A Courier’s Reflection

A Glimpse of the Editor

Amitava Sengupta

The sky is covered with heavy clouds; two layers, white and black, are struggling with each other for mastery, each enveloping the other at random intervals. Which one of his two entities, a poet and an editor, surpasses the other? Frontier was stiff prose representing an erect nature, but a poet was at the helm. His was an extremely refined and dignified personality, restrained in speech never encroaching the frontier of any other's personality.

It was about the end of the 1970s. The Illustrated Weekly, edited by Pritish Nandy published a piece by Arun Shourie trying to argue in detail that communists did not contribute anything to India's struggle for freedom. Hiren Gohain wrote an article in protest showing with much evidence how communists contributed and dedicated themselves to that cause. He sent the article to the Illustrated Weekly but it did not care to publish it. Dr Gohain informed me of the matter through a letter and along with it, sent the article for giving it to Samar Babu. There was enclosed also a letter for Samar Babu. The reason for sending the article through me was that Dr Gohain had felt that owing to official disruption it might not reach the recipient at all if sent to him directly by post.

Samar Babu's residence was within a walking distance from mine in the Gariahat area of South Kolkata. I met him and handed over the article and the letter. Having me seated there he read out the article. Then he said that he is in complete agreement with the contents and it was good stuff. But, he said, it was too large to be printed in Frontier and Dr Gohain should not mind that. I asked if it could be published after editing. He replied that it was not in his habit to pen through others' writings because that impaired the importance of the content and hurt the dignity of the writer. This was precisely Samar Sen's sense of values, a sense often found wanting in many editors. This is why Sanar Sen was not only a highly rated poet, but also an editor of high standard.

It was the early eighties of the last century. Reports on various changes in post-Mao China were being published in the media in a somewhat haphazard manner, and we were somewhat puzzled about ascertaining the truth. At that time, Jan Myrdal, the Swedish progressive intellectual, from china on his way home. Myrdal used to write for Frontier and was in contact with Samar Babu. They were personally acquainted. We were not informed of his visit, but Samar Babu was. He did not keep the information to himself; he informed Hemanga Biswas. Hemangada rang me up and asked if a seminar on Myrdal's experience on the changing situation in China could be organized. Arijit Mitra and myself saw Myrdal on behalf of the Indo-China Friendship Association and informed him that since we were very much eager to know about the real nature of the changing situation, we wanted to hold a seminar on his recent experiences. He replied that he was unable to address any public meeting because Indira Gandhi had granted him permission to come to India on the condition that he would not address anything like this. Faute de mieux, we organized a meeting of a very informal nature where Hemangada was also present. It may be mentioned in passing that although at present somewhat withered by age and ill-health Myrdal still writes for Frontier.

The meeting of Myrdal was made possible by Samar Sen's gesture. In contrast to many narrow-minded intellectuals, Samar Babu did not suppress the news of Myrdal’s visit and confine the matter to his personal verbal exchanges with the latter. This speaks of the broadness of his outlook. So, I say to the founder-editor of Frontier,
Samar Sen has been in Samar (Battle)
No, no, he has remained the frontier guardians
Has watched everything in silence
Has observed who has floated with the current.
No, has remained with those
Who have fought against the current.

[Translated from Bengali by Anirban Biswas]

Vol. 49, No.25, Dec 25 - 31, 2016