Jibanananda Das was a Bengali poet, writer, novelist and essayist. He is acknowledged as the premier poet of the post-Tagore era, and is considered as Bengal’s greatest modern poet. Das was a prolific writer and wrote ceaselessly, yet he was a very introvert and private person. Seven volumes of his poems were published, during his lifetime, but after his death, several novels and a large number of short stories were discovered. Many of his unpublished works are still being published.
Jibanananda Das was born in 1899 in the Barisal town, which is now in Bangladesh. His ancestors were Vaidya-Brahmins who came from the Bikrampur region of Dhaka district. His grandfather Sarbananda Dasgupta settled in Barisal, and was highly regarded for his philanthropy and participation in the reformist movement of Brahmo Samaj. He removed the suffix -gupta from the family surname, regarding it as a symbol of Vedic Brahmin excess.
Jibanananda’s father Satyananda Das was a schoolmaster, essayist, magazine publisher, and founder-editor of Brohmobadi, a journal of the Brahmo Samaj. Jibanananda’s mother Kusumkumari Das was a poet who wrote a famous poem called Adorsho Chhele or The Ideal Boy. Jibanananda was the eldest son of his parents, and was fondly called Milu. He also had a younger brother and a sister.
In January 1908, when he was eight years old, he was admitted to the fifth grade in Brojomohon School. His father did not approve of admitting children into school at an early age. Therefore, his childhood education was limited to study at home.
In 1915, he successfully completed his matriculation examination with a first division. Two years later he passed the intermediate examination with a first division from Brajamohan College. Later he left his home to join University of Calcutta.
Education in Calcutta
In 1919, Jibanananda graduated with a BA (Honours) degree in English literature from Presidency College, Kolkata. That year, his first poem called Borsho-abahon or Arrival of the New Year, appeared in the Boishakh issue of Brohmobadi journal. In 1921, he completed the MA degree in English from University of Calcutta. Next year, he joined the English department of City College, Calcutta as a tutor.
In 1925, his poem called Deshbandhur Prayane or On the Death of the Deshbandhu, was published in Bangabani magazine. Same year, Jibanananda’s prose work was also published. It was an obituary, Kalimohan Daser Sraddha-bashorey, which appeared in Brohmobadi magazine. His poetry began to be widely published in various literary journals in Calcutta and Dhaka. These included Kallol, the most famous literary magazine of the era; Kalikalam, Progoti and many others.
In 1927, Jhara Palok or Fallen Feathers, his first collection of poems was published. A few months later, Jibanananda was fired from his job at the City College. Jibanananda left for the small town of Bagerhat to teach in the Bagerhat P. C. College. But after about three months he returned to Calcutta.
In December 1929, he moved to Delhi to take up a teaching post at Ramjas College; which lasted a few months. When he came back to Barisal in May 1930, his family arranged his marriage to Labanya. The couple had daughter called Manjusree in February 1931.
Around this time, he wrote one of his most controversial poems, Campe or At the Camp, which was published in Parichay magazine. It caused a storm in the literary circle and he was accused of promoting indecency. Meanwhile he continued to write a number of short novels and short stories.
In 1934, he wrote the series of poems that were discovered after his death and published posthumously in 1957, in a collection called Rupasi Bangla.
In 1935, Jibanananda returned to his alma mater Brajamohan College and joined as a lecturer in the English department.
During this time, Jibanananda’s work featured in the very first issue of the poetry magazine Kobita, a poem called Mrittu’r Aagey or Before Death. It was very much appreciated by Rabindranath Tagore. In the second issue of Kobita, Jibanananda’s legendary poem Banalata Sen was published.
In 1936, his second volume of poetry Dhusar Pandulipi was published, and a son, Samarananda, was also born. In 1938, Tagore compiled a poetry anthology called Bangla Kabya Parichay or Introduction to Bengali Poetry; and included his poem Mrityu’r Aagey, which had noved him so much. In 1939, in another anthology, Jibanananda’s four poems; Pakhira, Shakun, Banalata Sen, and Nagna Nirjan Haat; were included.
In 1942, his father died; and his third volume of poetry Banalata Sen was published. In 1944, his Maha Prithibi was published. The Second World War had a big impact on the Bengal poetic scene. In 1945, Jibanananda translated many of his poems for an English anthology under the title Modern Bengali Poems.
Return to Calcutta after partition
After the Second World War, there was a charged political atmosphere for Indian independence. Muslim politicians led by Jinnah wanted an independent nation for Muslims and Bengal had its western half as majority-Hindu population and the eastern part was majority-Muslims, though they spoke the same Bengali language.
In the aftermath of the partition, in August 1947, Jibanananda quit his job at Brajamohan College, Barisal and along with his family came to Calcutta. For sometime, he worked for the magazine Swaraj as its Sunday editor, but left after a few months.
In 1948, his Shaatti Tarar Timir was published. He also wrote two novels, Mallyaban and Shutirtho, which were discovered and published posthumously. In December 1948, his mother Kusumkumari Das died in Calcutta.
After being well established in the Calcutta literary world, he was appointed to the editorial board of a new literary magazine Dondo or Conflict. Meanwhile he was again sacked from his job at Kharagpur College in February 1951.
In 1952, His poetry book Banalata Sen was published by Signet Press. It was well received and won the Book of the Year award from the All-Bengal Tagore Literary Conference. He also got a job with Borisha College, which he lost within a few months. Then he took up a post at Howrah Girl’s College as the head of the English department.
By now, Jibanananda was acclaimed as one of the best poets of the post-Tagore era. He was invited at literary conferences, poetry readings, radio recitals etc. In May 1954, his collection of poems titled Best Poems or Sreshttho Kobita was published for which he won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1955.
On 14 October 1954, while crossing a road near Calcutta’s Deshapriya Park, he was hit by a tram. He was admitted to hospital, where eight days of treatment, he succumbed to his injuries on 22 October 1954. He was 55, and left behind his wife, a son and a daughter. His untimely demise was deeply mourned by the literary circle and his ever-growing band of readers and admirers.
Quotes by Jibanananda Das
“A mature artist…does not propose to evade the riddles around him. He arrives at his own philosophy and builds his own world, which is never a negation of the actual one, but is the same living world organized more truly and proportionately by the special reading of it by the special poet.”
“Calcutta, with all its blemishes and bad names, is, after all, even in its odd architectural medley not so graceless as many strangers and Indians are disposed to think of it.”
“Despite important differences, Calcutta seemed as its intricate map of body and mind would be laid open to bear a rather near resemblance to Paris.”
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah