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Jibanananda Das (Bengali: জীবনানন্দ দাশ) (17 February 1899 – 22 October 1954) was a Bengali poet, writer, novelist and essayist of India. Dimly recognised during his lifetime, today Das is acknowledged as "the premier poet of the post-Tagore era in India"and Bangladesh. One of his translators, Clinton B. Seely, is among those who consider Jibananda Das as "Bengal's greatest modern poet" and its "best loved poet" too. Author and literary critic Amit Chaudhuri concurs, describing Das's writing with admiration: "The poems are now part of the Bengali consciousness, on both sides of the border dividing India from what was Pakistan and is now Bangladesh; it's safe to claim that Das is the pre-eminent and best loved Bengali poet after Tagore." For the poets in the latter half of the twentieth century Das "has practically come to take place of Tagore". Das's oeuvre is eclectic and resists classification under any single heading or school.
Das wrote ceaselessly, but as he was an introvert and the "most alone of [Bengali] poets", he felt "compelled to suppress some of his most important writings or to locate them in a secret life". During his lifetime, only seven volumes of his poems were published. After his death, it was discovered that apart from poems Das wrote several novels and a large number of short stories. His unpublished works are still being published.
Das died on 22 October 1954; eight days after he was hit by a tramcar. The witnesses said that though the tramcar whistled, he did not stop and got struck. Some deem the accident as an attempt at suicide.
Poetry and life are two different outpouring of the same thing; life as we usually conceive it contains what we normally accept as reality, but the spectacle of this incoherent and disorderly life can satisfy neither the poet's talent nor the reader's imagination ... poetry does not contain a complete reconstruction of what we call reality; we have entered a new world. - Jibananda Das
Jibanananda Das was born in 1899 in a Vaidya-Brahmin family in the small district town of Barisal, located in the south of Bangladesh. His ancestors came from the Bikrampur region of Dhaka district, from a now-extinct village called Gaupara on the banks of the river Padma. Jibanananda's grandfather Sarbananda Dasgupta was the first to settle permanently in Barisal. He was an early exponent of the reformist Brahmo Samaj movement in Barisal and was highly regarded in town for his philanthropy. He erased the -gupta suffix from the family name, regarding it as a symbol of Vedic Brahmin excess, thus rendering the surname to Das. Jibanananda's father Satyananda Das (1863–1942) was a schoolmaster, essayist, magazine publisher, and founder-editor of Brôhmobadi, a journal of the Brahmo Samaj dedicated to the exploration of social issues.
Jibanananda's mother Kusumkumari Das was a poet who wrote a famous poem called Adôrsho Chhele ("The Ideal Boy") whose refrain is well known to Bengalis to this day: Amader deshey hobey shei chhele kobey / Kothae na boro hoye kajey boro hobey. (The child who achieves not in words but in deeds, when will this land know such a one?)
Jibanananda was the eldest son of his parents, and was called by the nickname Milu. A younger brother Ashokananda Das was born in 1908 and a sister called Shuchorita in 1915. Milu fell violently ill in his childhood, and his parents feared for his life. Fervently desiring to restore his health, Kusumkumari took her ailing child on pilgrimage to Lucknow, Agra and Giridih. They were accompanied on these journeys by their uncle Chandranath.
In January 1908, Milu, by now eight years old, was admitted to the fifth grade in Brojomohon School. The delay was due to his father's opposition to admitting children into school at too early an age. Milu's childhood education was therefore limited to his mother's tutelage.
His school life passed by relatively uneventfully. In 1915 he successfully completed his matriculation examination from Brojomohon, obtaining a first division in the process. He repeated the feat two years later when he passed the intermediate exams from Brajamohan College. Evidently an accomplished student, he left his rural Barisal to join the University of Calcutta.
Life in Calcutta: First Phase:
Jibanananda enrolled in Presidency College, Kolkata, then as now a prestigious seat of learning. He studied English literature and graduated with a BA (Honours) degree in 1919. That same year, his first poem appeared in print in the Boishakh issue of Brahmobadi journal. Fittingly, the poem was called Borsho-abahon (Arrival of the New Year). This poem was published anonymously, with only the honorific Sri in the byline. However, the annual index in the year-end issue of the magazine revealed his full name: "Sri Jibanananda Das Gupta, BA".
In 1921, he completed the MA degree in English from University of Calcutta, obtaining a second class. He was also studying law. At this time, he lived in the Hardinge student quarters next to the university. Just before his exams, he fell ill with bacillary dysentery, which affected his preparation for the examination.
The following year, he started his teaching career. He joined the English department of City College, Calcutta as a tutor. By this time, he had left Hardinge and was boarding at Harrison Road. He gave up his law studies. It is thought that he also lived in a house in Bechu Chatterjee Street for some time with his brother Ashokanananda, who had come there from Barisal for his MSc studies.
Travels and travails:
His literary career was starting to take off. When Deshbondhu Chittaranjan Das died in June 1925, Jibanananda wrote a poem called 'Deshbandhu'r Prayan'e' ("On the Death of the Friend of the nation") which was published in Bangabani magazine. This poem would later take its place in the collection called Jhara Palok (1927). On reading it, poet Kalidas Roy said that he had thought the poem was the work of a mature, accomplished poet hiding behind a pseudonym. Jibanananda's earliest printed prose work was also published in 1925. This was an obituary entitled "Kalimohan Das'er Sraddha-bashorey," which appeared in serialised form in Brahmobadi magazine. His poetry began to be widely published in various literary journals and little magazines in Calcutta, Dhaka and elsewhere. These included Kallol, perhaps the most famous literary magazine of the era, Kalikalam (Pen and Ink), Progoti (Progress) (co-edited by Buddhadeb Bose) and others. At this time, he occasionally used the surname Dasgupta as opposed to Das.
In 1927, Jhara Palok (Fallen Feathers), his first collection of poems, came out. A few months later, Jibanananda was fired from his job at the City College. The college had been struck by student unrest surrounding a religious festival, and enrolment seriously suffered as a consequence. Still in his late 20s, Jibanananda was the youngest member of the faculty and therefore regarded as the most dispensable. In the literary circle of Calcutta, he also came under serial attack. One of the most serious literary critics of that time, Sajanikanta Das, began to write aggressive critiques of his poetry in the review pages of Shanibarer Chithi (the Saturday Letter) magazine.
With nothing to keep him in Calcutta, Jibanananda left for the small town of Bagerhat in the far south, there to resume his teaching career at Bagerhat P. C. College. But after about three months he returned to the big city, now in dire financial straits. To make ends meet, he gave private tuition to students while applying for full-time positions in academia. In December 1929, he moved to Delhi to take up a teaching post at Ramjosh College; again this lasted no more than a few months. Back in Barisal, his family had been making arrangements for his marriage. Once Jibanananda got to Barisal, he failed to go back to Delhi – and, consequently, lost the job.
In May 1930, he married Labanya, a girl whose ancestors came from Khulna. At the subsequent reception in Dhaka's Ram Mohan Library, leading literary lights of the day such as Ajit Kumar Dutta and Buddhadeb Bose were assembled. A daughter called Manjusree was born to the couple in February of the following year.
Around this time, he wrote one of his most controversial poems. "Camp'e" (At the Camp) was printed in Sudhindranath Dutta's Parichay magazine and immediately caused a firestorm in the literary circle of Calcutta. The poem's ostensible subject is a deer hunt on a moonlit night. Many accused Jibanananda of promoting indecency and incest through this poem. More and more, he turned now, in secrecy, to fiction. He wrote a number of short novels and short stories during this period of unemployment, strife and frustration.
In 1934 he wrote the series of poems that would form the basis of the collection called Rupasi Bangla. These poems were not discovered during his lifetime, and were only published in 1957, three years after his death.
Back in Barisal:
In 1935, Jibanananda, by now familiar with professional disappointment and poverty, returned to his alma mater Brajamohan College, which was then affiliated with the University of Calcutta. He joined as a lecturer in the English department. In Calcutta, Buddhadeb Bose, Premendra Mitra and Samar Sen were starting a brand new poetry magazine called Kobita. Jibanananda's work featured in the very first issue of the magazine, a poem called Mrittu'r Aagey (Before Death). Upon reading the magazine, Tagore wrote a lengthy letter to Bose and especially commended the Das poem: Jibanananda Das' vivid, colourful poem has given me great pleasure. It was in the second issue of Kobita (Poush 1342 issue, Dec 1934/Jan 1935) that Jibanananda published his now-legendary "Banalata Sen". Today, this 18-line poem is among the most famous poems in the language.
The following year, his second volume of poetry Dhusar Pandulipi was published. Jibanananda was by now well settled in Barisal. A son Samarananda was born in November 1936. His impact in the world of Bengali literature continued to increase. In 1938, Tagore compiled a poetry anthology entitled Bangla Kabya Parichay (Introduction to Bengali Poetry) and included an abridged version of Mrityu'r Aagey, the same poem that had moved him three years ago. Another important anthology came out in 1939, edited by Abu Sayeed Ayub and Hirendranath Mukhopadhyay; Jibanananda was represented with four poems: Pakhira, Shakun, Banalata Sen, and Nagna Nirjan Haat.
In 1942, the same year that his father died, his third volume of poetry Banalata Sen was published under the aegis of Kobita Bhavan and Buddhadeb Bose. A ground-breaking modernist poet in his own right, Bose was a steadfast champion of Jibanananda's poetry, providing him with numerous platforms for publication. 1944 saw the publication of Maha Prithibi. The Second World War had a profound impact on Jibanananda's poetic vision. The following year, Jibanananda provided his own translations of several of his poems for an English anthology to be published under the title Modern Bengali Poems. Oddly enough, the editor Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya considered these translations to be sub-standard, and instead commissioned Martin Kirkman to translate four of Jibanananda's poems for the book.
আবার আসিব ফিরে
– জীবনানন্দ দাশ
আবার আসিব ফিরে ধানসিঁড়িটির তীরে – এই বাংলায়
হয়তো মানুষ নয় – হয়তো বা শাঁখচিল শালিকের বেশে,
হয়তো ভোরের কাক হয়ে এই কার্তিঁকের নবান্নের দেশে
কুয়াশার বুকে ভেসে একদিন আসিব কাঁঠাল ছায়ায়।
হয়তো বা হাঁস হবো – কিশোরীর – ঘুঙুর রহিবে লাল পায়
সারাদিন কেটে যাবে কলমীর গন্ধভরা জলে ভেসে ভেসে।
আবার আসিব আমি বাংলার নদী মাঠ ক্ষেত ভালোবেসে
জলঙ্গীর ঢেউ এ ভেজা বাংলারি সবুজ করুণ ডাঙ্গায়।
Life in Calcutta: Final Phase:
The aftermath of the war saw heightened demands for Indian independence. Muslim politicians led by Jinnah wanted an independent homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Bengal was uniquely vulnerable to partition: its western half was majority-Hindu, its eastern half majority-Muslim. Yet adherents of both religions spoke the same language, came from the same ethnic stock, and lived in close proximity to each other in town and village. Jibanananda had emphasized the need for communal harmony at an early stage. In his very first book Jhora Palok, he had included a poem called Hindu Musalman. In it he proclaimed:
However, events in real life belied his beliefs. In the summer of 1946, he travelled to Calcutta from Barisal on three months' paid leave. He stayed at his brother Ashokananda's place through the bloody riots that swept the city. Violence broke out in Noakhali and Tippera districts later in the autumn, and he was unable to return to Barisal. Just before partition in August 1947, Jibanananda quit his job at Brajamohan College and said goodbye to his beloved Barisal. He and his family were among the X million refugees who took part in the largest cross-border migration in history. For a while he worked for a magazine called Swaraj as its Sunday editor. But he left the job after a few months.
In 1948, he completed two of his novels, Mallyaban and Shutirtho, neither of which were discovered during his life. Shaat'ti Tarar Timir was published in December 1948. The same month, his mother Kusumkumari Das died in Calcutta.
By now, he was well established in the Calcutta literary world. He was appointed to the editorial board of yet another new literary magazine Dondo (Conflict). However, in a reprise of his early career, he was sacked from his job at Kharagpur College in February 1951. In 1952, Signet Press published Banalata Sen. The book received widespread acclaim and won the Book of the Year award from the All-Bengal Tagore Literary Conference. Later that year, the poet found another job at Borisha College (today known as Borisha Bibekanondo College). This job too he lost within a few months. He applied afresh to Diamond Harbour Fakirchand College, but eventually declined it, owing to travel difficulties. Instead he was obliged to take up a post at Howrah Girl's College (now known as Bijoy Krishna Girls’ College), a constituent affiliated undergraduate college of the University of Calcutta. As the head of the English department, he was entitled to a 50-taka monthly bonus on top of his salary.
By the last year of his life, Jibanananda was acclaimed as one of the best poets of the post-Tagore era. He was constantly in demand at literary conferences, poetry readings, radio recitals etc. In May 1954, he was published a volume titled 'Best Poems' (Sreshttho Kobita). His Best Poems won the Indian Sahitya Akademi Award in 1955.
Love and Marriage:
Young Jibanananda fell in love with Shovona, daughter of his uncle Atulchandra Das, who lived in the neighbourhood. He dedicated his first anthology of poems to Shovona without mentioning her name explicitly. He did not try to marry Shovona since marriage between cousins was not socially acceptable. But he never forgot Shovona who went by her nick Baby. She has been referred to as Y in his literary notes. Soon after wedding with Labanyaprabha Das (née Gupta) in 1930, personality clash erupted and Jibanananda Das gave up hope of a happy married life. The gap with his wife never narrowed. While Jibanananda was struggling with death after a tram accident on 14 October 1954, Labanyaprabha did not find time for more than once for visiting her husband on death bed. At that time she was busy in film-making in Tallyganj.
One poet now dead, killed near his fiftieth year ... did introduce what for India would be "the modern spirit" – bitterness, self-doubt, sex, street diction, personal confession, frankness, Calcutta beggars ect [sic] – into Bengali letters — Allen Ginsberg.
On 14 October 1954, he was carelessly crossing a road near Calcutta's Deshapriya Park when he was hit by a tram. Jibanananda was returning home after his routine evening walk. At that time, he used to reside in a rented apartment on the Lansdowne Road. Seriously injured, he was taken to Shambhunath Pundit Hospital. Poet-writer Sajanikanta Das who had been one of his fiercest critics was tireless in his efforts to secure the best treatment for the poet. He even persuaded Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy (then chief minister of West Bengal) to visit him in hospital. Nonetheless, the injury was too severe to redress. Jibanananda died in hospital on 22 October 1954 eight days later, at about midnight. He was then 55 and left behind his wife, Labanyaprabha Das, a son and a daughter, and the ever-growing band of readers.
His body was cremated the following day at Keoratola crematorium. Following popular belief, it has been alleged in some biographical accounts that his accident was actually an attempt at suicide. Although none of the Jibanananda biographers have indicated such, it appears from circumstantial evidence that it was an attempt to end his own life.
The literary circle deeply mourned his death. Almost all the newspapers published obituaries which contained sincere appreciations of the poetry of Jibanananda. Poet Sanjay Bhattacharya wrote the death news and sent to different newspapers. On 1 November 1954, The Times of India wrote :
The premature death after an accident of Mr. Jibanananda Das removes from the field of Bengali literature a poet, who, though never in the limelight of publicity and prosperity, made a significant contribution to modern Bengali poetry by his prose-poems and free-verse. ... A poet of nature with a serious awareness of the life around him Jibanananda Das was known not so much for the social content of his poetry as for his bold imagination and the concreteness of his image. To a literary world dazzled by Tagore's glory, Das showed how to remain true to the poet's vocation without basking in its reflection."
In his obituary in the Shanibarer Chithi, Sajanikanta Das quoted from the poet :
When one day I’ll leave this body once for all −
Shall I never return to this world any more?
Let me come back
On a winter night
To the bedside of any dying acquaintance
With a cold pale lump of orange in hand.
During his lifetime Jibanananda remained solely a poet who occasionally wrote literary articles, mostly on request. Only after his death were a huge number of novels and short stories discovered. Thematically, Jibanananda's storylines are largely autobiographical. His own time constitutes the perspective. While in poetry he subdued his own life, he allowed it to be brought into his fiction. Structurally his fictional works are based more on dialogues than description by the author. However, his prose shows a unique style of compound sentences, use of non-colloquial words and a typical pattern of punctuation. His essays evidence a heavy prose style, which although complex, is capable of expressing complicated analytical statements. As a result, his prose was very compact, containing profound messages in a relatively short space.
Jhôra Palok (Fallen Feathers), 1927.
Dhushor Pandulipi (Grey Manuscript), 1936.
Banalata Sen, 1942
Môhaprithibi (Great Universe), 1944 :
Shaat-ti Tarar Timir, (Darkness of Seven Stars), 1948.
Shreshtho Kobita, (Best Poems),1954 : Navana, Calcutta, .
Rupasi Bangla (Bengal, the Beautiful), written in 1934, published posthumously in 1957.
Bela Obela Kalbela (Times, Bad Times, End Times), 1961, published posthumously but the manuscript was prepared during lifetime.
Sudorshona(The beautiful), published posthumously in 1973: Sahitya Sadan, Calcutta.
Alo Prithibi (The World of Light), published posthumously in 1981 :Granthalaya Private Ltd., Calcutta.
Manobihangam (The Bird that is my Heart), published posthumously in 1979 : Bengal Publishers Private Ltd. Calcutta.
Oprkashitô Ekanno (Unpublished Fifty-one), Published posthumously in 1999, Mawla Brothers, Dhaka.
Malyabaan (novel), New Script, Calcutta, 1973 (posthumuously published)
Short Stories -
Basor Sojyar pase
Kotha sudhu Kotha, Kotha, Kotha
Kuashar Vitor Mrityur Somoy
Ma hoyar kono Saadh
Prithibita Sishuder Noy
Somnath o Shrimoti
"Aat Bachor Ager Din" prosonge
Bangla Bhasa o Sahittyer Bhobshiyot
Bangla Kobitar Bhobishyot
Desh kal o kobita
"Dhusor Pandulipi" prosonge
Ekti Aprokashito Kobita
Jukti Jiggasha o Bangali
Ki hisebe Saswato
Kobita o Konkaboti
Kobitaar Kôtha (tr. On Poetry), Signet Press, Calcutta, 1362 (Bengali year)
Kobitar Atma o Sorir
Prithibi o Somoy
Rabindranath o Adhunik Bangla Kobita
Ruchi, Bichar o Onnanyo kotha
Sikkha, Dikkha Sikkhokota
Sikkha o Ingrezi
Sottyo Biswas o Kobita
Swapno kamona'r bhumika
Sworgiyo Kalimohon Daser sradhobasore
Aongikar: Krishna Dhar
Doctor Faustus: Thomas Mann
Gioconda Smile: Aldous Huxley
Konkaboti: Buddhadeb Basu
Sheete Upekkhita: Ranjan
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The Bengali Poetry today
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