"An extraordinary talent, author, poet, and novelist, and most importantly, a great human being, her absence will be deeply felt by all of us," writes Trisha De Niyogi.
Eminent littérateur and Sahitya Akademi awardee Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s death has left the whole nation in the grip of mourning. In her last piece of writing in a Bengali magazine published recently, Dev Sen wrote:
‘Thik ache. Na hoy cancer-e hoyechhe. Cancer to ekhon alakhhi-r jhapir moto ghore ghore guchhiye boshechhe. Ami-i ba bad jai keno? Hothat ashitipor Nabaneeta-r jonye eto shok kisher?’ (So what if I have cancer? It has settled down like bad luck in so many households. Why should I be left out? Why should there be an outpouring of grief for octogenarian Nabaneeta?) Such was the life force of the late poet-novelist.
Her childhood was shaped by many historic events of the period in which she grew up. Events like the Naxalbari Movement, the partition of the country, the influx of refugees in the post-partition period, the dilemma of the so-called intellectuals of those times, and the famines had created strong impressions in the young girl’s mind. Strong female characters have always been a primary focus across all of her writings.
Nabaneeta Dev Sen has various commendations to her name – an ingenious student, internationally acclaimed academician, multilinguist, amazing speaker, liberal, and a fearless voice on matters of society and polity. Her book Naba-Nita (1999) fetched her the honorific award Padma Shri in 2000. Her first collection of Bengali poems Pratham Pratyay was published in 1959, while 1980 saw her first published short story collection, Monsieur Hulor Holiday.
In all her works − poetry, short stories, novels, travelogues and essays − the feminine experience was at the core. For instance, in stories like ‘Nati Nabanita’ and ‘Bhalobashar Baranda’, Dev Sen portrayed personal accounts of the lives of middle-class Bengali women, their dreams, desires, and assertions of independence. She is credited with authoring 100 books across the wide gamut of literary genre − plays, novels, Bengali poetry, literary criticism, short stories, travelogues, essays, humour, and translations. We also see her works dealing with contemporary social issues, as well as issues of gender identity, immigration, and exile. For instance, Ami Anupam (1976) examined the role of the Bengali intelligentsia during the Naxal Movement.
Adding another feather to her cap, Dev Sen made her advent into children's literature, producing popular and captivating fairy tales and stories of adventure, again featuring women in the lead. She has also worked extensively on Ramayana, approaching it from Sita's and other female characters’ viewpoint. Sita Theke Shuru and Chandrabati Ramayana are her seminal works in Bengali literature.
Nabaneeta Dev Sen has left behind a rich oeuvre of works in the Bengali literary canon. Despite her ill health, her love for life and her commitment to writing had never waned. Thankfully, high quality english translations of the late author’s trilogy ( In a Foreign Land by Chance , I, Anupam , and The Parrot Green Sari ) are also available. An extraordinary talent, author, poet, and novelist, and most importantly, a great human being, her absence will be deeply felt by all of us. She will always live amongst us through her writings.
Trisha De Niyogi is currently the COO of Niyogi Books. She began her career in publishing with SAGE Publications.