Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali would not have stirred our hearts if it hadn’t been for the iconic writer Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. Bandyopadhyay’s ability to portray the realities of human life in simple words remain fresh and urgently relevant for all time. Somashis Gupta discusses and celebrates the life and legacy of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay — one of the most original voices of Bengali literature and a gem of a writer.
On the 1st day of November 1950, in the town of Ghatshila, a man died. His mortal remains perished, but he left behind him a rich legacy. A legacy for us to read and fill our hearts with unspeakable joy and blissful sorrow concomitantly for now and for times to come.
The sublime Bengali Literature will be less sung of if only praised on Tagore or Bankim. The evergreen genius Bibhutibushan Bandyopadhyay has equally given Bengali literature an aura of freshness.
Perhaps the rest of the world beyond Bengal inescapably relates him with the cult movie Pother Panchali by Satyajit Ray. But for readers in Bengal, he remains an icon as his writings remain urgently relevant to even the current times. They are to be read, discussed and celebrated more than ever before.
Born on the 12th of September 1894 in Muratipur of Bengal Presidency, his life was not a bed of roses. He could not complete his masters as it was interrupted due to the need to earn a living. He got engaged in various jobs starting from teaching to an estate manager, continuing his writing simultaneously.
In his short life of 56 years, Bandyopadhyay contributed hundreds of short stories, a few essays and more than a dozen fictions. His creations are diverse, eclectic and prolific, and he remains one of the most original voices in Bengali literature.
Bandyopadhyay successfully captured the magic of rural landscape like none other before him or since. He is more of a kindred spirit of Romantic poets of England from the 18th century, which initiates a call to retreat to nature – rejecting the trapping of mindless industrialisation and capitalist greed.
The avarice and lust for power during the two world wars and their aftermath on a commoner’s life are reflected in his works, especially in novels like Anubartan. He wrote with empathy and insight about life’s challenges during those times, which pushed desperate men to choose the hostility of a big city over the complex but sedate village life.
Bandyopadhyay had the rare talent of bringing in the words and the world of common village lore to life. This fascinated Satyajit Ray as he adopted these works in the Apu trilogy – Pather Panchali, Aparajto and Apur Sansar. All three tales are masterpieces of Bandyopadhyay, closely weaving hopes and despair of the common man, through the protagonist Apu. Ray once wrote: “I chose Pather Panchali for the qualities that made it a great book: its humanism, its lyricism, and its ring of truth.”
Another adoption by Ray was Asani Sanket, where Bandyopadhyay describes the gradual decline of the rural economy reeling from the pressure of World War II and the famine of 43 that ravaged the Bengal countryside.
There is a kind of musical cohesion in his writings that makes him a unique figure in the pantheon of literary eminences of Bengal. His novel Ichamati is a perfect example of that, where he examines cast dynamics.
Bandyopadhyay’s travel writer ability and interest in natural history set him apart from his contemporaries. His novel Aranyak and essays like Hey Aranya Katha Kao remains relevant even in current times as it quintessentially depicts the incursion of the long arm of capitalism in the forested terrain of Bihar which unthinkably destroyed the environment in the name of development.
Another creative excellence of Bandyopadhyay is his ability to go beyond boundaries. His novel Chader Pahar is susceptible to any adventure lover and remains an extremely popular adventure story to date.
Reading Bibhutibhushan is like following a lyrical journey of life. Every detail opens up before one’s eyes like a movie. His works do not reject society like transcendentalists but remain alert to the shifting sands, making him one of the greatest Bengali writers.
Bibhutibhushan remains in our hearts forever.
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A devoted foodie with keen interest in wild life, music, cinema and travel Somashis has evolved over time . Being an enthusiastic reader he has recently started making occasional contribution to write-ups.