ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Sunil Gangopadhyay: A Writer and a Star

Sunil Gangopadhyay, the popular Bengali author and president of the Sahitya Akademi, died in October last year. In this article a friend shares memories of the writer who has been a huge influence on Bengali life and letters. The Trinamool Congress government at first responded in a perfunctory manner to Gangopadhyay's death but on seeing the huge crowds - the largest since Tagore's funeral - the party took over the funeral and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee led the procession to the cemetery.

Sunil Gangopadhyay, the most prolific and certainly the most popular writer in Bengal since Rabindranath Tagore and who was also the president of the Sahitya Akademi, died on 23 October 2012. Before the funeral took place on 25 October the body lay first at Peace Haven, a mortuary and was then carried in a cortege to Rabindra Sadan, a state-owned theatre. Two extraordinary events took place during those two days. First, there was a huge surge of people from all walks of life – writers of course but also ordinary men and women, old and young, from different parts of the city and beyond at the Rabindra Sadan in a great show of affection and respect. Nothing like this has been seen in West Bengal in our lifetime and perhaps not since the still-talked-of frenzied scenes at Tagore’s funeral 72 years ago. Gangopadhyay, known for his antipathy to the previous Marxist government in West Bengal (though he shared with it his amiable atheism and detested any type of sectarian prejudices), had in the last two decades come to build a bond with it. The alchemist was the then chief minister of the state Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who was a decade younger and a great admirer of the writer. The two became close and that gave Gangopadhyay a connection of sorts with the then ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) – the CPI(M). But he also rued the fact that there was no effective opposition to the CPI(M) and spoke of the Trinamool Congress and its leaders with distaste. He used the word “nauseating” to describe the party and the leaders. It was not surprising therefore that except for a formal message of condolence to his family there was no reaction from the state government now under Trinamool rule.

The crowd at the funeral kept growing bigger and bigger leading to the second event – a display of hypocrisy bordering on the vulgar. The party in power panicked. It sent hordes of its cadres to take over the funeral. They formed almost a human cordon around his flower-bedecked body to keep out any CPI(M) elements, Gangopadhyay’s numerous friends and all but his closest relations. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself took charge with a bull horn and led the procession to the crematorium. Nothing like this too had been seen in the state before.

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