by Chaman Lal
Frontier | October 15, 2017
I met Samar Sen only once in life in February 1980 on my first visit to Calcutta. But I knew his name from much earlier period, perhaps from 1969 or so, when I may have seen Frontier for first time at my home town Rampura Phul in Bathinda district of Punjab. I became regular reader of ‘Frontier’ from 1971, when I joined Panjab University Chandigarh as a student of M.A. in Hindi. Some of my friends in Chandigarh at that time were readers of Frontier, like Hindi poet Kumar Vikal. Frontier was available in those days in Chandigarh at English Book Depot or shop in Sector 22. It was famous shop in those days for intellectual gathering as well. Punjabi and Hindi writers of the city used to sit in Sector 22 Coffee house and visit English Book Shop nearby. There was a corner around the shop, which was perhaps called ‘Lovers Corner’ also, though it was used more by writers in evening. I knew in those days also that Samar Sen was a well-known Bengali poet, apart from being editor of Frontier, but his Frontier editor image over shadowed his poet image. His poetry was not easily available in Hindi or English and those were the days of ‘Spring Thunder’ and Frontier represented it most widely throughout the country.
After the passing away of Samar Sen, I wrote to Frontier, which was published in the section-Tributes to a Crusader, compiled by Debabrata Panda from Frontier messages included in commemorative volume brought out by Frontier or Samar Sen Friends in bilingual form, major part in Bengali with a small section in English, which included some writings in Translation from Samar Sen, few articles on his writings and personality as well. I was teaching at Punjabi University Patiala at that time and was part of editorial board of Punjabi literary journal ‘Sardal’ at that time. In fact I wrote a piece in Punjabi on Samar Sen and also translated a part of ‘Babu Brittanta’ in Punjabi, which were published in Sardal, edited by famous playwright Gursharn Singh. I reproduce from that volume what was ascribed to me –
“Chaman Lal, a distinguished Punjabi writer(member of editorial board of ‘Sardal’, literary magazine of Punjab People’s Cultural Forum(Punjab Lok Sabhiachar Manch), and a much known activist of democratic rights movement, had only one occasion to meet Samar Sen, that is in 1981(Actually it was 13th February 1980-checked from notebooks now) on his way to Assam, as a member of a PUDR fact finding team and that has left, he writes ‘a deep impact on me’. Mr. Lal has been reader of Frontier since his student days from 1971-72. He writes-‘Frontier always played a significant role in shaping my opinions about various social situations’. As the news of Samar Sen’s passing away reached there, Chaman Lal writes: I and my friends here in Punjab really feel very sad, though we feel Samar Babu lived a glorious life’. Till the end he stood like a rock against all odds. Even when democratic movement showed signs of cracks, Samar Babu never wailed, though his anguish over the situation reflected in editorials could not have been missed.”
In 1969, when I probably first time must have seen Frontier, I was Hindi teacher in a nearby school to my home town Rampura Phul and was influenced by left movement, particularly its Naxalite stream, which in Bathinda area was more under the influence of T Nagi Reddy group, who were subscribers of Frontier either individually or getting through some book shop. After my return from Chandigarh in 1972, I had been getting copy of Frontier and also Filhal in Hindi, which was almost a ditto copy of Frontier in its get up and contents. After joining JNU, New Delhi as a research student in 1977, I continued my access to Frontier through Geeta Book Shop at campus, which probably still continues to sell Frontier, but the number of copies sold might have decreased. During 1977-80 period large number of students and faculty from JNU, used to buy Frontier from Geeta Book shop. I had become active in PUDR in those days and it was as part of PUDR team consisting of Prof. G P Deshpande, Prof. Dhirender Sharma and myself, which proceeded to Gauhati at the invitation of PUCL Assam. On our way to Gauhati, we had halted at Calcutta on both ways for few days. While Prof. Deshpande stayed with his friend and then Finance minister Ashok Mitra, Prof. Sharma at some other place, my stay in Calcutta was arranged by Sujato Bhadra, who was a friend in JNU student days and had returned to Calcutta, getting a teaching job in a college. I probably stayed in his house, but spent time with many of his friends including Debashish Mukhrejee, who was APDR secretary then, Kallol Chakravrati, who received me at Calcutta station on my very first visit to the city. On my own, I was keen to meet Mahasweta Devi, whom I had already met and interviewed in Delhi in 1979 and Samar Sen. I was taken to a meeting by Sujato or Debashish, where Mrs. Sushital Roy Chaudhary was also present. From my notes I saw that I visited Ashok Mitra’s house also, who was living in his own flat, despite being a minister and there was no security at all around the building, where his flat was. I met Prof. Amlendu Guha also at his place, who might had come to see Prof. Deshpande. We were served breakfast in his home, just like in any other middle class home. I also met journalist Sunanda K Datta Ray in Statesman office and Hindi weekly Ravivar editor Surender Pratap Singh in Telegraph office. I had met Punjabi literary figures of Calcutta as well during that visit.
I was not terribly impressed by meeting Mahashweta Devi in her rented house at Bulygaunj, she was a tenant of CPM MP Jyotrimoy Basu at that time. Frontier office was too humble, so was its editor Samar Sen, when I met him. He called Ashish Mukhopadhyaya also while we chatted for about an hour or so. Probably I met Debabrat Panda also in Frontier office at that time and had independent postal communication with him later for some years. I have lost those post cards of Debabrat now. Samar Sen definitely impressed me with his simplicity and commitment in that short meeting.
While I became contributor to Frontier during Samar Sen days, I continued to subscribe and contribute to it after Timir Basu took over as its editor. In 2004, I got one lakh rupees Punjab Government best Hindi writer award, out of which I decided to send life subscription to many Hindi, Punjabi and English progressive literary journals, it was at that time, I became its life subscriber. I developed my taste for EPW and Mainstream also during my student days in JNU and later for Analytical Monthly Review, when it started its Indian edition from Kharagpur. Aspects of Indian Economy and Frontline are few other journals, which I try to read or at least scan regularly.
I regard Samar Sen as one of most significant writer and editor, who has contributed immensely to promote leftist/Marxist ideology and helped in growth of movement based on these ideas. His contribution is perhaps more than many of movement’s leaders, as he had provided an open platform to all groups to share their ideas and programmes without any bias for any particular group. But I wish to know him more as creative writer also. I can’t read Bengali, so I am trying to acquire his writings-poetry and prose both in English or Hindi to read and if possible to write upon as well during his centenary years. Meanwhile I wish that Frontier and also Analytical Monthly Review must continue to exist as these are most crucial journals to disseminate Marxist ideology and movements throughout the world.