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Chronicler of our times

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Nabarun Bhattacharya, who died after a prolonged battle with cancer on Thursday at the age of 66, was the most strident voice that railed fearlessly against the anarchy that Calcutta had spiralled into after decades of Left Front rule by portraying the underbelly of the city. He wielded an inimitable style which was a volatile mix of satire, farce, fantasy and black humour.

Bhattacharya leaves behind his mother, Mahasveta Debi, his wife, Pranati, and son.

Ironically, Bhattacharya, whose father was theatre personality Bijon Bhattacharya, for whom he had great regard, was initially a radical Leftist. The dreadful beauty of his aesthetic can be attributed to his political leanings. But like any writer who can lay claim to greatness, Bhattacharya’s sensibility extended far beyond.

His acclaimed novel Herbert (1993), for which he won the Sahitya Akademi Award, was a heartbreaking and poetic account of the times when the violent Naxalite movement rocked the city. Yet anarchy is the bedrock on which the structure of this slim novel is erected.

Bhattacharya was born at Berhampur in 1948. He studied English at Calcutta University. One of his first publications was a collection of poetry titled, Ei Mrityu Upatyaka Amar Desh Noi, where his voice was sad and elegiac. Although he was not very prolific the impact that he made on the culture of our times is undeniable.

Among his immortal creations are the fyatarus, who have become a household name today. These are fantastical, anarchic, winged Swiftian beings who had taken it upon themselves to attack anything that symbolised the establishment, refinement or culture — from Lalbazar and Writers’ and its hapless denizens to a gathering of poets.

There is besides a gallery of rogues, who embodied the subversive intent of his work — from the ancient crow with a vile tongue, Dandabayas, and Choktar Bhadi to the nubile Bechamani. They made appearances in such novels and collections of short stories as Fyatarur Bombachak, Kangal Malsat and Fyatarur Kumbhipak.

These characters, culled from the underclasses, characteristically spoke in a patois that cannot be repeated in polite society and often recalled the language of Hutom Pyanchar Naksha. Little wonder that when Kangal Malsat was staged in 2006, the police disrupted a show.

Yet at times, Bhattacharya wrote a highly Sanskritised Bengali, as in some of the passages of Herbert. He had published for years a magazine dedicated to translations of European and Asian literature titled Bhashabandhan. Nabarun Bhattacharya will be remembered as a chronicler of our troubled times.