhury, Malay Roy Choudhury); Jyotsna Chattopadhyay, the head of the Bengali department at Rabindra Bharati University; Sandip Sutta, owner and founder of the Little Magazine Library and Research Center; and Devarshi Roy Choudhury, joint secretary and spokesperson for the Sabarna Roy Choudhury archives.  I also examined the poets’ possessions as related to this research: old correspondences, their poetry, newspaper and magazine articles, and literary periodicals. Oral history is a vital area of historiography, and should not be considered to be peripheral in the scholarly sphere.  The fragments and anecdotes from these interviews have implications beyond the context in which they were said; they are a testament to these still-vociferous poets.  A shared space enables the form of a collage—an assemblage of different forms to create a new whole. The collage medium enables the existence of a third space. The collage’s cut-up medium is emblematic of the mental and political chaos the Hungryalists felt in a post-partition and postcolonial environment where voices like theirs were actively suppressed in the public realm.

The Trajectory of Kolkata as India’s Literary Sphere

Bengali Language and Literature in Early Kolkatan History

From the time the English established themselves in Bengal to the end of Kolkata as the capital of British India in 1912, western education and English spread between the local elites and led to an outpour of Bengali literature that made Kolkata intellectually rich.  The Indian literati and European teachers were in conversation with one another, and the creation of textbooks, grammars, and dictionaries for Indian languages allowed the British East India Company’s European employees to learn these languages in order to communicate better with Indians.  In 1778, one could easily access Bengali medieval literary works and new books due to the completion of the first Bengali typeset for printing.   With this typeset, a distinctive type of Bengali literary prose, poetry, and journalism was much more accessible than before, garnering more interest in their writings, which led to a greater readership.  What we think of as “modern” Bengali writings developed soon after.

Hungryalist Grievances Against Kolkata’s Litterati

“Modern Bengali writing is either trash or is a lump of academic bullshit,” writes Debi Roy in conjunction with a few other Hungryalists.  “It is text-book writings, good for teaching or carrying on as a subsidiary business.”  Hungryalists re-assessed these writings and decided that they were tired of the typical subject matters and manners of bourgeoisie expression; they would take the literary situation into their own hands and start publishing their own anti-Establishment works.

Roy’s lament about modern Bengali writing, in reference to the mechanical hand of the publishing industry in Kolkata in the 1960s, is echoed in an essay Malay wrote about the literary aristocracy in Kolkata—a city that was—and still is, some would argue—the locus of the Indian literary world. In a letter to Howard McCord he wrote, “Calcutta is actually the nest of Indian avant-garde.  The reason that Hungrealist shrieks of libertad [sic] started from Calcutta itself is that Calcutta, the capital city of Bengal, the city of squalor, filth, speed, cruelty, politics, refugees etc. gives physical evidence of India’s cultural collapse.”  Here, Malay is indirectly referencing events leading up to Partition, such as the horrific famine of 1943 that caused millions to perish, and the Second World War that soon followed.  He is also referencing millions of displaced middle-class refugees who were deemed homeless almost over night when they poured into West Bengal after partition in 1947. With this flood of refugees, unemployment was ludicrously high and it was near-impossible to find housing as well; some stayed in suburbs while other slept on Kolkatan sidewalks.  The Indian economy did not develop thoroughly enough to account for these refugees, and as a result, it was hard to come upon any semblance of a solid Bengali community among the fractured households and neighborhoods. Even amidst the chaos of displaced refugees, Malay complained, certain Bengalis rose and called themselves the “elites” of the new India.  Though the ideas of their influences are echoed in their own writings, unlike their predecessors, the Hungryalists had inherited a post-partition, postcolonial space in which to write.

Literary Influences: Indian writers

Early prominent Kolkatan writers drew on romantic trends and a kind of humanistic idealism that the Hungryalists were quick to criticize, such as that of poet and dramatist Michael Madhusudan Dutt who was inspired by European literary genres such as the ode, sonnet, and blank verse, and wrote epics with help from Greek and Latin classics.  Before the Independence era, Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) wrote romantic poems about patriotism and his inclination towards social revolution, as well as songs praising the goddess Kali and the Islamic culture of his parents.  Dutt’s readership grew quickly, and his popularity—alongside that of Islam, Tekchand Thakur, and Bankim Chandra Chatterji—is indicative of the many prominent Bengali writers working from the first half of the twentieth century until the end of British rule.

Rabindranath Tagore, known for his poetry, novels, essays, plays, songs, and paintings, was admired in mainstream culture for his humanistic messages, metric form, and imagery.  In addition to writing with literary Bengali, sadhu bhasha, Tagore was also one of the first writers to use spoken language in his writings, known as chalet chasha.

Subsequent generations like the Hungryalists, as well as those on far ends of the social spectrum such as orthodox Hindus and radical progressives, critiqued Tagore’s romantic and philosophical idealism borne out of the Upanishads and his upper-class aristocratic background.  Malay found him to be “A traitor not because he has turned Bengal into a Tagore-family lavatory & corrupted Bengali literature to an extent that nobody from Shantiniketan can utter a single word correctly.  It is he for whom this multitude if castrated ninnies overflows Calcutta’s streets. It is he for whom the Critic Syndicate of Calcutta Establishment fattens.”  The Hungryalists looked up to the writing styles of Jibanananda Das and novelist Manik Bandyopadhyay as well.  Although the Hungryalists criticized Tagore and other writers for writing with a homogenous, pretentious, and inaccessible language, they acknowledged that their space was an inherited one and that they were products of the Bengali writers who preceded them.

Working in a Destructive/Regenerative Space

In response to Karl Marx’s comment, “British rule in India had two effects: one destructive, the other regenerative,” Samir Roy Choudhury wrote, “All movements are born against some system of domination—be it social, cultural, economic, ethical, aesthetic, religious, literary, artistic, or institutional.  The intent, aspiration or destiny of a movement is to dismantle that system and expand that realm. The chief aim of the postcolonial phase is to emerge out of colonial modernity…the colonial power-structure.”  The Hungryalists were influenced by earlier movements from the 1920s onward, when literary magazines such as Kallol, which also critiqued Tagore’s easy optimism and considered it unrealistic and unresponsive to the effects of the first World War; they believed poetry was inextricable from society and life, and they did not feel that Tagore, with his upper-class background, could represent the trials and tribulations or the values and prejudices of the middle class.  Yet, as Marx points out, the space that Kallol writers were in—as well as the Hungryalists—was a regenerative, inherited space.  The Hungryalists questioned it with razor-sharp attention and attempted to make it their own.

Literary Influences: A Visit from the West

The Hungryalists are overarchingly compared to the post-World War II Beat Generation writers in the United States, countercultural figures who also wrote about non-conformity, spontaneous writing, sex, and experimentation with drugs.  Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, as well as Gary Snyder and Peter Orlovsky, stayed with Malay and Samir and became interested in the Hungryalists and their philosophy. He took news about them back to the States where many writers and publishers associated with the Beat Generation wished to publish Hungryalist writings.  Much debate exists over the extent to which the Hungryalists were influenced by Beat writings and other Western writers such as Artaud, Genet, Michaux, Burroughs, Miller, and Celine.  In an co-written essay by a few Hungryalists, Roy writes, “Hunger describes a state of existence from which all unessentials have been stripped, leaving it receptive to everything around it.  The Hungries can’t addord the luxury of being Beats, ours isn’t an affluent society. The single similarity that a Beat has with a Hungry is in their revolt of the personal, in the discovery of individual feeling.”  Also acknowledging the comparisons that are made between the Beats and the Hungryalists, American writer Howard McCord defended the Hungryalist writings’ “autochthonous” singular qualities, which he believes created “…an indigenous response” to the disillusionment with Indian life that was also indicative of the “strong Bengali avant-garde tradition.”  Yet with Ginsberg’s visit, it is certain that Malay, Samir, and a few other Hungryalists were inspired to keep writing and to keep the movement alive.

Philosophy on Conceptual Space

The Hungryalists were united under their ideas about conceptual and physical space, and applied their philosophy through their actions in the physical sphere—both public space and white space on the page.  Conceptually, they wished to redefine the literary space that they had inherited from the Establishment Bengali writers (Sahitya Jagat) by exploring uncharted subjects and unemployed language. They had a space-oriented, rather than time-oriented, approach to thinking of their place in the history of Bengali writers.  Drawing from Oswald Spengler’s notion of “nonlinear time” in Decline of the West (1917), Malay was taken by the following:

“…all great creations and forms in religion, art, politics, social life, economy and science appear, fulfill themselves and die down contemporaneously in all the Cultures; that the inner structure of one corresponds strictly with that of all the others; that there is not a single phenomenon of deep physiognomic importance in the record of one for which we could not find a counterpart in the record of every other; and that this counterpart is to be found under a characteristic form and in a perfectly definite chronological position.”

Spengler argues that history does not occur in a linear but cyclical progression in which one inevitably finds “birth, growth, maturity, and decay.”  Hegel and Marx theorized that that history moves in one direction but Spengler disagreed, declaring that it moves in innumerable ways.  One culture is not better than the last, since each one flourishes within its own self-containment with its own characteristics and notions of space.  When speaking about a culture’s ascendancy, Spengler argues that it will inevitably face a decline when it can no longer rely on its own resources and becomes “hungry,” looking for inspiration from “alien” cultures, at which point that group is no longer indigenous.

Employing Public Space

Hungryalist Joints for Addas

In terms of physical space, they aimed to decentralize the locus of Establishment Bengali literature and disseminate their own poetics and politics into public space through innovative means.  Together, the Hungryalists identified with one another through their disidentification with the writers in Kolkata’s literary aristocracy.

Unlike “modernist” Bengali poets who wrote in their own spaces and within the confines of their own notebooks, claiming single authorship of their own texts, the Hungryalists would meet at the College Street Coffee House to re-assemble and dis-assemble their works with input from other members of the movement.  Meet-ups were referred to as addas, the Bengali term for a prolonged, extemporaneous intellectual exchange.

One newspaper article from 1963 recounted the Hungryalists’ celebration of Jibanananda Das’ birthday by paying homage to him in the area around the country-liquor shop Khalisitola, a “…complete departure from the usual pattern of anniversaries…not one of [the] city’s cultural sadans but a popular and rambunctious pub in central Calcutta,” where Das himself was inspired and wrote.  At this spectacle, the Hungryalists did theatrical readings of poetry, spoke of a variety of topics such as creation and culinary art, and broke dozens of bottles and glasses at the end of the celebration.  One poet rose up to say, “we are broke, our works remain unpublished; and out comrades are constantly shadowed by Special Branch men for reasons unknown…We damn those poets who think that we can’t write.  WE have freedom. Our minds can think everything and our pens can write anything…Our works will be read by the whole Bengali community one day.”

Methods of Distribution

The Hungryalists’ methods for distributing their writings were fresh and quirky, aiming to not simply surprise and shock, but provoke reassessments of the current literary situation in Kolkata as well.  Hungry bulletins were published irregularly on short sheets of paper in the form of handbills and taken out of metropolitan areas where Kolkatans were accustomed to purchasing literature. The Hungryalists handed out their bulletins in public spaces like university halls, the College Street Coffee House, editors’ parlors, and living rooms across Kolkata.  This sort of action was unthinkable at the time since there had not been any “…cultural precedence to this kind of literary behavior for people to relate to.”  Other Hungryalist antics included sending empty shoeboxes and blank sheets of paper to publishing houses and asking them if the objects could be reviewed.  This symbolic gesture was the Hungryalists’ way of saying publishing houses were printing rubbish: “safe,” pro-Establishment works that upheld the status quo.  The Hungryalists thought these works were just as substantial as blank and empty objects since they maintained the social order that had been in place for so long.

The influence of poet and dramatist Michael Madhusudan Dutt is evident in the following instance: Hungryalist poets, Tridib and Alo Mitra, handed out invitations to the public for a Hungry poetry reading scheduled to be at Dutt’s tombstone—an unthinkable and, some argued, distasteful setting for such an event at the time.  But it was all in fitting with the Hungryalists’ antics to bring poetry out into uncharted space, and better if it paired with some degree of provocation.

Poetry sessions amongst the Hungryalists, as well as out in the public realm—on street corners, at the oft-crowded Howrah Railway Station, in suburbs, on the outskirts of cities—indicate that they considered poetry an oral tradition just as much as a written one.  They would not be the first group of Bengalis to think in such an aural fashion, nor were they the first to bring awareness to conditions of those in lower social strata.  Bengali literature entered the Indian literary scene in the eleventh century, when a Mahayana Buddhist sect began educating its disciples through a corpus of chants in ancient Bengali called Caryagiti (Chants of practice).  These songs alluded to life in the lower classes of society and decried the overarching importance allotted to cults and priesthood.  Evidence of Bengali literary writings from the next three centuries cease to exist, though we see written manuscripts from the Puranas, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata beginning in the fifteenth century.  The aforementioned example indicates that certain Hungryalistic actions, such as making poetry an oral tradition, were not innovative since they had some precedence, even it was in the far past.

Methods of Employing Space on the Page


    The Hungryalists explored unconventional and traditionally taboo topics, which had been conventionally considered inappropriate and/or rarely portrayed in modern Bengali writing, such as sex and the grotesque, sickness, despair, sinful acts, village life, and experiences with drugs, to name a few.  The Bengali language does not have the equivalent of many English phrases and scientific terms, but the Hungryalists tried their best to “…expand the horizon.”  In the original Hungryalist manifesto on poetry, Malay remarks that younger poets have strayed away from “the satanism, the vomitous horror, the self-elected crucifixion of the artist that makes a man a poet.”  He continued:

“It should convey the brutal sound of breaking values and startling tremors of the rebellious soul of the artist himself, with words stripped of their usual meanings and used contraptually [sic].  It must invent a new language which would incorporate everything at once, speak to all sense in one. Poetry should be able to follow music in the power it possess [sic] of evoking a state of mind, and to pr [sic] present images not as wrappers, but as ravishograms.”

Samir and Malay also wrote plenty about Imlitala, a local area in Patna where the “marginal and subalterns” were scattered.  “Life makes the ism,” Samir says when speaking of how instinctual it was for the Hungryalists to depict human life as it existed, exclusive of any framework or theory.  Writings were more extemporaneous and free-flowing than methodical as Malay explained in 1962: “The day of dipping pen in the cerebral cortex is past.  Today poetry is written spontaneously, like an orgasm.”

Malay’s Infamous Poem

Malay’s poem “Stark Electric Jesus” explores the frustration and alienation that comes with disillusionment and feelings of helplessness within one’s own society, sexual hunger, and the will to live and die simultaneously because of all of these.  His powerlessness is emphasized by the following uses of repetition and sounds, “Oh I’ll die I’ll die I’ll die…aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa,” which illustrates a break form any kind of rigid, controlled form.  Throughout the poem, Malay continues:

“I’ve forgotten women during copulation and returned to Muse/into the sun-colored bladder…I haven’t had to learn copulation and dying/I haven’t had to learn the responsibility of shedding last drops after urination…Shubha let me sleep for a few moments in your violent silvery uterus…let me see the earth through your cellophane [sic] hymen…the surroundings of your clitoris were being embellished with coon that time/fine rib-smashing roots were descending into your bosom…let me enter into the immemorial incontinence of your labia majora…why wasn’t I driven away in my father’s urine after his self-coition/why wasn’t I mixed in the ovum-flux or in the phlegm…

This sexual and vivid imagery from snippets of “Stark Electric Jesus” offended many conservative Kolkatans who were unreceptive of this combination of frankness, provocation, and pessimism.  However, not all Hungryalists wrote about the same topics and oftentimes found their own niche for writing about the issues that they found to be underrepresented in modern Kolkatan literature.

Subimal’s Writing Style

Subimal Basak enjoyed writing about or from the point of view of middle-class workers, some of which is based off of personal experience in that area or industry.  In one tale he follows the life of a goldsmith. In another tale that takes place in the slums of Patna, he writes about a man experiencing the intoxicating effects of arrack or toddy (palm wine), which someone from the low-caste Pashi might sell.  A friend of Subimal’s offered to translate the story into English, but did a poor job translating it word for word; regardless, the reader understands the nature of intoxication from the repeated references to toddy’s dizzying effects.  In the early seventies, he set out with his tape recorder to compile a collection of Bengali ritual songs sung at different stages of a wedding procession and called it Biyar Git.  Another collection of his, Chakai Chhora, explores common Bengali rhymes and superstitions.  Subimal’s fascination with lower-class occupations and narrating in the voice of someone else is also coupled with a witty sense of humor at times. His pseudo-anthropological approach to writing about his characters, their situation, and their language, falls directly under the Hungryalist credo: to represent those who had mostly been excluded from Modernist literary plots and situations because of their social, economic, or political status.

Establishment language (Diction and Syntax)

The Hungryalists interrogated the authenticity of the language employed in popular Indian literature and felt as though the language of Indians from lower castes and classes were not being adequately represented at all.  They also revolutionized the nomenclature of little magazines with English titles such as Zebra, Wastepaper, and Concentration Camp, which were very different from the elitist Bengali names of Establishment magazines that preceded them, such as Kabita, Dhrupadi, Krittibas, Agrani, Shotobisha, and Uttarsuri.  The editors of the Establishment magazines were exclusive and rarely published writers who did not share the same bourgeoisie values as them; they saw history linearly and believed themselves to be at the forefront of the literary scene, whereas those from subordinate sections of the society were “backwards.”

Literary Symbiotic Space:

Much of Hungryalist writings and events were carried out in collaboration with each other, a far cry from “one-man-happenings.”  Events narrated by the Hungryalists, as well as correspondence between them and American poets and publishers indicate processes of co-editing and co-promoting each others’ work in a kind of literary symbiotic space.  Malay was instrumental in promoting Subimal’s work through his own writings, such as in his essay “Subimal Basak – Victim & Spirit,” where he discusses the seemingly mythical circumstances under which he met Subimal. With his better grasp on English than Subimal, Malay also translated Subimal’s work into English and proofread it as well.  In a way, that manuscript becomes a collage of Subimal’s Bengali writings, Malay’s English translations, then Malay’s proofreading. These instances of sharing space indicate that though the Hungryalists were eager to be recognized in their own right, they also had to work together to form a kind of group ideology as a foundation first. Afterwards, they could branch out write about their own personal projects and work on strengthening the Hungryalist identity as a whole as well.

Repercussions of Hungryalist Writings

The Trial

The chief minister and Kolkata Police Commissioner started receiving written and verbal complaints about Hungryalist writings with presses charged for obscenity, conspiracy against the Establishment, and corrupting the youth.  “Stark Electric Jesus” caused the most fury overall. In 1964 eleven Hungryalists had arrest warrants issued against them on charges of “conspiring against the Establishment” (Section 120 of Indian Penal Code) and for “obscenity in literature” (Section 292 of Indian Penal Code).  A few were arrested (Malay, Samir, Subhas Ghosh, Shaileshwar Ghosh, Debi Ray, Pradip Choudhuri) and others lost their jobs (Pradip Choudhuri at Visva Bharati University, Malay and Samir from their service jobs, Subimal and Debi by their employees).  The infamous Hungryalist trial raises critical questions about the dissemination of the “obscene” in public space and the ownership of words: Who gets to deem a word or thought “obscene”?  The Hungryalists believed that the concept of the obscene was a social construct that dated back to the colonial period when Indian natives’ language, manners, and lifestyles were deemed inappropriate and ill-mannered by their colonizers.

Malay and Samir were taken aside in Patna and Chaibasa, respectively, by a special “Investigating Board” that interrogated them even further.  These police arrests are examples of the public invading the private sphere, incidents of protest against another kind of “alien” language and vocabulary.  When Samir was arrested, he was shocked to see an entire police team encircle his house; there was an extra charge personally against him for “corrupting” youth.  He was placed in a Chaibasa jail for four days (Malay was in a Patna jail for three to four days as well), where his jailmates ranged from murderers to prostitutes and strippers, but he said he mostly kept to himself and wrote.  In his collection of poems Aamar Vietnam (My Vietnam), he describes this experience in the first untitled poem which he wrote in his cell: “…haunches noosed with a rope & handcuffed/I was dragged afoot from police lock-up to court-cage/on the way I’ve been deciding whether/I’d walk stooping down or walk straight/I’ve been questioned a hundred thousand times/I’d ultimately have to account for to [sic] my culture & tradition.”  Samir’s impulse to record his thoughts and describe his situation is an example of an unconventional employment of public space.  The scope of items in the poem—from the rope and handcuffs to the all-encompassing “culture” and “tradition,” indicate an awareness of not only one’s immediate surroundings, but the greater implications of his situation as well.  Just by having to explain “his” culture and tradition, in other words, the language employed in his writings, such as the vocabulary and expressions of Imitola, Samir points to how problematic it was that the police could deem which words were “obscene.”  Both Samir and Malay’s quandaries, however, were fodder for some American writers and publishers who were shocked and simultaneously amused by the governmental actions taken against the Hungryalists.

The Post-Trial Space

Cross-Pollination with the West

    Though there were many shortcomings and hardships associated with the trial, it was instrumental in publicizing Malay’s troubles, as well increasing exposure and recognition to the Hungryalists all over the world, especially in Europe and America.  Many writers and publishers gestured on Malay’s behalf, and their letters to him indicate a kind of symbiotic co-promotion of each others’ literary situations (See Appendix 6). “Benefits” were held in American coffee houses and little reviews of Hungryalist writings were published to raise modest amounts of money for Malay’s bail money.  In 1966, a year after the trial, the American poet Dick Bakken devoted a double-edition of the Salted Feathers literary magazine to the Hungryalists and titled it HUNGRY!  It quickly grew to a 124-page “collage document” of Hungryalist writings, including essays, criticism, and poetry that Bakken considered a “publishing event” in and of itself.  It also included correspondence between the Hungryalists and Western writers and publishers, such as Ginsberg, Carol Bergé, Howard McCord, and Gary Snyder.

News of the Hungryalists spread even further when Time magazine published an article about them one week after the trial in 1964, calling them “…young Bengalis with tigers in their tanks.”  The writer did not have a take on the actual poetry itself but rather the way that the Indian government had responded to the poem.  The Hungryalists’ pluralistic presence illustrates the potency of co-advertising each others’ work and choosing to share the quandaries of their postcolonial space with those in the West.

Retrospective Views of the Movement in Periodicals

Decades after the trial, periodicals were declaring that the Hungryalists had retreated to a kind of invisible space.  In a 1987 article, a little over twenty years after the trial, we learn that besides Debi Roy who broke away from the group quite early, none of the Hungryalists were included nor invited to take part in regional—let alone national—radio programs, official workshops, seminars, recitals, or readings.  In 1988, Society magazine called the movement “barely alive after a quarteryear of ‘fasting’…now defunct.”  In the same year one bookstall, at the entrance of the College Street Coffee House, was willing to sell Malay’s writing.  This seeming dissipation of the movement did not stop many of the Hungryalists from writing, though some of the writers took issue, or no longer chose to identify as being a Hungryalist writer, but rather simply—though not reductively—a writer.


    To study the Hungry Generation is to negotiate “truth” and myth-creation from both primary and secondary materials about a relatively young literary movement that attempted to revolutionize the literary output in Kolkata.  The Hungryalists are examples of young countercultural figures that questioned the systematic production of literature in Kolkata, its origins, and the topics the impermeable and exclusive literary aristocracy focused on. They wished to incorporate new alienated and disillusioned voices in an existing canon of romantic and pro-Establishment writings that was afraid to talk about the messiness of being a human in a messier society.  They utilized public space to not only make poetry more of an oral tradition, but to disseminate their writings in ways that would reach masses of students, professors, government officials, and everyone in between. It does a disservice to the Hungryalists to narrowly consider them in the context of Ginsberg’s visit to Kolkata from 1962-1963 or even as reactionaries to the Krittibas poets and writers or other movements, when they were indigenous writers responding critically to own, singular conditions.


Bakken, Dick, ed.  Salted Feathers.  Portland: Prensa de Lagar/Wine Press, 1967.

Bhattacharjee, Indrajit.  “Anti-Establishment Pioneers.”  Hungry Generation: Collected

and Arranged by Tridib Mitra.


(accessed April 15, 2012).

Bhattacharya, France.  India Since 1950: Society, Politics, Economy, and Culture. Edited

by Christophe Jaffrelot.  Daryaganj, New Delhi: Yatra Books, 2012.

“Calcutta Notebook: Poets’ Pub.” The Statesman, February 26, 1963, p. 20

Chakraborty, Dhiman and Samir Roy Choudhury.  Foreword to Postmodern Bangla

Poetry 2001.  Bansdroni, Kolkata: Haowa 49, 2001.

Chaudhuri, Sukanta, ed.  Calcutta: The Living City, 2 vols.  Oxford: Oxford University

Press, 1990.

Dastidar, Gargi Ghosh.  Introduction to “Letters to Malay Roychoudhury,” Letters to

Malay Roychoudhury. (accessed April 3, 2012).

Ezekiel, Nissim, ed.  The Indian P.E.N.  (Oct.-Dec. 1987): 39-40.

Ferlinghetti, Lawrence, ed.  City Lights Journal 3.  San Francisco: City Lights Books,


“Inside Track: Hungry for Attention,” Society, February 1988, 51.

Oswald Spengler, “The Decline of the West: Form and Actuality” (1917).  Quoted in J.R.

Newman, “Out of a Weak & Defective Eyesight” in The World of Math, Vol. 4.  Quoted in Atalantik, 56.

Roy Choudhury, Samir.  Aamar Vietnam.  Calcutta: Zebra Books, 1966.

Roy Choudhury, Samir.  Tagore With Other Voices of His Time and After.  Edited by

Bandana De (City N/A: Loukik Publication, 2012.

Roy Choudhury, Malay.  “Stark Electric Jesus.”  In Klactoveedsedsteen, edited by Carl

Weissner.  New York: Unknown publisher, 1967), Np.

R.S.  “Poetry of Alienation.”  Link, June 9, 1968, p. 39-40.

Mitra, Tridib.  “Subimal Basak and Malay Roy Choudhury in Nepal during the 1960s.”

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(  Marina Reza with friend in New York )                                          24173833_10210495038197216_868085894834887293_o


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Dr. Rima Bhattacharya : The Common Thread Between the Beats and the Hungryalists.

Abstract: This paper traces the geographical expansion of the trend of writing Language Poetry from the 1950s, which gradually influenced the broader spectrum of literature world-wide. A new group of uprising poets known as the Language poets were opting for technically disruptive writing in place of rhetorical and representational writing in order to reflect the spirit of the age. The paper draws a comparison between the poems of the famous beat poet Allen Ginsberg and the poems of some of the Hungry Generation poets of Bengal in order to trace out the emotional as well as the technical similarities between these two geographically diversified yet very similar groups in terms of voicing a common spirit of rebellion. Be it the poetry of the American beat poet Allen Ginsberg or the Indian hungryalist poet Malay Roychoudhury, the emotions, sentiments and angst expressed through their poems are the same.  In spite of being separated by a huge distance their spontaneous and later censored poetry seem to echo the same rebellious voice and proceed towards the common objective of cleaning the society of hypocrisies and inhibitions.

Title: The common thread between the Beats and the Hungryalists

Rima Bhattacharya

PhD Research Scholar

Department of Humanities and Social Science

Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur

The history of American poetry since World War II represents a contest between a formalist approach towards the experimental impulse of modernism and an anti-formalist revolt that affirms the presence of open forms. Postmodern poetry or avant-garde poetry has always posed oppositional challenges to the cultural establishments of a society. Modern and late modern experimental writers have repeatedly suggested that technically disruptive work is scientific, objective and presentational–the very opposite of representational and rhetorical writing. This was followed by the uprising of a new group of poets known as The Language poets. They were an avant-garde group in United States that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Its immediate postmodern precursors were the New American poets, a cluster which includes the New York School, the Objectivist poets, the Black Mountain School, the Beat poets, and the San Francisco Renaissance. Language poetry can be defined as the work of an associated network of writers who share in the main a number of questions about the relation between language and the politics of cultural production.

By the time Allen Ginsberg was reading out his poem “Howl” for the 6 Poets at the 6 Gallery Reading, San Francisco, 1955,  poetry has become a tangible social force, moving and unifying its auditors, releasing the energies of the audience through spoken, even shouted verse. Young poets did then engage in an enthusiastic, free-spirited celebration of poetry. The audience participated, shouted and joyfully applauded at times. Ginsberg’s poem is a howl against everything in our mechanistic civilization which kills the true spirit of life. It uncovers the nerves of suffering and spiritual struggle. However, its positive force and energy come from a redemptive and eternal quality of love, although it meticulously catalogues the evils of our time, from physical depravation to madness. Nearly all of Ginsberg’s poems which were based on so-called beat themes–allegiance to spontaneity, rejection of artificial forms, commitment to physicality, pursuit of the non-mimetic, are excellent examples of Language Poetry. All these poems generated a poetics of their own along with their own academically respectable theorists William Carlos Williams and Charles Olson (Merrill 16).

It is extremely interesting to trace the geographical expansion of this trend of writing Language Poetry which has influenced the broader spectrum of literature world-wide. With the first reading of Howl in 1955, Ginsberg explodes on the page with a driving challenge of language, perception, and the development of a new American vocabulary, similar to that of Walt Whitman. Ginsberg’s greatest contribution as a poet was the development of a new poetics. Upon the release of the poem as a part of his 1956 collection of poetry titled Howl and Other Poems, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the bookstore’s manager, Shigeyoshi Murao, were charged with disseminating obscene literature, and both were arrested. Only a few years later, in a completely different part of the world, in India, a similar incident took place. On September 2, 1964, arrest warrants were issued against eleven young alienated young poets of Bengal who called themselves The Hungryalists. The group included Malay Roychoudhury, Saileswar Ghosh, Subhas Ghose and Pradip Choudhuri, who had been arrested and charged with conspiring to produce and distribute an obscene book in violation of Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code. The book was an anthology of their writings, in which Stark Electric Jesus was Malay Roychoudhury’s contribution. Later that summer charges were dropped against five of them, but the prosecution of Malay Roychoudhury continued. On 28 December 1965 he was found guilty by a Calcutta court and sentenced to a fine of 200 rupees or one month’s imprisonment. The poem was banned.  The court case went on for years. News of the persecution appeared in the November 4, 1964, issue of Time magazine, which brought the Hungryalist movement worldwide coverage. Poets like Octavio Paz and Ernesto Cardenal, and Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg visited Roychoudhury1.

Soon after Independence, poetry in most of the Indian languages went through a turbulent phrase at approximately the same time. As a result of this various “regional” poetic movements were launched; these were often simply called new poetry (for instance, naikabita in Hindi and nayakavya in Marathi). The major context of nineteenth and twentieth century Indian poetry cannot be grasped if one does not take into consideration the vast gamut or network of Indian and foreign literatures surrounding it. It is almost undeniable that “foreign influences” have played a crucial role in the emergence of Indian post-modern poetry. English literature has been an obvious influence, and it has permeated all the Indian language traditions since the nineteenth century. American Beat poetry of the 1950s and 1960s, especially the poetry of Allen Ginsberg also had a widespread effect, on the Indian literary scenario, drawing strong and favorable responses from all over the subcontinent. During the postcolonial decades, the Indian literary world saw the advent of powerful new writers from formerly suppressed or marginal social groups and communities. In the 1960s and especially in the 1970s, poets from lower middle class and lower class backgrounds began challenging the canons of middle-class and upper- caste literary establishments in languages like Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, Marathi and Hindi. Among the poetic movements that emerged from this wider phenomenon were the Digambara (“naked poetry”) movement in Andhra Pradesh, the controversial and short-lived Hungry Generation movement in Bengal and the Marxist- Leninist (Naxalite) movement of revolutionary writing in different parts of the country (Dharwadker  220)

For a diversified nation like India it is impossible to maintain a tidy clarity and present a singularly unified poetic attitude to the world. No other country in the world can offer greater extremes or variety in the total experiences which shape poets. The poetic vision of the Hungry Generation erupted in Bengal and rapidly spread to such cities like New Delhi, Bombay and Allahabad. This kind of poetry was dangerous and revolutionary like the Beat poetry, and did seek to clean the society by violence and destruction. This was the poetry of the disaffected, the alienated, the outraged, and the dying. It was a kind of poetry which alarmed and disgusted the bourgeois, for it laid bare their sickened state more clearly than they wished to hear, and exposed the hypocrisy of their decency2. In an interview with Subhankar Das, the editor of Graffiti, Kolkata Roychoudhury states that “the Hungryalist movement has changed the course of Bengali literature once for all. We definitely created a rupture in terms of time, discourse, experience, narrative diction and breath span of poetic lines” (See “Conversing with Malay”). One of the reactions of good citizens had been to accuse the hungryalist poets of hysteria and obscenity, which is reminiscent of the first line of Ginsberg’s poem “Howl”: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,/ Dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix” (Collected Poems 126). The long and painful persecution of Malay Roychoudhury, ended in his conviction on 28th December 1965 on charges of obscenity. This is an indication of the disturbance that the poets had created in an apparently well-wrought society comprising mainly of corrupted and hypocritical people.

During his India trip, Bengal introduced Ginsberg to a group of anti-establishment writers like himself and the other beatniks. This group include people like Shakti Chattopadhyay, Malay Roy Choudhury, Samir Roychoudhury, Subimal Basak, Debi Roy (HaradhonDhara), Utpalkumar Basu, Binoy Majumdar, Sandipan Chattopadhyay, Basudeb Dasgupta, Roy and last but not the least Falguni Roy, who is considered to be responsible for heralding the postmodern era in Bengal.   Falguni Roy’s book Nashto Atmar Television (The Television of Ruined Subjectivity), published on 15th August 1973 was supposed to signify the end of modernity in Bangla poetry and thereby herald post-modernity. Falguni Roy completely rejected collectively proclaimed rules and canons and wrote poems which veered toward open, playful, disjunctive, displaced, hybridized, immanent, fragmentary, selfless Bangla indigenous forms. His poems too are strikingly different wherein lines, stanzas, voice-grids are interlocked as against the interlinking form of pre-Hungry Generation Bengali poetry.

In his prose and poems Falguni Roy made constant efforts to dismantle modern poetry’s beliefs in unity, hierarchy, identity, foundations, subjectivity and representations, while celebrating counter-principles of difference and multiplicity in everyday life3. It is possible to draw a comparison between the poetry of Ginsberg and Roy on the account of the tremendous fatigue and hopelessness expressed by their poems. Allen Ginsberg’s collection of early poems The Empty Mirror begins with a poetic statement of the profoundest uselessness and hopelessness:

I feel as if I am at a dead

end and so I am finished.

are true but I never escape

the feeling of being closed in

and the sordidness of self,

the futility of all that I

have seen and done and said.  (Collected Poems 71)

One would encounter the same feeling of hopelessness and despair in Falguni Roy’s poem “Personal Neon”:

I am devoid of genius

that is why I can touch my nose with my tongue

and prove that I am really a genius

Sometimes while walking in front of

Manik Bandyopadhyay’s house I brood

about the street on which he once walked

I am also on the same road, but worthless, Falguni Ray4

The poem expresses neither exultation, nor the certitude of life that provides the human soul with a sense of comfort, but the mood of a spirit that has long been besieged by doubts regarding one’s own abilities and has experienced a face-to-face encounter with the sense of despair. In both of the poems one would find echoes of existential complaints. It is also important to note that both the poems make use of similar spontaneous language and emotions. One would find that Ginsberg’s poetry usually depends upon the existentialist formula: existence precedes essence. While he is writing, he claims to be living or existing through the experience. Thought about that experience (i.e. essence) would reduce the immediacy of the experience itself.  Hungryalist manifestoes contain several points to second Ginsberg’s methods. In fact in more than one way Falguni Roy can be considered to be one out of the group of outcast seekers suffering persecution, madness, suicide and among whom Ginsberg includes himself, in his poem “Howl”. The Moloch, which in Ginsberg’s Howl is a representative of social ills, equally oppresses Falguni’s life, although he belongs to a different culture and country.

At that time, Kolkata, then called Calcutta, was undergoing change at a fast pace. Partition had unleashed a catastrophic inflow of displaced people, which was gradually changing the social fabric of border towns as well as the city of Calcutta. Migration began before Partition and continued into the 1960s and beyond. By late 1959 there were processions of hungry migrants; many died or were killed. Malay Roychoudhury’s poem Wolf Dynasty (translated by the poet from the bengali version Nekrayr Bangsho) depicts this sour time of putrefaction:

They pressed a pistol on my temple, yelled:

Why have you basterd turned up again

We’ll slap hungry lips with scarlet fangs

tongue will lick the sunbeam from your nails

and stop the tinsel Jatayu’s hinged-wing strain.

Oilsoot penury in me lees whatever is stark

designs in secret teak trees behind screen of bark (Malay Roy Choudhury Poems 80)

The poem in its spirit and use of language is reminiscent of Ginsberg’s poem “America” and a later collection of poems named “The Fall of America”. “America” is a poem, as spontaneous as “Wolf Dynasty”. It is also comic, tedious, honest and yet highly incisive. The poem is an attempt to catch the mood of a particular attitude towards the United States without the interference of logic or rationality. However through all the turmoil, gibberish, and illogicality of the poem, a broad-based attack, which rational discourse can only hint at, is launched against American values. The seemingly hopeless illogicality of the poem, which is also a characteristic of “Wolf Dynasty”, acts as a mirror for the hopeless condition of the Nation it reflects. First and foremost Whitman’s exuberant optimism towards America turns into disillusionment in the voice of the poet: “America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing” (Collected Poems 146). This admission is followed later in the poem by an appeal to America to shake off its hypocrisy and be equal to Whitman’s challenge: “America when will you be angelic? / When will you take off your clothes?”(Collected Poems 146). The real impact of the protest in this poem is conveyed structurally. The total bewilderment and confusion that one feels in reading the poem reflects the American dilemma Ginsberg attempts to mirror.

One key concern of the language poets all over the world has been to point out the manner in which traditional poetic genres and forms tend to naively reflect establishmental and institutional values of societies. These writers consciously identify poetry as conditioned by the ideological limitations and power of the written word in traditional cultures. For all these reasons, language poets are considered to be radical revisionists of existing poetic forms. They tend to reject traditional forms, lyricism, narrative, subjectivity, and naively representational writing.  They have also accepted that language is constructed by relations of power, and that it cannot naively access either transcendence or the natural world, or unproblematically represent the way the world “actually is.” Therefore Ginsberg writes in Wichita Vortex Sutra:

The war is language,

Language abused

For Advertisement,

Language used

Like magic for power on the planet (Collected Poems 401)

The Fall of America shows Ginsberg moving closer to Kerouac’s conception of the writer as memoirist. Much of the book is drawn from journal transcription, or composed directly on the tape recorder as Ginsberg traveled about the country by car, plane, and train. This is Ginsberg’s most despairing and least affirming book, haunted by a constant sense of doom. The basis of The Fall of America is the violence of Vietnam during the 1960s as reflected in an inner violence of America. The destruction of foreign war is complemented by the devastation of America’s own natural environment. Ginsberg’s poems are based on the Buddhist notion of karma that promises that any present action will affect future incarnations, or the biblical maxim on sowing and reaping. Instead of the ecstatic resources of drugs or mysticism, the only relief Ginsberg projects in this poem is an apocalypse of self-destruction.

On the other hand if one can take a look at India, specially at Bengal, then one would discover that during the period of 1959- 60, the Post-partition Bangla polity was definitely a time of turbulence. The society was filled with angry young men. Indifferent politicians and not concerned intellectuals governed the sphere of influence. A post-Partition turmoil had overtaken West Bengal. It was during this time Roychoudhury had started the movement with his elder brother, Samir Roychoudhury, and two other poets, Shakti Chattopadhyay and Debi Ray. The word Hungryalism was coined by the Hungryalists from English poet Geofrey Chaucer’s line In the Sowre Hungry Tyme. The Hungryalists felt that the post-colonial dream of a new, ecstatic, resurgent India had turned sour due to the licensed existence of a corrupt bureaucracy-politician nexus and the country was hurtling towards a nightmare after partition of the Bengali time and space5. Such an atmosphere which is comparable to the atmosphere described by Ginsberg in The Fall of America, was responsible for the production of Malay Roychoudhury’s poem “Shame on you Calcutta”:

Stay and live with your eunuchs

You are their nurse who piss in bed in winter rain

Lift their legs and change wet pants

Write great words on walls to be urinated by pimps

I don’t want to meddle in your affairs now.

Lips will turn sour if I kiss you after death.

(Malay Roy Choudhury Poems 60)

Both the Beats as well as the Hungryalists believed in spontaneity and acceptance of reality. They were both trying to reintegrate humans with the natural world and thereby to establish a world of “natural humanity”, instead of an “artificial ideal” and for this it was necessary to accept both the holy and evil side of one’s own nature and surroundings.  Samir Roy Choudhury, like his younger brother Malay, criticizes as well as accepts the bad side of his city, Calcutta in his poem “So” (translated by the poet from the bengali version “To”) :

Oh Sir, nobody uses the Jadavpur subway for road crossing

during night aristocrat lunatics sleep thereat

a passenger queried- is the taxi-meter OK?

I delivered a counter- is the country OK?

In front of Tollygunj Metro both flyover and subway are being constructed

that does not mean pedestrians will not come under wheels

how will then media-fedia dailies-failies run6

During his Indian sojourn, Allen Ginsberg struck great friendship with Malay and his older brother Samir Roy Choudhury and lived in their Patna house for several months. These were the formative years of the Hungryalist Movement. While Allen cast a certain Beat influence on the Roychoudhury brothers, they too, were instrumental in creating profound cultural influence on Ginsberg. Allen Ginsberg’s Indian Journal bears ample proof of that although he fails to mention the Roychoudhury brothers in the book. Touched by the raw and fiery poetry of the Hungryalist poets, Ginsberg brought back to America in 1962-63 translations of a whole bunch of Bengali Hungryalist poets which Lawrence Ferlinghetti published later in a special issue of the City Lights Journal. According to Alden the beat generation and the last World War as a whole did not leave the Indian writer untouched. He by that time has developed a new attitude and has matured a lot. The poets of Bengal gradually started moving away from the Romanticism and elegance of the poetry of the early 1900’s, landing up in a new individualized space. Poets started experimenting with new forms, drawing inspiration from Apollinaire, Rimbaud and Baudelaire. It was believed that this kind of “new poetry” took recourse to ugliness and led to the destruction of the human soul in contrast to the previous task of poetry that persisted in the pursuit of “beauty” (See Alden 398).

Ginsberg’s famous poem Kaddish dedicated to his mother, written quite a few years before his trip to India, shows an obsession with the idea of death. For various reasons it had seemed to Ginsberg at that point of time, that the best thing to do was to drop dead or not to be afraid of death but go into death. He began to believe that God was death, and if he wanted to attain God, he had to die: “Nameless, One faced, Forever beyond me, beginningless, endless, Father in death” (Collected Poems 212). The “Hymmnn” which follows Kaddish, ends with the words “Blessed be Death on us all” (Collected Poems 225) and this once again reinforces Kaddish’s consolation for the dead. For Ginsberg, death was a release from the miseries of an unfeeling time and world. One can find a similar obsession with death in Malay Roychoudhury’s poem “Stark Electric Jesus” which begins with the line: “Oh I’ll die I’ll die I’ll die” and again in the same poem, where the poet writes:

I do not know whether I am going to die

Squandering was roaring within heart’s exhaustive impatience

I’ll disrupt and destroy

I’ll split all in to pieces for the sake of Art

There isn’t any other way out for Poetry except suicide.

(Malay Roy Choudhury Poems 68)

Ginsberg’s Kaddish is the personal diary of a son’s witness to his mother’s acute sufferings under the accumulations of life that ultimately result in death. It is also an “autobiographical” narrative because the real history presented is not that of Naomi Ginsberg but the history of her son finding himself in reliving his memory. Ginsberg calls on his Origin, and exploits his recollection of Naomi’s anguish to help him understand the nature of his own:

O glorious muse that bore me from the womb, gave

Suck first mystic life and taught me talk and music,

From whose pained head I first took Vision –

What mad hallucinations of the damned that drive me out of my

Own skull to seek Eternity till I find Peace for Thee,

O Poetry – and for all humankind call on the Origin.  (Collected Poems 223)

In Kaddish the poet expresses a strong desire to return to and fuse with his mother in death. For Ginsberg separation from his mother was never independent but always an absolute, sterile and frustrating isolation. The separation was so radical that it could not be resolved by mere verbal or emotional communication and therefore Ginsberg longs to be delivered from this agonizing isolation by a kind of self-annihilating fusion with the mother. From this point of view, one can understand his incestuous desires, as expressing his wish to get inside his mother and see things as she does:

One time I thought she was trying to make me come lay her-

Flirting to herself at sink –

Seemed perhaps a good idea to try – know the Monster of the Beginning Womb –

Perhaps – that way. Would she care? She needs a lover.  (Collected Poems 219)

One would find the same desire to merge with the Origin in Malay Roychoudhury poem “Stark Electric Jesus”:

Let me sleep for the last time on a bed soft as the skin of Shubha’s bosom

I remember now the sharp – edged radiance of the moment I was born

I want to see my own death before passing away

The world had nothing to do with Malay Roychoudhury

Shubha let me sleep for a few moments in your violent silvery uterus

Let me create myself in your womb with my own sperm.

(Malay Roy Choudhury Poems 68)

Shakti Chattopadhay’s poem Yarasandha vibrates with the same spirit and the poet makes an appeal to his mother to take him back. His unique voice spoke to the urban youth of post-World War II generation. His distinct style, like his friend Ginsberg was filled with a sense of deep angst:  Why did you bring me in?

Take me back

The face cold as dark

The sad eyes poor as dry lake

Let your mother take you back

Why did you labor

On the crunched bed of straw

To usher me in?    (Poems of a Rebel 8)

The appeal of Naomi’s cryptic advice at the end of the poem, “The key is in the window, the key is in the sunlight at the window” undoubtedly bears an unwitting resemblance to Shakti Chattopadhay’s poem The Key (translated by the poet from the Bengali version Chabi), in which Shakti Chattopadhay gives a similar kind of advice to his dear friend Malay Roychoudhury:

Till this day here lies with me

Lost long ago, your dearest key

You open still that chest of yours?    (Shakti Chattopadhay Poems 27)

Interestingly, Ginsberg’s masterpiece “Howl” and Malay Roychoudhury’s poem “Wound” (translated by the poet from the bengali version Jakham), bear a striking resemblance. In “Howl”, the first part of the poem attempts to create the impression of a kind of nightmare world in which people representing “the best minds of my generation”, in the author’s view, are wandering like damned souls in hell. This is done through a kind of series of what one might call surrealistic images, a kind of state of hallucinations. Roychoudhudy dwells on the same hellish atmosphere at the beginning of his poem “Wound”:

Awning ablaze with toxic fire above me

I lie watching the winged blue of this crawling sky

Putting down the crushing anger of my suffering

I crossexam my nocturn doubts

Pushing a gramophone needle over the lines of my palm

I scan the prophecy. (Malay Roy Choudhury Poems 81)

The mood of the poem “Howl” changes in the second section and becomes an indictment of those elements that are destructive of the best qualities of human nature and of the best minds. “What sphinx of cement and aluminium,” it begins, “based upon their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?”. “Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness!”, he answers, and thus begins to list the soulless, materialistic, sexless mechanized elements of Moloch whose presence leads to destruction and war (Collected Poems 131). In Roychoudhury’s poem “Wound”, however, the poet himself becomes the representative of the decadent society he depicts. Ginsberg’s mental Moloch takes the shape of ravens at times for Roychoudhury as one finds him describing his state in his poem “Wound”:

16 dvn ravens whirl around my torso for 25 years

My bones reel clutching my raw wounds

My peeled fleshblood

Flaying my skin I uncover arrogant frescos of my trap

Ageless sabotage inside the body (Malay Roy Choudhury Poems 81)

At other times it takes the shape of hounds that haunt him:

2000 hounds released from out of my skull

Haunting me for 25 years (Malay Roy Choudhury Poems 82)

At the end of the poem Roychoudhury even mentions a list of atrocities which he imagines himself to have committed but the atrocities seem to reflect a common attitude of the generation he represents:

I had lifted a 5- paise coin from a blind beggar’s palm

I had looted benevolent money of hearse- corpses (Malay Roy Choudhury Poems 83)

Ginsberg’s famous and revolutionary poem “Howl” was initially a highly censored poem. Both Ginsberg’s and Roychoudhury’s poems reflect a common sentiment which is clearly stated in the latter’s poem “Wounds”: I may be censored I can not be disregarded (Malay Roy Choudhury Poems 83)

Although both Ginsberg and Roychoudhury were considered to be rebels by their society, both of them at some of time, did realize their limitation as human beings and felt like succumbing to their cruel fate. Thus one finds that at one point of time Roychoudhury is almost ready to give up and accept all tortures. Thus he writes in his poem Humanology (translated by the poet from the bengali version Monushyatantra):

I am ready to be mugged O deadly bat come

Tear off my clothes, bomb the walls of my home,

Press trigger on my temple and beat up in jail

Push me off a running train, intern and trial. (Malay Roy Choudhury Poems 31)

Ginsberg’s humanology is the same as that of Roychoudhury as one finds him reflecting the same sentiments in his poem “The End” where he too is ready to accept death:

I sit in the mind of the oak and hide in the rose, I know if any wake up, none but my death,

Come to me bodies, come to me prophecies, come all foreboding, come spirits and visions,

I receive all, I’ll die of cancer, I enter the coffin forever, I close my eyes, I disappear.

(Collected Poems 259)

In the “Author’s Preface, Reader’s Manual” to Collected Poems: 1947 – 1980, Allen Ginsberg provides an insight to the manner in which his poems were composed: “First thought, best thought. Spontaneous insight – the sequence of thought- forms passing naturally through ordinary mind – was always motif and method of these compositions” (Collected Poems xx). The technique adopted by both the Beats and the Hungryalists was that of the confessional, where the confessor willingly gives priority to the catharsis of thought and feeling over the structure that the catharsis itself is to discover. As early as his first contact with William Carlos Williams, Ginsberg began experimenting with ways to restore speech to the language of poetry. William in turn, while advising Ginsberg was anticipating Olson’s third dogma of “Projective Verse” that “One Perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception” (Merrill 19).

Like all American tourists, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky had landed at Bombay (now Mumbai) port in formal Western attire. They visited North and North-East Indian tourist spots and hill-stations with their coat, trousers, tie, shirt, shoes, and socks on. Once they arrived at Calcutta (now Kolkata), their metamorphoses began. They threw away their Western dress and clothed themselves in home-attire of the Hungryalists of the time, viz., handloom kurta-pyjama and rubber chappal footwear, with a cotton sling bag hanging on the shoulder. They allowed their hair and beard to grow like some of the Hungryalists (See Tridib Mitra and Alo Mitra). 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. Ginsberg’s biographers and critics, most of whom are American, are almost ignorant of Indian complexities and have never taken into account the contributory factors that impacted the poet to such an extent that his post India poems changed structurally, semantically. 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. 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. Thus in “Wichita Vortex Sutra”, one finds Ginsberg invoking “Harekrishna as preserver of human planet”, challenging all other powers usurping state consciousness and thus delivering the sacred formula bringing peace:

I lift my voice aloud,

Make Mantra of American language now,

Pronounce the words beginning my own millennium,

‘I here declare the End of the War!’ (Collected Poems 407)

The central implication of the poem seems to be clear. The poet tries to find out whether the ‘mantra’ of the American language can in some vigorous and magical way put an end to the slaughter in Vietnam (Hyde 293). This particular poem embodies an experience of contemporary American language and also focuses on the cultural irresponsibility of language which in turn establishes the kinship of “Wichita Vortex Sutra” to Carlos William’s and Charles Olson’s lamentation of the separation of language from reality. One can find a similar use of mantric language at the end of the poem “What would you do if you lost it?” where he calls upon the prominent Indian divine figures, to bid them a final goodbye, but which also makes one feel that he was aware of and affected by  their existence:

Bom Bom! Shivaye! Ram Nam Satyahey! Om Ganipatti, Om Saraswati Hrih Sowha! Ardinarishvara Radha Harekrishna faretheewell forevermore! (Collected Poems 594)

One finds similar use of language in Ginsberg’s other poems like “On Illness” in which the poet calls upon his dead mother and fuses the Hindu chant of OM with the word MOM, bestowing on the mother, a divine quality to cure, as it is only the mother figure who can provide the best respite from illness:

Om Saraswati Hrih Sowha


Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom (Collected Poems 603)

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. His biographers and critics, who are either Jew or Christian, have never taken into epistemic consideration the dedication page of Ginsberg’s Indian Journals (See Indian Journals 3). Ginsberg, however, could comprehend that the Hungryalists had dispensed with the colonial compartmentalization such as Good/Evil, God/Devil etc binary opposites. The Hungry Generation poets explained to him that each of the triumvirate Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara embody traits which exist in nature itself and nature was never monocentric7. This idea has been articulated by Ginsberg to several of his interviewers.  Allen Ginsberg was in awe with the depth of tolerance and resiliency of Indian masses. On his way back from India to USA in the Kyoto-Tokyo Express he had realized that in order to attain the depth of consciousness that he was seeking, he had to cut himself off from the Blake vision and renounce it. While expressing this realization he was actually revealing the impact of the Hungry Generation on him. He was talking about a new awareness gained, which sought cosmic consciousness not in visions but in contact with what was going on around him.

One cannot help but notice the similarity in the spontaneous use of language by both Allen Ginsberg and the “wandering minstrels” or “bauls” of West Bengal, those who like Ginsberg rebelled against the generalizing and the discursive use of language and constructed their songs likewise in order to restore the other function of language i.e, “speech”. Close to the end of his nine-month stay in Calcutta, the American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg—accompanied by his partner, Peter Orlovsky, the Bengali poet Shakti Chatterjee, and their would-be spiritual guru, Asoke Fakir—had travelled to Siuri, home to a large clan of Bauls, the troubadour poet-singers of the Bengal countryside. After visiting Tarapith they had arrived at a little hamlet outside Siuri. There Ginsberg found the aged, legendary Baul master Nabani Das Baul living in a small mud hut, bedridden and unable to sing. When Nabani spoke to Ginsberg from his sick bed, reciting with difficulty the songs he had once sung so lustily, Ginsberg scribbled Asoke’s roughly translated words dutifully in his notebook. He spent a week with the Baul family. From Nabani’s wife he learnt to eat with his hands, from Nabani he learnt to play the single-stringed ektara and four-stringed tanpura, the instrument that provides a background drone to Indian classical music. He was also schooled in the chanting of the mantra “Om Namah Shivaya.”. In an interview with Suranjan Ganguly, Ginsberg mentions Asoke fakir being “both a fool and at the same time a devotional man” and states that he was a person who almost instantly understood the motive behind their visit to India (Ganguly 26). Ginsberg hoped to find, in Baul spiritual teachings and songs, a new wellspring for his own poetic work. Bauls were distinguished from the usual run of men by flouting social convention, avoiding temples and mosques and any denotation of caste. Song and dance were their only form of worship and their bodies their only temple. Ginsberg carried a harmonium from Benaras when he returned to USA, and introduced the custom of extempore poetry composition, and singing, while playing on the harmonium. When he was in Benaras , Anil Karanjai and Karunanidhan Mukhopadhyay, the Hungryalist painters, and Hindi poet Nagarjuna (a Buddhist), had introduced him to this musical instrument, which is played on by devotees when they sing poems composed by Tulasidasa, Kabirdasa, Meera Bai, Tukaram, Krittibas, Ramprasad Sen and other saint poets. Ginsberg had found the same tradition at the Vaishnava, Shaivaite and Ramakrishna ashrama temples in Mayapur, Nabadwip, Puri, Chaibasa, Patna, Gaya, and Kolkata. He translated the word baul as “madcap”8.

Ginsberg’s realization that if a poem was not composed on the tongue, it would become an essay was an insight he received from the stories of oral poets of 19thcentury Kolkata. Ginsberg came to know about people like Bhola Moira, Anthony Firingi, Ram Basu, Jagneshwar Das, Gonjla Guin, Nityananda Boiragi, Nilmoni Thakur, Nrisingha Rai, Bhabani Banik, Krishnakanta Chamar, Raghunath Das, Haru Thakur, and many others from Asoke Fakir, whose Champahati hutment used to be frequented by the Hungryalists. Like the Hungryalists and the Bauls of Bengal, Language poets all over the world emphasized the use of metonymy ,synecdoche in their compositions, which, even when employed in everyday speech, created a different texture. The result was often alien and difficult to understand at first glance, which is what Language poetry intends: for the reader to participate in creating the meaning of the poem.

It is quite easy to guess the reason behind Ginsberg’s fondness and appreciation of Baul songs and poetry. For many years, Ginsberg had convinced himself that poetry held the key to mystical experience and spiritual awakening. As a young college student in New York City, he had had a spontaneous and beatific vision of God while reading the poems of William Blake in his Harlem tenement in 1948. After this visionary experience, he was probably heading toward a path of self- destruction. His India trip, his conversation with numerous sadhus, Hungryalist poets, Bauls, and finally his commitment to Buddhism made him realize that the Divinity for which he had been searching within external sources, actually resides within his own body. The Baul songs, which Ginsberg came across in Bengal were stuffed with enigmas and codes and summed up the similar Baul philosophy of Dehattaya (Truth in the Body), which is most probably the central theme of Baulism9. Bauls’ body-centric philosophy can also be connected to the thoughts of the transcendentalist Emerson, and also to the thoughts of Tagore who talks about the Supreme Being, expressed through the physical existence of a human being. In order to understand the body-centric Baul songs, conscious efforts should be made to decode the songs, filled with language riddles, using imagery from daily life-activities, such as fishing, farming, sailing, trade and even robbery, foreclosure, and litigation as spiritual metaphors. Therefore one can easily arrive at the conclusion that it is the common philosophy of viewing the body as the microcosm of the universe, which is responsible for bringing two geographically diversified                                                                                                                              groups together (The Beats on one hand, and the Hungryalists and Bauls on the other) and unifying them for a common cause.


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Bengali ‘Rock’ broadside which has a love poem by Malay Roychoudhury, titled ‘Deathmetal’


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Sunil Gangopadhyay on Samir Roychoudhury and Hungryalist movement

A collection of letters is going to be published, letters written to me by various persons at different times. A few letters written by Samir Roychoudhury are being included in it. These days my memory has become weak, I did not remember the contents of those letters. Those letters carry the history of formation of the Hungryalist movement and Samir Roychoudhury’s relation with the Krittibas magazine. I could recollect, once I had to face difficulties with the publication of Krittibas magazine. At that time Samir Roychoudhury stood like a rock by my side. He convinced me that Krittibas magazine should not be stopped at any cost. He was ready to help in every which way, even financially.

Samir has me helped in other ways as well at different times of my life. Friendship grew as we studied in the same college, though our subjects were different. Samir’s was Zoology and mine Economics. One gets to be known with several people in college, but friendship with a few persons become very deep. After graduation Samir got a job quite early. I was unemployed for several years and had to depend on private teaching  of students. At that time Samir became associated with Krittibas magazine.  There definitely was antagonism between Hungryalist movement and me, but Samir had tried to bridge the gap. When the Police arrested his younger brother Malay Roychoudhury and filed a case for writing a poem. at that time, though I had no relation with the Hungryalist movement, I was a defense witness in support of Malay Roychoudhury.

Though working with the Bihar government, Samir wanted to start a publication institution at Calcutta. His first publication was my poetry collection ‘Eka Ebong Koyekjon’. At that time nobody knew me as a poet.  Even then publication of my book exhibited Samir’s greatness. Thereafter Samir’s collection of poems ‘Jhornar Pashey Shuye Aachhi’ was published. Probably the title was suggested by me. I had to look after the book’s printing at the press. At that time Samir wrote beautiful romantic poems. Afterwards his poems took a different turn. Another book of Samir was published from that publication institution. Later the publication was closed.

Apart from writing I developed a close relationship with Samir, the relationship in which there is no question of misunderstanding. I knew that I could depend on this tall handsome friend at all times. I could not recollect whether I have ever helped him from my side. Wherever Samir has been posted in the course of his job, I have gone and stayed there. For example Daltonganj, Darbhanga, Chaibasa, Muzaffarpur, Bhagalpur, Dhanbad, Dumka and their own house at Patna. It is not possible to forget those bright sweet memories of togetherness of those days.  During his marriage  Samir had played a prank with us. We knew he was in love with Chaibasa’s girl Bela ( Chatterjee ). But Samir spread a rumour that he was going to marry another girl. With great anxiety we, a bunch of Samir’s friends, went to Chaibasa to attend Samir’s marraige. When we asked about the matter he just smiled away the question.  At the marriage ceremony when we looked at the bride’s face that we could breathe in peace.  Charming Bela accepted all of Samir’s friends as they were. When I married Swati, Samir and Bela had both visited my Dumdum house.  I did not know that one had to present a gift to his wife on the first night. how would I know ? I was a sordid Bangladeshi. Samir reminded me at the right moment about it and we both went to the market and purchased a Lady’s wrist watch for Swati. Samir had paid for it. Thereafter our two families became quite close.

I had first introduced Samir to Shakti Chattopadhyay. Thereafter a lot have been written in Bengali literature about Samir and Shakti’s Chaibasa episode. Though Samir was in Bihar he frequently came to Calcutta and became known to many other writers..

After the launching of the Hungryalist movement a distance grew up between me and them. I have heard that they did not like my joining ‘Ananda Bazar Patrika’ and writing reams of prose instead of poems. It is correct, that was a trap of the Establishment into which I succumbed. After a few years, though, Shakti Chattopadhyay also joined ‘Ananda Bazar’.

Like in politics there might be ethical principles and distance in the world of creative writing.  But I was never in favour of creating such distances in personal life. After the Hungryalist movement the little rift that had been created between me and Shakti was glued in short time. Same happened with Sandipan Chattopadhyay and me. But some people prefer the distance. My disconnection with Samir has been quite disturbing for me. I always liked Samir’s writing, his new ideas about literature. I felt I was very close to the person Samir.

Life is so cruel. No one can predict when and how life will take a turn. That deep friendship of a time in life, enjoying togetherness, drinks, exchanging each other’s dreams, everything becomes blurred in time.  Samir has left Bihar and has constructed a house near Calcutta where he resides with his family. Though I never have a chance to meet him. I do not know why ! May be there has been something wrong from my side.

Let me talk about a recent incident. Myself and Swati visited an Eye specialist for treatment. It was crowded. Swati pointed to a direction and said, isn’t that Samir seated there ? I approached him and found it was really Samir and Bela. We exchanged pleasantries. Talked about our children. During discussions, I told Samir, you were also to visit the poetry reading session at Kanailal Jana’s house, I had heard ; why didn’t you come, it was close to your house.

Samir directly looked at me and said in cold voice, “I didn’t go, suppose you decline to recognize me there ?”

It was like a bullet on my chest. I had not heard such cruel words for a very long time. The friend with whom I had buddy-relation,  with whom I had never had an argument, never had bitterness, I shall be unable to recognize him if I meet him ? I do not know what wrong Have I done to hear such allegation. I felt depressed for a few days. I thought may be I have to face such sudden attacks in life more than I knew.

Probably Samir had said what he said from a sense of agony. I am sure I have been responsible for it, though I do not know anything about it.

Written in 2012. Republished in Samir Roychoudhury issue of “Haowa-49” magazine.

( Sunil Gangopadhyay has forgotten to write as to why he wrote an editorial against the Hungryalist movement in Krittibas magazine, when the same magazine was financially supported by Samir for two years. Samir was also arrested by Calcutta Police in connection with Hungryalist movement. Sunil has forgotten to mention as to why he stopped inviting Samir to write in Krittibas magazine after the Hungryalist movement. Sunil invited Samir only once. Samir had no place to stay in Calcutta during the court case but Sunil never told Samir to stay as guest in his house.  Samir had edited the Phanishwar Nath ‘Renu’ issue of Krittibas, but it was not recorded on The Krittibas site till being criticized. Sunil edited a number of poetry and short story anthologies but never included Samir in them. When Calcutta was agog with Samir’s path breaking story collection “Khul Ja Sim Sim”, Sunil did not write a single word about the book. Whenever Sunil met foreign writers and poets who wanted to know about Hungryalst movement, Sunil invariably misguided them. )

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Malay Roychoudhury being interviewed by Dominic Byrne regarding his association with Allen Ginsberg for a BBC programme.


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