Narayan Gangopadhyay


This is the centenary year of the birth of Narayan (Tarak Nath) Gangopadhyay, a literary stalwart of Bengal during the period ranging from 1945 to 1970, the latter being the year of his death. Born in February 1918, he wrote numerous novels ard short stories for adult readers as well as for children and teen-agers. His first important novel was Upanibesh (Colony), which had as its theme the life of the people of a sea island called Char where there was a considerable number of settlers of Portuguese extraction. Considering that he was still in his twenties when he wrote that novel, it was a great piece of work. Sometimes later, he wrote a novel Shilalipi (Stone-Script), followed by another named Lalmati (Red Soil). These two novels, which had a thematic unity,  depict the gradual mental transformation of an inspired fellow ; starting as a follower of Gandhi, he came to be the member of a terrorist revolutionary organization, and during inprisonment and internment, felt mentally drawn to peasants' and workers' struggles, while witnessing the degeneration of many of his erstwhile firebrand seniors. In Lalmati, which describes the latter activities of the hero of Shilalipi, it has been shown how class struggle united ordinary freedom-loving toiling Hindus, Muslims and Santals, and drove landlords belonging to the Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha into a single platform for the defence of their vested interests. One important character of the novel Muslim school teacher, who had joined the League after being disillusioned with the Congress, witnessed the oppressive character of League chieftains and gradually began to dream of a new Pakistan that would belong to the toilers of both communities, finally courted martyrdom for this cause, killed by the bullet of a Muslim quack physician who was an accomplice of a Muslim landlord.

Narayan Babu wrote many other novels, touching on various aspects of the life of different strata of people. His short-stories also were rich in content, dealing with famine, hunger, want, avarice, communalism, popular struggles etc. Sensitive and discernning readers must feel struck as and when they read these novels and stories. These stories and novels show that his literary insight penetrated many grassroot aspects of human life and their crises.

Another important component of his literary output is constituted by the numerous short stories and little novelets he wrote for children and teen-agers, whose masterly style of creation of humour could be appreciated by adults and even the aged. Most of the stories centred around a character nicknamed Teni, and his three associates. Teni was a real person, whose father was once Narayan Babu's landlord. He was an employee of the Military Accounts department with scarcely any distinction to speak of, but Narayan Babu's brilliant pen raised him above his circumstances, transforming him into an extraordinary character. These Teni-stories, first written in 1946 (47?), continue to be printed and they amuse readers as yet.

In the weekly (now fortnightly) Bengali periodical Desh, he wrote regularly the column Sunandar Journal for about six years, assuming the nom de plume Sunanda. The pieces also were full of humour and satire, and on some occasions, they assumed grave tones, drawing attention to the various social crises. Cartoons by Chandi Lahiri added to the enjoyability of the pieces.

Although sometimes driven to confusion by the dominant stream of media propaganda, Narayan Babu was not a pro-establishment writer in the true sense. He was very much influenced by the Marxist literary movement and contributed to the debate going on among Marxist writers in the 1950s. In Shilalipi and Lalmati, he firmly stood in favour of class struggle against the oppressors and articulated his faith in the creative energy of the toilers. This faith was reiterated in some other novels and short stories.

Professionally, he was a teacher of Bengali literature, first at the City College, Kolkata and then at the University of Calcutta. His class lectures were so attractive and lively that students from other colleges too often came to attend these lectures. His achievements as a researcher and scholar were limited, but as a teacher, he was immensely successful. It was extremely unfortunate that his illustrious life and career were cut short at a premature age.

Vol. 50, No.4, Jul 30 - Aug 5, 2017