Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My favourite Bengali writers are all dead and dying

Dearth of real writers in current Bengali literature

It’s autumn festival time in India, and you get some days off your work -medical practice, in my case. For years on end, I’ve used this "puja" time reading new works of Bengali literature, which have a way of landing in the market by way of special editions of almost every Bengali daily and periodical. These are really tomes, and you’ll get in each of them several novels (5 to 8 on an average), and more than a dozen stories by established and upcoming authors among other things. It’s practically impossible to read all of them, - it doesn’t make sense also – but you can choose your picks.

Until last year, I was a sucker for this Puja literature, and geekily bought and read quite a number of mags. This year I’ve not bought a single mag and ai’nt reading any work at all - decidedly of course. Though I wish to read a long essay by Taslima Nasreen published in Bangla Statesman. In it Taslima has written about her nightmarish brush with the Marxist Government during her last Kolkata sojourn.

Puja tomes have changed hugely from what they were in the past. Once these were focused on literature, now the shift is towards entertainment, following in the current trend of the market. So, what you find in them are all kinds of schlock things, and writers who can write them.

For the past few years I had pared down my reading list to just these writers: Shyamal Gangopadhyay, Sandipan Chattopadhyay, Debesh Roy, Mahasweta Devi( a contender for the Nobel), Udayan Ghosh, Subimal Mishra. Shyamal Gangopadhyay, Bengal’s Marquez, died a few years ago. Sandipan is also dead. Udayan died last year. Mahasweta, being engaged now with her activist work most of the time, is not writing much fiction these days.

So, I’m left with Debesh Roy. Now, here was a writer who had life-experiences, knowledge, and writing prowess to write big novels which I’ve always enjoyed, and spoken highly of. He has steadfastly written quality fiction in spite of poor response from readers and publishers.

But strangely for me, when the Singur mass-movement started last year against the Marxist government's forced acquisition of farmers’ land for SEZ, Debesh Roy actively took side with the government. This was a stand against the underdogs whom he has championed for all of his life! It was painful for me. i let him die in my consciousness as a writer. Now I'm no longer interested in his work.

Subimal Mishra is another of my favourite authors. He’s anti-establishment, and like Udayan Ghosh, never wrote for any commercial mag. Yesterday I called him to learn where I could find his new writing. His phone rang, but there was none to pick up the receiver. For a while, he had been keeping in bad health – complications of his long-standing diabetes actually. I was worried. So I dashed an e-mail to his translatorV.Ramaswamy(Harper Collins’ India would publish Subimal's selected stories next year)enquiring about his whereabouts. Ramaswamy's e-mail reply: “I tried to contact him too. No idea. Might be shifted to hospital.”


Donigan said...

Why do you suppose this is, Dr. Bose? It is possible to make the same case for my favorite American writers. Did you see the remark by a Swedish member of the Nobel Prize academy that American writers are too insular for consideration for the prize these days? I'm still considering that one. On the other hand, speaking of being insular, I have never heard of any of the Bengali writers you mention, and embarrassingly confess that I have only read immigrant writers from India. Well, and you, here.

Mrinal Bose said...

What a coincidence, Don! I see your comment while I'm reading your wonderful novel Possessed by Shadows. You might be glad to learn that I spent the best part of my puja time reading through your book. I'm enjoying it in a big way. I never knew you're such a brilliant writer. My kudos to you.

Věra Jelínková said...

Dear Dr. Bose,

Fortunately, I came across this your article a thus discovered a trace of something I have been looking for lately. Let me first of all briefly introduce myself. My name is Vera Jelinkova and I am a student of Bengali literature and Bengali itself at the Institute of South and Central Asia, Charles University in Prague, Czech republic. I am writing to you for that you are perhaps the only person from whom I might seek helping hand.
I would like to learn more about your favourite author Mr. Subimal Mishra and introduce him to Czech readers, to whom his work remain unknown, and thereby pick up the threads of a long tradition of Prague Bengali studies. Ideally, I would follow with my yet unborn master's thesis dealing with the contemporary Bengali literary scene.
My wish is to encounter Mr. Mishra in person, but considering the bad health condition you had mentioned in your article eight years ago, I am wondering how is Mr. Mishra now.
I apologize for leaving this message here, I meant to address you in a personal email, but I could not manage to get your email address. I would be very grateful if you could provide me with any kind of information.
With all my respect,

Vera Jelinkova, +917261031130

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