Nabaneeta Dev Sen Biography

Nabaneeta Dev Sen
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Nabaneeta Dev Sen
Quick Facts

Birthday: January 13, 1938

Nationality: Indian

Died At Age: 81

Sun Sign: Capricorn

Born Country: India

Born in: Kolkata, Bengal Presidency, British India

Famous as: Writer

Poets Novelists

Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Amartya Sen (m. 1958–1976)

father: Narendra Dev

mother: Radharani Devi

children: Antara Dev Sen, Nandana Sen

Died on: November 7, 2019

place of death: Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Cause of Death: Cancer

City: Kolkata, India

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education: Indiana University, Gokhale Memorial Girls' College, Presidency University, Harvard University, Lady Brabourne College

awards: Padma Shri
Sahitya Akademi Award

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Nabaneeta Dev Sen was an Indian novelist, academic, children’s author, and poet. She was born in Kolkata, to a poet couple. After obtaining a BA degree in English from Presidency College, she acquired master’s degrees from Jadavpur University and Harvard University. She also did her PhD from Indiana University. Nabaneeta later completed her post-doctoral research, too. She taught at various universities, such as Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, and Jadavpur. She started her writing career with poems but later experimented with prose. Some of her notable works are Ami Anupam, Pratham Pratyay, Truck Bahoney Mac Mahoney, and Sita Theke Suru. Her works encompassed novels, poems, children’s books, travelogues, feminist writings, literary criticism, and essays. Though she predominantly wrote in Bengali, she was well-versed in several languages, such as French, German, and Hebrew. She received many awards, including the Padma Shri and the Sahitya Akademi Award. She was married to economist Amartya Sen, but they divorced later. Nabaneeta died of complications from cancer in 2019.

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Childhood & Early Life

Nabaneeta Dev Sen was born on January 13, 1938, in Kolkata (then Calcutta, part of British India’s Bengal Presidency), India. She was the only child of poets Narendra Dev and Radharani Devi.

Her mother, Radharani Devi, wrote poems under the pseudonym “Aparajita Devi,” which was given to her by the literary legend Rabindranath Tagore.

In her childhood days, Nabaneeta had witnessed many significant events, such as the World War II air raids, the 1943 Bengal famine, and the mass migration of refugees to Calcutta after the partition of India.

Nabaneeta had initially joined the Gokhale Memorial Girls' School. While in school, she had started writing poems in English and Bengali. At 21, her first collection of poems was published.

She was also quite skilled in gymnastics, swimming, and basketball. She often participated in inter-school sports events.

Nabaneeta later joined the Lady Brabourne College. She then earned her BA degree in English from Presidency College, Kolkata (now Presidency University).

She then joined the first batch of the Department of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University. She obtained her MA degree from the university in 1958.

In 1961, Nabaneeta earned a second MA (with distinction) in comparative literature from Harvard University. In 1964, she earned her PhD from Indiana University.

After she had two daughters, Nabaneeta finished her post-doctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) and the Newnham College of Cambridge University.

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Writing Career

Throughout her life, Nabaneeta Dev Sen wrote more than 80 books in Bengali, which included novels, short stories, poems, plays, literary criticism, essays, travelogues, children’s books, and translations.

Over the years, her works reflected her interest in various socio-political issues, such as the Naxalite movement, the identity crisis of non-resident Indians, the joint family system, AIDS, old age homes, homosexuality, and child abuse.

She started her career with poetry, publishing her first volume of poems, Pratham Pratyay (First Confidence), in 1959. It took her 12 more years to come up with her second poetry anthology, Swagato Debdoot.

In 1976, she published her debut novel, Ami Anupam (I, Anupam), in “Puja Issue” of the popular Bengali magazine Ananda Bazar Patrika.

In 1980, she released her anthology of short stories, Monsieur Hulor Holiday (Monsieur Hulo's Holiday).

Some of her essays, such as Nati Nabanita (Nabaneeta The Actress), published in 1983, are thought to be her best works. She devoted a lot of time to her research and analysis on the treatment of women in epics. Many of her short stories depicted Sita in a way that was much different from how she was portrayed in the Indian epic Ramayana.

Her travelogues, too, were pathbreaking. The bestselling book Karuna Tomar Kon Path Diye (The Path of Thy Grace), published in 1978, was about a woman’s solo journey to the Kumbh Mela.

The 1977 book Truck Bahoney Mac Mahoney (On A Truck Alone, To McMahon) narrated her experience of traveling on a ration truck to northeast India and the McMahon Line (between China and India). The work was later translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha.

Some of her other noteworthy works were Bama-bodhini, Sita Theke Suru, and Srestha Kabita.

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Nabaneeta also made a name for herself as a children's author in Bengali. She was known for her girl protagonists. She had started writing children’s stories in 1979.

Career in Academia and Other Pursuits

Nabaneeta Dev Sen had served as a resident writer at several international artists' colonies, such as Yaddo and MacDowell Colony in the United States, the Mishkenot Sha'ananim in Jerusalem, and Bellaggio in Italy.

In 1996–1997, she delivered a lecture on epic poetry, named the Radhakrishnan Memorial Lecture series, at Oxford University.

She also worked as a visiting/guest professor and a visiting creative writer at renowned universities such as Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, and Chicago in the U.S.; Humboldt in Germany; Toronto and British Columbia in Canada; Melbourne and New South Wales in Australia; and the El Collegio de Mexico.

In 1988–1989, she served as the Maytag Chair of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Colorado College. She had also been part of countless academic and literary international conferences. She also attended the Festival of India USA in 1986.

Nabaneeta was also part of international academic bodies such as the International Comparative Literature Association (1973–1979) and the International Association of Semiotic and Structural Studies (1989–1994).

She served Macmillan as the chief editor (Bengali) of their Modern Indian Novels in English Translation series.

She was also the vice-president of the Bengali literary academy known as the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad. She established the West Bengal Women Writers' Association and served as the body’s president.

She also founded and later became the vice-president of the Indian National Comparative Literature Association. Nabaneeta was also a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain.

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From 1975 to 1990, she was a member and convenor of the Bharatiya Jnanpith Award Language Advisory Committee. From 1978 to 1982, she was part of the Advisory Board for Bengali of the Sahitya Akademi.

In 2002, Nabaneeta retired from Jadavpur University, as a professor of comparative literature. From 2003 to 2005, She served as the J. P. Naik Distinguished Fellow at the Centre of Women's Development Studies in New Delhi. She had also been a University Grants Commission (UGC) senior fellow at the University of Delhi.

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Awards

Some of the countless awards Nabaneeta Dev Sen had received during her lifetime were the Mahadevi Verma Award (1992), the Gouridevi Memorial Award, the Celli Award from the Rockefeller Foundation (1993), the Prasad Puraskar, and the Sarat Award from the Bhagalpur University of Bihar (1994).

In 1999, she received the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award. Nabaneeta was also awarded the Rabindra Puraskar, the Samskriti Award, the Kabir Samman, the Kamal Kumari National Award (2004), the Big Little Book Award for children's literature (2017), and the Mystic Kalinga Literary Award (2017).

In 2000, she received the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award presented by the Government of India.

Personal Life & Death

Nabaneeta Dev Sen married renowned economist and academic Amartya Sen in 1958 (1959, according to some sources). Back then, Amartya worked as a lecturer of economics at Jadavpur University. He later won the Nobel Prize for economics.

Following her marriage, Nabaneeta stayed with Amartya in the U.S. and the U.K. for a few years, while he taught at various universities. They had two daughters, Antara Dev Sen and Nandana Sen. Nandana later grew up to be an actor, while Antara became a journalist.

Meanwhile, Nabaneeta Dev Sen also completed her PhD. In 1974, owing to issues in her marriage, Nabaneeta went back to India. Nabaneeta and Amartya divorced in 1976.

Back then, Nabaneeta Dev Sen had been staying in Kolkata with her daughters. There, she taught at the department of comparative literature at Jadavpur University and raised her daughters single-handedly. Nabaneeta had also adopted a daughter named Srabasti Basu.

In her leisure time, she was mostly found reading, listening to music, and traveling. She was a polyglot, and apart from English and Bengali, she could read Hindi, French, German, Greek, Oriya, Assamese, Sanskrit, and Hebrew.

She was diagnosed with cancer later in life. Even while battling with the disease, she continued to write columns for various publications, including the Bengali newspaper Pratidin.

In her final days, Nabaneeta Dev Sen stayed in her ancestral home, Bhalo-Basha, located in Hindustan Park in Kolkata. On November 7, 2019, Nabaneeta breathed her last in her home in Kolkata.

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