Radical Bengali writer Nabarun Bhattacharya dead

Famed Bengali writer Nabarun Bhattacharya, a Sahitya Akademi awardee known for his radical left and anti-establishment views and championing of the marginalised urban milieu, died at a hospital here Thursday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, his associates said. He was 66.

Bhattacharya, who left behind his wife and a son, breathed his last at 4.20 p.m. at the Thakurpukur Cancer hospital.

The only child of late actor-playwright Bijon Bhattacharya and Magsaysay award winning writer Mahasweta Devi, Bhattacharya won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1997 for his novel “Herbert”, which many critics have called anarchic. It was later made into a film of the same name by Suman Mukhopadhyay.

Born in Baharampur in Murshidabad district, Bhattacharya was greatly inspired by his father, writer of the legendary play “Nabanna” on the Bengal famine.

The philosophy of his life, political leanings and artistic faculties were also greatly influenced by the time he spent with famous filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak, a close relative.

Bhattacharya flowered as a writer in Kolkata, where he relentlessly wrote about those marginalised sections living on the city’s streets, slums and dark alleys, using satire, dark humour and fantasy to telling effect to highlight oppression and exploitation.

His writings very often brought him in conflict with the powers that be, but till the end he remained a fearless voice against power and its misuse.

“Herbert”, the story of a tragi-comic Kolkata protagonist claiming to explore the dead amidst decay and debauchery, also fetched Bhattacharya the Bankim Puraskar in 1996, but he returned it in protest against the then Left Front government’s bid to forcibly acquire farmland for industries in Singur and Nandigram and let loose what he called “state-sponsored violence” to quell peasant protests.

However, he later became a staunch critic of the Trinamool Congress government led by Mamata Banerjee for “stifling democratic protests” and “civil rights”.

On his bookshelf, co-existing with classics, was leftist literature and writings of Lenin and Marx and a cartoon collage of Mamata Banerjee which had in 2012 resulted in a professor being sent to jail.

In 2003, Bhattacharya wrote the widely read novel “Kangaal Malshaat” (The War Cry of Beggars), which made the censors see red when made into a film by Mukhopadhyay in 2012.

The novel has sold over 13,000 copies, one of the biggest successes in contemporary Bengali literature.

Using magic realism in his books like “Mausoleum” and “Kangaal Malshaat”, Bhattacharya introduced a strange set of human beings “fyataru” (sound created by kites when they are flown and hinting at someone worthless), a marginal section who unsettle diabolical political structures and evil interests through pinpointed mayhem. They remain his most outstanding creations.

Among his other novels are “Lubdhak”, “Halaljhanda o Onyanyo”, “Mahajaaner Aayna”, “Raater Circus” as also the book of poems “Ei Mrityu Upotyoka Aamaar Desh Na” (This valley of death is not my country). (IANS)