Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay's tribute to Nabaneeta Dev Sen
All those authors whose books I grew up reading have left us one by one. Nabaneeta-di’s going was suspended by a thin string of hope and desire, but now her death has become the latest addition to that list.
The last time I met Nabaneeta-di was at a get-together of writers, in December 2017. Her health had been deteriorating over the past few years. She used to move about with the help of a walking stick, and always had a companion. She had a permanent difficulty breathing. I was told this often reached extreme proportions, but she kept writing with a tube up her nose.
She must have written her Sunday column “Balcony of Love” (“Bhalobashar Baranda”), beloved of thousands of readers, in Pratidin newspaper for ten successive years. She never took time off from writing.
On that evening she had told us on arriving at the writers’ gathering, “You know what, I have to go straight from the airport to take a flight to Delhi. I won’t be here too long, all I want is a cup of coffee.” She was clearly unwell.
I couldn’t hide my surprise. “Airport? Delhi?” I said. “How long will you be there?” Her answer, “Two days. There’s this lecture I have to give, I’ll be back immediately afterwards. I have to go abroad.”
I honestly told myself, here’s a sick person, almost eighty, who’s taken a huge detour on her way to the airport from her home in Hindustan Park just to spend five minutes in the lobby of the Great Eastern hotel in the company of fellow writers. This was an unbelievable life force.
Her passion about her world was incredible. I wouldn’t have considered such a powerful attraction to the realm of writing and literature possible unless I had seen it for myself. Without such a strong relationship to the world of letters, someone who had touched the pinnacle of literary fame would not have travelled so far out of her way just for the pleasure of having a cup of coffee with other writers half her age.
The life of a grasshopper, the life of a singing bird...no, none of this is applicable to Nabaneeta Dev Sen. Sometimes it feels as though she lived a life spanning not 81 but 181 years. She did so much work, travelled so much, spoke at so many seminars, met so many people, remembering them and putting their memories into her writing, honed so many minds as a professor – hers was an immense life, one of enormous accomplishments.
This, then, was Nabaneeta Dev Sen. She loved her mother Radharani Debi deeply, and probably thought of her constantly, a worthy daughter of a worthy mother. Both of them will remain revered figures when it comes to women’s rights in Bengal.
The fact is that although Nabaneeta-di has left us, she lived a life so complete that it is doubtful whether she has left room for even an iota of regret. Even a week before her death she wrote, quoting Sukumar Ray, “Come on fight, come on fight”. She even chided those who were already mourning her before she had died.
Although she had established a literary circle for women named Soi in Calcutta, Nabaneeta-di was never limited to her identity as a woman. Her nature sparkled just the way the sunshine did in her writing. She was forever smiling, and she possessed the rare ability to make fun of herself, which she had turned into an essential weapon in her writing.
Very few women have this quality. Her laugh was so lively that even at 80 she sounded like a teenager. When a person like Nabaneeta-di leaves us, death, strangely, does not seem horrifying. For even death is reduced to being a non-entity when confronted with a life such as hers.
(This article was first published on Scroll.in)