Sunil Gangopadhyay (b.1934), prolific poet, journalist, novelist, script writer and dramatist, spearheaded a new literary movement in Bengal after independence, along with his contemporaries Shakti Chattopadhyay and Nirendranath Chakrovarty, Although Sunil Gangopadhyay is known more for his fiction, it is poetry which is his "first loye".
born in Faridpur, now in Bangladesh, his family had to leave home after the Partition, Gangopadhyay started writing while still in his teens and tried his hand at various jobs to make ends meet. He worked variously as a tutor, a trainee officer in an insurance company, as a clerk in a government office, as a sectional editor of a new Bengali daily and in the Adult Education Programme of the UNESCO. During this time he managed to continue his studies and did his Masters in Bengali Literature from Calcutta University.
In 1953, Gangopadhyay along with Dipak Majumdar and Ananda Bagehi started the epoch-making poetry magazine Krittibas. After the third issue he took over the editorship. Almost all the important poets of the 50’s and 60’s made their first appearance in the pages of this magazine. His first voume of poetry Eka Ebang Kayakjan, published in 1958, was followed by Amar Swapna (1972), Bandi Jege Achi (1974), Jagaran Hemabarna (1974), Aami ki Rakam Bhabe Benche Achhi (1975) and others. He has experimented with new forms in poetic themes, rhythms and words. His Nikhilesh and Neera series of poems have been extremely popular.
As in poetry, Gangopadhyay is known for his unique style in prose too, be it Pratidwandi, Aranyer Din Ratri (both filmed by Satyajit Ray), Abar Aranya (filmed by Goutam Ghosh), Seoi Samay (Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983), or Pratham Alo.
Sunil Gangopadhyay writes in several generes including travelogues, children’s fiction, short stories, fiction and essays. Among his pen names are Nil Lohit, Sanatan Pathak and Nil Upadhyay.
Gangopadhyay is the recipient of several honours and awards including Sahitya Akademi Award, Ananda Puraskar (twice), Bankim Puraskar and Saraswati Samman. He became Sheriff of Kolkata in 2002. He is presently President of the Sahitya Akademi.
Enakshi Chatterjee, a bilingual writer, has a number of books to her credit including children’s fiction, books on popular science, biographies and translations. The wide spectrum of Bengali fiction translated by her ranges from Tarasankar on one end to new and emerging writers like Sohrab Hossain on the other. She has also translated from English to Bengali – vikram Seth’s Suitable Boy being one of them. She received the Rabindra Puraskar for popular science, Katha Award for translation and Vidyasagar Award for children’s literature.
In 2008, Sunil Gangopadhyay will be completing three score years and fifteen, considered full of years by biblical standards, young old by modern definition, but certainly an age of maturity, a time for introspection. But somehow aging is a process a reader does not associate with this author; he remains forever young, stuck at the age of twenty-six, like a slightly older Peter Pan. The reader may wonder if it is not a little premature to bring out a volume at this stage, when the writer is still creative. Who knows what surprise he may have in store? Perhaps, his best book is yet to be written.
At the same time, there is no denying the fact that his creative output has been prolific and it would be naïve to expect that his important works are still to be written. So this is an attempt to take stock and to pick and choose from the rather large corpus of poetry, fiction, essays and plays. The process has been difficult and at times quite baffling. With close to four hundred books including poems, short stories, novels, features, travels, memoirs, plays, children's stories and translations — the list is awe-inspiring.
Moreover, the task of selection has been made still more difficult by the writer himself. This is the unique case of a poet who was catapulted into fame by his first published fiction and since then his fame as a writer of fiction has far outstripped his fame as a poet. In all fairness, The Best of Sunil Gangopadhyay should have been an anthology of poems, nothing else. But it is too late for that now. For one thing, the large readership of his fiction is not going to accept this, however unfair it may be to the author. It seems the author too is conscious of this himself. In a recently telecast interview, he said apologetically, "But I still write poems you know. I bring out a book of poems at least every two years."
Born on 7 September 1934 at Maichpara in Faridpur, East Bengal (now a part of Bangladesh), to Kalipada and Meera Gangopadhyay, Sunil was the eldest in a family of four. His life began in a rented house in Grey Street, Kolkata where his father worked as a school teacher. Like many other Hindu families of East Bengal, they shuttled between Kolkata and the village home. Kolkata was the city of opportunities, people went there for schooling and for jobs but the link with the village was never broken. They all went back during the Durga puja festival. Bengali literature is full of stories related to the yearly homecoming, the happiness of the family union and the ecstasy of the long-separated young wife.
Then came the partition of 1947. The family had to move, lock, stock and barrel to the city, where they already had an establishment. In his epic novel Purbo Paschim, Sunil has given a vivid account of this experience though the canvas of the two-volume novel is spread over a much larger time span. After coming to Kolkata, Sunil studied in Town School, got admitted first to Surendranath College, then changed over to Motijhil College for Intermediate in Science and joined City College with honours in Economics. After graduation, he was obliged to take odd jobs though he did his Masters as a private student. Circumstances forced him to look for jobs as he was the eldest in a family of three brothers and one sister. He began his career by giving, private tuitions and doing various odd jobs including clerical work in a medicine godown. He also worked for some time in a UNESCO Literacy project in the villages of North 24 Parganas.
How could a young man in such circumstances become of all things a poet? In a family just uprooted from its home, it would be an understatement to say it was a difficult time. It was truly speaking, a struggle for survival. Where was the leisure for reading poetry or cultivating finer forms of art? In the family library, there were some English poetry books—poems of Tennyson being one of them. His father was not fond of Bengali poetry at all, but his mother was an avid reader of Bengali fiction; the young son had to fetch two novels from the local public library almost every day. Perhaps, the taste for literature was inherited from his mother.
In his adolescence. Sunil had chanced upon a copy of the Tagore anthology Sanchaita and was immensely taken up by it. In college, his initiation to modern poetry was done by two of his classmates—Mohit Chattopadhyay (now a successful playwright) and Shiba Sambhu Pal (who later became a poet of stature). It was through them that the young Sunil came to know of the two towering figures on the contemporary poetic scene—Bishnu Dey and Buddhadev Bose. The followers of the first were fondly termed Vaishnavites and the followers of the second, Buddhists. Both commended a strong following. Another towering figure, Jibanananda was as yet on the fringe though absolutely unique in being different from the rest, and what is more remarkable, totally free from the all pervasive influence of Tagore. In his article, 'My Discovery of Jibanananda', Sunil gives a vivid account of how, one afternoon, standing in the queue before a ration shop he found himself reciting some lines of Jibanananda. The lines haunted him so much that he forgot the noisy, ugly surroundings.
In those days, buying books was a luxury for him. But Sunil was so possessed by the magic lines, the unusual use of images, the stunningly different use of words that he got hold of all his available books and was totally immersed in them. Yet, surprisingly, Sunil's poems do not show the slightest trace of this influence. Thus, though Jibanananda did have a lot to do in the shaping of the young poet's sensibility, in his approach to words, in his unconventional ways but there is no echo.
In the development of Sunil the poet, the role of his like-minded friends was considerable. In fact, if it was not for them, Sunil might not have started a new poetry movement with Krittibaas as their voice and platform.
It was more of a collective endeavour—the incentive to write poems. Sunil has written profusely about the deep attachment he felt for his friends as they were at the same mental wavelength. One of his early novels Aranver Dinratri (Days and Nights in the Forest) catches this mood perfectly. This was made into a film by Satyajit Ray with considerable changes which created a different kind of atmosphere, away from the mood of the original. In the novel, there are four friends, all of them central to the story. All come from lower middle class families, eager for adventure but without even the money to buy train tickets. Ticketless, they get into a train. It was the sheer celebration of the spirit of youth—restless but without means; that was the main theme. Ray changed this completely. In the film they were travelling by car, apparently from upper middle class backgrounds. He also toned down the wild reckless spirit of the four young men, a basic change which was not liked by the author.
It was around this time, when life was quite rudderless that Sunil got his real solid foothold, though it was no help in earning a living. He along with a group of friends started a poetry journal, Krittibaas. It was both a fight as well as a platform, for encouraging young talent. Since it was not a commercial journal there was no compulsion to please. They usually began with new writers, completely unknown, and usually published about 15 or 16 poems in one single issue. The idea was to discover new talent by focusing on newcomers as none of the established journals would do it.
In doing this, Krittibaas was following the tradition of Buddhadev Bose's Kobita Patrika.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
Children’s Books (475)
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