Remembering a Ground-Breaking Writer
Buddhadeva Bose (1908-1974) was a major Bengali writer of the 20th century. Frequently referred to as a poet, he was a versatile writer who wrote novels, short stories, plays and essays in addition to poetry. He was an influential critic and editor of his time. He is recognised as one of the five poets who moved to introduce modernity into Bengali poetry. It has been said that since Tagore, perhaps, there has been no greater talent in Bengali literature.
March 18 marked the 41st death anniversary of the writer.
Buddhadeva Bose was born in Comilla, Bangladesh on November 30 in 1908. His ancestral home was in the village of Malkhanagar in the Vikrampur. His father’s name was Bhudeb Chandra Bose and mother’s name was Benoy Kumari. His mother died just few hours after his birth and his father for a year became a bereaved wanderer. He remarried few years later and settled down. So, Buddhadeva was brought up and raised by his maternal grandparents Chintaharan Sinha and Swarnalata Sinha. Literally they remained his soul parents. He was schooled at the Dhaka Collegiate School in Dhaka, in addition to high schools in Comilla and Noakhali. He passed the Matriculation examination in 1925. He secured the second place in the Intermediate examination. His early life was associated with Dhaka where he lived in a simple house at 47 Purana Paltan.
Bose went to the University of Dhaka for studying English language and literature. He was a resident of the Jagannath Hall. After completing his MA in English from the University of Dhaka with distinction marks that remains unsurpassed as yet (2007), he moved to Calcutta in 1931. Initially he had no regular job and resorted to ‘private tuition’ for livelihood.
While a student he became associated with the famous poetry magazine Kallol. The modernist literary movement of 1930s is often referred to as the Kallol era. He was also worked as an editor of the literary magazine Progoti (started 1926).
He married Pratibha Basu (1914/1915 – 4 October 2006) (née Shome) in 1934. They had three children, Meenakshi Dutta (b. 1936), Damayanti Basu Singh (b. 1940) and Suddhashil Bose (1945-1987). Pratibha Bosu was an accomplished singer in her teens but later concentrated on literature and became a distinguished writer in her own right.
Bose taught at the Ripon College (now Surendranath College) an affiliated college of the University of Calcutta. In 1956 he set up the Department of Comparative literature in Jadavpur University, and was on its faculty for a number of years. He was also a visiting professor at many universities in the United States.
One of his most important contributions to the Bengali literary scene was the establishment of the Kavita— the flagship poetry magazine in Bengali, which he edited and published for 25 years.
Bose has been described a disciplined, almost obsessed, worker by Nabaneeta Dev Sen. After meeting Bose, Clinton B. Seely remarked that Buddhadeva was a very intense person. He spoke quickly, with emotion. He laughed wonderfully. He was interested in everything… He was what I would come to refer to as “jyanto,” “alive,” “vibrant,” “energetic.” Conversations were often at fever pitch. He was bubbling over with things to say.
Bose who grew up almost as an orphan showed deep since of love and care for his children. In a letter to his daughter Damayanti Basu Singh who just flew to the USA for studies he wrote: “Rumi, since this morning, I am really worried. Have you kept your money and traveler’s cheques in a safe and handy place? I should’ve checked everything at the airport, but just didn’t remember to do so. Exchange the pounds I gave you in England. For your small expenditures spend the loose change that you have in dollars. With the money I gave you and the first installment of your scholarship, open an account in Bloomington. Don’t deposit the traveler’s cheques in the account. You’ll need those for your trips across the country. And make sure you don’t lose the slip with the cheque numbers written on it. …Baba.” Damayanti wrote that ‘… And I remember that Dad used to write late into the night. He used to place books beside the table lamp to block the light so that it wouldn’t disturb our sleep.’
His first book of poetry, namely, “Bandir Bandona” was published when he was only seventeen years old. Although he worked as a teacher at different colleges and universities, he devoted his whole life to literature. This is symbolised by the name of his residence in Calcutta which was Kavita Bhavan. His first novel, “SaDa”, was published when he was 18, in 1930. He wrote more than 40 novels, but his epic novel “Tithidore”, published in 1949, became his most admired novel which is now considered a classic. He published more than 160 titles during his lifetime. So far 200 books have been published. However, many pieces remain to be anthologized as yet. He was a hard worker and writing was his life. He began his day at 9 in the morning and would regularly work until 10 at night. Work, for him, meant writing.
In his school days, Bose took various literary initiatives. He was the editor, principal contributor and scriptor of the Pataka, a hand-written literary magazine published by the school students. Since then he was continuously engaged and involved in many literary organisations including publications of literary journals and books. While studying at the Dhaka University he was elected as the literary secretary of the students’ association of his hall of residence, namely the Jagannath Hall. In this capacity he edited the Bashontika, the annual literary magazine of the Jagannath Hall. Bose published one of his memorable poems, namely, ‘Kankaboti’ in the Bashontika.
Bose actively participated in the Progressive Writers’ Association in the late 1930s. He also joined the Anti-Fascist Writers and Artists’ Association in the early 40s.
Buddhadeva Bose received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1967 for his verse play Tapaswi-O-Tarangini, received the Rabindra Puraskar in 1974 for Swagato Biday(poetry) and was honoured with a Padma Bhushan in 1970.
Bose died on March 18 in 1974.