Beat and Hungry Generation: When losing became hip

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Cafe Dissensus

It was in the summer of 1999 when I first discovered Bob Dylan. I had heard his songs before and sang blowing in the wind as one of the prayer songs at my school's assembly. I probably did not have the wit and political learning to understand his lyrics back then. But later, when I studied Economics for my Masters, most of the Dylan's poems (songs) resonated inside my head. Then, through Dylan and his politics, I learned about this man who would spoil the rest of my life. A pop icon, crazy, almost bald, round-faced, ever chanting, dancing Allen Ginsberg: he who contributed significantly towards a change in perception of how the West looked at the East. Along with the Beatles and John McLaughlin and others, he tried hard to answer the existential crisis of the West in the 1960s through Indian and eastern philosophy. He who planted the seeds of world music through altered senses, pills, meditation and sutras for the Beatles to follow and Ravi to meet Menuhin. He who along with Snyder, Corso, Kerouac and Burroughs and others spread the message of love, anti-war, homosexuality, made jokes about atom bomb, wrote poems on state enemies like Russia and China, sang songs for civil rights and free speech.

Came San Francisco Renaissance. Came Beatniks and Summer of Love. Came Woodstock and Hippies who chased the Himalayas and got lost trying to find themselves. A thousand Hope Savages lost in the cold, cold woods.

When Allen came to India with Peter Orlovsky, after the obscenity trial he faced for "Howl", he spent some time in Mumbai, Delhi, up north across the Himalayas with Gary Snyder and Joanne Kyger, offered LSD to Dalai Lama, and spent months in Banaras and Kolkata.

It was in Kolkata that he met some young radical poets – some under the umbrella of the Hungry Generation and few others, who were geniuses in their own right. They doped and drank by the shamshan ghats of Kalighat with them. They lived in China Town. They visited Tantriks, the Bauls and Sufis and other folk singers.

The Hungry Generation poets were fighting the establishment with their art. The ruling government cracked down on them soon enough, on their work, their words and paintings. Malay Roychoudhury, the founder of the movement which took Bengal and surrounding regions by storm, was in fact jailed for his poem "Stark Electric Jesus". Many other Hungryalists faced threats.

In a remarkable coincidence, in both USA and India, a group of writers/artists from USA and Kolkata faced similar threats for writing/creating art that was thought to be obscene by the mainstream art/literary world and ruling governments.

However, even after almost 60 years, their work is not taken seriously by the mainstream and the academia across the world. Is it because of the quality of their work or the inability of the mainstream to look beyond established forms and patterns? Was it their philosophy of wild, aimless travels through a Kerouacian wilderness, hitchhiking through the politics of non-conformism, which worked against them?

For this May, 2016, Cafe Dissensus issue, essays, poems, stories, translations and artwork inspired by/ or tributes to the Beats and Hungry generation writers/artists are welcome. The broad area will cover their politics, resistance, literary style and how the Beats and Hungry generation writers/artists connected and inspired each other.

Submissions should be around 1500 words.

Last date for submission: 7 May, 2016; Date of publication: 1 June, 2016.

Issue 26: July 2016: In the Shadow of the Larger Faiths: The Minor Faiths of South Asia [Last date for submission: 30 May, 2016; Date of publication: 1 July, 2016]