Padma Shri awardee Nabaneeta Dev Sen's indefatigable lightness of being
The author's greatness lay in her dealing with the ‘serious’ and ‘frivolous’ with the same light touch.
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Writer, poet, essayist, scholar, teacher, raconteur, her writings reflected not just the world around her — from the chirping of children and sparrows, and the romanticism of football rivalries, to the coldness of hospital deaths — but also her own life serum she injected in this world.
The Padma Shri and Sahitya Akademi Award were somewhat helpful in people beyond the Bengali-reading world in recognising her name. But her worth lies in her ability to deal with subjects that are ‘serious’ and ‘frivolous’ with the same touch.
Her 1990 novel, Sheet Sahasik Hemantolok (Defying Winter), for instance, is as much a rumination of old age as it is about individualism. Even as Dev Sen’s countless essays, light to the touch like muri (puffed rice), carry so much humanity.
In an early essay, Gachh-Pathorer Boyesh (The Age of Trees-Rocks), Dev Sen writes about how her old neighbourhood in Kolkata has vanished, along with an old tree — “Really has such a big tree become ‘gone?’” “And yet,” like the house that still stands without her father alive, “everything remains fine, everything’s as they should be.” Dev Sen has passed, but her joyous, nicotine-edged voice “remains fine” in her writings.