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Mainstream, VOL LII No 36, August 30, 2014

Nabarun Bhattacharya [1948-2014]

Sunday 31 August 2014


Recently Bengal lost a prominent literary figure who never compromised with the establishment. One had worked with Nabarun in the students’ movement of the sixties and interacted with him on literary issues subsequently. While offering our sincere homage to his memory we are carrying the following tribute. )]

by Bishwajit sen

Nabarun Bhattacharya was born on June 24, 1948 in Bahrampur. His father was Bijan Bhattacharya, who wrote “Nabanna”, the play which kept alive the faith of the Bengalis in the future, while their present was being devastated by a man-made famine. His mother, Mahasweta Devi, later came to be remembered as the author of “Hajar Chaurashi Ki Ma”, a novel based upon the violence let loose on Bengal by Siddharth Shankar Ray’s regime. Manish Ghatak, who wrote under the pen-name of Yuvanashwa, was a poet of considerable repute and Nabarun’s maternal grandfather.

It was in this milieu that Nabarun grew up. So, literary endeavours came naturally to him. When still in his teens, he emerged as a poet. Academically, he studied Geology first and then English Literature. As he was not a son only but a close disciple of Bijan Babu as well, he saw from close quarters a writer’s agony, when the commercial literary establishment crushes him, putting obstacles in the way of his achieving something of permanent value. Bijan Babu of course did not surrender and went on writing one play after another, earning the accolades of viewers. But the establishment’s nasty techniques turned Nabarun into it’s life-long foe. He never wrote for big newspapers and well-heeled journals. Even though this remained his life-long stand, he earned unheard of reputation as a writer. His name became a household word.

When Nabarun was still quite young, he wrote “Ei Mrityu Upatyaka Aamar Desh Na [This valley of death is not my country]”. This simple poem rallied the people of Bengal as never before, against the terror regime of Siddhartha Shankar Ray. For livelihood, Nabarun, after completing studies, took up a job in Bengali “Soviet Desh” magazine and started participating in the cultural life of Calcutta with great zeal. He also acted in stage plays and was noticed by people.

As Nabarun was doing all these, two things were rapidly overtaking him. The first was globalisation and the second was the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It was then perhaps that Nabarun decided that prose should be his medium. Prose, since it is more abstract than poetry, allows you to say more things in a way you like. Nabarun did not say adieu to poetry but became very soon the best commentator on a Bengal ravaged by globalisation. He wrote astounding stories and novels.

This made him take a bold stand on Singur and Nandigram also. One may not agree with him all the way, but there was no dearth of sincerity in him. He earnestly believed that big capital was not welcome and stuck to this position till the end of his life.

Novels that he wrote like “Herbert” amd “Kangal Malsat” belonged to a genre that was his own creation. His speech was sarcastic, his way of saying this oblique, but all the same what was exposed was the hollowness of the globalised times. “Herbert” and “Kangal Malsat” were made into plays and films. “Herbert” received the Sahitya Academy Award.

“Bhashabandhan” was a project, close to his heart. I would consciously call it a project, because every issue brought forth wonders whether in cover design, or contents, or overall get-up. Nabarun personally saw to the smallest of details. I did many translations for the journal. It was meant precisely for that, to find out materials in other languages and translate them into Bengali.

Nabarun passed away on July 31, 2014. He was 66 when he died. But the works that he produced remain. It would be a seminal job, if they are preserved. The future generations can learn, how he defeated the frustrations and came up to be regarded as one of the foremost writers of his times and also, how without anyone guiding him, he created a genre all by himself. Nabarun is survived by his wife and a son.

The author is a literary figure based in Patna.