Bimal Mitra Popular contemporary Bengali writer

Bimal Mitra (1912-1991) was one of the most popular contemporary writers in Bangla and Hindi. Born in 1912, he had decades of writing novels behind him. Some of his more popular books have been made in to vastly appreciated films like the Guru Dutt classic "Anyaroop" (in Bengali) or "Sahib, Bibi aur Gulam" in Hindi (Gentleman, Lady and the Slave).

Bimal Roy, one of the most famous Bengali writers"Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam", one of my favourites, is the story of Chotti Bahu, the younger bride of a feudal family in Calcutta and her fight to win her husband from alcohol and courtesans till she herself becomes an alcoholic, and then her desperate fight to come out of it. Chotti Bahu's story is closely linked to that of a poor rural boy, Bhootnath, in love with the Jaban, the daughter of a widower Brahamasamaji father. In the background, there is the independence struggle from the British rule and the reformist movement of Hinduism.

In his long-spanning career, Bimal Mitra has written more than 100 books and short stories. As a child I remember reading his novels in a serial form in the Hindi magazine Saptahik Hindustan. His last book that I read is called "Dayare se bahar" (Outside the boundaries). The beginning of this book is strange. He starts by saying that this is a new version of his first novel "Rakh" (Ash) and that earlier, he had finished the story at one point, while today "he knows something more about what happened to the main actors of his story" so this new part has been added.

I am sorry that the book published by Sanmarg Prakashan (16 UB, Banglow Road, Jawahar Nagar, Delhi 110 007, India) in 1996, does not give any information like original title of the book in Bengali, the year of first edition, etc.

Reading "Dayare se Bahar", was like reading other books of Bimal Mitra, in the sense, once you start it, the human story grips you and you can't put it down. The four main actors of this book are Shekhar, the idealist revolutionary who has left his rich father's home in search of India's independence; Suruchi, the young girl who loves Shekhar and is carrying his child; Mrinmayi, the mother of Suruchi, who is sick but decides to playact to be pregnant so that her unmarried daughter's name and honour can remain intact; and finally Sadanand, Suruchi's intellectual father who is lost in his world of books and ideas. The whole story is played out against the backdrop of second world war.

Reading the book reminded me of the characters in Jarasandh's Tamasi, on which Bimal Roy had based his film Bandini. Though it is more than 35 years since I read Tamasi, I feel that Kalyani was a variation of Suruchi and Kalyani's post master father was a variation of Sadanand.

It also reminded me of the Hindi film Sharada made in early sixties, in which Sharada (Meena Kumari) in love with Raj Kapoor, ends up marrying his father, while in Dayare Ke Bahar, Suruchi marries Shekhar's father, Vilas Chowdhury. Was Bimal Mitra inspired by those other stories or did those others take his ideas or is it because the human stories are often similar?

It is the last part of the book "Dayare se Bahar", that Bimal Mitra described as the "new part of the story that he had discovered later", that he touches on themes of philosophy and spirituality. I feel that through the character of Gaurdass and his dialogues with a guilt ridden tormented Suruchi, Bimal Mitra talks about "his own" philosophy of life. For example, look at the following exchange of dialogue that I have translated (page 252):

Gaurdass, "....Man says, if action is material, it is physical and it is a chain for the spirit. But inside the man, there is a woman, she says, I need work, and need work, thus liberation of soul is in the work - leaving the world is not liberation, darkness is not liberation, inactivity is not liberation. These are all terrible chains. There is one way to cut these chains, through work. Only work liberates the soul and this world is the theatre of our work. How can you leave the world, daughter! If you want liberation than you have to live in this world."

Another one of his books that I read recently is "Jana Gana Mana" in which, the young woman Sandhya Ghosh gives her life for India's independence. In this book, Bimal Mitra explores the use of violence for a cause and concludes, "To keep alive truth, justice and goodness, force needs to be worshipped."

Explaining the role of literature, he writes, "Human beings expect a lot from literature. They expect joy, thrill and contemporary enjoyment. Even more than all these, they expect to receive some thing from literature. The same expectations are there, also from theatre. In literature and theatre, the expectation of enjoyment is much less compared to that of to receive an understanding."

In a beautiful short story "Gharanti" (Housewife), he tells about Mrs. Chowdhury, who wants him to write the story of Lavanya and Niranjan. Mrs. Chowdhury is a madam and supplies prostitutes to rich clients. Lavanya is one of her gilrs, who falls in love with Niranjan and gives up on her profession, to join an office. Lavanya and Niranjan need money and a rich client Phulchand is willing to pay for a night with Lavanya. This story is part of an anthology of best short stories in Bangla edited by Basu Bhattacharya.

One of the most well known and popular Bengali author, may not considered very literary, nonetheless, loved by hundreds of thousands of his readers, yet Bimal Mitra almost does not exist for the internet. There is a two line entry on the Wikipedia and a search with Google Images, does not bring even a single picture of Bimal Mitra.

(Updated September 2007)