Samaresh Basu (1924 - 1988)

Samaresh Basu was born on December 11, 1924 (1331 in the Bengali calendar) and spent his early childhood in Dhaka, Bikrampur in what is today Bangladesh. He would in later days recall the deep impressions that the Brata-kathas (fantastic folk-tales recited by women while performing certain religious rites) narrated by his mother left on him as a child. His adolescent years were spent in Naihati, a suburb of Kolkata, in West Bengal. His life was rich with varied experiences. At one point, he used to hawk eggs from a basket carried on his head; later, he worked for meager daily wages. From 1943 through 1949 he worked in an ordnance factory in Ichhapore. He was an active member of the trade union and the Communist party for a period, and was jailed for during 1949-50 when the party was declared illegal. While in jail, he wrote his first novel, Uttaranga, that was published in book form. Soon after his release from the jail, he began to write professionally, refusing to join the factory even when offered his old job.

Sunil Gangopadhyay, unidentified, Dwijendranath Basu,
and Samaresh Basu (London, 1986)
When he was only 21, he wrote his first novel Nayanpurer Mati. While it was later serialized in Parichay, it was never published as a book. Adaab was his first short story published in Parichay in 1946.

A prolific writer with more than 200 short stories and 100 novels, including those written under the aliases "Kalkut" and "Bhramar", Samaresh Basu is a major figure in Bengali fiction. His life experiences populated his writings with themes ranging from political activism to,, working class life to, sexuality. Two of his novels had been briefly banned on charges of obscenity. The case against one of these, Prajapati, was settled in the Supreme Court of India which overturned, in 1985, the rulings of the two lower courts.

Among other intellectuals, Buddhadeva Bose, himself once accused of similar charges for his Rat Bhor-e Brishti, came out strongly in support of Samaresh. To quote from Sumanta Banerjee's recent translation Selected Stories (Vol.1), Samaresh Basu "remains the most representative storyteller of Bengal's suburban life, as distinct from other well-known Bengali authors who had faithfully painted the life and problems of either Bengal's rural society or the urban middle class. Basu draws on his lived experience of Calcutta's `half-rural, half-urban,' industrial suburbs."

With wife Dharitri Basu (Digha, 1966-67; photo by Somnath Bhattacharya)
and a letter written to her in 1985.

While the nom de plume "Kalkut" was adopted in 1952 for the immediate need to publish an overtly political piece, the real "Kalkut" can be said to have been born with the publication of Amritakumbher Sandhane, a hugely popular, semi-autobiographical narrative centered around the Kumbha-mela. The many subsequent books by Kalkut had depicted the lives of the common people from all over India and all walks of life (including those who live on the periphery of the "mainstream") with their varied cultures and religious practices in a unique style that was Kalkut's own. He also drew upon the recollections of the Puranas and Itihas; Shamba, an interesting modern interpretation of the Puranic tales, won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1980.

Samaresh Basu breathed his last on March 12, 1988.

A page from the MS of Jug Jug Jiye

Published February 15, 2004

Photos and MS page: courtesy of the Basu estate.

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