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Bangla literature through ages

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20th-Jun-2014       
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Mohammad Daniul Huq and Aminur Rahman :
Madhusudan was followed by Dinabandhu Mitra whose Nildarpan (1860) has considerable historical value as it depicts the merciless exploitation of Bengali farmers by English indigo traders. The play played a significant role in ending indigo cultivation. Two other playwrights who made significant contributions were Dwijendra Lal Roy and Girish Chandra Ghosh (1844-1912).
The first Muslim playwright was Golam Husain whose play Hadjvalani was printed in 1864. It was not a complete play, but rather a string of scenes. Azimuddi's farce, Kadir Mathay Budor Biye (2nd edition 1868), was written at about the same time. Mir Mosharraf Hossain wrote several plays in Bangla, among them Basantakumari (1873), written on the style of Sanskrit plays, and Zamidar-Darpan (1873), depicting the oppression of farmers by the landlords.
In the 1860s the English rulers severely suppressed the Faraizi, Wahabi and other religious and political movements. Towards the end of the century, Munshi Meherullah and his disciple, Munshi Muhammad Zamiruddin, launched a movement to make Bangali Muslims aware of their Muslim identity through literary efforts. This movement, known as the 'Sudhakar' movement, was led by Moulvi Mearajuddin Ahmad, Pandit Reazuddin Ahmad Mashhadi, Munshi Sheikh Abdur Rahim and Munshi Muhammad Reazuddin Ahmad. They attempted to make Muslims conscious of their Islamic heritage and glorious past by creating literature in their mother tongue Bangla. They also translated some books into Bangla. This led to the creation of a new stream in Bangla literature. Their first publication was Islam Tattva. Thereafter, Sheikh Abdur Rahim and Munshi Muhammad Reazuddin Ahmed published a weekly journal Sudhakar (1889). Though Muslim Bangalis had made an effort to create literature before this movement, there had previously been no concerted effort of this kind. In fact, it was the Sudhakar group that laid the foundation for a distinct stream of Muslim nationalistic literature in Bangla.
The dormant talent of Munshi Mohammad Meherullah (1861-1907) flowered in the wake of severe clashes with Christianity. Of his nine books, Meherul Islam had a puthi-style nat, eulogising Prophet Muhammad (S). Its language was simple and easy but at the same time lucid and elegant. Munshi Muhammad Zamiruddin (1870-1930) converted to Christianity came to be known as Father John Zamiruddin. But when he was defeated in a religious debate, he reconverted to Islam and as Munshi Zamiruddin engaged in propagating Islam. Basically he used his pen in the service of Islam and became quite famous. Sheikh Abdur Rahim (1859-1931) wrote about the Muslim heritage of Bangali Muslims and described the contribution of Islam to human civilisation. His first book was about the life and contribution of the Prophet Muhammad (S): Hazrat Muhammader Jibancharita O Dharmaniti (1887). He was associated with editing Sudhakar, Mihir, Hafez, Moslem Pratibha, Moslem Hitaisi etc. He wrote thoughtful articles in the Mohammadi. Maulana Moniruzzaman Islamabadi was a political activist, social worker, journalist, litterateur and a good orator. He was more famous for his historical essays. His best literary work was Bharate Mussalman Sabhyata. He earned literary fame through his writings in Mihir and Sudhakar. He later edited and published Soltan and Amir.
Some other Muslim writers of repute were Deen Muhammad Gangopadhyay (1853-1916), Sheikh Abdul Jabbar (1881-1918), Munshi Abdul Latif (1870-1936) and Kazi Akram Hossain (1896-1963). Abdul Latif was a nationalist Congress leader before the partition of India, but nevertheless he became famous for his literary works in the service of Islam and the Muslims. Kazi Akram Hossain became famous for his book Islamer Itihas (1924) but he also made significant contributions in other fields of literature. Yakub Ali Chowdhury (1888-1940) was a rare scholar in the Muslim society of the time. His Manab Mukut testified to his depth of knowledge as a philosopher.
Rabindranath Tagore was an extraordinary man who made major contributions to all genres of Bangla literature. He wrote an immense range of rich and varied forms of poetry, plays, dance dramas, novels, short stories, essays and over two thousand songs. Although he was known as 'Vixvakavi' (world poet) and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913 for his book of poems Gitavjali, he was also a writer of superb prose, fictional and non-fictional. The volume and variety of his writings, his high ideals, his social commitment, rendered Rabindranath an institution by himself.  He dominated Bangla literature for an entire generation and continued to do so long after his death.
The most popular novelist of this period was Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938). His novels depict, with a great deal of lucidity and sympathy, the daily life of the Bangalis, and, above all, the life of the Bangali woman. His novels continue to be popular and have been translated into almost all Indian languages. Many have been turned into cinemas and stage plays.
Other writers of the period include Pramatha Chowdhury (1868-1946), whose essays and linguistic style greatly influenced a group of writers. He established the position of colloquial language in literature and also introduced the format of French short stories in Bangla literature. Probhatkumar Mukhopadhyay (1873-1932) wrote a number of novels but was at his best at the short story, of which he wrote over a hundred, most of which end with a sudden twist. Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951) was a writer of fine colloquial Bangla prose as evidenced in his autobiographical writings and in his description of aesthetics.
Some other well-known writers of this phase were Jagadishchandra Bose (1858-1937), Ramendrasundar Trivedi, Naresh Chandra Sengupta, Upendranath Gangopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Monilal Gangopadhyay, Kedarnath Bandyopadhyay, Khagendranath Mitra, Jagadishchandra Gupta, Jaladhar Sen, Sourindramohan Mukhopadhyay, Nirupama Devi, Pravabati Devi , Sita Devi, Shanta Devi and Hemendrakumar Roy.
Most of Rabindranath's contemporary poets were overshadowed by him and remained under his influence for over half a century. A number of poets were, however, able to shake off his influence and establish themselves in their own rights. Among these poets were Satyendranath Dutta (1882-1922), Mohitlal Majumder (1888-1952), Kazi Nazrul Islam and Jasimuddin (1902-1976). Satyendranath demonstrated extraordinary ability in creating new poetic metres, and was accordingly called  the 'Magician of Metres'. He was also a sensitive translator.
Mohitlal Majumder paved the way for modernism. Frankly sexual, his love poems celebrate physical love. In idiom and structure, however, his style was classical.
Kazi Nazrul Islam entered Rabindranath's calm and tranquil sphere like a meteor, celebrating rebellion and common humanity in poetry that could be declamatory, fiery, angry, and lyrical at will. The poem 'Bidrohi,' that marked his entrance into poetry, ensured his place in Bangla literature. He was also a great composer and song writer, writing ghazals and love songs, as well as Hamd and Nat as well as Kirtan.  Jasimuddin, called 'Palli Kavi' (rural poet), drew from the tradition of rural Bengal, writing about the joys and sorrows of rustic life in rhythms that were based on folk tunes.
Some other well-known poets of this era were Karunanidhan Bandyopadhyay, Chitta Ranjan Das, Atulprasad Sen, Kalidas Roy, Kumudranjan Mallik, Narendra Dev, Pramathanath Roy Chowdhury, Bijay Chandra Majumder, Mankumari Basu, Jatindramohan Bagchi, Jatindranath Sengupta, Sabitriprasanna Chattopadhyay, Radharani Devi and Umadevi.
Like the other writers of this era, the essayists were also greatly influenced by Rabindranath. The first of the prominent essayists of this phase was Pramatha Chowdhury. Through his journal Sabujpatra, he popularised colloquial Bangla prose, proving through his essays that colloquial language was fit to express both light and serious thoughts. His use of colloquial Bangla also convinced Rabindranath to do the same, resulting in Rabindranath's moving in his later writings from sadhu bhasa to chalita bhasa. Pramatha Chowdhury was also well known as a literary critic.
Ramendrasundar Trivedi was also a fine essayist and was primarily known for his essays on scientific subjects. However, he also wrote essays on philology and grammar, society and politics and philosophy. His philosophical essays reveal a depth of thought and originality despite the simplicity of their language. Balendranath Tagore (1870-1899) was an able literary critic. Abanindranath Tagore was a fine art critic as well as folklorist, writing in Bageshwari Xilpa Prabandhabali and Banglar Vrata about folk art and rituals. Some other well-known essayists of the era were Mohitlal Majumder, Dinesh Chandra Sen, Sureshchandra Samajpati, Panchkari Bandyopadhyay and Shashanka Mohan Sen.
The anti-imperialist movement that began in Bengal following the First World War and the socialist revolution in Russia also affected Bangla literature. Though Rabindranath was still writing, around 1930 new writers emerged along with new interests. In 1923 Kallol, a literary journal, began publication in Kolkata where these new writers were published. Shanibarer Chithi also provided them indirect support. Two similar journals appeared around this time: Kalikalam in Kolkata in 1926 and Pragati in Dhaka in 1927. The Kallol writers included Buddhadev Bose and Achintya Kumar Sengupta.
The appearance of some able litterateurs at this time helped the development of Bangla fiction and short stories. These writers depicted the lives of working people, the problems of human existence, the politics of India, etc. Rajshekhar Basu (1880-1960) was the main architect of satirical short stories in Bangla.
Other famous writers included Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay (1898-1971), and Manik Bandyopadhyay (1908-1956). Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's work is distinguished by descriptions of the domestic life of rural Bangladesh and its scenic beauty. He analyses human behaviour even as he describes nature's tranquil and charming scenes. His best work was Pather Panchali (1929). Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay was a powerful writer, writing about the lives of simple peasants, boatmen and minstrels of rural Bengal. Expansive and comprehensive, his novels Ganadevata (1942) and Pavchagram (1944)  bring rural life alive. His short stories also focus on the village.
The novelist and short story writer, Manik Bandyopadhyay, was profoundly influenced by Marxism and by Freudian psychoanalysis. Putul Nacher Itikatha (1936) and Padmanadir Majhi (1936) reveal his Marxist leanings as they do his psychological approach. Premendra Mitra (1904-1988) was an adroit short story writer, using language skilfully to convey his themes and create characters. His stories encompass a variety of subjects ranging from struggle for living to politics and sociology.
Some other powerful novelists and short story writers of the time were Jagadish Gupta, Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay, Balaichand Mukhopadhyay (1899-1979), Pramathanath Bishi (1901-1985), Manoj Basu (1901-1987), Gopal Haldar (1902-), Achinta Kumar Sengupta (1903-1976), Annadashankar Roy (1904-), Prabodhkumar Sanyal (1905-1983), Buddhadev Bose, Subodh Ghosh (1909-1980), Gajendrakumar Mitra (1909-), Bimal Mitra (1912-), Narayan Gangopadhyay (1918-1970), Moti Nandi (1931-), Shyamal Gangopadhyay (1933-2001), Sunil Gangopadhyay (1934) and Shirsendu Mukhopadhyay (1935-).
The social decay that engulfed Europe after the First World War also pervaded the minds of Bengali poets via English literature. Discarding Rabindranath's aesthetic and idealistic perceptions of beauty, love and pleasure in poetry, they espoused urban life. The pioneering role in introducing ultra-modernism in Bangla poetry was played by Achinta Kumar Sengupta, Buddhadev Bose, Premendra Mitra, Jibanananda Das (1899-1954), Sudhindranath Dutta (1901-1960), Bishnu De (1909-1982) and Samar Sen (1916). Jibanananda Das was the most powerful poet of this phase. In poetic expressions he allowed himself to be driven by both the intellect and the emotions. He was essentially a poet of nature and drew superb images from the natural world around him.
The complexity of modern poetry is reflected in the works of Sudhindranath Dutta who used complex language and difficult phrases for the sake of his writing purpose. Among Marxist poets were Bishnu De and Samar Sen. Bishnu De's poems were distinctive in syntax, in the use of myths and new prosody. Samar Sen made the urban environment the basic theme of his poems; but alongside his Marxist views, his poems also contained romantic thoughts and the charm of the quiet atmosphere of the Santal Pargana.
Buddhadev Bose ranked among the first group of poets who attempted to move away from the influence of Rabindranath. Bose was fully aware of the features of modern poetry and his love poems are about the physical desires of the body rather than about romantic love. Nevertheless, his late poems show that deep in his heart he was essentially a romantic poet.
The poems of Premendra Mitra are inspired by rebelliousness and reflect his sympathy for oppressed and deprived humanity. While there is a strain of egoism in his peoms, there is an underlying humanism that makes his poems appealing. Other poets of this era include Amiya Chakravarty (1901-1986), Sukanta Bhattacharya (1926-1947), Ajit Dutta, Arun Mitra, and Subhash Mukhopadhyay.
The dramatic literature of the time, unlike poetry, fiction and short stories, did not show much of modernism. The trend of Girish Chandra and Dwijendra Lal was still in vogue. Nevertheless, there were some changes because of stage modernisation, changing tastes, appearance of educated amateur artistes, and writing of new kinds of plays. Notable playwrights of this phase were Jogeshchandra Choudhury (1886-1941), Sachindra Nath Sengupta (1892-1961), Tulsi Lahiri (1897-1959), Manmatha Roy (1899-1988) and Pramathanath Bishi.
In this phase, those who were noted for writing thematic essays included Suniti Kumar Chatterji (1890-1977), Sushil Kumar De (1890-1968), Rajshekhar Basu, Niharranjan Roy (1903-1981) and Sukumar Sen;                                                  (to be continued)

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