Sunil Gangopadhyay,poet,novelist and essayist who died in Kolkata on Monday,was the most prolific and most widely travelled of Bengals contemporary writers,and one whom readers remember for a racy,lucid style that made the read so enjoyable.
Sunildas essays are nice to read because he used the colloquial language to write about the most difficult of things, literary critic Ranjan Bandopadhyay said.
Born in Faridpur (now in Bangladesh) in 1934,Gangopadhyay studied at a school at Dum Dum and later in Dum Dum Motijheel College. An MA in Bengali from Calcutta University,he worked with the state health department before moving to the United States for a couple of years on a scholarship from Iowa University. On this trip to the US,he would later write the novel Sudur Jharnar Jole (On a Trip to a Fountain Abroad).
A self-confessed atheist who once called God a cruel rumour that took away the lives of scores of people,Gangopadhyay was known as secular and humane too. All through his life,he championed the cause of communal harmony and love among human beings.
When Bangladesh writer Taslima Nasreen was bundled out of Kolkata by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government in 2005,Gangopadhyay told this reporter,Had the government not feared communal forces and protected Taslima,I wouldnt have minded even if that had caused the government to fall. Just a couple of months ago,when the same Taslima accused him of sexual harassment,he told The Indian Express,Why is she,when I am at this age,raising these allegations? I will not answer them.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina were among those who condoled his death.
From his first novel Atmaprakash in 1965,Gangopadhyay wrote more than 200 books novels,including some for children,anthologies of poems,short stories,essays. He also wrote under the pen names Neel Lohit and Sanatan Phatak.
In his autobiography,Ardhek Jiban (Half a Life) he wrote about the trauma and tribulations of Partition,his growing up in Calcutta amidst the post-Independence crisis of a refugee influx from then East Pakistan,and the food crisis.
Several of his novels had been made into films,two of them by Satyajit Ray,Aranyer Dinratri and Pratidwandi. Abaar Aranye,a sequel to Aranyer Dinratri,was made by Gautam Ghosh who also made a documentary on Gangopadhyay.
He will be remembered by children for the Kakababu series in which he depicted Kakababu,an amateur detective with a limp in one leg and an indomitable spirit and pluck. Even this year,his last Kakababu novel,Santu & Jojo,appeared in the Puja edition of Anandamela for children.
He was involved in a movement to promote little magazines. Along with a few friends who included poets Shakti Chattopadhyay and Sandipan Chattopadhyay,he founded the magazine Krittibas.
Since Atmaprakash,Gangopadhyay wrote novels based on love and disdain,triumph and trauma,hope and despair. Among them are Eka ebong Koyekjon,Sansare ek Sannyasi,Radha Krishna,Arjun,Amriter Putrokanya,Itihaser Swapnobhongo,Jyotsna Kumari,Duti Nari Hate Tarobari,Bishakhar Janmodin,Morubhumi,Shyamsaheb,Shantanur Chhobi and Rupkothar Manush.
But from the early 1980s release of Sei Samay,a classic based on the Calcutta of the second half of the 19th century,Gangopadhyay turned to historic novels and a trilogy came out: Sei Samay,Pratham Alo,Purba Paschim,the first two on the renaissance of Bengal,the last one on Partition and the creation of Bangladesh. His other historic novels include Kavi O Sanyasi,Moner Manush and Ameyi Shay.
Gangopadhyay became an icon for the young generation of Bengal of the 70s and 80s. His romantic poems of the Neera series that made the people dream of an imaginary girl called Neera. The most popular of his poems is Keu Katha Rakheni (nobody kept his promise).
An adviser to the film City of Joy based on Dominique Lapierres book,shot in Calcutta in the mid-1980s,Gangopadhyay also wrote the script for Shodh based on his story Garam Bhaat Athaba Ekti Bhuter Galpo (story of streamed rice or just ghosts).
He was also a crusader for the Bengali language and he feared it would become extinct soon. He took part in rallies advocating the use of Bengali everywhere,including on signboards in front of shops.
He got into several controversies,from making allegedly disparaging remarks about Hindu gods and goddesses to showing allegiance to the Left Front government. The latest was the allegation from Taslima Nasreen.
A good Rabindra Sangeet singer,Gangopadhyay was also a good actor who acted in plays. Recently he embarked on writing a book based on the Ramayana but it is not known how far he progressed.