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Arun Sen: A bridge between the literatures of two Bengals

  • Published at 12:56 pm July 13th, 2020
Image: Jahid Jamil
Image: Jahid Jamil

A tribute to Arun Sen (1936-2020)

With the demise of Indian literary critic, researcher and editor Arun Sen, we have lost a friend who dedicatedly contributed to the promotion of Bangladeshi literature through his books and lectures in India. His idea of Bengali literature and culture was a blending of both Bengals in equal measure.

Professor Arun Sen died of cancer on July 4, 2020 in Kolkata at the age of 84. He was born in 1936 in Malda, West Bengal but his parents were originally from Faridpur of erstwhile East Bengal (now Bangladesh) who had migrated in the 1920s. Completing his MA from Kolkata University, he took up teaching at a college in Kolkata where he taught Bengali language and literature.

Arun Sen had over 40 books to his credit. His notable works include Selim Al Deen: Natyakarer Swadesh O Samagra (Selim Al Deen: Homeland and Whole of the Playwright), Sahityer Bangladesh: Uponyas, Kobita, Natok (Bangladesh in Literature: Novel, Poetry and Drama), Bangla Boi Bangladesher Boi (Bengali Books, Bangladeshi Books), Dui Banglay Rabindranath O Anyanya (Rabindranath in Two Bengals and Other issues), and Dui Bangalee Ek Bangalee (Two Bengalis, One Bengali). He is also well known for his memoir Kolkatar Bangal: Ubhochor Smrity (The Bangal of Kolkata: Amphibian Memories).

His memoir tells the story of a “Bangal” family adjusting to the norms of the “ghoti” people of Kolkata. Needless to say, there were and still are many differences between the social and cultural practices of the two Bengals. Use of the word “Ubhochor” (which means an amphibian in literal translation) in the title shows his conviction that he belongs to both Kolkata and Bangladesh. This memoir reveals how his life was shaped and nourished by both the Ganges and the Padma, the same river that flows through two different countries.

Arun wrote Selim Al Deen: Natyakarer Swadesh O Samagra to commemorate the 50th birth anniversary of the renowned Bangladeshi playwright and theatre artiste. It’s an in-depth study of Deen’s plays and it highlights his highly authentic and experimental approach to theatrical style and form. 

Arun also researched different aspects of Bangladeshi poet Mohammad Rafiq’s poetry. He wrote “Banglay Megh Ebong Kaday, Mohammad Rafiq” (In Bengal in Clouds and Mud, Mohammad Rafiq), analysing the stylistic aspects and discussing the presence of history, nature and myth in his poetry. He also edited his selected poems titled Mohammd Rafiq: Nirbachito Kobita (Mohammad Rafiq: Selected Poems). His another important work, Sahityer Bangladesh: Uponyas, Kobita, Natok, is a compilation of his speeches and lectures on Bangladeshi literature delivered on different occasions at various colleges and universities of West Bengal. He also served as the editor of several literary magazines including Parichoy, Sahityapatra and Pratikkhan. Pratikkhan has had a great contribution in shaping contemporary poetry of Kolkata. 

Arun Sen was considered an expert on Bangladeshi literature in India. As a guest teacher, he taught Bangladeshi literature at the comparative literature department of Jadavpur University in Kolkata as well as the Bengali department of West Bengal State University in Barasat. 

In 2015 he was awarded Vidyasagar Smirity Award by West Bengal Bangla Academy. In the same year, he received the Selim Al Deen Padak, an award given by Selim Al Deen Foundation in Bangladesh.

Rifat Anjum Pia is Staff Writer, arts & Letters, Dhaka Tribune.

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