Tuesday, 5 July, 2022

Manik Bandyopadhyay, from bet to victory

Chinmay Prasun Biswas

In 1928, 20-year old Manik Bandyopadhyay was a student of Wesleyan Mission College, Bankura, West Bengal. As a result of his inclination towards literature a literary circle was formed. One day in a literary chat his friends said that editors of monthlies do not publish anyone's writing except well-knowns. If the writer belongs to the editor’s group his article is published. Manik said, “Why are you talking nonsense? Are the editors mad that rejecting good stories they will publish bad ones?” Friends became angry because a story of one of them has just returned from a monthly’s office. Manik got slightly disheartened but did not give up. He got into a bet with his friends and said, “My story will be published either in Bharatbarsha, Prabasi or Bichitra within three months.” Friends said, "Okay, show us how much you can." Then Manik got into trouble because he had never written before though he had enough studies on stories.

He intended to write a story but the first question that came to his mind was - what would be the subject matter. He decided to write a love story but would he write love story like Rabindranath, Saratchandra or the writers of the contemporary Kallol and Kali-Kalam group. Certainly not. He said, “Almost all the stories of Bengali monthlies are written in a similar type of love. A boy and a girl fall in love, their marriage is interrupted and finally they get united. My mind did not respond to write such a story. The mind said –‘if you want to write a love story, well but don't write a story with rotten stench. Reading such stories the boys and girls of Bengal are going to astray.”

He wrote a love story named Atasi Mami 'and it was published in Bichitra. Not only that, one morning Upendranath Ganguly, the editor himself, came to Manik's house with remuneration and asked for another story. Atasi Mami was an unreal story full of romance but better than silliness. There was a matter to look with different eyes.

In one of his autobiographical writings Manik Bandyopadhyay has said, “Then everything turned upside down. Leaving everything I started writing.” Within nine years he wrote his most important novels like Janani (The Mother, 1935), Dibaratrir Kavya (Poems of Day and Night, 1935), Padmanadir Majhi (Boatman of the Padma, 1938), Putul Nacher Itikatha (History of Puppet Dance, 1938) and  story books Atasi Mami and Other Stories (1935) and Pragyeitihasik (Prehistoric, 1938). If Manik had not written anything else even then he would have gained immortality in Bengali literature. All these were published within the age of only thirty nine. Whereas he thought that he would not write before the age of thirty because he believed that nobody should write before 30.

It may appear that Manik Bandyopadhyay had suddenly become a writer like Nitai in Tarashankar's novel Kabi (The Poet) who became a poet overnight. The case of Manik is quite different. Rather, it can be said that very few writers in Bengali literature started writing taking preparation like him. He himself said, “No writer grows suddenly. I don't believe in the magic of becoming a writer overnight. Preparations had been going on for a long time. As soon as one is ready to become a writer then it is only possible for him to suddenly make his debut as a writer. Knowing the variety of real life around deeply and extensive reading of literature are these preparations.”

What was Manik's preparation? His father was a service holder. When in Tangail he was a school student. Out of keen interest in life around he often went to the boats anchored in the river. Developing intimacy with the boatmen he spent one or two days with them. Sometimes, ignoring parent’s rule, he went out for chatting with drivers of horse-drawn carriages and spent night with them. When in Midnapore he used to spend his days playing with the children of the dirty old locality of the town. Reckless Manik lost his mother at the age of 16. Then he became accustomed to a more reckless lifestyle. In his words –“I became over-matured from childhood. This is inevitable if the why disease attacks anyone strongly at tender age. Crossing the boundaries of decent life intimacy was growing with the lower-level poor-life. The inconsistency of life in both levels made various questions about life clear and strong. In a sophisticated life many realities remain hidden behind artificiality. Coming in contact with poor uneducated people I could see that naked reality and the coating of artificiality became exposed to me. I have witnessed the shape of hundreds of unfulfilled hopes and aspirations of happy middle-class families and hundreds of unfulfilled necessities in the poverty-stricken life of the people downstairs.” Such was his perception about life and world around. Extensive study was added to it.

In his various autobiographical writings Manik has said that he not only digested Bankimchandra, Rabindranath and Saratchandra while in school but raised different questions also. Alongwith them he read the then recent Shailajananda, Premendra Mitra, Achintyakumar Sengupta, Nazrul Islam, from Hamsun's Hunger to plays of Bernard Shaw. During student life he became intimately acquainted with Freud's writings. This was his preparation before writing his first story Atasi Mami. So, it is unreasonable to conclude that Manik suddenly became a writer.

From the very beginning Manik proved his type. Challenging traditional idea about love he said, “Love is not something eternal.” Nor it is a light dirty romantic nonsense feeling. In fact, love is an intricate psychological feeling mingled with complex equation of desire, self-interest, advantage-disadvantage, victory-defeat, honesty-wickedness etc. that Manik has shown in his writings.

Manik Bandyopadhyay appeared in Bengali literature through questioning the conventional.  Regarding writing he has said, “I write to convey words that cannot be delivered by any other means. Whatever other writers may say, I have no doubt that this is the answer to the question why they write.”  994


The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes