Amita Bhose

Amita Bhose

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Chronology of life and works

February 9th, 1933 Amita Bhose is born in Calcutta, India, to Sudhir Kumar Bhose, a lawyer with Calcutta Supreme Court of Justice as well as with New Delhi Supreme Court, and Pratima Bhose, a housewife. Her family is deeply involved in artistic and scientific activities. Her grandfather, J.C. Bhose, was a renowned orientalist and a member of the Asian Society, who was awarded the "Cobden" medal by the University of Cambridge for his research in the field of Indian Studies.

Her father, S.K. Bhose, was awareded the "A.N. Dev" Prize by the University of Calcutta for research in the field of law. In recognition of his rich teaching activities, he was elected member of the University of Calcutta Senate and of the Asian Society.

Her maternal grandfather, T.N. Mitra, was the first graduate of and the first to obtain his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Calcutta's Faculty of Humanities. Various members of her family had made significant contributions to Indian culture. For instance, N.C. Bhose set up the Indian Boy Scouts organisation for young people, and her father's uncle on his maternal side, N.C. Chunder, was one of Mahatma Gandhi's close associates. His son, P.C. Chunder, who was for a while minister of education and culture, was a scientist of considerable repute even outside India. This intellectual climate was to mark Amita Bhose's cultural background as well as her future career.

1953 She graduates from the Faculty of Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics of the University of Calcutta.

1954 She marries Dipak Kumar Ray, Ph.D., an engineering geologist.

1959 She follows her husband to Romania, where he comes to specialise in oil geology, D.K. Ray being one of the first Indians to benefit from the scientific agreement concluded between the two countries. In order to absorb and become familiarised with the mentality and spiritual life of the Romanian people, she enrols in a Romanian language and literature course, at the end of which, two years later, she passes an exam and is issued a proficiency certificate in the Romanian language.

1961 She returns to India with her husband.
May - She makes her press debut with an article entitled "Rabindranath in Romania", published in the famous Desk (Tara) literary gazette, in the special issue celebrating Tagore's birthday. From this point on, she becomes a regular contributor to various Indian magazines and newspapers, with articles in both Bengali and English on India's culture and socio-political life or on Romanian culture and literature, from which she also translates. She also begins to be invited by universities, schools, cultural associations or by the radio to give lectures on various aspects of convergence between Indian and Romanian cultures.

1962 (1963, in some biographyes) She starts working as deputy editor-in-chief (a position she will hold until 1971) with the Publicity Department of Damodar Valley Corporation run by the Indian government and headquartered in Calcutta. In this capacity, she supervises the institution's magazine, D.V.C. Samachar, in Bengali, Hindi and English, as well as other publications. At the same time, she works as the literary editor of Damodar Valley Project Reports (5 volumes), printed in English under the aegis of the Indian Government's Planning Committee. She also contributes articles to Bharatakosa, an Indian encyclopedia in Bengali.

1964 She is the cofounder of the Bichitrita Association (a Literary, Music, Dance and Drama Society) in Calcutta, led by Prof. P.C. Gupta, an academically renowned historian and a close associate of Tagore. As secretary general (1964-1966) and, later on, literary secretary (1966-1971), Amita Bhose organises literature, folklore and theatre conferences, musical shows as well as a symposium on the history of Indian cinematography.

From this moment on and in time, due to her thorough involvement in the research of Indian culture, she will attain a high level of specialisation and will be recruited into many famous cultural associations. Thus, she becomes a member of the Asiatic Society of India; "Rabindra Bharati" Society; Bangla Sahitya Parisad (the Association for the Study and Research of Bengali Literature) in Calcutta; or the Oriental Studies Association of Romania; she is also granted lifetime membership to Vishva Bangla Sammelan (Bengali Culture World Association) and to the Rama Krishna Mission Institute of Culture in Calcutta; she will also become a member of Presidency College Alumni Association, European Branch in London..

1965 She graduates from the Bengali-English Faculty of the University of Calcutta.

Calcutta is also the place where Nam-na-jana-tara, her Bengali version of Mihail Sebastian's Steaua fara nume (The Nameless Star), is performed. It will be played for the radio in 1967.

1966 Her mother dies.

1967 On the invitation of Institutul Român pentru Relaţii Culturale cu Strãinãtatea (Romanian Institute for Cultural Exchanges) she comes to Romania for the second time, establishing new cultural ties.

1968 She divorces D.K. Ray. In documents and publications between 1954 and 1971 she appears as Amita Ray.

In Calcutta, she publishes Amrao svapna dekhi (We Also Dream, 1969, in some biographies), translations into Bengali of contemporary Romanian poems, and Cenasonar baire (Beyond the Familiar World), the journal of her travels to Romania. Indian radio channels consider it "the best book on a foreign country".

August 1969 - Eminescu: Kavita (Eminescu: Poems) is published in Calcultta. We discover the details of the intense labour of translating these poems in her paper "Eminescu read by Indians", which she delivers at a University of Bucharest conference: "My purpose was not necessarily to reach a perfect translation of the physical body of words, but to understand the poems' spirit, to delve into their enigmatic and tempting depth, to live the anguish felt by their author. ['] For me, translating Eminescu was not an artistic experiment or a language exercise; it was more of a deep spiritual experience I cannot begin to define." The volume gathers 35 of Eminescu's poems published both during his life and after his death, translated into Bengali and accompanied by a short introduction to the poet's life and work. This was the first translation of Eminescu's poems in India and the second in Asia.

In New Delhi, the Indian Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi) publishes her translation of Mihail Sadoveanu's Bordeienii (The Barefooted) under the Bengali title of Mattir Kutire, as part of the UNESCO programme, this being the only Romanian novel ever translated in India through this international organisation. Of her own initiative she continues to translate books, sometimes as a freelancer or renouncing her copyrights. Being the first Indian philologist to study the Romanian language, she had no Romanian-Bengali dictionaries at her disposal, so she often had to find her own equivalents to Romanian words and to choose between their specific connotations in different texts.

Calcutta hosts the premiere of Home Guard, her adaptation of I.L. Caragiale's O noapte furtunoasã (A Stormy Night).

Between 1969 and 1971, she will have a column in the women's page of the Jugantar, an Indian newspaper. She writes about local traditions and social aspects, her articles being later on, in 1972, collected and published under the title Alapinir alapani (Woman-to-woman Talk).

1970 Her adaptation of Mihail Sebastian's Jocul de-a vacanţa (The Holiday Play), Chutir khela, is published in Calcutta, its stage and radio premiere having taken place the year before.

This year also sees the publication and staging of Harano cithi, her adaptation of I.L. Caragiale's O scrisoare pierdutã (A Lost Letter).

August 1971 - On the invitation of the Writers' Union of Romania, she participates in the Translators' International Congress held in Neptun.

Her father, Sudhir Kumar Bhose, dies.

December - She enrols in a doctoral programme of the Faculty of Romanian Language and Letters of the University of Bucharest, on a scholarship from the Romanian government. Her thesis is The Indian Influence on Eminescu's Philosophy and her superviser is Prof. Zoe Dumitrescu-Buşulenga. In "Argument", an article published in Facla magazine (XXI, new series, first year, issue no. 2771 [1], July 1990, page 10), she identifies the sentimental reasons behind her decision to return to Romania. "After my father passed away, in 1971," she writes, "I went back to Romania in search of a love haven among the Romanian people".

1972 She works as a collaborator with the Oriental langages Department of the University of Bucharest, teaching an optional course in Bengali language and literature. She teaches exclusively in Romanian.

She is awarded the Writers' Union Prize for her translation of Eminescu into Bengali.

1974 As part of her scientific activity with the Oriental languages Department, she writes a Bengali language course. Since she lacked a typewriter with Bengali characters, with the help of her students she caligraphed the entire course - as she will do with the next courses - so that it could be printed (typographies did not have Bengali characters either).

1975 She defends her Ph.D. thesis at the Faculty of Romanian Languange and Letters (University of Bucharest). Entitled The Indian Influence of Eminescu's Philosophy, it establishes a series of new points of contact between Indian and Romanian cultures as found in Eminescu's works, and attempts to change the accepted opinion of Romanian literary critics on Eminescu's Indian sources. George Munteanu, the poet's well-known biographer, writes in his report on the thesis: "This aspect of the poet (pandit-poet in the Indian world, ed.) was revealed to me when, after a longer meditation on his deep relations with the ancient Romanian philosophy, with traditional wisdom, I grasped that this should indeed be the basis for a new biography of Eminescu". Reports were also given by Zoe Dumitrescu-Buşulenga, Sergiu Al-George, Şerban Cioculescu, Constantin Ciopraga, Alexandru Piru.

Albatros Publishing prints her translation from Bengali Proverbe şi cugetãri bengaleze (Bengali Proverbs and Thoughts).

She publishes a collection of translated Bengali fairytales, entitled Povestea prinţului Sobur (The Story of PrinceSobur), at Ion Creangã Publishing.

1976 Her scholarship over, she goes to India for six months, then she visits her brother, Pulak Bhose, in England. He lives in St Albans, near London. Pulak Bhose is the one who supports her throughout her life, both spiritually and financially, paying for her plane tickets and even for the books she bought abroad for her Romanian students. Amita Bhose was paid in lei like any other Romanian teacher, and had no financial support from the Indian government, as did other visiting Hindi professors.

In St Albans, she receives a letter from Prof. Cicerone Poghirc, the head of the Oriental languages Department, in which it is announced that the Ministry of Education would grant her a two-year postdoctoral scholarship so that she could take part, together with other specialists, in the scientific editing of Eminescu's work. Thus, she is asked to join the Eminescu Team formed under the aegis of the Museum of Romanian Literature. In this capacity, she writes a study on the influences Indian philosophy had on Eminescu's literary prose, which will be included in Volume VII of the Works published by the Romanian Academy Publishing in 1977. She also gives the final version to the text of the Small Sanskrit Grammar by Fr. Bopp, translated by the poet but never published, and adds the specific critical apparatus. Eminescu's manuscript is transcribed by transliterating Sanskrit words with Latin letters and diacritics. This three-year-long labour was published in Volume XIV of the Works series, by the same publishing house, in 1983. As she was only an external collaborator of the Team, she continued her teaching job at the University.

She participates in the second Translators' International Congress, hosted by Bucharest.

February 1977 She applies for a stable domicile in Romania, in the absence of which she cannot hope to obtain a full-time job or get a house. For the love of Romanian culture, which motivated her in taking this step, she writes in her application form that she is willing to sell her properties in India and transfer the money to Romanian banks.

The second edition of her Bengali Language Course is published.

December - In India - where she came for a month's holiday - the Romanian Ambassador awards her the medal commemorating Romania's Independence, for her activity in the field of Romanian culture.

1978 She gets a job as a substitute reader at the Oriental languages Department and teaches practical courses (grammar and translation classes, tn.) in Sanskrit and Bengali, as well as theoretical courses in Indian civilisation and aesthetics. In the 1978-1979 school year, she also teaches a special course in compared Indian and Romanian cultures at the World and Compared Literature Department of the University of Bucharest (Faculty of Romanian Language and Letters). As in the case of her Bengali and Sanskrit courses, she had to take everything from scratch. Although a Romanian professor had taught an elective Sanskrit course for 30 years, this had failed to create a solid foundation or a tradition. In time, following a serious study of the methodology of teaching Sanskrit to foreigners, she successfully wrote a 300-page-long Sanskrit textbook. This was unique to European languages. Unfortunately, the textbook was never published.

Junimea Publishing in Iaşi publishes her Ph.D. thesis, with a new title: Eminescu şi India (Eminescu and India). In the book's preface, Professor Zoe Dumitrescu-Buşulenga writes: "It is for the first time - and I find the moment deeply meaningful - that an Indian mind has lent itself to Eminescu's work and judged not by its own yardstick, but by that of a millenary culture of the East".

Scrisori rupte (Torn Letters), an anthology of Rabindranath Tagore's letters, is printed by Univers Publishing. This is the first translation into Romanian done from the Bengali originals, the rest - which had been available before - being done from other European languages.

February 10, 1979 Her application for a stable domicile in Romania is approved.

1980 Considering the active interest shown by students in Tagore's mother tongue, she proposes that a Bengali Language and Letters Department should be set up, in parallel with the Hindi Department and covering the teaching of Sanskrit and of Indian civilisation. She offers to teach all courses for all four school years.

If teaching Hindi had a practical value, Bengali and Sanskrit became invaluable from a literary perspective, as the languages in which some of the most important world masterpieces were written. Still, this proposal, although approved by the Ministry of Education and endorsed by the Indian Embassy, remained, for financial reasons, only a project.

Nevertheless, Amita Bhose managed to keep their status as elective courses, teaching weekly two-hour courses in each, the students' results - who came not only from the University of Bucharest, but also from other higher education institutions - being simply astounding, despite not receiving at least a graduation certificate.

Many synthesis works were written during that period; there were translations done from Bengali and Sanskrit, some of which were published by prestigious cultural magazines, such as Ramuri, Convorbiri literare, Orizont, România literara etc.
What motivated and spurred on these remarkable accomplishments was the loving relationship between students and their teacher, their feeling of mutual respect in the true Indian tradition.

1981 Aided by the renowned Sankritologist Sergiu Al-George, she sets up and runs an Indian Studies Circle within the Indian Civilisation course delivered at the University of Bucharest. The Circle's meetings took place once a month and were attended by students and by numerous cultural personalities from outside the University. First, the papers were read. Then they would be discussed, questions would be asked and answers given. At eight o'clock, the doorman would knock at the door, which signalled the University's "closing time". Then the circle would move to the confectioner's across the street, also known as the "Headquarters", where they would remain until ten o'clock, when this also closed for the night. Discussions would be resumed and carried out on their way home.

In the literary-artistic shows organised in Bengali and Sanskrit between 1974 and 1985, her students played and directed Rabindranath Tagore's Sesh reksha, originally written in Bengali and translated by Amita Bhose into Romanian under the title Dragostea încurcã, dragostea descurcã. This was the first performance of an Indian play in Romania. Fragments from this production were included in Romanian radio shows for foreigners and broadcast by the local TV channel in Calcutta. An excerpt from Amita Bhose's translation was published in Ramuri magazine, in Craiova, in 1982.

Sergiu Al-George dies unexpectedly, causing Amita Bhose great suffering.

1982 Although Indian Studies have nothing to do with the transcendental meditation movement (which, in its turn, has no connection with the real yoga, being orchestrated, at the time, from an European country by a person who had been deported from India), Amita Bhose's activity is subject to severe restrictions. Her Indian Civilisation course is suspended for a period of four years, and the Indian Studies Circle, kept under strict and visible surveillance, is forced to interrupt its activity. At its last meeting, although a delegation from the Indian Embassy was scheduled to participate, the audience was significantly reduced. Certain measures were taken to also reduce the number of students at the Sanskrit course. At a certain point, under the pretext that she had accepted students from outside the University, an attempt was made to cut her salary for the entire school year. The annual performances given by her students were not cancelled, but the audience was rigorously controlled, the access of spectators from outside the University and of the student-actors' relatives being now strictly forbidden.

She translates one of the most representative Sanskrit plays, Mrcchakatikan (Cãruţa de lut) by Sudraka (2nd century B.C.E.). It is the play's first translation into Romanian and, at the same time, the first translation of a Sanskrit play into Romanian.

1983 She translates Marin Sorescu's play Iona (Jonah) into Bengali.

1985 Her 15.000-word Bengali-Romanian Dictionary is published by the University of Bucharest Printing Press. As already mentioned, the 850 pages were written by hand by her and her students, and then printed.

1986 An attempt is made to degrade Amita Bhose to teaching assistant by cutting her reader classes. This is the beginning of a sinuous underground movement to remove her from her position at the University, whose climax will be reached in the years following the Revolution. If these were mere egotistical maneuvers to rob her of her academic position or something more, we will probably find out only when and if her Securitate (the communist political police, tn.) file is declassified.

1988 Her Bengali Language Textbook is published by the University of Bucharest Printing Press, the first such didactic instrument for foreign students who want to learn contemporary Bengali, written from her actual experience as a teacher. The New Delhi-based Indian Letters Academy publishes Amita Bhose's version of Iona.

1989 Without a qualified Hindi teacher available for classes, the Oriental languages Department allows the enrolment of students in this discipline for the school year 1989-1990, keeping the status of elective courses for the Bengali and Sanskrit classes for which there were already numerous requests and an available teacher - who had been so for 17 years - Amita Bhose.

1990 The pressures on Amita Bhose to leave the University grow stronger: a fresh graduate of Romanian-Hindi bursts into her classroom and pretends she is the real professor for the curse, threatening that she would file a complaint with the ministry; another student uses offensive words whenever they meet and even tries to assault her in her own house; she receives strange phone calls; she is indirectly offered foreign currency so that she could leave Romania. She won't be intimidated by all this, convinced as she is that Romanian society gave her an important place in its culture, and tied as she is to this culture she feels so passionately for.

March 20th - She reads in the Official Gazette, where available permanent teaching positions were advertised (following the decision of the Ministry of Education to make permanent the jobs of substitute teachers) as well as opportunities for a higher academic position, that her reader position (7th on the list) had become available but with a serious supplement of classes - Hindi, Bengali, Sanskrit and Indian Studies - which no human being could possibly cover. Since 1978, when she was hired as a substitute reader, she had been teaching elective Bengali and Sanskrit courses, one theoretical course and a seminar in Ancient Indian Civilisation for first to fourth-year Hindi students (minor specialisation), and a special course in Indian aesthetics for fourth-year Hindi students (minor specialisation). Ancient Indian civilisation and Indian aesthetics are only partial aspects of Indian Studies and cannot be assimilated to the subject as such, a subject for which universities in other countries have a separate department. And, for reasons unknown to her, the courses she taught in the Hindi Department were all registered as simply "Hindi". While other teaching positions had a clear description of the sujbects the respective professor/lecturer had to teach in their courses (e.g. lingustics, syntax, history of literature etc), for her position only these four broad subjects were mentioned. Under these circumstances, the respective reader had to be able to teach and undertake all didactic and scientific activities pertaining to these subjects. In other words, she was supposed to run four departments single-handedly.

She sends a request to the Faculty of Foreign languages, in which she asks - quite justifiably - that her courses should be adjusted and that she should be promoted to lecturer, since she had been with the University for over 18 years. The situation of her courses is not rectified, so she does not sign up for the public contest to occupy the position; nor does anyone else, as there is nobody else qualified for this position in Romania. Under these circumstances, she requests the University and the Ministry of Education that her annual contract should be extended, so that she may be able to keep her job as substitute reader. None of her requests (approximately 15, totalling over 50 pages) is answered, whether they be handed over personally or registrered officially. The requests sent by Hindi students, in which they asked that Bengali should be studied officially, are also ignored.

At the end of the school year, her position is cancelled.

Nevertheless the Ministry of Education and Science recommends that she should be re-hired at the beginning of the 1990-1991 school year, but her salary will be approved only five months later. At the same time, following a proposal filed by an initiative committee made up of her former students and cultural personalities, and supported by a committee in India, the Ministry sets up "Bharat tirtha" ("Indian Pilgrimage") Centre for Indian Studies and Research and puts her at its helm, with Professor Zoe Dumitrescu-Buşulenga as honorary chairwoman.

The Centre functioned within the Oriental languages Department of the Faculty of Foreign Languages. Despite the scarce advertising, over 100 students and staff members enroled in the free courses of Sanskrit, Bengali and Indian civilisation.

The Indian Civilisation course she taught to regular students of the Hindi Department was reassigned to a museum curator.

September 1991 The Centre for Indian Studies and Research is disbanded and her position, revoked.

October 1st - She is forced to transfer to the Romanian Academy's Institute of Ethnography and Folklore, where she works as a researcher in Indo-European Studies. Between 1991 and 1992, she teaches Bengali, Sanskrit and Indian civilisation at the Open University of Bucharest.

July 1992 In order to finish her research project A Comparative and Contrastive Study of Romanian and Indian Proverbs, she requests a leave of absence and the permission to do research in Indian libraries, the Institute having to pay nothing but her usual salary in lei.

July, 20th - September 26th - She is in India, hosted by her elder brother from Calcutta.

September, 27th - Exhausted, yet extremely happy to have set up new bridges between her native and her adoptive countries, she returns to Romania. She ignores the hepatitis she developed in India against a background of stress and the many humiliations she has put up with for the past two years, and checks into Colentina Hospital only eleven days after her return, not before having completed a project for the Institute and having settled the last details for the new school year at the Open University of Bucharest.

October, 24th - At 9 a.m., following an unsuccessful operation, Amita Bhose passed away in almost complete anonymity.

Worried by her long silence in hospital, her brother Pulak Bhose had arrived in Romania the day before and managed to catch her still alive.

October, 27th - According to Indian tradition, her body is cremated. Those who came to pay their last respects were many. Former students gathered from all over the country to say good-bye and recite from Eminescu. At her brother's request, the urn with Amita Bhose's ashes remained in Romania, as a natural, yet premature fulfilment of the destiny of a woman who, for 30 years, served Romanian culture with utmost devotion.

She left, in manuscript and ready for printing, the following: a translation of Sudraka's Sanskrit play Mrcchakatikan (in Romanian, Cãruţa de lut); a translation of Candidas' Radha and Krshna (in Romanian, Dragostea lui Radha şi Krshna) one of the most beautiful, most tender love poems in Bengali literature; Doi pui de cerb (Two Deer Calves), an anthology of proverbs for children by Chitrita Devi, translated from Bengali.

She left unfinished the following projects: Tagore in Romania (in Bengali); Bengali Language Textbook (in English); Sanskrit Language Textbook (in Romanian); a detailed study entitled Proverbe indiene, proverbe româneşti (Indian Proverbs, Romanian Proverbs).

1997 Science Publishing prints Natyasastra, tratat de artã dramaticã (the Natya Shastra), an encyclopedia of ancient Indian art and culture which formed the basis for all Indian art forms. She began translating it from Sanskrit in 1987, with the help of a former student, Constantin Fageţan. With the translation already in an advanced stage at the moment of her death, it was left to her collaborator to finish it.

1998 Mihai Dascal Editor publishes a compendium of studies and articles written between 1973 and 1989, entitled Maree indianã. Interferenţe culturale indo-române. (The Indian Tide. Romanian-Indian Cultural Crossroads.)

2001 Mihai Dascal Editor publishes Eminescu, an anthology of studies and articles on Eminescu written between 1972 and 1991.

2008 Polirom Publishing prints Cele mai frumoase basme bengaleze (Selected Bengali Fairytales), co-translated from Bengali by Carmen Muşat-Coman.

2009 Her former student and associate Carmen Muşat-Coman sets up Cununi de Stele Publishing, devoted to the publication of Amita Bhose's work.

Published so far:

Proverbe şi cugetãri bengaleze, (Bengali Proverbs and Thoughts), colected, edited and translated from Bengali
Radha şi Krişna, de Chandidas (translated from Bengali)
Maree indianã. Interferenţe culturale indo-române
Eminescu şi India (Ph.D. thesis)
Proza literarã a lui Eminescu şi gândirea indianã
Eminescu şi limba sanscritã
Dialoguri cu Amita Bhose: Eminescu este magnetul care ma atrage spre Romania
Sãrbãtori sezoniere din India
Manual de limba sanscritã, vol. I-I,
Scrisori rupte, de R. Tagore (translated from Bengali)
Dragostea încurcã, dragostea descurcã, de R. Tagore (translated from Bengali)
Soarele din prima zi (poems R. Tagore, translated from Bengali),
Dicționar de verbe sanscrit-român.
Proverbe si cugetari sanscrite, translated from Sanskrit.
De la Durga puja la lumea lui Kalidasa - emisiuni radiofonice
Sergiu Al-George vazut de noi, indienii.
Cosmology of Mihai Eminescu.

To be published:
Manual de limba bengali
Manual de limba sanscrita, vol.III
Eminescu si Tagore
Dictionar bengali-roman
Eminescu: Kavita - in Bengali and Romanian
During her lifetime, she published, in both foreign and Romanian magazines, over 56 literary translations from Romanian into Bengali as well as over 90 articles and studies. She delivered over 100 conferences and spoke on radio shows, and she gave over 20 interviews on cultural topics.

Translated from Romanian by Alina Popescu

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