What do you say when a doyenne in the field of literature dies? That she was a colossus in the field of literary studies? Any summing up of the achievements of Nabaneeta Dev Sen would sound and seem like a comprehensive survey of a substantial chunk , if not the entire field of comparative literature in India.
Nabaneeta Dev Sen was one of the finest minds in the world of literature, in terms of both her creative and critical work. A pioneer in the field of Comparative Literature, she is often perceived as having played a transformative role in transforming Comparative Literature as a discipline in India, from a mechanical reading of texts across languages to a rigorous theoretical discipline. Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s scholarship brought her international fame and acclaim. She was not only a scholar and researcher , but also a popular teacher both in Jadavpur, as well as in the many institutes where she taught ranging from reputed academic institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Germany, France, Japan and Israel. A graduate of Presidency College, she had masters’ degrees from Jadavpur and Harvard universities and a PhD from Indiana university.
October 31st, 2005, fourteen years ago, Amrita Pritam breathed her last. The writer- poetess, who with her avant-garde outlook, was the first woman to win the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award in 1966. The Padma Shri followed in 1969 and then the Padma Vibhushan — the second highest Indian civilian award — in 2004 along with the highest literary recognition given to ‘immortals of literature’, Sahitya Akademi Fellowship. Her unconventional stance towards life and powerful writing, the creator of Pinjar, Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu ( Today I Invoke Waris Shah), impacted moderns, like versatile poet, Nabina Das. In these lines, Das jubilates the inspiration provided by Pritam…
What can you say about a writer who gave a voice and identity to a whole people — a group and a community whose silences are made to speak and sing in her books? A writer whose voice rang out with passion, courage and conviction to detail the sub-human conditions in which her people had lived? A trailblazer whose works depicted the toils and travails of a long suppressed people whose experiences were unrecorded in history books? A writer whose passionate courage helped her to articulate her convictions about the dehumanisation of a whole race?
Morrison was born in 1931 and grew up in a family atmosphere which provided a context for arousing a keen interest in the stories, narratives, folklore, myths and rituals of the African American community. This early interest is evident in the rich oral quality of her writings, its lyrical cadences and it’s measured and “layered polyphony’’. Later, she studied English and Classical Literature from Howard University in Washington D.C. where she acquired her BA degree. This was followed by a Masters from Cornell University in 1955.
Subsequently, she taught at Howard University for two years. She also got married to a Jamaican architect named Harold Morrison in 1958 and they had two sons, before divorcing in 1964.The next few years Morrison wrote, juggled teaching assignments and also did a twenty year stint with Random House as an Editor. This platform enabled her to identify writing talent and she was able to help many aspiring young African American writers to get published.