Ohetuk Adda on the 21st January 2017, Bonophool
Bonophool, which means wild flower, was the pen name of Dr. Balai Chand Mukhopadhyay, a pathologist by qualification and a practicing medical doctor. He shot into prominence as a novelist, poet, playwright and a short story writer representing the neo modernist Bengali literature that started with the famous Kallol movement. The soul of this movement was to break the strong hold of Tagore’s influence on the Bengali reader and introduce a more pragmatic and dynamic prose that would articulate social conflicts rather seek only the sublime. However, the Kallol movement had its own snobberies and promoted a Calcutta centric culture and language. Since Bonophool was raised, educated and lived in Bihar, a province that though part of the larger Bengal subah during the Mughals, became a separate province under the British, he was considered to be a nonresident Bengali and assumed as not being capable of producing meaningful works in Bengali. In the post-Independence days Bonophool was not included in school and college syllabus and hence continued to remain largely peripheral to the Bengali literature.
His name, Bonophool, thus truly expressed his angst at being shunned by the city, notwithstanding the fact that he was also fond of the forest and loved his walks in the woods for which he was nicknamed as junglibabu in Bihar. However, he did have an all India fandom especially since many of his novels and short stories were made into films both in Hindi and Bengali so much so that the Government of India issued a commemorative stamp in his memory on his 100th birth anniversary. He also received the Padma Bhushan and an honorary doctorate for literature (could not find the University).
Besides novels and plays, Bonophool wrote some poetry as well and belonged to the school that wrote simple verse telling simple stories without much layering of complex ideas, perhaps also a reason for his not being part of the mainstream Bengali literature. But it were his short stories which can really be said to have made a mark. He wrote his stories really short with snappy tangy punches, piquant and vitriolic, his idea was to demolish the pretentious snobbery of the Bengali city bred elite as being superior in values and morals to the bucolic and rustic people who live in villages or work at the bottom of the rung in cities as rickshawpullers and coolies. In his novels and stories, the so-called small people always seem to be one up on the elites, the former appear as being smarter and despite their simplicity as more honest, spontaneous and integrated people. He also speaks of women who remain incarcerated in their roles as wives in the homes of the fashionable and modern men claiming to have a monopoly of good values. With such inversions one wonders whether Bonophool is not a post-modernistist who sees through the modernist and nationalistic ideology as being yet another kind of colonialism. Despite his strong ideological layering, it is his use of style that will continue to make Bonophool unique. He raised the Bengali language to a new level of expression and in fact, one may well call his short stories as constituting a break in the use of language in the production of literature, something which Pyari Mohan Mitra’s Alaler Ghore Dulal had done almost a century earlier.
Although Bonophool started off as a young guard criticizing Tagore, Tagore and he became close to each other. Tagore sensed that Bonophool’s sensibilities were very much like his, in identifying that nationalism was becoming an affair of the elite where values and morals were being imposed upon the populace. The simple people much like the flowers in the wild survived in their cultural and moral integrity against the domination of the modernity and nationalism. Tagore described Bonophool’s pen as spicy, sharp and strident. Shonibaarer Chithi, a journal that tried to give space to writers and poets from the mofussil and the suburbs promoted Bonophool actively as someone who brings in a fresh perspective with a punch. Bonophool is not one who explores emotions, he is not one to present lofty ideals, nor one with many layered symbolisms who would produce new cultural idioms. His straight and strident style was nihilistic, annihilating any and every one in a position of moral authority especially those which flowed from sites of incumbency in social and public institutions. While there have been Tara Shankar Bandopadhyay and Manik Bandopadhyay who spoke about the subaltern and their perspective, few, if any could annihilate the institutions of social domination like Bonophool did.