Padma Awards 2021 continues the trend of honouring many unsung heroes who have silently contributed in the field of arts, education and social work. Though the list has no Padma Vibhushan or Padma Bhushan awardees from Bengal, there are seven recipients of Padma Shri from this state, including author Narayan Debnath, table tennis player Mouma Das, social worker Guru Maa Kamalini Soren and educationist Jagadish Chandra Halder.
On Monday, Debnath’s daughter-in-law Archana had to repeat the news several times before the 97-year-old author could fathom what was happening. The first reaction of the country’s senior-most working author was: “Finally, they have chosen me?”
For over 70 years now, Debnath has been creating landmark Bengali comic strips such as ‘Bantul the Great’, ‘Nante Fante’ and ‘Handa Bhonda’. He holds the record of longest running comics by an individual artist for ‘Handa Bhonda’ series, and is the first and only Indian comics artist to have received a DLitt. Even now, Debnath sits at his desk regularly and tries to churn out stories. “But on some days, he goes blank. Those are days when he suffers the most,” Archana said.
Das, a two-time Olympian with many medals at Commonwealth Games and championships, had received a call from the ministry on Monday morning. Dedicating the award to daughter Aditri Das Chakraborty, the Arjuna awardee said: “This award means so much to me. After what happened last year when practice and tournament stopped due to Covid-19, this is a huge motivation to once again bring laurels for India. This is also great news for table tennis and should inspire youngsters.”
For Fulia-based Biren Kumar Basak, this award is a recognition for his work in art and development of weavers. Basak, who once sold saris in the streets of Kolkata, is now the owner of a company with over Rs 25 crore turnover this year. Known for reinventing the traditional ‘jamdani’ motif, Basak now works with 5,000 weavers, among which 2,000 are women. “I am glad that they have become self-sufficient. This award goes to all my weavers,” the 70-year-old said.
Seventy-eight-year-old Sujit Chattopadhyay, a teacher of Uttar Ramnagar Ausgram in East Burdwan, is “very happy” with the recognition. More than a decade and a half post-retirement, Chattopadhyay runs a ‘pathshala’ in his house and coaches students for just Re 1 per year. “I am a very humble teacher who coaches students of Jangalmahal. I never expected this award and am very thankful to those who have recognized my work. I’d want recognition for unsung heroes of villages who are doing good work. That’s what has happened in my case,” he said.
Dharma Narayan Barma too has won the honour. A retired Sanskrit teacher from Tufanganj in Cooch Behar, Barma is known for his contribution towards promoting Kamtapur language. Having worked on the history of the language and writing its grammar, Barma has a number of publications too. Former head of department at North Bengal University Anandagopal Ghosh had written a forward to one of his books. “I welcome this award for him,” Ghosh said.