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Rehabilitation by Shankha Ghosh

Shankha Ghosh, one of the ‘Pancha Pandavas’ of modern Bengali literature wrote “Rehabilitation”, a poem of displacement and heart-wrenching nostalgia. The date was 17th August 1947. A death toll “partition” was aired across undivided India. “One step denying another” and suddenly millions of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, were on the streets, haphazardly running for a place to be safe in. Some of them could save themselves while others were lost, in the pages of history and in the passage of time. Ghosh’s poem centers on a narrator whose country was not separated, but his mind was.

Summary and Analysis of Rehabilitation by Shankha Ghosh


Summary

Ghosh’s poem “Rehabilitation” begins with a reference to the things the hapless speaker had. He can remember the things in a chain of flashing images like someone has started rolling an ending loop of indefinite images concerning places, things, or faces. In the first stanza, the poet says how all the speaker once had was lost like the sun in the western sky.

The next stanza depicts the things the speaker had after partition. Being displaced from his own land, he found himself lost in the crowds. He was in the middle of nowhere, in a new city, caged inside the endless suffering.

The last stanza specifically deals with the reality of partition. Ghosh uses a number of images in order to hint at the effect of partition. In the last two lines, he ironically remarks that his speaker is now a beggar. He strikes flints of the past and present to ignite the gloomy memories of rehabilitation.

Structure & Form

“Rehabilitation” is a free-verse poem that does not have a specific rhyme scheme or meter. It consists of three stanzas. The first, second, and third stanzas have a total of 17, 18, and 17 lines respectively. The line count per stanza differs in the translated version. Most of the lines contain a word or a compound word. For example, in the first stanza, lines 2-4, lines 6-8, and lines 10-12 contain a single term or compound word. Such a structure makes one quickly read the lines. This scheme resonates with the mental state of the speaker. Apart from that, the sound scheme of the poem is dull and mechanical, aptly reflecting the theme of the text.

Poetic Devices

Ghosh uses the following literary devices in his poem “Rehabilitation”.

  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the poem. Ghosh enjambs the lines in order to connect the ideas in succession. 
  • Repetition: In each stanza, the poet repeats the line bearing the idea thrice. For example, in the first stanza, the line “Whatever was around me” is repeated for the sake of emphasis.
  • Allusion: This piece alludes to the Partition of India, a tragedy that shaped India’s political and communal future. Besides, in the seventh line, Ghosh alludes to Vidyasagar’s primer “Kothamala”. In the translation, this line alludes to Bengali folklores.
  • Personification: It occurs in the following lines: “The bones and the darkness within/ Surround them all”, “The Howrah Bridge is holding up high/ The void/ Under my feet drifts Time.” Here, inner “darkness”, “bones”, the “Howrah Bridge”, and “Time” are personified.
  • Imagery: Ghosh uses visual imagery throughout the text in order to depict several things that the speaker lost. He also uses tactile and organic imagery as well.


Line-by-Line Analysis

Stanza One

Lines 1-8

Whatever I had around me

Grass and pebbles 

Reptiles 

Broken temples 

Whatever was around me

Exile

Folklores 

Solitary sunset

Shankha Ghosh’s poem “Rehabilitation” centers on a speaker who had lost everything during the partition. It is not clear whether the person is a Hindu or a Muslim, a male or a female. In this way, Ghosh depicts the pangs of all the people who were affected by the partition. What a sufferer unfolds, is not only his own pathetic story but of all. Millions of people lost everything in the turn of a night. What they had and what they got later are revealed in this poem.

In the first stanza, Ghosh’s speaker depicts what was around him. The person only utter names, nothing else. It gives a hint at the broken and suffering side of the speaker. A traumatic mind keeps rolling the scenes of the past in a broken manner. The speaker can visualize the grass and stones, reptiles crawling in the ground, and broken temples. What he saw was in his own land, currently on the other side of the barbed wires. Everything seems like watching the lonely sunset of one’s life. The sun setting in the west is a symbol of death and pessimism.

Lines 9-17

Whatever was around me

Landslides 

Arrows and spears 

A homestead 

All shiver with their faces turned west. 

Memories are like a serpentine crowd 

Under the mango trees, broken boxes 

One step denying another

And suddenly all are homeless.

Ghosh uses the symbols of “Arrows and spears” to signify destruction, killing, and bloodshed. The speaker becomes nostalgic while thinking about his own land. He says that everything trembled together and vanished leaving him in total darkness. His memory is like the refugees who set out for an arduous, long journey after partition. All he had was a broken box that was left beneath the mango tree. He did not know that everything was going to change at such a rapid pace.

Stanza Two

Lines 18-25

Whatever is around me

Sealdah station

High noon

Pockmarked walls 

Whatever is around me

Blind alleys 

Slogans 

The Monument

In the second stanza, Ghosh talks about the things the speaker has with him in the present scenario. Now he can be found somewhere near the Sealdah Station at high noon or beside the tattooed walls of some unknown alleyways of Kolkata. He leads a life of a destitute after losing the things he once cherished. Sometimes he can hear the political slogans that give him sudden starts. The tall monuments of the city reminded him of his smallness. Everything that is around him is nothing but an illusion of reality.

Lines 26-29

Whatever is around me 

The bed of arrows 

Lamp-posts 

The Ganges flowing red

Furthermore, the speaker refers to his bed in order to hint at the streets where he sleeps now. He can be found lying under the lamp posts by the river Ganges. Ghosh uses these references to portray the fate of several homeless people who were forced to leave their own land.

The red color of the “Ganges” symbolizes the bloodshed that happened in Bengal after the partition. Ghosh can visualize the blood of several Hindus and Muslims dyeing the Ganges red. Here, the poet uses metonymy to hint at the cause by referring to its consequences.

Lines 30-35

The bones and the darkness within 

Surround them all 

Inside a tune plays on 

The Howrah Bridge is holding up high 

The void 

Under my feet drifts Time.

The “darkness of the marrow”/”darkness within” is a metaphor for the dark and devilish instinct of those who killed their brothers in the name of religion. This darkness of brutality, hatred, and bitterness surrounds everything around the speaker.

Amidst this darkness, the waves of Ganges babbles by, mourning the loss of several lives. Here, the poet uses pathetic fallacy and invests the river with the idea of mourning the tragedy of partition. Ghosh depicts the Howrah Bridge as a witness of the killings.

He personifies the bridge and thinks that it stands like a human being. Its top touched the sky. Beneath the speaker’s feet, the river, metaphorically portrayed as “time”, drifts by. In this way, the poet describes a picture of hopelessness and bleak absurdity.

Stanza Three

Lines 36-39

Whatever is fountain around me 

Flying hair 

Naked path 

The stormy torch

In the third stanza, Ghosh describes the scene after the end of turbulence. Each line that is used in the form of a refrain contains a specific term to look into. For example, the first line contains the word “fountain” that hints at how the things around him fall and collapse into the ground.

The speaker can find the flying hair of those who were killed. Ghosh personifies the path beneath the speaker’s feet. It is another witness of the sufferings of displaced people. He can visualize men storming with torches to find anyone was left behind. If they could find one, they knew well how to get their job done.

Lines 40-43

Whatever is transparent around me 

The sound of the dawn 

The body after a bath 

The Shiva of the cremation ground

In the following line, the speaker describes the scenes that are transparent in his mind. It includes the memories of dawn’s soothing sound, his soaked body in rain, and an idol of Shiva. From the reference of “Shiva of the cremation ground”, it can be inferred that the speaker is one of the Hindu migrants from West Pakistan. He took shelter in the streets of Kolkata after the partition.

Lines 44-52

Whatever is death around me

Each day 

A thousand days

A birthday 

All return in the palms of memory 

As the beggar who sits in the fading dusk 

What was and what remains, 

Two flintstones that scrape each other 

And ignite my daily rehabilitation.

All he can remember is the death of his own people. There was not a single day that passed without seeing lifeless, blood-drenched bodies. Each scene came together in the hands of his memory. Here, Ghosh personifies the abstract idea of “memory”. It seems the speaker plays a puppet at the hands of memory.

The speaker has turned into a beggar. He sits in the dim-lit pavement of a street and strikes the stones of the past and present. Here, the memories prior to the partition and after the partition are compared to stones. These stone-like memories still hurt the speaker. He strikes the stones to throw light on the events occurring in his rehabilitated life. Through the last line, Ghosh ironically comments on how the refugees were rehabilitated after partition.

Historical Context

Shankha Ghosh’s “Rehabilitation” alludes to the fates of millions of people who had to leave their own land after the Partition of Bengal in 1947. Following the partition of Bengal between the Hindu-majority West Bengal and the Muslim-majority East Bengal, there was a rapid influx of refugees from each side. Nearly 5 million Hindus left East Bengal and about 2 million Muslims left West Bengal immediately because of violence and rioting. In this poem, Ghosh describes how they lost the things they had and what they got afterward. By contrasting the before and after scenarios, he points at the irrevocable loss of refugees, irrespective of their religion.

This poem was originally published in Bangla as ‘Punorbashon’ in Shankha Ghosh’s Shreshtho Kobita in 1970. It was translated by Sankha Ghosh and Debjani Sengupta and published in Looking Back: The 1947 Partition of India, 70 Years On in 2019.

FAQs

What is the poem “Rehabilitation” by Shankha Ghosh about?

Shankha Ghosh’s poem “Rehabilitation” is about a refugee from East Bengal. Ghosh describes the things he lost during the partition and what he had with him after the tragedy. To be specific, instead of memories of the past, he had nothing left with him.

What is the meaning of the title “Rehabilitation”?

The title of the poem refers to the action of restoring refugees to their former country after the partition. In this poem, Ghosh ironically comments on how they were rehabilitated after the partition.

Who is the speaker of the poem?

The speaker of this poem is a Hindu refugee from East Bengal, previously part of unified Bengal. After the partition, he had to left everything behind and settle down in the streets of Kolkata.

What type of poem is “Rehabilitation”?

It is a free-verse lyric poem written in the first-person point of view. This piece is one of the partition poems that highlight the suffering of refugees during and after the partition.

What is the theme of the poem?

This poem explores the themes of partition, memory, suffering, and loss. The main theme of this piece centers on the aftermath of partition, especially in Bengal.


External Resources


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