AP Photograph 2007
It was, by West Bengal standards, a cold January morning 40 years ago in 1975 that I responded to an invitation from my good friend, Prof. P. Lal, who single-handedly ran the Writers’ Workshop in Lake Gardens, Calcutta, to attend his monthly poetry symposium: the once-in-a-lifetime event that winter season was the special guest – and provocateur – Günter Grass, the West German novelist/poet/dramatist, who was in the City for a few days.
Herr Grass had not arrived at the appointed time of ten a.m. that Sunday, but the poetry reading was called to order and some of those in attendance read out their poems to sounds of appreciation. Eventually, the honored guest turned up – a burly gentleman with long hair and a walrus moustache – and seated himself without any formality midst the audience.
Photo taken 5 years earlier in 1970
A few more poems were read out – sweet and mellifluous – about Nature’s fruits and flowers, etc. etc. And then, in sheer exasperation, I got up and asked Herr Grass if he would like to say something…. My word! He had a lot to say – bluntly and forcefully!
He said, to wit, that he’d read in advance about the City’s woeful statistics on poverty, corruption and squalor, but that shock of the people’s suffering had been compounded this morning by the poetry reading session, which was completely divorced from the surrounding social context and its brutal reality.
He spoke quite dispassionately, but his words stunned the audience of would-be Bengali poets and they were quite vociferous in making their feelings known. However, after the tumult had died down, Gunter Grass’s own poetry in English translation was read out by Prof. Lal – to good and lasting effect.
Later on, I had the opportunity of having a one-on-one session with Herr Grass and was able to share with him my interest in his published works, including the iconic The Tin Drum, as well as his plays, The Plebeians, Rehearse the Uprising, Flood, Onkel Onkel, Only Ten Minutes to Buffalo and The Wicked Cooks. My particular favorite book, Dog Years, he was gracious enough to autograph for my library (see below):
Günter’s aficionados will sorely miss him now that he has departed us earthlings for the Elysium fields this sad day – April the 13th.
Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas