Now, Frontier, Filhaal

Samar Sen: Whom I Never Met

Vir Bharat Talwar

I have never met Samar Sen and nor did we ever talk to each other. In spite of that, he has an important place in my life.

The work which I consider important in my life and which influenced the direction of my life significantly is the editing and publication of the fortnightly Filhaal in 1972 from Patna. The early part of the 1970s was the blood soaked years of Indian politics, when political struggle and their suppression both were at their height. In those days, there were a lot of violent incident between Congress and CPM workers. Along with that, the violent struggles between the CPM and the Naxalites also had started. Repression by the State and the police was also in full swing. In such circumstances, it was very difficult for our small political group to carry on political work in Bengal. We wanted to take the revolutionary struggle forward through mass organisations and mass movements through a completely different line from that of Charu Majumdar. But, in Bengal, the situation was not conducive for this. Given the circumstances, our organisation decided to move slowly towards Bihar, where there still remained the possibility of open political activity.

We had political contacts in Bihar, but they were very few. So, we had to create an identity and a base for us first. For this, we thought that we should make a start by publishing a journal. We had some intellectual and political friends in Patna, from whom we hoped to get some support. We decided that we will bring out a political magazine from Patna so that we could reach different mass organisations and political groups or parties and common people. The organisation gave me the responsibility of publishing the magazine because I alone had some contact with Hindi literary writing and publication, and knew the language better than the others.

When we started thinking about the size and contents of the magazine, the question of the magazine's name also came up. Exactly from this moment, Samar Sen became important to us. In those days, Samar Sen used to bring out Frontier from Calcutta. Some years before that, when I was an MA student at Banaras Hindu University, he used to bring out another journal called Now. I had decided that Samar Sen and his journalism would be my model for our political magazine.

At the time, Prof J Nagchaudhuri, who later became the Director of BHU's Medical Science Institute, was Head of the Department in Physiology. He came from an influential, educated and accomplished intellectual family. His father was a scholar and a Professor of English at BHU. His elder brother was the Director of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics at Calcutta and Scientific Advisor to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and later became the Vice Chancellor of JNU. In Banaras I used to visit Prof J Nagchaudhuri, a supporter of revolutionary Marxist politics, with my dear friend T Vijayendra.

It was at Prof Nagchaudhuri's house that I first saw and read Samar Sen's magazine Now. In those days there was no other magazine like it. Of course, V M Tarkunde used to bring out Radical Humanist which was a platform for the supporters of M N Roy, but, it was a small magazine of 4 pages only with a limited circulation. In comparison, Now used to present revolutionary Marxist ideology with a wide perspective and an open-minded intellectual brilliance. But I could not read Now for long. A few issues came out during 1967-68 and then the magazine shut down. As far as I know, Humayun Kabir held the ownership rights of Now. After Now folded Samar Sen created Germinal Publications Pvt Ltd and started editing and publishing a new magazine called Frontier; which was in its content and political outlook a continuation of Now.

Not surprisingly, in my own effort to bring out a political magazine, Samar Sen's Now and Frontier were the only two models before me. Inspired by this, I kept the shape and form of the magazine exactly like Frontier, but the name of the magazine was based on Now. First we thought of Ab and in the end it was decided to keep it Filhaal. Not only the shape, form and name, but the intellectual and political tone of the magazine was to a great extent influenced by Samar Sen's journalism. We also learned the style of printing readers' letters from Frontier. The letters that were published in Frontier would often describe incidents of political violence and raise a voice against the suppression of human rights. We too gave importance to such letters.

Although Filhaal had Now and Frontier as its models, it was never just a copy of them, and retained its own character and identity. For example, Filhaal had direct and well-established relations with the industrial working class. It was not only sold to the working class and read by them, but, the workers themselves often used to write articles for it. In contrast, Now or Frontier had no contact with the working class people and were published in English, not a workers' language anywhere in India.

Samar Sen's political vision too was somewhat different from ours. I came to conclude that Samar Sen had very strong likes and dislikes. One instance that comes to mind is that of Nag Bhushan Pattanayak, who wrote out a will in English proclaiming how different parts of his body were to be donated once he was hanged. He had sent it both to Frontier and Filhaal for publication. I saw a revolutionary spirit in it, and translated it into Hindi myself and published in Filhaal. But Samar Sen did not publish it in Frontier. I do not know exactly what his reasons were, but on the basis of what I heard from my Calcutta friends, I understood why he did not give much importance to it. Because, set against the larger picture in which hundreds of activists were dying and thousands of activists were struggling, one person's feelings alone cannot matter so much. Perhaps, this was where Samar Sen's viewpoint differed from ours, but remained consistent with his own world view.

In this way, Samar Sen and his political journalism made an important place in our life and gave it a new direction; even though, I had never even seen him. There must be hundreds of people like me who never met him, but were influenced by Samar Sen in some way or other—because of his journalism. As a poet, author and editor, Samar Sen will always live with us.


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