Bengal became the intellectual capital of the country with the stellar contributions by some of the most noted names in literature. The capacity of identifying the ethos of Bengal and the feelings of readers was what helped these authors achieve unadulterated adulation from a generation that did not rely on kindle or e-books. Some of these celebrated authors are:
- Rabindranath Tagore
Bengal is synonymous with the bard who is as iconic as the heritage of Bengal. At sixteen, he released his first poems under the pseudonym of Bhānusiṃha (“Sun Lion”), soon he graduated to short stories and dramas penned and published under his own name. He was an exponent of the Bengal Renaissance with his paintings, sketches, doodles and a volume of over two thousand songs. A creative maverick, he was a playwright, musician, composer, lyricist, author, poet, painter, linguist, educationist and above all a humanitarian with a patriotic heart. Gitanjali was his best work with its deeply sensitive and beautiful verse. The effervescence of his elegant prose and poetry expresses the gracefulness of the Bengali language. His legacy endures in the Visva-Bharati University founded by him.
- SaratChandra Chattopadhyay
Hailed as the writer for the common masses, he was often a tough competitor to Tagore. His writing was characterised with simple language, sans frilly decorations and with a keen focus on society. His storytelling attracted the masses in a way that is evident with the relevance of stories like Parineeta, Devdas and Srikanto which have found eager audiences in form of books and cinema across generations. His timeless gems are a part of Bengal’s literary treasure chest.
- Mahasweta Devi
Born in undivided Bengal, to literary parents, she hails from the famous lineage of her father poet and novelist Manish Ghatak a.k.a. Jubanashwa and filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak her brother. In her lifetime she wrote over 100 novels and collections of short stories in Bengali, which were often translated to other languages. She was also a teacher at Bijoygarh College, a journalist and a creative writer. Her exposure to the anthropology of tribal Bengal can be found in her works depicting the brutal oppression of tribal people and the untouchables by the authoritarian upper-caste landlords and lenders. She believed in telling the real history of ordinary people with undying human spirit.
- Upendrakishore Raychowdhury
Hailed as the master of many trades, he was one of the best writers of children’s literature second only the Bard of Bengal. He had excelled in music and painting alongside being a successful entrepreneur. He started the legacy of unputdownable children’s books which was followed up by his son the legendary poet Sukumar Ray, often called the father of non-sense verse, and grandson Satyajit Ray- the ace film maker that established Bengal’s name in the scene of cinematic arts.
- Ashapurna Devi
Born in a family that did not educate their girls, Ashapurna learnt the alphabets listening to her brothers while they studied. This thirst for literature and books was inherited from her mother who was a book lover. She went on to become a prominent Bengali novelist and poet, widely honoured with a host of accolades. She was awarded the Jnanpith Award in 1976 and the Padma Shri by the Government of India apart from the doctorate degrees from a host of Indian Universities for her work in literature. Vishwa Bharati University applauded her works with the Deshikottama in 1989, while Sahitya Akademi conferred its highest honour of fellowship, the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, in 1994. The life and story of the self educated litterateur Ashapurna Devi is an inspiration to women across generations.
- Jibananda Das
Jibanananda Das and his poems have a timeless appeal to people across the globe. He was the first and arguably the best modernist poet of Bengal. He has earned an iconic status with his unforgettable verses like Banalata Sen, Mrittu’r Aagey (Before Death) and Rupasi Bangla (Beautiful Bengal) which was published posthumously. He inherited his poetic abilities from his mother Kusumkumari Das who was also a famous poet of her time. This poet, writer, novelist and essayist, is a stalwart in Bengali literature.Their literary works are so timeless that, even today those who want to appreciate art in the form of literature feature these names at the top of their reading list. Let us know of any of your favourites that this list might have missed out on.