Bengal has always been the intellectual capital of the country with a marked presence in the literary world. Over the ages it has been hailed as the birthplace of some of the most noted and respected authors, whose works in both Bengali and other languages, have managed to leave a mark in the minds of readers, worldwide. In this article we celebrate the old, the new and the ever evolving gamut of authors with their thoughts firmly rooted in Bengal.
- Sunil Gangopadhyay
A household name in modern Bengali literature, Sunil Gangopadhyay was a poet and novelist based out of Kolkata. Back in 1953 he started out with Krittibas, a Bengali poetry magazine published with the help of his friends. His memorable works include “Kakababu” a novel series which is iconic in Indian children’s literature. His famous novel “Those Days” (Sei Samaya) won him the Sahitya Academy award in 1985. Gangopadhyay was also known under various pseudonyms like Nil Lohit, Sanatan Pathak and Nil Upadhyay.
- Upamanyu Chatterjee
An author at heart, Upamanyu Chatterjee is professionally an Indian civil servant. He is best known for the famous bestseller “English, August: An Indian story” which later was adapted into an acclaimed feature film of the same title. This novel had a sequel in the form of another acclaimed novel “The Mammaries of the Welfare State” for which he won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2004.
His pen found ways of describing modern India in the most unique ways possible. This was evident in “The Last Burden” that looks to recreate life in an Indian family at the end of the twentieth century as a sequel to English, August. He has also written “Weight Loss” and “Fairy Tales at Fifty”, each being a dark comedy highlighting the realities of life. His short stories like “The Assassination of Indira Gandhi and “Watching Them” are particularly noteworthy. In 2009, his works were recognised by the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for “exemplary contribution to contemporary literature”.
- Amitav Ghosh
Born into a Bengali Hindu family in Calcutta, his first tryst with verse was editing The Doon School Weekly for his alma mater. His body of work is a collection of best sellers starting from The Circle ofReason (1986 debut ), The Shadow Lines (1988), The Calcutta Chromosome (1995), The Glass Palace(2000), The Hungry Tide (2004), to the Ibis trilogy of Sea of Poppies (2008), River of Smoke (2011), and Flood of Fire (2015). In the backdrop of social and historical settings, his stories revolved around the life along the sub peninsular borders of India. His works have been recognised far and wide with awards and accolades in the form of Prix Médicis étranger, Sahitya Akademi Award, Ananda Puraskar, Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Man Booker Awards. Recipient of the Padma Shri in 2007, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009 and a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow in 2015.
- Amit Chaudhuri
A Strange and Sublime Address was Amit Chaudhuri’s first novel published in 1991. The book tells the story of how a child observes everything in the atmosphere of their small house in Calcutta that they visit during their holidays. A similar pattern is reflected in most of his works, like Afternoon Raag, A New World and The Immortals, which looks to transcend the reader to live the prose with the author. Freedom Song, his third, thrives in the backdrop of a Calcutta winter in post-Babri Masjid demolition, where everyday life must go on. This work earned him the Los Angeles Times Prize in Apart from his fictional works he has also delved in poetry, editing, literary activism and music.
- Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Born as Chitralekha Bannerjee, her works often focus on the experiences of South Asian immigrants.
Her journey in literature started with a short story collection, “Arranged Marriage” that won an American Book Award in 1995. This was followed by “The Mistress of Spices”, “Sister of My Heart”,
“Oleander Girl”, “Palace of Illusions”, and “One Amazing Thing” each of which has been adapted to movies or TV serials. She started out as a poet but ended up delving into a variety of genres. Her novel “The Palace of Illusions” became a national bestseller. It was an attempt to re-telling the story of Mahabharata from Draupadi’s perspective. Her writings have been included in over 50 anthologies and her works of fiction have been translated into 29 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Indonesian, Bengali, Turkish and Japanese.
- Jhumpa Lahiri
Nilanjana Sudeshna was born in London, in a family of Bengali Indian immigrants from West Bengal. She has single-handedly glorified the Bengali concept of “Daak Naam” or nickname as she is herself known by her own nickname, Jhumpa. Her first collection of short stories “Interpreter of Maladies” (1999) won her the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the year 2000. Her first novel, “The Namesake”, touched a chord with immigrants worldwide, and was also adapted into the popularHollywood film of the same name. Her book “The Lowland” (2013) was also nominated for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. It ended up winning the DSC Prize for SouthAsian Literature 2015 at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival for which she entered Limca Book of Records. Her easy writing and subtle references to detailed nuances of immigrant psychology, helpsher readers to easily identify with their own struggles, anxieties and biases.
Litterateurs from Bengal have transcended borders, inspired people and entertained generations with words that touch their soul and shall continue doing so.