Samar Sen

‘The Sense of Commitment’

Anirban Biswas

The following lines are meant, not as a critique of Partha Chattreje's excellent piece—‘The Sense of Commitment’ (Frontier, March 8 & 15) on Samar Sen, but as an addition to what he has said in the piece. What should be made explicit that Sarnar Sen fought for a cause, while not being dogmatic in his approach. His openness earned the ire of left-adventurist radicals, eg. Saroj Datta, while his open rejection of the mainstream left's attempt to substitute reformism for revolutionary theory and practice made him the bete noire of the power-greedy communist parties. A well-known intellectual, an authority on drama, once called him a CIA agent. Such intellectuals, who have always been after the privilege of the right and prestige of the left, were angry with Samar Sen, because he could not accept their uncritical worship of Soviet Union in the name of Marxism. Another noted poet, novelist and short-story writer of recent times hurled lampoons at him in the Bengali periodical he was associated with. This literary figure, while posing himself as a poor man, called Samar Sen an affluent person. To call Samar Sen of the Frontier period an affluent person is a blatant piece of mendacity; again, the lampoons were hurled when Samar Sen was no longer alive. Such literary figures always lacked the courage which Samar Sen displayed when he resigned his post of the joint-editor of the Hindustan Standard (later revived as The Telegraph). This point can be elaborated, but right now it is irrelevant, particularly since that literary figure is also dead. He died in 2011.

Such sorts of attacks are not, however, new in Bengali intellectual circles. One can recall what Rabindranath Tagore faced in his lifetime. As the quality of his writings became more apparent, the number of detractors increased. Here are a few lines from Nirad C Chaudhuri's autobiography, 'Thy Hand, Great Anarch': ‘‘A friend of mine told me that he once asked a Bengali critic of those days, who was by no means a writer of ordinary calibre, why he and others like him had such a grievance against Tagore who had brought nothing but glory and honour to his people. It was an evening, and the critic was in a condition to demonstrate in vino veritus. So, he said : 'Shall I tell you the plain truth? We thought he and we were playmates in the same team, but suddenly discovered that he was very much above us. That, we could not tolerate.’’ (Ibid, p-607)

Here, what troubled Samar Sen's detractors were not only his poetic and journalistic talent, but his strength of character, his defiance of the consideration of power and pelf, also. This is one difference. There is another difference, and this is related with the impact of such abuses. Samar Sen did not pay or would not have paid, much heed to such scurrilous attacks, but Tagore remained the injured child with memories of unfair treatment.

It is quite appropriate here to translate and reproduce a few lines from an article written on Samar Sen by late Professor Asok Rudra, the noted economist and statistician. 'Born in the opportunistic, talkative Bengali middle-class society, how did he acquire this mental strength, this taciturnity, this indifference to fame, this disdainful outlook on money, this nonchalant attitude to his own poetic talent, and finailly the resolve to keep himself free from the evil influence of the commodity world?... Nobody could purchase Samar Sen, nobody could ascertain his monetary worth. I do not know if anything more astonishing has happened in the history of the Bengalis in recent years'. Here of course, Asok Rudra has used the term Bengali in a narrow sense, meaning Bengali intelligentsia. If the Bengali intelligentsia is considered, Asok Rudra's evaluation is fully correct. But this is precisely what earned the malice of some figures of the Bengali intellectual world.

The concluding remark of Partha Chatterjee ('It is true that such a person is now rare among us. Still, if we, instead of enthroning him as a Great Hero, can assimilate the qualities of his character in our lives, we shall perhaps be able to pay our real tribute to him'), very much touching in its sincerity, is entirely agreeable. But it is doubtful how many will be touched by it seriously. It is extremely difficult to touch those who consciously decide not to be touched. This point will be clear if one cares to look at Frontier. Even during his lifetime, Samar Sen continued to run the paper against tremendous odds and after his death, the existence of this paper has been more precarious. Many of Saniar Sen's earlier admirers are now dead, while some are withered by age. But there are still quite a few, who had earlier been associated with Frontier in various capacities, for whom considerations of worldly recognition and money are now much more important than paying ‘real tribute’ to Samar Sen. There is of course no lack of excuses for their opportunism. One thing can, however, be said in extenuation of their conduct. In this age of globalized consumerism, it is difficult to go on foregoing worldly privileges, in however small a measure, indefinitely for the sake of a weekly. Hence it is more comforting to forget Samar Sen. Still, it is a matter of hope that despite their 'active passivity', Frontier continues to be published, thanks to the efforts of its real well wishers.

Vol. 47, No. 42, Apr 26 - May 2, 2015