“মৃত্যু কি সহজ, কি নিঃশব্দে আসে অথচ মানুষ চিরকালই জীবন নিয়ে গর্ব করে যায় –”
“Death is simple, it approaches quietly yet humans beam in the pride of life forever –”
It was a mundane Monday evening when the news arrived on social media. Renowned Bengali language author Samaresh Majumdar, who was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for many years, had died. Just like me, many others from my generation and older generations who love to read also lost a large part of their childhood with Majumdar’s death.
For those who were growing up during the ’90s, their introduction to Majumdar’s literary creations began with Arjun, the young adventurous detective from Jalpaiguri, West Bengal. Arjun’s mentor was Amal Shome. He began working as an assistant to Shome and gradually matured as the series progressed. What attracted young readers the most was the beautiful North Bengal terrain used as the backdrop to most of his adventures, unlike the plethora of city-based stories featuring sleuths.
An accidental start
Samaresh Majumdar was also born in the district of Jalpaiguri on March 10, 1944, where he
spent his childhood and high school days. He completed his studies at the Jalpaiguri Zilla School before coming to Calcutta to study Bengali Literature at Scottish Church College. He earned a Master’s degree in the same subject from the University of Calcutta.
Majumdar’s entry into the world of literature was not a planned one. Being a voracious reader since childhood, he continued to read a lot as an adult, and his passion for literature got him interested in the vibrant theatre culture of Bengal at the time. A young Majumdar formed a theatre group with his friends and performed a few acclaimed plays written by renowned playwrights of that era. It was this urge to perform something original that led Majumdar to write the first short story he had ever written – “Antaratma”. It was published in Desh magazine.
Majumdar was 26 or 27 when he entered the racecourse in Calcutta for the first time with writer Baren Gangopadhyay. He was surprised to find acclaimed author Premendra Mitra and singing maestro Debabrata Biswas there. What he saw at the first horse-racing event in his life, stuck in his head. A race-horse is only of any worth if it can run fast enough to win the race. Once it gets injured, there is simply no reason for it to stay alive. “We are all are running a race” – Majumdar said – “at least the horse has a goal. Do we have any?” And so he wrote his first novel, Dour [The Race], also published in Desh. It catapulted him to instant fame, and there was no looking back from being a writer after this.
The Animesh quartet
When it comes to Samaresh Majumdar’s fiction, the first thing almost all his readers talk about is his political trilogy – Uttaradhikar, Kalbela, and Kalpurush, published between 1979 and 1985. To understand Animesh Mitra, the leftist protagonist of Majumdar’s famous trilogy, one has to go back to the Bengal of the mid-’60s and early ’70s. This was the period of the violent ultra-left Naxal uprising, which led to widespread fear and drift among young people. The more politically mainstream Left parties eventually won the state elections in 1977 and came to power.
Although a great deal of the literature of the time responded to this tumultuous political upheaval, few captured it through the emotions and aspirations of the ordinary urban Bengali as effectively as Majumdar did in his trilogy.
The protagonist Animesh Mitra, who hails from the Dooars region of North Bengal comes of age there as the new politics begins to plays out, and moves to Calcutta to complete his studies at Scottish Church College (very much like the author). But Majumdar clearly said, “There might be a few similarities between Animesh and me, but I am not Animesh.”
And then, almost inevitably, Animesh plunges into the Naxal rebellion. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in the year 1984 for Kalbela – the most acclaimed book of the trilogy. After the publication of Kalpurush – the third of the trilogy, which explores the conflict of Arko, Animesh and Madhabilata’s son, in 1985, he took a long break, following up the trilogy with Moushalkaal in 2013. The release of this novel took Majumdar back to his years of glory, which had begun to pale.
His readers had only one question in mind when Moushalkaal was released: What took Majumdar so long to weave a political story around Arko, Animesh, and Madhabilata? Majumdar’s answer was that everyone was living in an age of political confusion. After the Left came to power, there was not enough of political novel to warrant a novel. Majumdar always preferred to rely on reality rather than imagination when writing a political novel. But when the rise of Mamata Banerjee finally led to political change, Majumdar felt it was time to make a comeback.
Film and literature go hand in hand
Majumdar’s short stories and novels were regularly adapted for film and television. Director Goutam Ghose filmed Majumdar’s most popular novel, Kalbela, brining its storylines involving student movements, ideology, and love during political upheaval to the big screen in 2009. In 2014, director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury directed Buno Hnaash, based on another popular novel by Majumdar, about an ambitious young man who tried to migrate to Thailand.
Majumdar’s young sleuth Arjun also made it to the big screen in 2017. Earlier, he had himself produced a daily soap named Tero Parbpon from his own novel, which became quite popular on television. His novel Saatkahon was also adapted twice by two different Bengali television channels. Majumdar believed that literature could be adapted to cinema in its own way.
Growing up as he did in the tea gardens, Majumdar made most of his novels and short stories begin or go back to the green and misty terrains of North Bengal. What became prominent in most of his writings were the migrant tea garden communities and his friendships with the tribal people. His last novel Unki, released in Durga Puja edition of Desh magazine, also takes readers back where he grew up, with the tea garden becoming one of the most important characters in the story.
Samaresh Majumdar was one of the most notable authors in contemporary Bengali literature. He wrote more than 200 novels and short stories, including thrillers, travelogues, fiction, and children’s
books. Apart from the Sahitya Akademi Award, he was also awarded the Ananda Purashkar and the
A writer passes on, but their characters remain alive with readers. What Majumdar created became part and parcel of what every middle-class Bengali dreamt of, failed to achieve, but still tried to live on alongside daily mundanities. No one could relate to Animesh, Madhabilata, Arko, or Deepabali more than the Bengali middle-class.