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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 46

Subrata Banerjee is No More

Saturday 3 November 2007

On October 24, 2007 Subrata Banerjee passed away at his daughter’s residence in Washington at the age of 88.

He was born on November 21, 1919 in Dhaka in East Bengal. Both his parents came from cultured bhadralok families. In spite of many financial and other difficulties his father Sunit Kumar managed to earn his Ph.D. from Birmingham University in 1932 and taught English Literature in several colleges in Bengal and outside Bengal. His mother Nalinibala, who was only 13 when she was married to 18-year old Sunit, was helped to get a school and college education by her husband.

Subrata’s contemporaries in school and college were many notable figures of Bengal who played an important role in Bengal and the country in many fields of life. In Presidency College in Calcutta Subrata did his BA in History and later MA in English. Among his teachers was the distinguished historian Susobhan Sarkar, who introduced him to Marxist thought. Subrata was active in cultural and political work during his college days. He became an active member of the BPSF which at that time had students from all political trends. He became a sympathiser of the Communist Party when it was still illegal. He married Karuna Sen, who was chosen by Satyajit Ray to play the leading role of Sarbajaya in his famous film Pather Panchali. The film was sent to the Cannes Festival, where it won the First Prize, after Jawaharlal Nehru saw it and cleared it even though some bureaucrats in his government were at that time opposed to its being sent abroad.

When after Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union the CPI changed its line and the ban was lifted on it by the British Government, Subrata applied for and was selected as a temporary commissioned officer. After training at the Dehradun Military Academy, he was sent to Burma as a Public Relations Officer. His despatches from the front were greatly appreciated and printed in leading Indian and foreign newspapers. In Burma he met Aung San and his comrades and later also the INA men and had extended interviews with them. When on leave in Delhi he reported on his experiences to P.C. Joshi. At Dr B.C. Roy’s house in Calcutta Nehru gave him an extended appointment of 45 minutes and heard his report on the INA. Subrata was also sent to report from Vietnam, Indonesia and Ceylon. When the war ended he was offered Army assignments in Australia and Japan, but he preferred to join the New Age, the organ of the CPI, and resigned his commission.

After the Second CPI Congress Subrata had to go underground with Ajoy Ghosh and was arrested and sent to Nasik Jail with S.A. Dange; he was secretary of the jail committee.

As a journalist Subrata had wide experience. He worked as acting editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India for some years before Khushwant Singh joined as editor. He also worked as assistant editor of the Economic Times and later as a Professor in the Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi. As he had worked in a leading advertising agency in Calcutta and Bombay, he became a well-known specialist in the art of advertising.

Subrata was sent by Indira Gandhi’s government as the Public Relations Officer in the Indian Embassy in Bangladesh after its liberation and was able to go to his beloved Dhaka with his family, including his mother. They found many old friends in liberated Bangladesh

Subrata worked in the communist movement till the end of his life. He was connected with the IPTA, ISCUS (now ISCUF), AIPSO in leading positions. He worked with P.N. Haksar as executive editor of the prestigious journal Man and Development and was appointed its editor after Haksar’s death.

He is survived by his daughter Shampa, brothers Sumanta and Shamik, son-in-law Anil, granddaughter Piyali and grandson Piyal.

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