Here is an excerpt from the Introduction in the module that conveys a sense of what it is about:
'In the realm of hunger, the world is prosaic
The full moon is like scalded bread.’
This powerful imagery concludes a poem (‘Hey Mahajibon’ from Chharpatra) that opens with a call to ‘wipe away the poetry-softened chimes’ for the harshness of the times demands the ‘stern hammer of prose’. The fiery Bangla poet and author of these lines, Sukanta Bhattacharya, would succumb to tuberculosis at the age of 20, three months before India would formally gain independence from the British. In his short lifetime, however, the poet witnessed some of the most difficult years Bengal and its people lived in the twentieth century—in the last few years of his life alone Bengal saw the Famine of ’43 and the Calcutta Killings of ’46, the latter of which triggered several Hindu–Muslim riots in Noakhali (in present day Bangladesh), Bihar and Punjab. Sitting in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 2022 in relative privilege and comfort, the losses—quantifiable and worse, otherwise—are practically impossible to envision.
Like with Sukanta Bhattacharya’s ‘Hey Mahajibon’, the scarring impact of these events made their ways into the recorded expressions of many writers and artists, offering us an avenue to engage with a past we have inherited, whether or not we choose to identify or claim it. This module looks at the Bengal Famine of 1943—a history that continues to remain largely missing from mainstream textbooks in India—with a specific focus on the works of Chittaprosad.