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Buddhadeva Bose (also spelt Buddhadeb Bosu) (Bengali: বুদ্ধদেব বসু) (1908–1974) was a major Indian Bengali writer of the 20th century. Frequently referred to as a poet, he was a versatile writer who wrote novels, short stories, plays and essays in addition to poetry.He was an influential critic and editor of his time. He is recognized as one of the five poets who moved to introduce modernity into Bengali poetry. It has been said that since Tagore, perhaps, there has been no greater talent in Bengali literature.
Buddhadeva Bose (BB) was born in Comilla, Bengal (now Bangladesh), on 30 November 1908. His ancestral home was in the village (which is now Taite pakhi’s residence) of Malkhanagar in the Bikrampur region (in Munshiganj District, Bangladesh). His father’s name was Bhudeb Chandra Bose and mother’s name was Benoy Kumari. His mother died just few hours after his birth and his father for a year became a bereaved wanderer. He remarried few years later and settled down. So, Buddhadeva was brought up and raised by his maternal grandparents Chintaharan Sinha and Swarnalata Sinha. Literally they remained his soul parents. He was schooled at the Dhaka Collegiate School in Dhaka, in addition to high schools in Comilla and Noakhali. He passed the Matriculation examination in 1925. He secured the second place in the Intermediate examination. His early life was associated with Dhaka where he lived in a simple house at 47 Purana Paltan.
BB went to the University of Dhaka for studying English language and literature. He was a resident of the Jagannath Hall. After completing his MA in English from the University of Dhaka with distinction marks that remains unsurpassed as yet (2007), he moved to Calcutta in 1931. Initially he had no regular job and resorted to ‘private tuition’ for livelihood.
While a student he became associated with the famous poetry magazine Kallol. The modernist literary movement of 1930s is often referred to as the Kallol era. He was also worked as an editor of the literary magazine Progoti (started 1926).
He married Pratibha Basu (1914/1915 – 4 October 2006) (née Shome) in 1934. They had three children, Meenakshi Dutta (b. 1936), Damayanti Basu Singh (b. 1940) and Suddhashil Bose (1945–1987). Pratibha Bosu was an accomplished singer in her teens but later concentrated on literature and became a distinguished writer in her own right.
Buddhadeva Bose taught at the Ripon College (now Surendranath College) an affiliated college of the University of Calcutta. In 1956 he set up the Department of Comparative literature in Jadavpur University, and was on its faculty for a number of years. He was also a visiting professor at many universities in the United States.
One of his most important contributions to the Bengali literary scene was the establishment of the Kavita (tr. Poetry) – the flagship poetry magazine in Bengali, which he edited and published for 25 years.
BB has been described as a disciplined, almost obsessed, worker by Nabaneeta Dev Sen. After meeting Buddhadeva Bose, Clinton B. Seely remarked that Buddhadeva was a very intense person. He spoke quickly, with emotion. He laughed wonderfully. He was interested in everything… He was what I would come to refer to as “jyanto,” “alive,” “vibrant,” “energetic.” Conversations were often at fever pitch. He was bubbling over with things to say.
BB who grew up almost as an orphan showed deep since of love and care for his children. In a letter to his daughter Damayanti Basu Singh who just flew to the USA for studies he wrote: “Rumi, since this morning, I am really worried. Have you kept your money and traveler’s cheques in a safe and handy place? I should’ve checked everything at the airport, but just didn’t remember to do so. Exchange the pounds I gave you in England. For your small expenditures spend the loose change that you have in dollars. With the money I gave you and the first installment of your scholarship, open an account in Bloomington. Don’t deposit the traveler’s cheques in the account. You’ll need those for your trips across the country. And make sure you don’t lose the slip with the cheque numbers written on it. …Baba.” Damayanti wrote that ‘… And I remember that Dad used to write late into the night. He used to place books beside the table lamp to block the light so that it wouldn’t disturb our sleep.
His first book of poetry, namely, “Bandir Bandona” was published when he was only seventeen years old. Although he worked as a teacher at different colleges and universities, he devoted his whole life to literature. This is symbolized by the name of his residence in Calcutta which was Kavita Bhavan (tr. ‘The House of Poetry’).His first novel, “SaDa”, was published when he was 18, in 1930. He wrote more than 40 novels, but his epic novel “Tithidore”, published in 1949, became his most admired novel which is now considered a classic. He published more than 160 titles during his lifetime. So far 200 books have been published. However, many pieces remain to be anthologized as yet. He was a hard worker and writing was his life. He began his day at 9 in the morning and would regularly work until 10 at night. Work, for him, meant writing
Buddhadeva Bose wrote poetry essentially under the influence of Western literature, although in his early works he showed the clear influence of Rabindranath Tagore. But both in terms of theme and style, he reflected the marked influence of renowned Western poets, especially Baudelaire. He was also influenced by Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, Rilke and T. S. Eliot. Allegedly, he believed in ‘arts for arts sake’. He was a perfectionist as a writer and emphasized technical perfection in his works. Although he mostly wrote in free verse, his command of rhyme and rhythm was great. As an editor of his historical magazine Kavita (Poetry), the first magazine in India devoted only to the cause of modern Bengali Poetry, he demonstrated his ability to identify the best talents of 20th century Bengal. His prose style was also established on a diction developed by himself. His novels remain modern even by the standards of the 21st century. He established a style of appreciative literary criticism that remains unparalleled. Also, his verse plays, written at the end phase of his life, created a poetic style all his own.
In his early days in the school in Noakhali, BB with his fellow mates had formed a ‘drama group’. No wonder that he took special interest in writing plays. He wrote more than five plays. However, recognition as a playwright came late, after the death of the playwright in 1974. It is Salil Bhandopadhyaya of Theatron Theatre Group, Calcutta, who produced some of BB’s plays like Tapaswi-O-Tarangini, Kolkatar Electra and Anamni Angana and drew attention of people to BB as a playwright. The Hindi translation of BB’s Protham Partho, produced by Circle Theatre Company, has been described to be one of the best presentations on the Delhi theatre. Bose’s Kolkatar Electra has been translated into English as Kolkata’s Elektra: A Play in Three Acts by Sreejata Guha.
Apart from formal recognition mentioned below, BB remains one of the most important literary personalities of the 20th century Bengali literature. Buddhdaeb became the central figure in a cluster of poets who came to embody Bengali modernism in early 20th century. In emphasizing BB’s importance, Ashok Mitra commented, ‘These days we buy tickets to hear a poet. There was a time 60–70 years ago when a poet was considered to be unemployed and mad. If Buddhadeva Bose had not come up with a poetry magazine, things would not have been the same. There would have been no Jibanananda Das but for Buddhadeva Bose.’
Buddhadeva Bose received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1967 for his verse play Tapaswi-O-Tarangini, received the Rabindra Puraskar in 1974 for Swagato Biday(poetry) and was honoured with a Padma Bhushan in 1970.