Kolkata: COVID takes its toll again. Famous poet, literary critic and social activist Shankha Ghosh died of Covid at the age of 89 at his residence on Wednesday morning. He was in isolation at his home after he tested Covid-19 positive on April 14.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in her condolence message to the family said, “I am deeply mourned at the death of noted poet, literary critic and an authority in Rabindranath Tagore, Shankha Ghosh. ‘Shankha Babu’ has taught in universities like Jadavpur, Delhi and Viswa Bharati… I had a very good relationship with ‘Shankha Babu’. His death is a huge loss in the world of literature. I express my heartfelt condolences for his family members.”
Sources in the health department said that Shankha Ghosh was advised home isolation after he was diagnosed with Covid-19 on April 14. He had several comorbidities, including sugar and hypertension and was admitted to hospital a few days back due to his deteriorating health condition. Ghosh is survived by his daughters Semanti and Srabanti, and wife Pratima.
Born in Chandpur (now in Bangladesh) on February 6, 1932, Shankha Ghosh did his B.A. in Bangla language and literature at Presidency College, Calcutta (now Kolkata) and subsequently received his Master’s degree from Calcutta University. He taught at various colleges affiliated with the Calcutta University for many years and later moved to Jadavpur University, retiring from there in 1992. In between, he had spent time at the Iowa Writers Workshop, the US (1967-68), Delhi University, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and Viswa Bharati. He is widely considered to be an authority on Rabindranath Tagore and has been a prolific poet and critic. His books include “Adim Lata-Gulmomay” (Ancient vines and trees), “Murkha Baro”, “Samajik Nay” (A fool, not social), “Kabir Abhipray” (The poet’s intention) and “Babarer Prarthana” (Babar’s prayer).
Ghosh, known for being vocal on various social and political issues, was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2011 and conferred the prestigious Jnanpith Award in 2016. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1977 for his book ‘Babarer Prarthana’. His works have been translated into several languages, including English and Hindi. He has perhaps been one of the rare intelligentsias who has not compromised his ethical and philosophical being on the platforms of political ideology and that is well expressed in his reactions to the political movement of the state. The man who resigned from ‘Bangla Academy’ protesting against the killings of Nandigram by the then Left Front Government and supported the cause Mamata Banerjee’s fight for preservation of agricultural land in 2007 trained his gun against the Trinamool congress government in 2018.
In one of the couplets of ‘Mukto Ganatantra’ says: “Dekho khule tin nayan, rasta jure kharag haat e dariye ache unnayan (open your three eyes and look, development is blocking the road with a weapon). The line refers to one of Mondal’s controversial speeches during the nomination phase when he had remarked that the Opposition had failed to submit their nomination forms because ‘unnayan’ (development) stood on the streets. The lines sparked controversy and he was criticised brutally by the party leadership but this undeterred poet stood by what he wrote.
In the world of Bangla literature, Shankha Ghosh’s persona is shrouded by a mystique because of the gravitas that he exudes and the creativity and depth that his poetry and thoughtful prose contain. His writings are full of well thought out and wonderfully articulated ideas as well as social stances, but he has not allowed himself to be straitjacketed within the confines of one single political ideology or social philosophy. That’s why, when on rare occasions he speaks, Bangla literary world in West Bengal and Bangladesh listens to him with awe and respect.
He is a man who has been well described in a poem by a young Bengali poet Sirjata’. He says – ‘Tumio Manus, Amio Manus/ Tafat sudhu Sirdarai (You are also human being, I am also human being/ Difference is only in the spinal cord).