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Nabaneeta Dev Sen passes away

Dev Sen had announced she was suffering from cancer
Nabaneeta Dev Sen
Nabaneeta Dev Sen
Telegraph picture

Our Special Correspondent   |   Calcutta   |   Published 07.11.19, 09:01 PM

Nabaneeta Dev Sen, poet, novelist and academic, breathed her last at her south Calcutta home on Thursday evening. She was 81.

Dev Sen had announced she was suffering from cancer.

Her spontaneity, unique style of expression, vast and varied experience of life are evident in her poems, short stories, novels, plays, travelogues, literary criticism, essays and works of children’s literature. Some of her well-known works are Bama-bodhini, Nati Nabanita, Srestha Kabita and Sita Theke Suru.

Her Radhakrishnan Memorial Lecture series at Oxford University, a pioneering work on The Ramayana seen from women’s viewpoint, in 1997 started a new school of studies on Sita across the world.

Dev Sen is survived by her daughters Antara and Nandana, from her marriage of 17 years to economist Amartya Sen. Her last rites would be performed on Friday, before which she would be taken to Jadavpur University, a family friend said.

The daughter of the poet-couple Narendra Dev and Radharani Devi, Dev Sen grew up in a literary milieu and graduated from Presidency College. She received her masters degree from JU in 1958, where she later taught in the comparative literature department till her retirement in 2002.

She was also an alumna of Harvard University, from where she took a masters with distinction, and of Indiana University, where she did her PhD. She then completed her post-doctoral research at the University of California in Berkeley and Newnham College, Cambridge University.

The recipient of the Padma Shri and the Sahitya Akademi award was a polyglot, reading Hindi, French, German and Sanskrit among other languages.

A friend of over 50 years, author Sirshendu Mukherjee reminisced: “She had an unbelievable sense of humour and spontaneity. So infinite was her vitality that sitting next to her was like sitting by a dynamo. She had a lot of health issues, always going around with an inhaler. Yet nothing seemed to touch her. She was without fear and beyond prejudices.”

Lauding both her poetry and prose, Mukherjee said he had lost “a favourite author”. “She may not have written for children as much but what she has written is amazing. She also spoke up for a definite place for women in society through her work.”

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee expressed grief over Dev Sen’s death. “Saddened at the passing away of noted litterateur and academic Nabaneeta Dev Sen. A recipient of several awards, her absence will be felt by her myriad students and well-wishers. My condolences to her family and admirers,” Mamata tweeted.

Her last photographs made public were with Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, when the economist came to meet her at her home Bhalo-Basha on October 23 during his brief sojourn to Calcutta after winning the Nobel Prize.

That photograph of her smiling radiantly through an oxygen tube attached to her nostrils will endure.

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