The amor literary star

The writer and academic Nabaneeta Dev Sen passed away recently. Here’s the Kannada writer, Vaidehi, reminiscing her spirit that was constantly alive and dynamic

The first thing that comes to my mind when I remember her is that cheerful laughter – laughter surging like waves, touching and enlivening your mind. Wholehearted laughter, liberal thinking, uninhibited speech and writing – that is Nabaneeta Dev Sen. A guileless, incisive and sensitive writer, she was like an elder sister to women writers like me, showering her love and taking us in. The spontaneous joyful exclamation of appreciation with an affectionate gleam in the eyes was characteristic of Nabaneeta.

I saw her for the first time at the ‘Women’s Writing in India’ symposium in Delhi of which I was a part. She was a personality who got etched in the mind soon as you saw her. Most well-known women writers of India were present at the symposium. I read out a part of my ‘Lekhakiya Putagalu’ (The Writer’s Pages). While I was reading some lines from it, for example, ‘Truly, we should have thought that this race of ‘men’ was indeed cruel, since even during the day we couldn’t set out unaccompanied. But strangely we never thought them as cruel. How fortunate men were in that regard!’ I could hear Di’s loud laughter and exclamations. As soon as I was done with my session and walked down, Nabaneeta di came forward with a broad smile, hugged me and commanded in exuberance, ‘You must certainly come to Kolkata. I will invite you, you cannot decline’.

Gallant, majestic pleasantness, wit and compassion – she was a fusion of all. An exemplar of woman’s dignity, she was a remarkable soul. Her style of articulation – with gestures, was vivid! As she spoke she would leave the gathering in peals of laughter with her intermittent humour. Her joking was not empty comedy but a satire on the follies of human society. She was ever childlike, even in her mature responses.

As she had said, she did invite me to Kolkata on the occasion of Soi Mela Boi Mela (Soi in Bengali means signature as well as ‘sakhi’, a confidante and Boi means book). After that visit, my intimacy with her grew further. If she hadn’t invited me then I would have never had an opportunity to meet Mahashwetadevi.

Later on, at ‘Seeta’s Echoes’, a session in Kolkata Literature Festival, the Telugu writer Volga and I joined Nabaneeta Di. She was 80 then. She arrived a little late for the session. Asthma had been her long time companion. Di had probably relaxed a bit before coming. She was breathing heavily as she spoke. So what? Nothing changed in the way she spoke.

That was how it was around her always – humor and serious reflection went together. There was a sense of celebration surrounding Nabaneeta di in Kolkata. People loved and were at ease with her, as much as they were in awe of her. She would always be flanked by her admirers. After the session, Volga and I were invited for dinner to her home. With us were Anuttama, Jhooma and others. It was her ancestral home. She was the only daughter of the poet-couple Narendra Deva and Radhikarani Devi.

I faintly remember the picture of her parents with little Nabaneeta on the wall. I can never forget what Di said laughing, ‘How could I not write! Every other person who walked into this house was either a poet or a fiction writer. I grew up seeing and listening to them’.

She had just turned 80. Volga and I had taken her gifts for that special occasion. She too presented saris and blessed us. It was an emotional moment. Though it was already quite late in the night, she accompanied us to the hotel where we stayed, along with Shrawasti whom she had raised like her daughter.

Nabaneeta, born in 1938, had witnessed Kolkata’s catastrophic days. The pain of witnessing numerous struggles and revolts, of losing her dear ones in them, was alive in her. Every experience of hers got creative outlet through almost all genres of literature. Pratham Pratyay, her debut work, was published before she married the economist Amartya Sen. After she separated from him, she got engrossed in her academic and literary pursuits. A treasure of experiences with limitless capacities, she emerged as a prolific writer.

Despite being an amazing academic achiever, an author of more than a hundred works, a visiting professor who had travelled the globe, a recipient of the Padmashree besides many other national and international recognitions, she was untouched by conceit! Nabaneeta Di was the quintessence of love and empathy. When I look back, I feel that a unique bond had developed between us right from the beginning of our association. The void that her separation has created in me is testimony to that. We were not the kind who would talk on the phone often; we would not even email each other regularly. Yet, how did a steady, unwavering connection grow between us? So much so that she became a part of my soul. When I read some lines in her write up about me for the commemorative volume being brought out by the poet Savita Nagabhushana, I had told her, ‘In fact, those are the lines I should have written for you.’ She had laughed like a child hearing that.

By the time I heard that her health was deteriorating, it was late. In no time, the news of her demise, (the ‘shubh yatra’ as she called it) followed! The jolt it gave me is inexplicable! I couldn’t even get an opportunity to speak a few last words with her. What is the connection between that blazing, multifaceted dynamic writer from Kolkata and this ‘homemaker writer’ who writes from her home in Manipal? It is probably absurd to look for reasons for such camaraderie!

Dear Nabaneeta Di. . . I offer you your own lines that you wrote for me. ‘It is very rare to find a sister in the last phase of your life; and a sister whom you respect as much as you love. Nabaneeta Di, you came into my life as a bright star, we met at the turn of the century, which was already late’…

…But where are you to hear . . .!?

It’s too late…

Translated by Nayana Kashyap

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 6:29:28 AM |

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