Noted Bengali writer Suchitra Bhattacharya, whose books are known for their strong female protagonists, died of a cardiac arrest at her south Kolkata residence on Tuesday night. She was 65 and is survived by a daughter.
The women of modern Bengal, be it the young divorcee from Siliguri or the single mother from Patuli, the homemaker from Burdwan or the ageing widow from Ballygunge, owe a lot to Bhattacharya, whose novels documented their realities, aspirations and silences.
In her seminal work Dahan, Bhattacharya wrote of a real-life incident that rocked Kolkata in the early 1990s— the molestation of a housewife at a busy south Kolkata intersection and the subsequent intervention of a young school teacher who tries to bring the perpetrators to book. Dahan gleaned out prejudices in the urban, middle-class Bengali society through the tribulations faced by the two protagonists, Jhinuk and Romita. The book was adapted into an award-winning film by the late Rituparno Ghosh. At the centre of Bhattacharya’s other celebrated work Kacher Manush was a sexually-liberated female protagonist who stands by her decisions.
Famous Bengali writer Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay felt Bhattacharya was in the mould of iconic Bengali novelist Ashapurna Debi. “She spoke of issues that plagued middle-class families,” said Mukhopadhyay.
Noted filmmaker Aparna Sen, who was also a friend, admired how Bhattacharya’s books conveyed a lot through so little. “She used to empathise with the common man. She wrote about things that many writers choose to ignore like non-sexual relationships between women and problems faced by the elderly,” said Sen.
She added that she was supposed to make a film based on one of Bhattacharya’s novels. “I really liked her novel Bhangon Kaal. I wanted to adapt it into a film, but that never happened. Now that she is gone, I don’t think I will be able to make it anymore,” said Sen.
Bhattacharya never shied away from criticising the government when she felt it was being unjust. In 2013, when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had infamously blamed the increase in population for the rise in rape cases in the state, the writer had said: “I feel the chief minister is being very short-tempered when it comes to the rape issue. It’s the duty of the state to protect its citizen, she should be more sympathetic to the victims.”