Deborah Baker’s A Blue Hand – The Beats in India remains the most comprehensive and most evocative exploration of those times. Here’s highlights from the symposium held in New York in 2008 at the Asia Society to celebrate the publication of that book.
And here’s an excerpt from a gathering that took place in Mumbai that same year (Deborah Baker speaks on a panel alongside Prabo Parikh, Adil Jussawalla and Jerry Pinto)
Two reviews from The Hindustan Times may be read here and here. The Calcutta Telegraph reviews the book here. (and interviews the author). IBN (Indian Broadcasting Network) gives a brief video-profile of the book here.
Allen’s Indian Journals remain, of course, the primary text, but Baker supplemented this, drawing from letters, journals, and memoirs, extensively researching her subject.
A more recent piece of Baker’s also comes highly-recommended – For The Sake of The Song (“A tangled tale of Bauls, Beat Poets, Bob Dylan and one woman’s effort to preserve the music and stories of West Bengal’s wandering minstrels”).
Bill Morgan at the end of the Asia Society symposium notes the importance of a later work of Allen’s, his poem, September On Jessore Road, written in 1971, after visiting the war-zone and witnessing first-hand the horror of the refugee camps. In many ways (particularly through a moving rendition/interpretation by Bengali singer Moushumi Bhoumik) the piece has become something of an anthem now (a historicized anthem) for Bangladeshi Liberation.
Deborah Baker here provides “the back-story” (one back-story): “It (I have to say) is a terrible poem. (!) Partly because Allen wrote it (not as a poem but) as song lyrics. I heard a number of renditions on cassettes and even his fellow musicians groaned in frustration at his inability to carry a simple tune. Of course, he was completely unfazed. As to the motivation behind it…His intention was to write a song that would make (Bob) Dylan cry. I don’t think Allen ever recovered from hearing Dylan the first time he returned from India, he realized immediately that he’d been superseded, that the Beat thing, which he was both haunted and sustained by, was over. In the Scorcese Dylan documentary, he actually bursts into tears describing the moment, and he was in his seventies then. So I have serious questions about his motives in writing that poem. Since Dylan never showed up at the $7000 recording session, I don’t think he liked it either, or he saw what Allen was up to. Allen’s brother (Eugene) ended up picking up the tab. So that is the backstory” – Baker also goes on to offer some sharp critical comments about John Giorno’s “September On Jessore Road” film (footage), picking up on some similarly-voiced concerns by Peter Trachtenberg.
Btw, not sure what $7000 session Deb’s referring to, but Dylan did end up playing piano, electric and acoustic guitar on the 1971 Record Plant recording of SoJR. Deb if you’re out there, maybe you can clarify.
Baker’s web-site provides a remarkable gallery of images of Allen and the Beats in India. That can be accessed here
[Feeding monkey, roof of Brahmin’s house wherein we had room overlooking Dasasumedh Ghat for six months December-May 1962-3 (see Indian Journals) — Temple tops, Ganges river and futher shore below, our balconies 3’d floor below hung over vegatable market on one side, sacred street to Ganges bathing steps other side, monkeys visited and snatched our bananas. (Ginsberg caption.) c. Allen Ginsberg Estate]
1961, ’62, time goes by, so, pretty much half-a-century ago. Fifty years on and it’s an itinerary for the tourist. Those of you planning a “Beat tour” (of India) will be assisted, I guess, by this.