Category Archives: Bengali Translations

The Runaway Boy (Chandal Jibon Trilogy) by Manoranjan Byapari. Translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy

The Runaway Boy by Manoranjan Byapari

Title: The Runaway Boy
Author: Manoranjan Byapari
Translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy
Publisher: Eka
ISBN: 978-9389648850
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations Pages: 370
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

The Runaway Boy by Manoranjan Byapari is the first volume of a trilogy, titled, Chandal Jibon. A story of a boy told in three volumes as he makes his way through life.

Little Jibon’s story begins in a refugee camp in West Bengal, as his Dalit parents flee East Pakistan in search of a better life (during the partition of India and East Pakistan), and well because circumstances make them. They do not get treated well in the camp. The harsh reality of it all hits them hard.

In all of this as Jibon grows, he only has one dream: To flee this life of misery and strife. The idea that Byapari’s character’s name when translated is life says a lot which doesn’t need to be elucidated on. So, once he turns thirteen, Jibon runs away to Calcutta in search of a better tomorrow. The elusive better tomorrow that most people who aren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth are constantly aspiring for. All he wants is to work hard and bring back food for his siblings and his mother.

And then there is caste that plays such a big role in the book – the only one I guess when everything is determined by the caste of Jibon – the political that mingles with the personal, the inequalities that exist, the distribution of wealth and property that is absolutely unfair, and more than anything, the book holds a mirror to our society and the world we live in through Byapari’s unapologetic and razor-sharp writing.

The Runaway Boy is a semi-autobiographical book but somehow it doesn’t read like that, or maybe I didn’t bring that to fore while reading it. There is so much the book has to offer – a coming of age story, historical fiction, and in all of this, a story of a person’s life. It is extremely introspective, and yet provides such a holistic view of the world we inhabit. A must-read!

A Ballad of Remittent Fever by Ashoke Mukhopadhyay. Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha.

A Ballad of Remittent Fever

Title: A Ballad of Remittent Fever Author: Ashoke Mukhopadhyay Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9389836028
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was very skeptical when I started reading, “A Ballad of Remittent Fever”. I was scared that medical terminology would be thrown my way and I would be totally lost trying to figure it out. Yes, the terminology did come my way. Yes, I did feel lost a couple of times. But I started enjoying the read. I was in a way enthralled by the extraordinary lives and loves of the members of the Ghoshal Family. The writing converted me.

I think one must also read the book, keeping aside our current situation, if possible. The book is full of references to epidemics, pandemics, and vaccines. That might be hard to do, but I was more involved in the daily affairs of every family member, across time and the non-linear narrative.

The book spans over a hundred years, from 1867 to 1967 – through two World Wars, major diseases, and the forces that propel this family of doctors to ravage and fight those diseases, sometimes also being not-so-aware of the Superman complex some of them have, to wanting to live full lives – professional and personal.

The protagonist (can be called that in a way) Dwarikanath Ghoshal is a man who is at the pinnacle of this unit, with a fierce desire to vanquish diseases that seem incurable. And from there on four generations of the family – in their own way – through Allopathy or Ayurveda try to battle diseases, with the sole intention of making people live.

And then there is the constant push and pull between superstition and medicine, faith in the supernatural and believe in medicine, and alongside all of this – the changes in medicinal science that lends beautifully to the progression of this novel.

The translation by Arunava Sinha is spot on. He wonderfully makes you see Calcutta of the times gone by and how perhaps nothing has changed. Through Arunava’s translation, the book gets another layer of nuance in my opinion.

A Ballad of Remittent Fever must be read for its prose, for the fine intertwining of medicine with life, for the personal battles people fight while trying to combat the professional ones, and what does it take to be a saviour, sometimes referred to as God, and to bear the burden of such responsibility.

 

Romtha by Mahasweta Devi. Translated from the Bengali by Pinaki Bhattacharya

Romtha by Mahasweta Devi Title: Romtha
Author: Mahasweta Devi
Translated from the Bengali by Pinaki Bhattacharya
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-8170462576
Genre: Indian Writing, Novella, Novelette
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

I remember the time the movie Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa had released. It was directed by Govind Nihalani and had got not such a great theatrical release. I think it barely must have released in a couple of theatres in Bombay. The year was 1998. That was the time I got to know that the movie that touched me so deeply was based on a book. I also discovered to my pleasure that one of my favourite movies released five years ago in 1993, Rudaali, was also based on the same author’s short story. Those were the times when great literature was converted to films in Indian cinema – till of course the likes of Govinda movies took over. That’s not the point though.

It has been 20 years since I have been reading Mahasweta Devi’s works. Repeatedly. Sometimes, chancing upon one of your favourite authors’ works, purely by accident is the best that could have happened to you. Thankfully, she has written prolifically, and we have so many of her works at our disposal, thanks to Naveen Kishore of Seagull Books.

Mahasweta Devi’s writing is not easy, no matter how big or small her works are. The beauty of the short story written by her is that it has the same impact as that of a novel penned by her. Romtha (Criminal, Convict) is one such example. I cannot believe I hadn’t read it till now, but this lament is for a later date. Back to the book.

Romtha is a story of a criminal – a beautiful young man, Sharan, who is condemned to death for a crime of passion – that of his lover, a beautiful courtesan, Chandrabali. He has killed her and mourns for her, almost yearns for her. In all of this, there is a lonely widow, Subhadra, pining for Sharan – wanting him and yet wants nothing more than her freedom as well. All of this takes place in twelfth century Bengal – shifting from the royal city of Gaur and the rural landscape of Bengal – focusing on how the Romtha culture came to be, drawing details on casteism, hypocrisy of the world, and chalking characters who find no redemption or second chances at life.

Mahasweta Devi’s writings are not comfortable. They make you uncomfortable and rightly so. She talks of issues that she has experienced first-hand. You cannot expect getting into a Mahasweta Devi work and not be reeled by the injustice meted by our society to the less privileged. Romtha speaks of so much more and the muted silences in-between do most of the talking. Every character – from Gopal – the chief security who forces Chandrabali to get intimate with him, Subhadra – just wanting a better life, and Chandrabali who is dead before her time – each of them are threaded by Sharan – the Romtha, who is so ironically named, as there is no refuge for him at all.

Twelfth-century Bengal – its customs, traditions, are brought out with nuance so much so that it had me Googling and finding out more about that time. Also, please do not skip the very insightful interview, Naveen Kishore has with Mahasweta Devi – on words, language, and how they have been used in the story. Pinaki Bhattacharya’s translation is on point – I think it must have been tough given the stream of consciousness that jumps in at the reader, which I loved. Every terrain, texture, emotional landscape, and the beauty of unrequited love, desire, and the possibility of more is expressed empathetically and more so with stark reality.

Mahasweta Devi’s works are par excellence and there is no doubt about it at all. One of my projects this year is to go through all her books – the ones that are translated in English. Thank you, Naveen Kishore, for what you do.

 

 

The Armenian Champa Tree by Mahasweta Devi. Translated by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee

The Armenian Champa Tree by Mahasweta Devi.jpg Title: The Armenian Champa Tree
Author: Mahasweta Devi
Translated from the Bengali by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-8170461463
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 54
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading my first Mahasweta Devi book at the age of twenty-two I think. It was a long time ago or so it seems like. Since then, I have read and re-read her works. I have tried to make sense of her world or the worlds she creates from reality. I have often found myself helpless, not because I can’t do anything for the under-privileged but because I am perhaps lazy.

At the same time, reading her makes you feel so many things that you just feel them – you don’t fight her writing and you mustn’t. However, “The Armenian Champa Tree” is the kind of book which is layered by politics and caste system and yet doesn’t seem like that. It is one of those books by her which is easy to read (also given that it is so short) and yet makes you think about what she is trying to say.

Mato is a young Buno tribal boy of ten and all he does is daydream, which is mother despises. He is most attached to his pet baby goat, Arjun. A tantric saint demands Arjun’s sacrifice to the goddess Kali and thus begins Mato’s quest to save the baby goat, even if it means entering the Armenian church for it. This is where the stroke of genius of Mahasweta Devi lies. She talks of religious superstitions and makes us see the world for what it is through the eyes of a young boy and a goat. To me, just that was enough to pick up the book.

Also, might I add that the translation by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee is spot on. The reason I say this without reading this in the original form is that some words and phrases are as is which only add to the flavor of the book, at the same time, leaving not wanting for more.

“The Armenian Champa Tree” seems to be an easy book to read and absorb on the surface and it is. Till the layers start peeling and you enjoy it even more.