To me Subrata Kumar Das, the celebrated author and erudite scholar, is history, as well as, mystery. History, not in the sense of being past and dead, but in the sense of being present and thriving. Subrata made history in Bangladesh in the past, is making history at present in Canada and, I believe, will make history in future wherever he will be under the sun. In Bangladesh, before he attained the age of fifty and migrated to Canada, Subrata had published more than two dozen books (authored, edited and translated) in Bengali and English. The subject matter of the books, written by him, speaks volumes of his wide range of interest. We can gauge the extent of popularity his books enjoy, if we take into account that many national libraries of Bangladesh, India, Canada, United States, and Australia have preserved his books. Posterity of Bangladesh will never forget the achievements of Subrata as he was pioneer in introducing Bengali literature to the international community through his website (bdnovels.org) on Bangladeshi novels.
In a short span of eight years of his coming over to Canada, Subrata has made history. He planned and arranged a grand day-long ChaitanyaMela, where apart from several cultural programmes, many religious stalwarts, representing Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, made the audience feel the essence of religion, which is to have ‘passion for God and compassion for man.’ Then Subrata wrote his signature book on Chaitany Deb, whom the whole world accepts as one of the noblest men that ever lived here. Subrata’s book on Chaitanya is such a masterpiece that it would be in the fitness of things to throw light on some aspects of the book.
Subrata is a catalytic agent. He not only wrote some outstanding books, he also goaded and encouraged Bengalis to write books themselves. I may mention here that till I attained the age of seventy eight, I had no published book. But now, within a short span of a few years, I have authored three books and the fourth book is likely to be published soon – credit, to a large extent, goes to Subrata. I am not the only person who has become an author, courtesy Subrata, there are others also, whose maiden book has been published with direct and indirect help of Subrata. When Subrata realized that among the Bengali diaspora of Canada, there are many who can write books worthy of publication, but there is no publishing house to help rookie Bengali writers to publish their books. To overcome this obstacle, Subrata came with a grand idea. With the active support of his friends, Subrata established BLRC – Bengali Literary Resource Centre – to extend help to publish books written by Bengalis living in Canada. Canada has never seen coming into being such an institution to cater to the needs of the Bengalis. The extent of spontaneous support that BLRC got from Bengali writers from all over Canada and the enthusiasm with which they participated in the first two Bengali Writers’ Conference, held in Toronto in 2016 and 2017, shows the sagacity and far sight of Subrata and his friends.
To highlight various cultural, literary, social, religious and organizational activities of Bengalis living in Canada, Subrata, with active support and whole hearted co-operation of Shahidul Islam Mintu, started anchoring Television programmes, telecast by NRB Television. Mintu’s innovation and Subrata’s wonderful anchoring have helped the fifty three episodes telecast by NRB Television reach its zenith in popularity. Now Subrata is a household name among Bengali diaspora of Canada. Subrata is untiring in promoting the cause of Bengali literature and has attended many seminars and symposia to serve that purpose. Subrata organized month-long Hindu Heritage Month celebration from NRB in November 2021 and thus illuminated the Ontario government’s declaration.
America has recognized the merit of Subrata also. He has been awarded with the prestigious Gayatri Gammon Literary Award in 2018. Purbayan, one of the biggest Bengali cultural organisations of Canada, accorded a reception to Subrata in their 2020 annual cultural event. The authorities of TIFA (Toronto International Festival of Authors) have, the first time, included Bengali language and literature in their list and they selected Subrata to represent Bengali literature in that international forum in 2020. Subrata not only participated himself, he also included ten more Bengali writers to take part in that gala ceremony. The inclusion of Subrata’s name in the short list of Top 25 Immigrants of Canada for 2021 has been hugely acclaimed by the Bengalis living in Canada.
Within a short span of eight years, Subrata has become a celebrity. Calls come to Subrata from all over Canada and the U.S.A. requesting him to enlighten them about Bengali culture and about the achievements of its torch-bearers. Subrata has made the Canadians realize that, though Bengal is far away from Canada, there is a subtle unity between these two nations, differences of language, religion and culture notwithstanding. With all apology, I would like to take the liberty of quoting below four lines composed by me to highlight this subtle unity in the apparent diversity.
Bengal’s river and Canada’s stream,
Bengal’s bread and Canada’s cream,
Bengal’s fish and Canada’s bream,
Bengal’s vision and Canada’s dream.
Subrata is like a swan. If we see a swan gliding calmly and smoothly on the still water of the lake, we are tempted to believe that it is totally nonchalant and has no concern for the outside world. But if we look into the water below the swan, we will see its feet (webs) paddling frantically in the water making vigorous movements. Its boisterous activities belie its apparent calm and sedate movement on the surface of the water. The same is true of Subrata. In one morning Subrata might have had a meaningful discussion with Anne Michael, the former Toronto poet-laureate, might have a vociferous argument with John Degan or some other dignitary, might have written three pages each on three different articles, while all the time brooding over the plot of a book, planned to be published in near future. But during all these hectic activities Subrata maintains such an apparent calm and composed look, that any person meeting Subrata, would reasonably think that Subrata was as carefree as a naughty boy. In the beginning of this paragraph I compared Subrata with a swan. But, at the second thought, I think that Subrata should better be compared with a seasoned diplomat, who can hide his inner turmoil very tactfully maintaining a carefree attitude to the outside world.
Now I want look into his signature books mostly focusing on the two that he has authored during his Toronto days. Many of us know that he has written on the Mahabharata, the greatest epic of the world, on Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel-laureate poet of India, and on Kazi Nazrul Islam, the national poet of Bangladesh. He has written a book making excellent comparative study between the rebel poet of Bengal, Kazi Nazrul Islam and the rebel poet of Nepal, Debkota. He has also written about Indo-Japanese co-operation of century back; about Korokdi – a village of heritage nearby his own, about how to write as well as a superb autobiographical novel that serves as a mirror for others to peep into the inner life of the author. Moreover, when Subrata completed his Golden Jubilee (fifty years), two books were written on him – one by scholars of Bangladesh who knew him directly or through his writings and another by a rookie writer Rajiul Hasan, who had been charmed by the magic of Subrata’s writings.
Subrata has rightly pointed out that though Shri Chaitanya Deb lived for forty seven years only, and died about six centuries ago, he is still a force to be reckoned with in religion, literature, music, dance and drama in India and abroad. Our attention has also been drawn to the striking fact that though Chaitanya did not write any book himself, hundreds of books have been written about him by his contemporaries, as well as, successors. It is no denying the fact that Chaitanya was a colossal figure in Indian milieu. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that, after Lord Gautama Buddha, Chaitanya was the most influential person living under the Sun. Chaitanya was a catalytic agent that changed the destiny of India. It is also surprising that though Chaitanya did not elaborate his doctrine, many distinguished scholars of international fame, have written volumes about Chaitanya’s doctrine. Subrata has also declared that Chaitanya was the first Bengali revolutionary that shook the very foundation of the Indian society. But, strangely enough, he did not fight with arms, but with instruments of percussion music; his goal was not to conquer other countries, but to conquer the hearts of people. He did not preach hatred, he preached love.
Subrata has rightly asserted that Chaitanya was a great reformer. He freed Hinduism from the shackles of Brahmins and opened its portal to the common man, irrespective of caste, creed, religion and gender. He embraced the untouchables, honoured the women folk and protected the weak and the vulnerable. Chaitanya boldly defied the order of the Kazi, the then ruler of Bengal who banned ‘kirtan’ (devotional song), roared like a lion and organized a rally of the common man and compelled Kazi to withdraw his order. In his book Subrata has chalked out the chronological ,linear and circular developments of Chaitanya’s psyche and highlighted the essence of Vaishnavism during the life time of Chaitanya, as well as, before and after him.
It is a mystery that Subrata, within a short span of two years after coming over to Canada, started reading such a large quantum of Canadian literature, churn the sea of Canadian literature and grasp the essence of Canadianness that enabled him to write a superb book on CanLit, the first Bengali-language one on the genre. The book is a gold mine to me. Bengalese all over the globe would bless Subrata for his gigantic effort to introduce Canadian literature to them. As Chapman introduced the father figure of Greek poetry to the English speaking people, similarly, Subrata introduced the gamut of Canadian literature in a nutshell to the Bengali speaking people. I seize upon this opportunity to record my deep sense of appreciation to Bengalis living in North America, who in no time could understand Subrata’s potential and came forward to render all possible help to him – financial, advisory and others that helped Subrata fulfill his mission of bridging the gulf between the Bengalis and the Canadians.
There might be some genuine objection about the caption of this article. How can I portray Subrata as a boy, when we all know that he is in his late fifties? My humble submission is that I do not think Subrata as a boy by counting his actual age. I treat him as a boy because of the fact that Subrata has a childlike interest in and curiosity about everything around him. He has the simplicity of a child with the maturity of a grown up person.
Dr. Dilip Chakraborty, born in Bangladesh, had formerly served as Principal of Goenka Girls’ College, Lachhmangarh, Rajasthan, India, and now lives in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.