Tribute: Buddhadeb Guha, the iconic writer who was a trained singer and good painter too

Guha was one of the first to create characters representing easy-going, upper middle-class modern Bengali families, whom readers could identify with, and that gave him instant popularity

Buddhadeb Guha
Buddhadeb Guha

Shoma A. Chatterji

Buddhadeb Guha who passed away yesterday after a prolonged illness brought in by post-COVID complications, was, to my mind, perhaps the most multi-talented authors among his peers such as Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shirsendu Mukhopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar and so on.

Though his tributes are focussed on his career as a writer, Guha was a trained singer of Rabindra Sangeet which he learned at the famous Tagore school of music Dakshini and later also trained in Hindustani classical music and in old style toppa songs from Ramkumar Chattopadhyay and Chandidas Mal. And he loved to sing and never pretended to have a ‘sore throat’ when asked to sing. He was also a very good painter and towards the end of his life, when his eyesight began to fail and he began to dictate his writings, he fell back on painting which he was self-taught in but was very good at.

I met him only once at a seminar at the Kolkata Book Fair more than a decade ago. The seminar, mainly focussed on the switch in the media from print to digital, had little to do with literature per se. But as chief guest, he held on to his own and regaled the full house with lines from a popular Tagore song. When the seminar got over, I was surprised to watch a strange scene – Guha was practically swarmed with very young females from the audience waiting for his autograph on one of his books they carried. And he was well into his Sixties then. If he had such a large female fan group at his age, I wondered what his fan-base was when he was a tall, fair and handsome young man, according to his close friend and author, Sirsendu Mukhopadhyay.

He qualified as a Chartered Accountant, but switched over to writing though his initial steps were halted. He would recall his first stepping into the Anandabazar Patrika office to meet noted author Ramapada Choudhury, who edited the Sunday supplement. Along with a story, he carried a letter of recommendation from another noted author. Choudhury took the short story and in front of Guha, shredded the letter to bits and threw these into the waste-paper basket. But he recognised from the story that here was a writer who would go a long way.

The Pooja Special number of Anandbazar Patrika, 1963 published his novel The Man-eater of Sitagadh which perhaps, founded the special genre that set Guha apart from his peers and made him famous – novels and short stories revolving around forest zones in different parts of West Bengal and in other states especially in Jharkhand such as McCluskieganj, Palamau, the Sundarbans and other jungles which became integral to his very life and reached beyond his writing. “Nature is my first and lifelong love. The backdrop of Nature will remain the main ambience of all my writing,” he once said.

Guha was very urbane in his lifestyle. He was one of the first to create characters representing easy-going, upper middle-class modern Bengali families, whom readers could identify with, and that gave him instant popularity. His novels and short stories are characterized by their dreamy abstractness and romantic appeal. His essays reveal the soul of a true wanderer providing some of the most beautiful renditions of travel in Bengal. His love for forests and nature are the backdrops for many of his novels.

This love for Nature and for travelling through the natural habitats of the State led to another school of writing for him – writing for children and adults both for which he created a completely separate series with the imaginary character Rijuda and his sidekick Rudra which was an adventure-travel series that earned him great popularity as a writer with a genre of his own. His first book in the Rijuda series was Rijudar Shonge Jongoley which totalled around 28 novels. Around 6 books on children revolved around a character named Rivu such as Parnomochi which explored the sexual awakening of a boy in adolescence.

His life offers a model lesson on how a writer should live his life. He travelled wide through England, every country in Europe, Canada, America, Hawai, Japan, Thailand and East Africa. The birds, bees, animals, flora and fauna were his friends and his main trigger for writing as well. He would always say that the heart played a more significant role than the head for any writing and did not believe in distancing himself from his characters. He fell in love with and later married Ritu Guha, a distinguished Rabindra Sangeet exponent he met at Dakshini and did not shy away from stating that his novel Khela Jokhon was based on their love story. The couple were separated for some years in between but came together again later on. Ritu Guha passed away ten years ago leaving two daughters behind. His first published book that brought him fame was Jungle Mahal and his Madhukari is said to be his most popular bestseller that went into several editions. Some of his novels have also been made into films.

He wrote around 100 novels, Among several awards, he won the Ananda Puraskar in 1976, Shiromani Puraskar; and Sharat Puraskar. The Library of Congress has over fifty titles by him.

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Published: 31 Aug 2021, 4:03 PM