The story goes that when Samar Sen was the Night Chief
Sub-Editor of  The Statesman some time in
the Fifties, the formidable Editor, George Arthur Johnson, had called up to be
briefed on the day’s top stories. “I’m too busy,” was the almost astonishingly
blunt retort from the gentleman in charge of the desk, marking an abrupt end to
the Editor’s “night call”… during peak hour. When Johnson recounted his
experience at next morning’s editorial conference, Lindsay Emerson immediately
left the high table  and  drove down to Sen’s residence… to
congratulate him on how he had cut the Editor off.                      

The autumn issue of Frontier, of which Samar Sen was the
founder-editor, has appropriately been devoted to his centenary as a mark of
profound respect for the man. Sad to reflect though, it has somehow missed such
anecdotes as when he had hacked Jawaharlal Nehru’s address to the AICC session
to one paragraph. It was a truly extraordinary career as poet, journalist —
with AIR, The Statesman, Hindusthan Standard, and then as editor of  Now — not to forget his career as translator
in Moscow and eloquent sympathies  for
the Left radicals. The striking feature of his working life being that it was a
brief stint wherever he went, including an advertising agency.  A brilliant student, he had distinguished
himself as a poet, though it remains a mystery to this day as to why he gave up
writing poems.  It is a  mystery that the contributors to the
centenary edition — notably Sumanta Banerjee — have not been able to fathom for
Sen reserved the right not to answer  the
puzzling question — Why? Overall, his career both as a journalist and more
importantly as poet is testament to his somewhat restless and non-conformist
temperament, preferring to live and work on his terms, abjuring the
conventional and the populist. His poems were extraordinary, of a calibre that
many writers would be proud of, but few able to claim.  This is the fineprint of the commemorative
issue — he had distinguished himself and in a remarkably self-effacing manner
long before “lit fests” ,  book fairs and
book “launches”  became sales-promotion
programmes and fashionable diversions for the urbanite.

The special issue has a welter of fairly incisive articles
on the man largely by journalists and academics, including Timir Basu (the
present editor of Frontier), Partha Chatterjee, Sumanta Banerjee, Ashok Mitra
et al. By and large, the presentations scan well-trodden ground and are
therefore somewhat repetitive — the birth of Now in the mid-Sixties coinciding
with West Bengal’s first United Front government, his resignation as Editor in
the wake of differences with Humayun Kabir, the owner, and the emergence of Frontier,
which Lindsay Emerson had once described as “a Calcutta weekly of very crimson
political views”.

Quite the most erudite of the articles is by Samar  Sen himself, indeed the reprint of a piece,
“A City Falls Apart”, that he had crafted for 
The Times of India in 1973.  “CMPO
or CMDA or any other alphabetical combination will not  able to find a way out”. Nor for that
matter  has the born-again KMDA made any
difference… the latest disaster being the collapse of a flyover.  Aside from data, the article is  an 
exceptionally brilliant socio-economic analysis; he has referred to what
was then called Calcutta as a “decaying city” long before Rajiv Gandhi as Prime
Minister had called it a “dying city” — a statement of fact that had punctured
egos across the political spectrum.  It
is the literary flavour that moves the reader, with the author’s inimitable
three-word sentences. To add value to a commemorative publication, the
publishers ought to have featured more such articles by Sen. More’s the pity on
his centenary.

By Arindam Ghosh-Dastidar

(The reviewer is a senior editor, the statesman)