Sumanta Benerjee, who has translated and introduced a collection of Basu’s stories in English for the first time, is the author or the simmering Revolution. The Thema Book of Naxalite Poetry, and the Parlour and the Streets.
The present collection of Samaresh Basu's stories, in English translation, is in a sense a long overdue debt that I owed to him which I am paying off today. More than twenty years ago, he presented me with copies of one of his novels and a book of short stories, requesting me to translate some of his works into English, which I promised to do. He passed away before I could keep my word given to him.
Although he was older than me by some ten years or more, we turned from distant acquaintances into close friends through a number of circumstances. First, our regular haunt in the office of Parichay (the Bengali journal which published Samaresh first) in College Street Market on Harrison Road (now known as Mahatma Gandhi Road) in Calcutta, where Samaresh used to drop in quite often in the evenings, either to hand over his latest story, or just to join the adda before taking the train to Naihati, where he lived then. Although quite famous by then, he overcame the distance between him and his younger admirers like us by his charm, affection, and that ever present friendly mischievous smile that could win over anyone! Later in the early 1960s, when I had drifted into journalism, and Samaresh had become a regular writer for the Anandabazar-Desh newspaper group, our professional interests tended to bring us together occasionally in social gatherings, and more often in 'unsocial' carousals in Calcutta! But it was in the early 1970s that we came closer to each other for a brief period. It was in Delhi, where I was then working for The Statesman. Samaresh spent some months in Delhi in 1971. As far as I remember, he and his wife were staying at the YMCA guest house in Connaught Circus. In spite of her strict regimen (which she naturally wanted to impose on him out of her concern for his health), Samaresh managed to escape and join me and my friends in evenings which stretched on till late nights. I remember occasions when I had to face his wife's wrath when I went to meet Samaresh at the guest house the next morning! But she took it in her stride, knowing well that Samaresh was meeting new people and adding new annexes to his sprawling storehouse of varied experiences. In fact, soon after his return from Delhi, he wrote a novel (Amrita Bisher Patrey, written under his nom de plume Kalkoot) with the capital as the locale. Although not one of his best works (I found it rather mushy and padded out with unnecessary verbiage), it did capture the spirit of the Delhi society in those days. Reading it the other day after many years, I all of a sudden rediscovered the times when I and my wife were living in a barsati in Jungpura in south Delhi, which Samaresh had recorded with affection and accuracy in the pages of that novel. He used to visit us there quite often. It was here that Samaresh first met an old friend of ours, the late Shobhna Siddiqui, nee Butani, a talented but unhappy figure, who was a bohemian luminary of sorts among radical literary and theatre circles of Delhi in those days. It was Shobhna, who was the model for his heroine Ranjita Rizvi in Amrita Bisher Patrey,
After that, whenever I visited Calcutta, I tried to look up Samaresh, either at the Anandabazar office, or at our old hangout in Park Street-Olympia. He was not keeping well, but he was always his old self-greeting me with his ever charming smile, dragging me to some adda or other, sharing old jokes about his days in Delhi. As far as I remember, my last meeting with him was in Delhi again-perhaps sometime towards the end of 1980, at the Anandabazar guest house. Physically, he was unwell. But he was bouncing with an amazingly creative energy. He told me about his new project-a novel about the mighty sculptor and painter Ramkinkar. As I listened to him narrating excitedly his encounters with Ramkinkar in Santiniketan, where he was interviewing him, I felt for a moment that here were two rebellious minds meeting and trying to communicate with each other, overcoming barriers of age, society and class.
Ramkinkar was born some twenty years before Samaresh. He came from a family of poor parents of a socially backward caste in Bankura in West Bengal. But from here he began his adventurous journey as a child artist, and arrived as a youth at Rabindranath's Santiniketan in 1925, where he was to establish himself as an iconoclast, breaking the conventional rules both in his art and his life. He remained uncompromising till the end, rejecting the choice of an affluent and respectable middle class life, and preferred instead to lead a life style of his own that often raised eyebrows among the prudish circles in convention-bound Santiniketan. Samaresh took up this life-story of Ramkinkar's as a challenge, and literally drained himself out while writing it. He began his research in 1978, when he went to Santiniketan to meet Ramkinkar, with whom his interviews stretched over the next two years till Ramkinkar's death on 2 August 1980. It took him another seven years to write and publish the first instalment of his novel on Ramkinkar, which appeared in Desh magazine in January 1987, entitled Dekhi Nai Phirey ('I Never Looked Back'). The last instalment of his unfinished novel was carried by Desh in its issue of 2 April 1988. But by the time it had come out, Samaresh had breathed his last-on 12 March that year. While writing the novel, during bouts of extreme illness, he often expressed the wish of retiring from the literary world after finishing the novel. It was to be his last magnum opus. His wish remained half-fulfilled. He retired from the world before being able to finish his novel.
Incidentally, the title of the novel-Dekhi Nai Phirey-was inspired by Ramkinkar's own words. He once told Samaresh that he always moved forward from finishing one piece of sculpture to taking up another, and 'never looked back' -a path which he took following Rabindranath's advice to him.
Samaresh ‘never looked back.' Both in his life and in his writings he moved from one stage to another, from one adventure to another. He shared the same earthy courage and artistic impulses that drove Ramkinkar to create his monumental sculptures, although Samaresh came from a slightly different socio-economic background. Samaresh was born in 1924 in a middle class family in East Bengal,
where he grew up as a child. He derived his early literary inspiration from the cultural environment, provided both by his parents and the surrounding rural ambience. As a young boy in the 1940s, he lived in suburban Naihati, near Calcutta-a place which played an important role both in his life and literature, to which he harked back again and again. At the age of eighteen, he fell in love with a girl who was a little older than him, married her, left Naihati and set sail for an uncertain future. He set up his new home in a slum, joined the ordnance factory in Ichhapur, near Calcutta, where he worked from 1943 till 1949. Here, as a member of the Communist Party, he worked as a trade union activist for some time. It was during this period that he started writing his first novel. The first short story of his that was to come out in print was Adaab, which was published in the magazine Parichay in 1946, and which is included in this volume.
Samaresh talks about his childhood, his later struggles as an aspiring writer, and his affiliation with the Communist Party during this period of his life, in the autobiographical narrative Nijekey Janar Jonya (which appears under the title 'In Search of Myself' in the present volume).
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