Premendra Mitra

Premendra Mitra

Premendra Mitra (প্রেমেন্দ্র মিত্র) (1904-1988) was a renowned Bengali poet, novelist and short story writer. He was also an author of thrillers and science fiction.

Life

He was born in Varanasi, India. His father was an employee of the Indian Railways and because of that, he had the opportunity of travelling to many places in India. He was a student of South Suburban School (Main) and later at the Scottish Church College in Calcutta. During his initial years, he (unsuccessfully) aspired to be a physician and studied the natural sciences. Later he started out as a school teacher. He even tried to make a career for himself as a businessman, but he was unsuccessful in that venture as well. After trying out the other occupations, in which he met marginal or moderate success, he rediscovered his talents for creativity in writing and eventually became a Bengali language author and poet.

Editor

He edited Bengali journals and news-magazines like Kollol, Kali Kalam, Banglar Kotha, Bongobani, Songbad, among others.

Works

His work was first published in the Bengali journal called 'Probasi' (meaning The Exile) in 1922. His poems were better known for their sharpness and wit. They also expressed empathy for the sufferings of the proletariat. His short stories were well-structured and innovative, and encompassed the diverse to the divergent in urban Indian society. The themes of poverty, degradation, caste, the intermittent conflict between religion and rationality and themes of the rural-urban divide are a thematically occurring refrain in much of his work. He experimented with the stylistic nuances of Bengali prose and tried to offer alternative linguistic parameters to the high-class elite prosaic Bengali language which has been largely inspired by Tagore and his followers.

He even wrote science fictions and thrillers. As Debjani Sengupta observes in her essay Sadhanbabu's Friends: Science Fiction in Bengal from 1882-1961:

...he [Mitra] also wrote brilliant and innovative science fiction. He had himself stated that SF not only talked of utopias, but that the best of them were based on firm scientific temperaments and facts. Two of his most well known stories are Piprey Puran (“The Story of the Ants”) and Mangalbairi (“The Martian Enemies”). Piprey Puran begins with a dislocation of time from present reality: “This happened many years ago. Everything was strange then... The Earth was beautiful to look at! The ground was covered with soft green grass. Countless varieties of plants sported many hued flowers, and at night the sky was covered with thousands of stars – it was a wonderful sight”. This displacement, when our present has become a thing of the past, introduces a comic note in an otherwise sombre story. This future world, now real, is overrun with Ants, huge in size, intelligent and organised. They have defeated the humans in battle, having taken them completely unawares. When humans were busy fighting each other, the Ants had begun their preparations to take over the planet. Six feet tall, they had emerged from their hideouts in the Andes Mountain and had begun their assault in the year 7757. One by one the cities of Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador came down like blocks of cards. A cavalcade of monstrous Ants had completely surrounded the few remaining humans and had annihilated them. The only man who escaped unscathed was Don Perito who escaped to Mexico. He was the first human to describe the destruction wrought by the Ants. Within a few years the Ants had taken over Guyana, Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina. The weapon of mass destruction that they used was a powerful bomb attached to the body of an Ant. They also used advanced technological weapons. In the battle that they waged with the humans, the Ants used a kind of searching, powerful light, somewhat green in colour. This light took away human sight in an instant. Under this onslaught all the nations forgot their enmity and came together to fight the common enemy.

This story of the battle of the Ants and Humans is broken into small sub-sections with first-person narrations. The first narrator is the storyteller who begins the story. Soon it is broken by the diary of Asesh Roy, an explorer who had first seen the Ants in 6757. The third narration is by Señor Sabatini, a famous writer of Rio de Janeiro who describes the third deadly attack by the Ants. The fourth and final narration is by Sukhomoy Sarkar, who was imprisoned by the Ants for five years and who gives the most comprehensive details of the social and economic organisation of the Ants. These breaks in the narrative structure create very interesting fissures in an otherwise continuous story. They not only make the impossible appear possible (because of ‘eye-witness’ accounts), but give a certain detachment to the narrator so as to emphasize the moral of his tale. This moral is to be found in comparing the Ants with humans, in which the humans are perhaps found wanting. The description by Sukhomoy Sarkar of the society of Ants makes this clear. The Ants live in an advanced democracy where there are no differences in wealth. What they do have are Ants of differing abilities. The intelligent Ants provide the scientific and technological know-how and are strategists who look after the state. They are highly advanced compared to humans in knowledge and social structures, and have a strict sense of justice. The moral that we see in Piprey Puran can also be seen in Mangalbairi. When the Earth is attacked by Martians who poison its entire ecosystem by planting a new kind of seed that grows into a deadly flora that spreads like wildfire, all nations are united to fight this common enemy. “In this hour of danger... the one cause of happiness is that... humans have forgotten enmity as if by some magic. The whole world is united today”. In both these stories Mitra hints at a time when the very existence of humans will be endangered, when common flowers and trees will be a thing of the past.

Although these are more popular among Bengali-speaking school children and teenagers, they are popular among an older generation of literary aficionados as well. In particular, his creation of the character of Ghanada (meaning elder brother Ghana) may be seen from many perspectives: although Ghanada is apparently a disinterested unemployed middle aged male, and who can apparently weave adventures almost at the drop of a hat, the adventures themselves cover themes ranging from crime, human ingenuity, science, history, geography, metaphysics and philosophy. In terms of facts, they are amazingly accurate. It is obvious that while Ghanada himself has not been involved in any of the adventures he claims to have taken part in, he is certainly a very learned man with an exceptional gift for storytelling. Ghanada may be seen as Mitra's parody or caricature of the Bengali urban middle class celibate intellectual, who is at home in the world of books and knowledge, but has little practical experience whatsoever. It is also interesting to note that like Satyajit Ray's Feluda, the older Ghanada although not abhorring the opposite sex, is not entirely at ease with them either. He stays at an all-male hostel and maintains an almost frugal existence. Ghanada is a self educated person and his education is mostly due to time spent at the local libraries. In a way, it could be argued that these stories also reflect larger patterns of social transformations.

Another masterpice of his creation was the character of "Mejokorta". Mejokarta was a famous "Bhootshikari", meaning ghost-hunter in Bangla. The series of Mejokarta, although not as long as that of Ghanada, has left its prominent mark in the genre of ghost stories in Bangla.

Mitra's literary works were included in the curriculum of school level, secondary, higher secondary and graduation level Bengali literature in Bangladesh.

Poems

  • Prothoma (First Lady)
  • Somrat (The Emperor)
  • Ferarri Fouj (The Lost Army)
  • Sagor Theke Fera (Returning from the Sea)
  • Horin Cheeta Chil (Deer, Cheetah and Eagle)
  • Kokhono Megh (An occasional Cloud)

Novels

  • Paak(The Turn)
  • Michhil (The Procession)
  • Uponayon (The Ceremony)
  • Agamikal (Tomorrow)
  • Protishod (Revenge)
  • Kuasha (Fog)
  • Protidhoni Fere (Return of Echo)
  • Monudadosh
  • Piprey Puran (The Story of the Ants)
  • Mangalbairi (The Martian Enemies)

(For novels centered around the character of Ghanada, see the article on Ghanada)

Short Story Collections

  • PonchoSor
  • Benami Bandar (Unknown Monkey)
  • Putul O Protima (Doll and Clay Image of Goddess)
  • Mrittika (Earthen image)
  • Ofuronto (Endless)
  • Dhuli Dhusor
  • Mohanagar(The Great City)
  • Jol Paira (Water Pigeon)
  • Sreshto Golpo (Best Stories)
  • Nana Ronge Bona (Knit with Different Colours)
  • Nirbachita (Selected)

References

  • Golpo Songroho (Collected Stories), the national text book of B.A. (pass and subsidiary) course of Bangladesh, published by University of Dhaka in 1979 (reprint in 1986).
  • Bangla Sahitya (Bengali Literature), the national text book of intermediate (college) level of Bangladesh published in 1996 by all educational boards.

Nana Range Bona is not only a short story collection, but it is the only known autobiography of Premendra Mitra.

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