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A different approach towards Linguistic Communication: Bengali writers opt for English



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Let’s start from the 1950s. It was the advent of the Writers’ Workshop in Calcutta that initiated the trend of writing in foreign languages on a large-scale basis; an endeavor by the poet and essayist P. Lal, it was his idea to advocate and publish Indian writing in English. Though examples of the same were galore in the past (Rabindranath Tagore and Michael Madhusudan Dutt requires a special mention here, though what they did were more of individualistic efforts rather than a movement), it is for the first time that it started occurring on a large-scale commercial basis. Eminent writers like Pritish Nandy and Sasthi Brata who found English as the apt medium to express themselves were immensely benefited; the success of the workshop still makes it a happening phenomenon and provides a forum for English writing in India.



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The trend has seen huge advancements in the recent years; the ever increasing demand of Bengali writers using English as their preferred language has created a pro-commercial effect in the publication industry and the demand is on an upswing! A truth that became evident nine years back, it was in June 1997 that Amitava Ghosh’s cerebrations were put up in a special fiction issue of The New Yorker; though a joint effort with co-writer Abraham Verghese, the incident pre-defined what was to come.


So who are the most worthwhile Bengali writers who have had and would like to continue writing in English? Below is a list of a few names; however, we didn’t include here Rabindranath Tagore and Nirad C. Chaudhuri (author of The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian) since they are already known to the mass.


Arundhati Roy: The authoress of The God of Small Things is a trained architect and the winner of the 1997 Booker prizewinner for the book. A home grown writer, in her own words.


Bharati Mukherjee: The authoress of Jasmine (1989); her expertise lies in the issues involving immigration and identity in the United States and Canada.


Amit Choudhury: The co-author of The Vintage Book of Indian Writing and The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature (the other one is Salman Rushdie) is an essential name. He, however, has a question – "Can it be true that Indian writing, that endlessly rich, complex and problematic entity, is to be represented by a handful of writers who write in English, who live in England or America and whom one might have met at a party?"


Till now, it’s the prose section we discussed; now it’s the time to focus upon the often over-looked category of poetry. Rabindranath Tagore and Michael Madhusudan Dutt being the finest examples, the field also had players like Toru Dutt, Romesh Chandra Dutt, Sarojini Naidu and her brother Harendranath Chattopadhyaya, most of who are now forgotten or is remembered only by distinct clans.



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But the bottom line being an increasing number of Bengali writers in English (thanks also go to the BPO industry for creating a writer in every household though they are more of machines than writers), it has become a sort of a competition that if not controlled by the publication industry who are in a constant hunt to find the next new whiz-kid, the wheat shall become indistinguishable from the chaff and our own Bangla shall face a coma in not-so-distant a future.


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