By Tirthankar Mitra
Among the stars of the Bengali literary firmament, Samaresh Bose stands out occupying a place of honour. On his birth , centenary day on December 11, pundits and plebians will find it difficult to categorise his vast work of novels, short stories and travelogues.
The point of time when Bose emerged as an author was a critical period of Bengali literature. The regime of the three Bandopadhyays, Tarashankar, Manik and Bibhuti Bhusan whose works had the last word in the then literary world in post Rabindranath Tagore period was coming to an end.
In his works, Bose had traces of these triumvirates. His works marked a combination of Tarashankar’s connect to the soil, Bibhuti Bhusan’s sensitive appraisal of the individual and Manik’s psychological analysis
Bose did not pen stories evoking laughter or tales of tears. He drew on life, often his own experiences and left the ending to be unpredictable, uncaring whether they would be happy or sad; his concern was to portray life, warts and all sans a care for the readers’ liking. But his works did earn the appreciation of the readers. Bose’s books often made it to the top of the bestsellers’ list and stayed put there.
Sans the advantage of formal education, Bose evolved a literary style of his own, liberally sprinkled with contemporary expletives. It would see Bose being dragged to court on charges of use of obscenity in his works though it triggered much curiosity about his works which even an extensive advertisement campaign would have fallen short to achieve.
Bibar and Prajapati are two of his most acclaimed works. They had their share of notoriety too. If Bibar finds the principal protagonist who thinks he is a victim of conspiracy in his place of work, in Prajapati a butterfly one of whose winds is broken by Sukhen round whom the story’s plot revolves. His life too is like a broken winged butterfly which is tried to be unsuccessfully revived by the love of his life Shikha.
Sukhen who never lived either a celibate or saintly life later succumbs to injury he sustained in an inter-gang clash. Bose and his publishers were dragged to the Bankshall court, Calcutta High Court and Supreme Court.
The trial courts trashed the contention of Bose’s lawyers as well as eminent author Buddhadeb Bose that Prajapati was not obscene. It was the Supreme Court which after 17 year long trial pronounced Prajapati to be free of the charges of obscenity; the book was published again.
Incidentally, the other stories Bose penned were not at all boy meets girl stories. But some elders looked askance at them leading to many a youngster having their ears boxed when trying to read them lest a seed of moral corruption enters their soul. But they read them all the same. The contents of the books were devoured, so to speak, with a curiosity and passion of their teens, away from the censuring eyes of their elders.
In the backdrop of the 21st century, they are a reality of the then Bengali psyche. And contemporary society was aghast at them. Yet the demand for them did not dip. It seemed that reading them was like tasting the forbidden fruit.
Bose’s literary creations often conveyed messages. The protagonists of his stories either triumphed or went down to overwhelming odds; but they seldom succumbed to the circumstances without a fight.
Bose, a Communist activist in his early youth cherished the value of a struggle. Whether living in poverty in a slum with the woman he loved or in a plush condominium amidst opulence which he had never dreamt of, the author seldom let a story plot flow freely sans his opponents trying to punch above their weight.
His stint in a jute mill, a tracer in an ammunition factory, a stint behind the bars as a Communist activist stood Bose in good stead in his literary career. These would be a part of valuable bank of experiences on which he would draw upon and enrich book after book..
B T Roader Dhare, Srimati Cafe, Mahakaler Rather Ghora, Shekal Chera Hater Khoje, Bijan Bibhui are only a handful of the books penned on Bose’s experiences. That is the reason he felt that life is greater than literature.
The strain of idealism was also a part and parcel of his works. Remember, the short story Adaab which tells a tale of communal amity among two members of the working class. Bose was once a factory worker. Small wonder, he was so successful in deftly depicting the life of another such worker.
No matter, if it was Jug Jug Jiye or Khandita, he knew the background of the characters he wanted to occupy the centrestage though both are not among his best known pieces. The first serialised in Desh magazine had been penned against the backdrop of the August movement. Khandita has been written in the backdrop of the moment of the Partition. It is strange that Bose’s depiction of the exploiters is almost picture perfect.
It depicts a disturbing tale on that date August day when India was divided into two countries.. The neighbours who had shared each other’s joys and sorrows for generations were pitted against each other in the name of religion.
It differed from Bhisam Sahni’s story Tamasas chalk is to cheese. widely televised serial on partition Tamas. For unlike the Govind Nihalni directed. much looked forward to television serial on Punjab, Khandita focused on the life and times of the people in undivided Bengal and a post Partition period.
In Jug Jug Jiye it was the bhadralok gentry hoarding rice stocks. It would trigger prices going through the roof and leading to Bengal Famine of 1943 which would cause the death of as many persons or more than those who died in the ongoing World War II.
It also marked the dehumanisation of Bengali psyche signalling which the famished roaming the streets of Calcutta dared not ask for rice as alms. Instead, they cried out for gruel (Ma phan dao). Writing under the pen name of Kalkut, Bose authored travelogues on sojourn to the Kumbh Mela – Amrita Kumbher Sabdhane. It was as popular if not more than his fictions.
Samaresh Bose was one of the few Bengali authors whose characters were not uncomfortable with sex. Man of the world that he was, he saw nothing wrong about writing about it and the basic human act of making love. Bose, handsome man of middle height had a winsome way about him. It drew individuals irrespective of their genders to him.
His last work was about the noted artist Ram Kinkar Bej. It would have been his Magnum Opus had he not passed away before completing it. The chapters of the incomplete book throw light on the nooks and crannies of the life of this versatile genius which were hitherto unfocussed.
His persona never revealed the rough edges his life has been scarred with. Such scars surfaced in his works and enlivened them as more and more readers identified themselves with the protagonists of his works. (IPA Service)