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TORU DUTT (1856–1877)

Toru Dutt was a writer and poet. She was born on 4 March 1856, the youngest child of Govind Chunder Dutt and Chhetramani, of the famous Dutt family of Rambagan, Kolkata, noted for its culture and high moral tone, as well as its western outlook and genuine reverence for Christ. Her early education was entirely in English. Her knowledge of European arts and social customs was amazing even to her father’s cultured English friends. When she was 14 she went to England and spent four years there and in France. French became her favourite language and France the country of her choice. While at Cambridge she started translating French poems into English, some of which find a place in her book, A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields (1876). She wrote letters to Mary Martin of Cambridge. In 1873 the Dutts returned to Kolkata. The remaining four years of Toru’s life were given to a zealous study of English and French literature, to which was added Sanskrit. A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields was well received both in India and England. Later Toru translated sixty new poems for the book and the posthumous third edition, published by Kegan Paul & Co., was acclaimed.

Her two novels and all her other poems, collected under the title Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan, were published by her father after her untimely death at the age of 21 from tuberculosis. They show the nature and quality of her wonderful poetic genius, which tragically remained more a promise than a concrete achievement. Harihar Das wrote her biography, The Life and Letters of Toru Dutt. She wrote:

I knew in such a world as this
No one can gain his heart’s desire,
Or pass the year in perfect bliss;
Like gold, we must be tried by fire.

Reena Jain
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