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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 19, New Delhi, April 24, 2021

Death of a Poet/ Intellectual: Sankha Ghosh (1932-2021) | Arup Kumar Sen

Friday 23 April 2021, by Arup Kumar Sen

Sankha Ghosh, the eminent Bengali poet, teacher, critic and public intellectual died on April 21, 2021, after being tested positive for Covid-19 a week ago.

Other than his identity as a legendary Bengali poet, uniqueness of Sankha Ghosh lies in the fact that as an exemplary teacher at Jadavpur University he inspired several generations of students inside and outside the classroom. Moreover, he was an authority on Rabindranath Tagore, and his writings on different creative dimensions and journeys of Rabindranath opened up new frontiers of Tagore Studies.

Sankha Ghosh was a reticent person. But, he put his moral signature creatively in critical moments of human rights violations in our country.

In spite of his Left leanings, Sankha Ghosh was never a party intellectual. His humanist and critical spirit found expressions in his poems and writings. The feminist slogan - personal is political – found expression in one of his poems in the 1970s, when his beloved student Timirbaran Singha, a naxalite youth, was killed inside Behrampur Jail in 1971- “The Maidan drops heavy in the midst of fog/ route march melts towards the horizon/ I sit low and pick up with my hands/ Your cut-out head, Timir”. (Subhoranjan Dasgupta’s translation)

The Left Front government came to power in West Bengal in 1977 with a lot of promises. But, when the CPI (M)-led government unleashed State terror on the lower caste refugees settled in the Marichjhapi island in the Sundarbans and the police shot dead a number of refugees in 1979, Sankha Ghosh, along with Samar Sen, Benoy Ghosh, Hemanga Biswas, Birendra Chattopadhyay, Badal Sircar and others issued a press release condemning the massacre. Sankha Ghosh also expressed his critique of the massacre in his poems.

In the last phase of Left Front rule in West Bengal, Sankha Ghosh made a strong moral critique of the State violence associated with the land acquisition drive of the government in Singur and Nandigram. His public statements and poems played around that time a major role in inspiring the young activists of the non-party political formation, which was born to protest against the human rights violations under the Left Front rule.

It should be noted in this connection that Sankha Ghosh did not align himself with the new political regime in West Bengal after the fall of the Left. In fact, he criticized the undemocratic practices of the Trinamool Congress government on a number of occasions.

Sankha Ghosh won a number of national literary awards including Sahitya Akademi Award (1977) and Jnanpith Award (2016). But, he did not make compromise with his critical humanist spirit of “Speaking Truth to Power”. He recorded his voice of dissent in the language of poetry against the authoritarian rule of Indira Gandhi in the Emergency years (1975-77). He was a consistent critic of politics of Hindutva and human rights violations under the BJP rule.

Sankha Ghosh was a perfect Bengali gentleman whose humanist and critical spirit, poetic imagination and profound understanding of Rabindranath Tagore have enriched the cosmopolitan cultural tradition of Bengal over the years.

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