An Authentic Man

Remembering Samar Sen

Badruddin Umar

I first met Samar Sen in 1972. I do not remember who he was, but somebody told me, while I was in Kolkata, that Samar Sen would be happy if I could see him at his house. He also gave me his telephone number. So I contacted him and went to his Swinhoe Street residence and met him there. Samar Sen was a famous poet when I was in school. He was 15 years older than me. But age did not matter. He was warm and friendly, and I found in him a kindred spirit.

He read some of my writings including Vol-I of my book on the language movement and the collection of articles on communalism (Sampro-dayekata) which were published in Kolkata in 1971.

Though not a member of any political party, he was keenly interested in political developments at home and abroad and kept himself informed. He wanted to know about the situation in Bangladesh. We also talked about other matters. Our relation became very cordial and whenever I went to Kolkata I made it a point to see him.

He was the founder editor of weekly Frontier. He requested me to write for Frontier and so I began to write in it. Frontier was first published in April, 1968. Before that Samar Sen used to edit another illustrious weekly called 'Now', which was first published on October 9, 1964. He resigned editorship of 'Now' in January, 1968. Announcing this he said in its January 12, 1968 issue: "I wish to inform all readers that with this issue I cease to be editor of Now." On his resignation The Statesman in its "Calcutta Note Book" made the following comment on January 15, 1968: "We are sorry to see an announcement in the latest issue of 'Now' that Samar Sen ceases to be its editor from this week. That this weekly has attracted considerable attention not only locally but also in some distinguished intellectual circles abroad (in the New Statesman Kingsley Martin called it 'my favourite Indian weekly') has been due almost entirely to Mr Sen's editorship. Many may have sharply disagreed with its views and yet respected its courage of dissent; some may have deplored its occasionally strident tune and yet enjoyed its lively and provocative comments. It has always been highly readable."

After a gap of about three months, came out 'Frontier' under Samar Sen's editorship. In its first issue Dr Ashok Mitra, who was associated with 'Now' and a regular contributor in that weekly, wrote in his Calcutta Dairy under the pseudonym Charan Gupta: "Here we surface again. We have a different address and a different mast-head, otherwise everything is very nearly the same. At least we hope our readers will find it so. This was a forced disappearance for three months. If you are trying to run a non-conformist journal in this country, beyond a point nothing helps. If you are irreverent, contemptuous of the Establishment, derisive of the cant that passes for profundity, if you feel morally obliged to bite the hand that 'feeds' you, out you go; even the greatest of socialist is at heart a feudal baron here."

The 'Statesman', which commented after the resignation of Samar Sen from weekly 'Now', observed in its 'Calcutta Note Book' after the first issue of weekly 'Frontier' came out, "It is of interest to readers in general that his (Samar Sen's) new baby Frontier, appeared last week; and the first number seems as lively and as controversial as his earlier weekly used to be. Free debate never did anybody much harm."

There was no problem touching human life which was not addressed in 'Frontier'. But it was always loaded with politics and still continues to be the same. Its association with the Naxalite movement is a testimony to this. He edited a two volume Frontier anthology called 'Naxalbari and After' along with Debabrata Panda and Ashish Lahiri in 1978. He gave both the volumes to me. Later another two-volume anthology of the official paper of CPI (ML) called 'Liberation' was published by its eminent editor Suniti Kumar Ghosh. He also gave the two volumes to me.

Frontier's position in relation to the Naxalbari movement was clearly stated by Samar Sen in the Foreward of volume one of the anthology. He said: "Naxalbari exploded many a myth and restored faith in the courage and character of the revolutionary Left in India. It seemed that the ever-yawning gap between precept and practice since Telengana would be bridged. Indeed, the upheaval was such that nothing remained the same after Naxalbari. People had to readjust their position vis-a-vis every aspect of the system: political, administrative, military, culture.

Frontier reflected the new trend. Many minds found expression in it—critical, brilliant, flamboyant, impetuous, analytical, crude, romantic, intrepid minds. Though not a participant, Frontier became associated with the movement."

His understanding of the political realities of the time was amazing, though he had no direct involvement with any political party.

He began writing poetry in 1934 at the age of 18 and gave up writing it after 12 years in 1946 at the height of his fame as a poet. Poets generally write good prose. But his prose was extraordinary and the style of his writing may be described as sharp, full of humour and wit.

He told me that in 1978 he fell ill and doctors suspected cancer. He thought his life was going to end soon. So, in spite of his illness, he began writing his memoir. Afterwards it was found that he had no cancer. But the mistake of the physicians was productive. He finished his short memoir called 'Babu Brittanta'. He gave me a copy of the first edition of the book.

In his inimitable prose and with his typical sense of humour, he depicted the life of the modern Babus of Bengal in his 'Babu Brittanta'—a tale of the Babus. He wrote mostly in English and it is regrettable that his writings in Bengali are meagre.

If Samar Sen were alive today, he would be one hundred years old in 2016. But at a comparatively early age he passed on to a world from where 'no traveller returns'.  


Vol. 49, No.13-16, Oct 2 - 29, 2016