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Literature: Buddhadev Bose

To make a pronouncement on who might be the pre-eminent literary figure of post-independence India is both foolish and difficult...

Literature: Buddhadev Bose
Literature: Buddhadev Bose
To make a pronouncement on who might be the pre-eminent literary figure of post-independence India is both foolish and difficult. For one thing, we are compromised, in equal degrees, by ignorance and certitude: we know so little about Indian literary history, but we have no compunctions in talking about it. Given the circumstances, one can make a personal choice, not a balanced one; and my choice is the writer Buddhadev Bose. It's a choice made after some deliberation. Others come to mind—the poet Jibanananda Das; the poet, translator, and essayist A.K. Ramanujan; the novelists and short story writers Qurratulain Haider and U.R. Ananthamurthy, to name only four—but in the quality and range of his literary endeavour, Bose foreshadows many of these figures. He was a master of a bewildering number of forms, all of which he handled with an odd but striking mixture of preternatural subtlety and discomfiting forthrightness: poetry, the novel, the short story, the essay, and literary criticism. He is the author of one of the first great post-independence novels, Tithidore. Besides, he was an immensely influential editor (of the magazine Kallol), teacher, and translator. This protean versatility makes him look like a successor to Tagore, as indeed he was. Bose was one of Tagore's most sensitive and eloquent admirers; but he was also ambivalent about his predecessor. This outspoken articulation of ambivalence, this mapping of his difference from the earlier poet, is as important and symptomatic as Bose's own frantic experiments with a diversity of literary forms: it reminds us that, in India, neither literary tradition nor the creative self is cohesive or continuous. Looking at Bose and his writings, we realise that both modern Indian literature and the modern Indian writer are discontinuous, complex entities that have multiple, often competing, registers: they both lack repose and fixity. Bose's work as a translator points to the way translation would become a nourishing creative practice for writers in different languages in independent India, for poets such as Ramanujan and Dilip Chitre. Most interestingly, the fact that Bose was the first major figure to produce his creative work in the mother tongue and a body of distinguished critical prose in English makes him a precursor of writers like Ananthamurthy and Ambai, who have redefined their bilingualism as a relationship between the father tongue in which they undertake their conceptual thinking, and the mother tongue in which they accomplish their creative explorations. That Bose founded the first department of Comparative Literature in the country at Jadavpur University is part of this exploration of the relationship between the conceptual and the creative, between one tongue and another. Finally, he was a critic of great acuity and generosity: he was the only champion of the greatest post-Tagorean poet, Jibanananda Das, at a time when the latter was neglected by his contemporaries. He possessed, in other words, an independent-mindedness regrettably missing today. Buddhadev Bose is not only many writers in one; here is a personality in whom we find the trajectories of many writers.

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