Jibanananda Das: Defining 20th century Bengali poetry

During the later half of the twentieth century, Jibanananda Das emerged as the most popular poet of modern Bengali literature. Popularity apart, Jibanananda had distinguished himself as an extraordinary poet presenting a paradigm hitherto unknown. It is a fact that his unfamiliar poetic diction, choice of words and thematic preferences took time to reach the heart of the readers. The poetry of Jibanananda has become the defining essence of modernism in twentieth century Bengali poetry.

Today marks the 56th death anniversary of the poet.

Jibanananda Das was born on February 17, 1899 in Barisal, then East Bengal. His ancestors came from the Bikrampur region of Dhaka district. Jibanananda’s father Satyananda Das was a schoolteacher, essayist and a publisher. His mother Kusumkumari Das was a poet. Jibanananda was the eldest son of his parents, and was called by the nickname Milu.

His school life passed by relatively uneventfully. In 1915, he successfully completed his Matriculation exams from Brajamohan School and two years later, completed Intermediate from Brajamohan College.

Later he enrolled in Presidency College, Calcutta and graduated with a BA (Honours) in English Literature in 1919. That same year, his first poem appeared in print in the Baishakh issue of Brahmobadi journal.

When Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das died in June 1925, Jibanananda wrote a poem called “Deshbandhu’r Prayan-e”, which was published in Bangabani magazine. This poem would later take its place in the collection called “Jhora Palok” (1927). His poetry began to be widely published in various literary journals and little magazines in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Dhaka and elsewhere. These included Kallol, perhaps the most famous literary magazine of the era, Kalikalam, Progoti and others. At this time, he occasionally used the surname Dasgupta as opposed to Das.

In 1935, Jibanananda, by now familiar with professional disappointment and poverty, returned to his alma mater Brajamohan College. He joined as a lecturer in the English department. In Calcutta, Buddhadeb Bose, Premendra Mitra and Samar Sen were starting a brand new poetry magazine called Kobita. Jibanananda’s work featured in the first issue of the magazine, a poem called “Mrittu’r Aagey” (Before Death).

Young Jibanananda fell in love with Shobhona, daughter of his uncle Atulchandra Das, who lived in his neighbourhood. He dedicated his first anthology of poems to Shobhona without mentioning her name explicitly. The poet, however, married Labanyaprabha in 1930. A clash of personalities erupted and Jibanananda gave up hope of a happy married life. The gap with his wife never narrowed.

On October 14, 1954, he was unmindfully crossing a street near Calcutta’s Deshapriya Park, when he was hit by a tram; Jibanananda was returning home after his routine evening walk. At that time, he used to reside in a rented apartment on the Lansdowne Road. Seriously injured, he was taken to Shambhunath Pundit Hospital. Poet-writer Sajanikanta Das, who had been one of Jibanananda’s fiercest critics, was tireless in his efforts to secure the best treatment for the poet. Nonetheless, the injury was too fatal to redress. Jibanananda died in hospital on October 22, 1954 after eight days of struggle with death. He left behind his wife, a son and a daughter, and the ever-growing band of readers.

His notable poetic works are “Jhora Palok”, “Dhushor Pandulipi”, “Bonolota Sen”, “Mohaprithibi”, “Shaat-ti Tarar Timir”, “Shrestho Kobita” and “Ruposhi Bangla”.


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