A writer who taught readers to love nature | Sunday Observer
Buddhadeb Guha

A writer who taught readers to love nature

12 September, 2021

Eminent Indian - Bengali writer Buddhadeb Guha passed away two weeks ago on August 29 at the age of 85. He is a prolific author of 105 novels and famous young adult book series ‘Rijuda’ which includes 28 books. Though only a few of his books are translated into English, he is considered one of West Bengal’s most acclaimed and popular novelists. His romantic novels and stories relating to nature, particularly forests, captivated readers for more than 50 years, and they teach us to love the nature. Particularly, his Rijuda stories—a series on Rijuda, a hunter-turned- conservationist—was an evergreen favourite not only among teenagers but also adults.

According to news reports he had passed away on the night of August 29 following a prolonged illness after contracting Covid in April this year. His elder daughter, Maleni, said on social media, “Buddhadev Guha is no more. He was blessed as to be one with the Divine on the night of Janmashtami (Lord Krishna’s birthday) 2021. Do join his family and friends in celebrating his Life.”

Condolences on passing

A multitude of condolences poured out over his death, and Prime Minister Narendra Moditweeted, “Shri Buddhadeb Guha’s writings were multifaceted and displayed great sensitivity to the environment. His works were enjoyed across generations, particularly among youngsters. His passing away is a big loss to the literary world. Condolences to his family and admirers. Om Shanti!”

And Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister, said in her message, “I am deeply saddened by the demise of the eminent writer Buddhadev Guha. He passed away in Kolkata last night. He was 85 years old. Buddhadev Guha, the prominent author of Bengali literature, has written notable books, including ‘Koel’, ‘Kojagar’, ‘Madhukari’, ‘Jangalmahal’, ‘Charibeti’ etc. He is also the creator of two popular fictional characters in Bengali literature – Rivu and Rijuda.”

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also expressed deep shock and sorrow at the death of the eminent litterateur. She prayed for the eternal peace of the departed soul and expressed sympathy to the bereaved family.

His life

Buddhodeb Guho) was born on June 29, 1936 in Kolkata.

He spent his younger days in different parts of West Bengal as well as present-day Bangladesh.

He has many childhood friends from Bangladesh and those childhood days in Rangpur, Jaypurhat and Barisal later inspired him to write many books in the Rivu series - some of the Rivu books are dedicated to his early-age friends in Bangladesh. To gain his higher education, he attended to the well-known St Xavier’s College of the University of Calcutta. Then there on, he became a highly successful Chartered Accountant.

Buddhadeb Guha was also an accomplished musician, a noted classical singer, a proficient illustrator, a painter and a nature lover. He has learnt Rabindra Sangeet from Dakhkhini under the guidance of Subho Guhathakurta and from Debabrata Biswas. His wife was also an eminent Rabindra Sangeet exponent, Ritu Guha, but died ten years ago in 2011. They were survived by two daughters.

Guha was known to his close associates as ‘Lala da’. As he grew up in city, his lifestyle was also shaped as very urbane. Interestingly, his fiction has a content of country-life.

His fiction Buddhadeb Guha is one of the most prolific and popular writers in Bengal with more than two hundred books to his credit. He wrote close to 150 fictions including young adult books. His debut novel was ‘Koeler Kachhe’. Some of his major works include Madhukori (Honey Gatherer), Koeler Kachhe (Near the Koel bird), Babli, Kumudini, Khela Jokhon, Sobinoy Nibedon (Humble Offering), Kojagar, Ektu Usnotar Jonyo, Choroibeti, Nibedon, Chaprash, Rijuda and Jangalmahal, and all of which, one way or another, discusses human relationships, adventure, nature and human relationship with nature, they may not have any association with political issues.

His most popular young adult series ‘Riju Da’ creates a fictional character called Rijuda or Riju Bose, a hunter-turned conservationist and his side-kick Rudra who explore jungles. The character of Rijuda is as iconic a figure in Bengali literature as Kakababu, created by Sunil Gangopadhyay, or Gogol by Samarash Basu.

An award-winning Bengali film ‘Dictionary’ was also made based on two of his works, Baba Howa (Being a Father) and Swami Howa (Being a Husband).

In recent years, Nabakallol, a prominent magazine in Bengal, serialised Guha’s childhood memories in story form. Its editor and director of publishing house Dev Sahitya Kutir, Rupa

Majumdar spoke about the importance of translating Guha’s books into English after the demise of Guha. She told Times India that “it was the duty of the publishing world and his heirs to have his works translated into other languages including English so that the world at large realises his genius, which is so well recognised in Bengali literature.”

Signature of his literature

Generally, Guha’s novels and short stories are characterised by their dreamy abstractness and romantic appeal. His love for forests and nature provides the background for many of his novels.

The jungles that he wrote about were mainly in Eastern India, but in the pages of books such as Ru Aha, readers will encounter Africa came alive for generations of Bengali children. And his essays reveal the soul of a true wanderer providing some of the most beautiful renditions of travel in Bengal.

According to critics, 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 himinstant popularity.

Recognition as a writer

Baddhadeb Guha is the recipient of many prestigious awards including ‘Ananda Puraskar’ in 1976 for his novel ‘Halud Basanta’, apart from ‘Shiromani Puraskar’ and ‘Sharat Puraskar’. The library of Congress has over fifty titles by him. His most famous novel, according to many, is ‘Madhukori’, and it is considered a milestone in Bengali literature.

Many writers and university lecturers stated their views on Guha when they heard about the death of the beloved writer. Sampa Sen, Professor of Bengali Literature, said:

“After Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhyay, it is in Buddhadeb Guha’s writings that we see such love for nature, particularly forests. His characters also seem to be one with nature, and he would often take his characters out of the urban setting and place them in some remote forest region amid forest dwellers and tribals.

Forest is a recurrent motif in most of his works. He has also shown the relations and connections between the city people and the tribal people or forest dwellers. Another important subject in his writing was romantic love in human relationships.

Those writings were so lyrical that the line between poetry and prose was often blurred. He was among the last of the great popular writers of Bengal. With his death only two such great figures are left — Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay and Sankar.”

He told Frontline magazine that Guha was among the highest selling authors in the 1980s and 1990s, and he impacted on coming generations immensely: “He had made such an impact on a generation of readers that many even named their children after characters created by Buddhadeb Guha, like Rivu, Riju, Rishi etc.”

Joy Goswami, a poet and a close associate of Guha, told My Kolkata magazine, “During our adolescent days Buddhadeb Guha was one of the writers whose writings really inspired us…. All his works, be it Khela Jokhon, Madhukori, Obobahika, Holud Basanta, Koyeler Kachhe, Ektu Ushnotar Jonno, have kindled curiosity and creative pursuits. He is one of my favourites.”

“He was a very humble person. Needless to say, a fantastic and very talented and profound singer…. I remember him singing Sohosha daalpala tor utala je, a popular Rabindrasangeet. I also remember him sing Nabaneeta Deb Sen’s favourite, Aami bandhinu tomar teere toroni amar, in her memorial service at Rabindra Sadan. He was also a good painter.”

Bani Basu, a Bengali writer, spoke of him to My Kolkata:

“My connection with Buddhadeb Guha goes way long back. When I started writing he sent me a letter on a very interesting letterhead with images of jungles.”

“He always used to praise me for my writings. I have always been an ardent admirer of his writings and singing, specially toppa. He had a clear baritone. Actually, he was a man with a multifaceted personality. Anything he spoke about, wrote about or described was engrossing and full of life. He would take keen interest and write about new places with minuscle details. I have always admired his perceptions. The way he took note of human individuality was remarkable.

Anything he described, be it any new food, jungle, place or people, has always been true to its essence. My personal favourite from his writings is Khela Jokhon.... His mortal life may have come to an end but he will live on in his writings.”

Writer Pracheta Gupta told that Guha was a stalwart and pioneer of modern romantic literature.

“His contribution towards Bengali literature is unparalleled. His characters became so popular that people began to name their children after them. His writings were so intriguing that readers were drowned in them. An element of romance was always intricately woven in all his writings.

He will remain immortal in his writings.”

Among others, a translator of Bengali, Parimal Bhattacharya, told My Kolkata:

“I came to know him in the mid-90s. Back then, I was teaching at Darjeeling Government

College. One day I got a letter from him, asking me to translate his novels. Since then, we met many a time in his office at Waterloo Street.”

According to Parimal Bhattacharya, Buddhadeb Guha had undeniably been able to capture the popular imagination of the Bengalis. “He had been able to consciously craft a romantic Bengali character who is an adventurer and nature lover. His Riju-da inherited traits of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Srikanta, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Shankar and Satyacharan and even Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Nillohit.

“In a way, he was carrying out the legacy of Srikanta and Shankar, the adventurous Bengali. He even crafted himself in that mould. Since morning, I see on social media so many people sharing pictures of him wearing a forest ranger’s outfit and hat. He knew the forests intimately, the flora, fauna and the people who inhabited them.”

He said, “I remember even before I started translating one of his novels – I did only one — he sent me a hefty cheque as advance. I didn’t want to accept it but he said, ‘Even I take advance payments from my clients before I start with their job, why won’t you?’ I bought an Olympus typewriter with that money. Even though typewriters went out of vogue a long time ago, I still have it.”

In this way, Buddhadeb Guha inspired a few generations in Bengal like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay and Sunil Gangopadhyay did. As Rupa Majumdar told, it is very necessary to translate his books into many more languages, especially into English, because that’s how the literary grace of him would be established among world arena. Rabindranath Tagore also came from Bengal, and finally winning the prestigious Nobel Prize for literature. So, we are very much needed to recognise writers like

Buddhadeb Guha. Besides that, literature belongs not to one reader, but to all the readers in the world.