Sunil Gangopadhyay

7 Sep 1934
23 Oct 2012
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Sunil Gangopadhyay or Sunil Ganguly (7 September 1934 – 23 October 2012) was an Indian Bengali poet and novelist based in the Indian city of Kolkata. Born in Faridpur, Bangladesh, Gangopadhyay obtained his Master’s degree in Bengali from the University of Calcutta, In 1953 he with few of his friends started a Bengali poetry magazine Krittibas. Later he wrote for many different publications.

Ganguly created the Bengali fictional character Kakababu and wrote a series of novels on this character which became significant in Indian children’s literature. He received Sahitya Akademi award in 1985 for his novel Those Days (Sei Samaya). Gangopadhyay used the pen names Nil Lohit, Sanatan Pathak, and Nil Upadhyay.

He was born in Faridpur into a Bengali Hindu family in what is now Bangladesh. He came to live in Kolkata from his ancestral town at an early age. Later, his ancestral town fell within East Pakistan after the Partition of India in 1947. He studied at the Surendranath College, Dum Dum Motijheel College, City College, Kolkata – all affiliated with the University of Calcutta. Thereafter, he obtained his Master’s degree in Bengali from the University of Calcutta in 1954.

He married Swati Banerjee on 26 February 1967. Their only son, Souvik, who stays in Boston, was born on 20 November 1967.

Gangopadhyay was the founder editor of Krittibas, a seminal poetry magazine started publishing from 1953, that became a platform for a new generation of poets experimenting with many new forms in poetic themes, rhythms, and words.

Later, he started writing for various publications of the Ananda Bazar group, a major publishing house in Kolkata and has been continuing it for many years. He became a friend of the beat poet Allen Ginsberg while he was travelling in India. Ginsberg mentioned Gangopadhyay most notedly in his poem September on Jessore Road. Gangopadhyay in return mentioned Ginsberg in some of his prose work. After serving five years as the Vice President, he was elected the President of the Sahitya Akademi on 20 February 2008.

Sunil, along with Tarun Sanyal, Jyotirmoy Datta and Satrajit Dutta had volunteered to be defence witnesses in the famous trial of Hungry generation movement poet Malay Roy Choudhury.

Author of well over 200 books, Sunil was a prolific writer who has excelled in different genres but declares poetry to be his “first love”. His Nikhilesh and Neera series of poems (some of which have been translated as For You, Neera and Murmur in the Woods) have been extremely popular.

As in poetry, Sunil was known for his unique style in prose. His second novel was Atmaprakash and it was also the first writing from a new comer in literature published in the prestigious magazine- Desh (1965). It was critically acclaimed but some controversy arose for its aggressive and ‘obscene’ style. Sunil said that he was afraid of this novel and went away from Calcutta for a few days. Satyajit Ray thought to make a film on it but it wasn’t possible for reasons. The central character of ‘Atmaprakash’ is a young man of core-calcutta’- Sunil, who leads a bohemian life-style. The novel had inspiration from ‘ On the road’ by Jack Kerouac, the beat generation writer. His historical fiction Sei Somoy (translated into English by Aruna Chakravorty as Those Days) received the Indian Sahitya Akademi award in 1985. Sei Somoy continues to be a best seller more than two decade after its first publication. The same is true for Prothom Alo (also translated recently by Aruna Chakravorty as First Light), another best selling historical fiction and Poorba-Pashchim, a raw depiction of the partition and its aftermath seen through the eyes of three generations of Bengalis in West Bengal, Bangladesh and elsewhere. He is also the winner of the Bankim Puraskar (1982), and the Ananda Puraskar (twice, in 1972 and 1989).

Sunil wrote in many other genres including travelogues, children’s fiction, short stories, features, and essays. Among his pen-names are: Nil Lohit, Sanatan Pathak, and Nil Upadhyay.

Though he wrote all types of children’s fiction, one character created by him that stands out above the rest, was Kakababu, the crippled adventurist, accompanied by his young adult nephew Santu, and his friend Jojo. Since 1974, Sunil Gangopadhyay wrote over 35 novels of this popular series, most of which appeared in Anandamela magazine.

Film based on his literary works:
Satyajit Ray made two films Pratidwandi and Aranyer Din Ratri based on the works of Ganguly.
One of Sunil Gangopadhyay’s cult poems, Smritir Shohor has been turned into a song for the film Iti Mrinalini (2011) directed by Aparna Sen.
Four of his Kakababu series novels have been adapted into big screen—
Sabuj Dwiper Raja (1979) directed by Tapan Sinha
Kakababu Here Gelen? (1996) directed by Pinaki Chaudhuri
Ek Tukro Chand (2003) directed by Pinaki Caudhuri
Mishor Rahasya (2013) directed by Srijit Mukherji
Shyamaprasad adapted his novel ‘Hirek Deepti’ as Malayalam feature ‘Ore Kadal’ in 2007, and his novel ‘Megh Brishti Alo’ short story into the 2012 Malayalam film Arike
The movie Hothat Nirar Jonyo (2004), is based on Sunil’s short story Rani O Abinash.
The movie Aparajita Tumi (2012), directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, is based on Sunil’s novel Dui Nari Hate Tarbari.
Vara: A Blessing (2013), English film directed by Khyentse Norbu, is based on his short story Rakta Aar Kanna (Blood and Tears)

Sunil Gangopadhyay died at 2:05 AM on 23 October 2012 at his South Kolkata residence, following a heart attack. He was suffering from prostate cancer for some time and went to Mumbai for treatment. He returned to Kolkata on the day of Mahalaya.Although he was an agnostic and never followed any rituals, Gangopadhyay’s body was cremated following Hindu custom on 25 October at Keoratola crematorium with several dignitaries and numerous fans paying their last tributes.However, Ganguly was an atheist and he never had any belief in any Hindu religious activities.

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee condoled the death of Gangopadhyay saying–

Gangopadhyay had enriched Bengali literature through his unique style. He was one of the best intellectuals among his contemporaries. The vacuum created by his death cannot be filled

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the former Chief Minister of West Bengal, who was closely associated with the writer since 1964, said that Bengali literature would remain indebted to him.

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