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Master of the rhyme is dead

Calcutta, Oct. 28: Author, essayist and poet Annada Shankar Ray died here this afternoon after prolonged illness. He was 98. His wife, Lila Ray, had passed away in 1992.

The condition of Ray, who was admitted to the SSKM hospital some time back with several ailments, turned worse this afternoon. The end came around 3.50 pm.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee described Ray as “a doyen of Bengali literature.”

“His contribution to Bengali literature was immense. His verses gave a new form to Bengali rhyme and instantly won our hearts. As the founder-chairman of Bangla Akademy, he always gave us valuable suggestions,” Bhattacharjee said at Writers’ Buildings.

This evening, the chief minister took home with him as “a treasure” a copy of one of Ray’s last letters to him, written from his bed at the SSKM on October 15. Ray had expressed his gratefulness to Bhattacharjee for visiting him at the hospital.

The chief minister will go to the hospital tomorrow morning to pay his last respects before Ray is driven away for cremation around 2 pm.

Born in 1904 at Orissa’s Dhenkanal, Ray secured first-class Honours in English from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. He topped the list of Indian Civil Service examinees in 1927.

After serving in various administrative posts, he sought voluntary retirement in 1951 to devote himself to literary pursuits. Ray was a Gandhian in politics and Rabindranath Tagore inspired his literature.

A Bengali rendering of a short story by Tolstoy and an appraisal of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s essay Narir Mulya marked his debut on the literary scene at the age of 16.

His first published book was Tarunya (1928), which gave him a footing as an essayist. His first two novels were Asamapika and Agun Niye Khela. As an essayist, he was urbane and sophisticated and combined in his craft two different styles of prose, represented by Tagore and Pramatha Choudhury.

Ray was equally versatile in rhymes. His short poem after Partition, Teler Shishi Bhanglo Boley..., is oft-quoted.

A significant breakthrough in his literary career came with the publication of Pathe Prabase, a brilliant diary of his Europe trip, in 1931.

Ray also established himself as a short-story writer. His collections include Prakritir Parihas (1934), Man Pavan (1946), Kamini Kanchan (1954) and Katha.

He received the Vidyasagar Smriti Award from the state government and the Padma Bhusan. He was made a fellow of the Sahitya Akademi in 1989. The Visva Bharati conferred on him the Desikottama and an honorary D.Litt.

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