Allen Ginsberg and his poem ‘September on Jessore Road’

Anwar A Khan

‘September on Jessore Road’, written by famous American humanist poet and writer Allen Ginsberg is a 152 line long poem about the sufferings confronted by Bangladesh’s refugees who took shelter in various camps in West Bengal, India during Bangladesh’s liberation war. He composed the poem after visiting the War victims of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, on Jessore road personally in September in 1971.

Ginsberg came all the way from America to witness the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971. He saw the inhuman sufferings of the people who were without food and shelter for months together. He was greatly moved coming in contact with the millions of war victims who were forcibly evicted from their hearth and home when Pakistani army let loose a reign of terror, killing, burning and destroying everything that came on their way in Dhaka and elsewhere of the country on the fateful night of March 25, 1971 and afterwards. 

It was a miserable situation and Allen Ginsberg was greatly shocked to see things personally. He came across the mothers without food and children unnourished. Allen saw the hungry fathers and mothers holding the empty pots for food and succour in trembling hands. He also 

experienced deaths of people in 

the camps.

Witnessing the conditions prevailing there, Ginsberg composed the poem ‘September on Jessore Road’ based on the awful conditions of the then war victims.

Allen Ginsberg is one of the twentieth century's most talented poets, regarded as a founding father of the Beat Movement. He was born into a Jewish family in Newark, New Jersey, United States of America and grew up in nearby Paterson. In 1943, he graduated from Eastside High School. Later, he got admitted to Columbia University. He vigorously opposed militarism, economic materialism, and sexual repression, and he embodied various aspects of this counterculture with his views on drugs, hostility to bureaucracy, and openness to Eastern religions.

Returning to America, Ginsberg recited in a poetry reading session in George Church New York. The poem touched his friend Bob Dylan who gave the poem a musical form. Both the song and the poem touched people around the world encouraged George Harrison and Ravi Sankar to arrange concerto help Bangladesh’s refugees in 1971. 

George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Joan Bayez, Pandit Ravi Shankar and singer Ali Akbar Khan performed in the concert and collected about two and a half million dollars for Bangladesh’s people. Through the poem ‘September on Jessore Road’, Ginsberg expressed his solidarity with Bangladesh’s liberation war. The poem also formed public opinion in support of Bangladesh. 

The poem portrays the plight of the refugees during the liberation war. Ginsberg depicts the immense sufferings of millions of refugees who were compelled to flee over by the Jessore Road as a passage to India during the War. The poem could not be presented in full but it contained main issues of the topic:

Millions of babies watching the skies

Bellies swollen, with big round eyes

On Jessore Road -long bamboo huts

No place to shit but sand channel ruts

Millions of fathers in rain

Millions of mothers in pain

Millions of brothers in woe

Millions of sisters nowhere to go

One Million aunts are dying for bread

One Million uncles lamenting the dead

Grandfather millions homeless and sad

Grandmother millions silently mad

Millions of daughters walk in the mud

Millions of children wash in the flood

A Million girls vomit and groan

Millions of families hopeless alone

Millions of souls nineteen seventy one

Homeless on Jessore Road under grey sun

A million are dead, the million who can

Walk toward Calcutta from East Pakistan

It needs no emphasising that Jessore Road had always remained an important link between India and the-then East Pakistan in terms of communication and in 1971, it gained new significance. 

Millions of broken and injured families and individuals affected by the War, made their way to this path which linked Jessore with West Bengal's Kolkata, India.

In 1971, Jessore Road led from human rights abuses, authoritarianism and natural disaster; it led to Bangladesh, this free country, still struggling to come to terms with its past, with its environment, and realise its extraordinary potential, sharing its outstanding natural beauty, its visible history and extraordinary endeavours for self-development with a world that, perhaps, never noticed its devastating past, and remains so unaware of its human, social, cultural and economic  potential.

Almost 50 years have elapsed since then. But even today, this poem shakes us to the core and invoke anguish in our heart for the sufferers. The humanist American poet will fondly be remembered by Bangladesh’s people who once stood by the people of Bangladesh and gave a very loud voice.

Anwar A Khan is an independent political observer who writes on politics, political and  human-centred figures, current and international affairs.