Litterateur, academician & Sahitya Akademi awardee Nabaneeta Dev Sen passes away

Kolkata: Sahitya Akademi awardee writer Nabaneeta Dev Sen died at her south Kolkata residence on Thursday after battling cancer, family sources said.

Nabaneeta, 81, leaves behind two daughters Antara Dev Sen and Nandana Sen.

Married Amartya Sen in 1959 but were divorced in 1976: In 1959, she married Amartya Sen, an economist and academician and then a Lecturer of Economics at the Jadavpur University, who would be awarded the Nobel prize four decades later. They became the parents of two daughters, Antara Dev Sen and Nandana Sen, but were divorced in 1976. She lived in Kolkata in Bhalobasha with her adopted daughter Srabasti Basu.

Her hobbies included reading, records, and travelling. In addition to Bengali and English, she read Hindi, Oriya, Assamese, French, German, Sanskrit, and Hebrew.

Nabaneeta, ailing for some time, was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. Her condition deteriorated and she could not speak for the last few days. The end came at 7.35 pm.

Her last journey started at 11 am on Friday from her residence Bhalo-basa.

Won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1999 and Padma Shri a year later: A poet, novelist and short-story writer, Nabaneeta won the Sahitya Akademi award for her book Naba-Nita in 1999, and a year later was honoured with the Padma Shri.

Immensely talented Nabaneeta, known for her life force, wit and humour in both personal life and creations, wore multiple feathers in her cap — she was a brilliant student, internationally-acclaimed academician, linguist, polyglot, thinker, liberal, curious globe trotter, mesmerising speaker, and one who fearlessly expressed herself on issues affecting the society and the polity.

Went to Harvard University to do Masters: Born on January 13, 1938 to the poet-couple Narendra Dev and Radharani Devi, Nabaneeta graduated from Presidency College and obtained her M.A. degree from Jadavpur University, before proceeding to Harvard University to do Masters.

She completed her PhD from Indiana University and did her post-doctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley and Newnham College, Cambridge University.

Nabaneeta joined the comparative literature department of Jadavpur University and retired as a professor in 2002.

Away from the Indian shores, she delivered the Radhakrishnan Memorial Lecture series on epic poetry at Oxford University in 1996-97 and held the Maytag Chair of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Colorado College in 1988-89.

Her first collection of Bengali poems was published in 1959: Her first collection of Bengali poems Pratham Pratyay was published in 1959. She has to her credit close to 100 books across literary genre — Bengali poetry, short stories, plays, novels, literary criticism, essays, travelogues, humour and translations.

She also delved into children’s literature, churning out popular and engrossing fairy tales and adventure stories, with girls as protagonist.

She researched for years and analysed “Ramkatha” from Sita’s viewpoint. Chandrabati Ramayan is one of her notable works.

Widely feted for her genius and literary contributions, Nabaneeta won the Mahadevi Verma award in 1992 and the Kamal Kumari National Award in 2004.

Mamata Banerjee, Amartya Sen pay tributes: Condoling her death, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, Dev Sen’s death was an irreparable loss to the literary world.

Speaking from the USA, Amartya Sen paid tributes to her. “She was an extraordinary talent, writer, thinker and researcher, with great humane feelings. Her absence will be felt,” he said.