Shakti Chattopadhay (Bengali: শক্তি চট্টোপাধ্যায় Shokti Chôţţopaddhae) was a Bengali poet and writer, widely regarded as one of the greatest poet of 20th century Bengali literature.

Early Life

Shakti Chattopadhyay was born at Baharu village in modern-day South 24 Parganas district, Paschimbanga (West Bengal), India to Bamanath Chattopadhyay and Kamala Devi. He lost his father at the age of four and brought up by his maternal grandfather. He came to Bagbazar, Calcutta in 1948 and got admitted to Maharaja Cossimbazar Polytechnic School in class VIII. Here he was introduced to Marxism by a teacher. In 1949 he established Pragati Library and started a hand-written magazine, Pragati, which was soon changed into a printed one, changing the name to Bahnishikha. He passed Matriculation Examination in 1951 and got admitted to City College (Mirzapur branch) to study commerce as his maternal uncle, who was a businessman and also his guardian, promised him a job of an accountant. It was the same year when he got membership of the Communist Party of India (CPI). In 1953, he passed Intermediate Commerce Examination, but gave up studying commerce and got admitted to the Presidency College (now Presidency University, Kolkata) with Honours in Bengali literature but he did not appear in the examination.

Early writings

In 1956, he had to leave his maternal uncle’s home and moved to a slum at Ultadanga along with his mother and brother. At this time he was solely dependant on the meagre wages of his brother. In March 1956, his poem "Yama" was published in Kabita, a literary magazine published by Buddhadeb Bose. After that he started writing for Krittibas and other magazines. Buddhadeb Bose also invited him to join the Comparative Literature course in newly-opened Jadavpur University. He joined the course, but could not complete it either. In 1958, he terminated his relationship with the CPI.

He worked at Saxby Pharma Ltd. as a store assistant and later taught at Bhowanipur Tutorial Home (Harrison Road branch). He also started a business himself and ran it for sometime before he gave up and joined Hind Motors as junior executive. But he could not continue anywhere. He started indulging in a wayward lifestyle and drinking heavily.

Shakti started writing in 1950s, but is usually associated with the generation of poets in 1960's. Regarded with great acclaim in Bengali literature, Shakti is equally well known for his legendary bohemian lifestyle. Most of Shakti's life was spent in Kolkata, India. During Allen Ginsberg's stay in India, the American poet is said to have developed a close friendship with Chattopadhay, and both are said to have influenced each other in various ways.

Shakti Chattopadhyay’s first collection of poems, named হে প্রেম, হে নৈঃশব্দ্য "He Prem, He Noihshôbdo" (O Love, O silence) came out in 1962. These poems were written at Chaibasa, Singbhum district in Bihar (now in Jharkhand) where he was guest of Samir Roychoudhury for a few years and fell in love with Samir's sister-in-law, which changed Shakti from a novelist to the best lyric poet after Rabindranath Tagore. In the next thirty-two years, he wrote around two thousand five hundred poems which were published through forty-five books.

Hungry Generation

Along with Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shakti remains the most famous poet of his generation. He was the leader of the Hungryalists (হাংরি আন্দোলন), also known as the Hungry generation poets, which changed the course of Bengali poetry once for all. He was one of the founder members of the Hungry generation movement which started with the publication of a one page bulletin in November 1961. He, along with Malay Roy Choudhury, Samir Roychoudhury and Debi Ray had launched the movement in November 1961 from Patna where Malay resided at that time. However he left the movement in 1963 due to differences of opinion with the other members. In fact, till date Hungryalism (হাংরি আন্দোলন) remains the only literary movement in Bengal. With Sunil, he was instrumental in the influential Krittibash magazine. These two poets are often referred together as "Sunil-Shakti" due to their friendship, poems and personal exploits. Together with two other friends, they feature in what is probably the most representative poem of that generation of poets, containing the now famous line মধ্যরাতে কলকাতা শাসন করে চারজন যুবক "Moddhorate Kolkata shashon kôre charjon jubok" (In midnight, Kolkata is ruled by four young men).


In 1983, he received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his collection of entitled যেতে পারি কিন্তু কেন যাবো "Jete Pari Kintu Kêno Jabo" (I can go but why?).


This ever-bohemian legend died on March 23, 1995.


Apart from the sensational popularity that Shakti Chattopadhyay has attained among the lovers of modern Bengali poetry, he has also been the subject of serious academic research. Dr. Kuntal Chattopadhyay, Associate Professor in English at Narasinha Dutt college and a Guest Faculty in the Department of Bengali, University of Calcutta, did his Doctoral research on the Poetry of Shakti Chattopadhyay under the supervision of Dr. Sumita Chakraborty.The said thesis has also come out in the form of a book called "Mrityur Pareo Jeno Hete Jete Pari": Shakti Chattopadhyayer Kavita--Bishay, Prasanga O Prakaran''.

Shakti Chattopadhay's Works:


হে প্রেম হে নৈঃশব্দ্য He prem he noishshôbdo
ধর্মেও আছো জিরাফেও আছো Dhôrmeo achho jirafeo achho
সোনার মাছি খুন করেছি Shonar machhi khun korechhi
হেমন্তের অরণ্যে আমি পোস্টম্যান Hemonter ôronne ami posṭmên
মাটির বাড়ি Parer kantha maṭir baṛi
চতুর্দশপদী কবিতাবলি Choturdôshpodi kobitaboli
প্রভু নষ্ট হয়ে যাই Probhu nôshṭo hoe jai
সুখে আছি Shukhe achhi
ইশ্বর থাকেন জলে Ishshor thaken jôle
অস্ত্রের গৌরবহীন একা Ostrer gourobhin êka
জ্বলন্ত রুমাল Jôlonto rumal
ছিন্ন বিচ্ছিন্ন Chhinno Bichhinno
সুন্দর এখানে নয় Shundor ekhane nôe
কবিতার তুলো ওরে Kobitar tulo ore
আমি ছিঁড়ে ফেলি ছন্দ তন্তুজাল Ami chhĩṛe feli chhôndo tontujal
হেমন্ত যেখানে থাকে Hemonto jekhane thake
আয় আমি যে পাথরে Ae ami je pathore
যেতে পারি কিন্তু কেন যাবো Jete pari kintu kêno jabo.

Poems by Shakti Chattopadhay

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