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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.

 

A Mirrored Life by Rabisankar Bal

A Mirrored Life by Rabisankar Bal Title: A Mirrored Life
Author: Rabisankar Bal
Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184006155
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books that one is grateful are written. There is no other way to praise them to the skies and recommend them to all and sundry. That is the magic of the written word that can never be contained in any other form. This is then extended to translations, and when it comes to that, more so from Bengali to English, no one does it better than Arunava Sinha who gave us Rabisankar Bal’s Dozakhnama and now he does another favour on the English-speaking reader by giving us “A Mirrored Life” by the same author.

Earlier it was about Ghalib and Manto, and this time round it is about Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. Who in their right mind will not be captivated by this book? The theme was enough for me to get started and be swept by the power of language, emotion, and expression. The book is about Ibn-e-Battuta travelling away to find out more about Rumi’s life and along the way what he uncovers and what is left to speculation. It is but obvious, that when one speaks of Rumi you cannot help but mention Shams. This is how the story intertwines itself and though it may seem that there are two paths, there is just one that of amazement, wonder and life in full bloom.

“A Mirrored Life” is about Battuta chancing upon a manuscript of Rumi’s life stories, given to him by Rumi’s disciples. He then starts reading these tales and reciting them to people he meets along the way to Konya (where Rumi was born and stayed). As he starts getting involved in these tales, he begins to make sense of the world around him and what is really important.

The book is not complex. It is not an easy read either. You have to let go of all inhibitions before reading this book. “A Mirrored Life” touches on so many issues and topics without really specifying them. It gives readers the chance to interact with what the author is thinking and chooses to express through the book. The relationship between Rumi and Shams was of most importance to me as a reader. I could not help but revel in those parts and also the transition of Rumi from a Maulana to a Sufi Saint. The relationships Rumi shared with his wife, his sons and the people of Konya are beautifully described and laid out for the reader.

“A Mirrored Life” makes you look at the world differently and ask difficult questions – ask them to yourself as you turn the pages and that is the tough part. This book overwhelmed me in way too many places, so much so, there were times when I had to stop reading and just contemplate on what I had read. Arunava’s translation is par excellence. I do not know Bengali, but I do know that I did not ever find the need to read the book in Bengali. The translation made no bones of wanting a glossary to be added for words that perhaps regular readers would not understand and that is the way to stay true to the essence of the original.

Rabisankar Bal has just written a book which will take you by surprise and leave you wishing and hoping that it was a longer book, and somehow you don’t need a long book for this theme. It is perfect the way it is – with every word in its place and rhythm that is lilting and takes you to a deeper level. I could not stop recommending this enough on social media and I cannot stop doing the same here. A definite read for all Rumi or literature lovers out there.

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Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay

Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay Title: Panty
Author: Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay
Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Penguin India, Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780670087020
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 263
Source: Editor/Publicist
Rating: 5/5

I had a lot of eyes staring at the cover of this book as I was reading it, and me being me, I could not care less. That is all there is to it in our society I think. A word or a picture that titillates to get people to stare and perhaps even pass judgment. “Panty” also did that in a quiet way and I knew I would get the stares as I would remove it from my bag in public and read it with great delight and joy. To me the book was all about shedding inhibitions and being the person you are – or rather trying to find who you are.

“Panty” by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay is a collection of two novellas – Hypnosis and Panty and each of them is all about love, longing and sexual desire that runs deeper than we know or care to admit. The two novellas shook me for a long time after I finished the book. It was not like the way I felt when I finished reading “Abandon” by the same author, but it was bittersweet and I loved the feeling that came over me. I cannot explain it but I will try – the feeling of melancholy, of utter hopelessness and yet so much hope and positivity lined with it. That is what great books do to you.

Hypnosis is about a woman trying to reach into her past, to confront her doomed love affair with a well-known musician by undergoing hypnosis. In Panty, we meet a woman who has moved into a guest house and finds a panty there – it is soft and silky in leopard-skin print (this is the cover of the book – though it is not soft or silky as I would have liked it to be). She starts imagining the life of the woman who must have worn it and suddenly their lives intermingle and reality blurs from fiction.

Bandyopadhyay’s voice is bold. It is unique. It is also raw. It is also a whole lot of other adjectives that people might use for it, but for me it was just honest. It comes from a place that does not believe in hiding. The writing makes you keep turning the pages for sure, but it also makes you pause and think about life in general and also about it – when it falls in love, when it is lusting for a body and when it wants to be consumed, no matter what. I think the book stops being about gender and just is about human experiences.

Arunava Sinha’s translation only makes it possible for readers in English to experience this rich and almost lush piece of Bengali literature. It is for such translations and more, that publishers should take more efforts in bringing this to readers the world over. “Panty” is a book which should be read without fear of being judged or being made fun of. It is most beautiful and stupendous work of Indian literature I have come across in recent times.

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Book Review: Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell by Rabisankar Bal (Translated by Arunava Sinha)

Dozakhnama by Rabisankar Bal Title: Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell
Author: Rabisankar Bal
Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184003086
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Translations are needed – to let us readers know what we have missed out on and what we cannot anymore. I am a champion of translations, only because I wish I could read some works in the language they were written in, but if I cannot do that, then well, a translation suffices any given day. With a book that is translated, there is so much at stake. Are all the emotions translated as well? Are words used the way they are supposed to? Is every phrase and every thought in its place? Maybe so, is punctuation to convey the correct idea? Translation is not easy business. It takes a lot from the translator – it is almost a bond needs to be there between the writer and the translator for sure. With this, I begin my review of, “Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell” – written by Rabisankar Bal and beautifully translated by Arunava Sinha.

“Dozakhnama” proved to be is a very special read. I read it cover to cover and could not stop reading it. I managed to finish it today and here I am talking about it. The book is about two of my favourite writers conversing beyond the graves – Mirza Ghalib and Sadaat Hasan Manto. Their lives are entwined in shared dreams. The book has all elements – love, anger, hate, jealousy, magic realism (a lot of it and maybe that is one of the reasons I enjoyed the book the way I did), and covers all ground – right from Bandra to Ashok Kumar. This is what I love the most about the book – Bal doesn’t hesitate to imagine and Arunava doesn’t hesitate to work towards getting the emotion right for the reader in English.

The writing had me gripped from the first page and I couldn’t put it down, though it was heavy in most places. While reading the book, I often wondered, how it would sound in the language it was written in. The nuances of Bengali may not have come across totally in English; however I must say the translation was packed with power and to the hilt, as it was supposed to. I will not give away the meaning behind the title, because I want other readers to explore what is there to it. At the same time, what I loved most was the couplets and quotes that kept appearing in the book since but obviously it is about two great writers.

I have yet to come across a translation as good as this one. Arunava as always does a brilliant job of translating works. Dozakhnama is a read that I will not forget for a very long time to come. In fact, if I have the time to reread it, I will do that as well. I cannot stop raving about it and with good reason.

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Book Review: Fever by Samaresh Basu

Title: Fever
Author: Samaresh Basu
Translated by: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-8-184-00194-5
Genre: Classics, Literary Fiction
Pages: 129
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Post-colonial literature in our country can never go out of existence or become outdated. That is also because the issues are the same, all the time – poverty, class, unemployment (to a very large extent), race issues and illiteracy. When a literary genre is named after something that so largely affected the entire nation, then one cannot ignore the genre and what works come out of it. Post-colonial literature is not just about literature post a certain period. It encompasses a shift – in rule, in defiance, in the government, the policies and the implications, which some authors try to document and make note of as literature.

One amongst many such writers happens to be Samaresh Basu. Translated fiction in India is another topic of discussion, maybe meant for a later time; however this post is about his book, “Fever”, translated wondrously by Arunava Sinha and republished recently by Random House India.

“Fever” is a book, though small in its size, took me some time to write a review about, mainly because of its content and what it represents. The book is a paean to the Naxalite movement and what it stood for or rather still stands for. Fever is about Ruhiton Kurmi – a once hardcore Naxalite, now moved from one prison to the next for seven years and eventually freed, looking back at his life – achievements and losses and the ideals he once believed in. Ruhiton not only looks back on the movement, but also his personal life – aspirations (whatever few that he manages), his wife, his youth, the friends he has lost along the way, and how he ended up where he is today.

At one point, I almost lost interest in the book (the pace is surreally slow) and got back to it, thanks to the translation. Arunava Sinha has been a doyen at translating Bengali literature (Tagore, Sankar, and Banaphool) and this one has been translated to the hilt, with excellence.

Samaresh Basu’s originality remains intact or so it seems while reading – for one I did not think the language or expression was lost in translation. Consider this, “He was reminded of all their faces, and of their voices, laughing, crying, talking in unison. He could not control the waterfall coursing down his heart”.

Personally, I do not enjoy novels with a political bent to them. The only other writer whose work I have enjoyed that remotely comes close to the Naxalite movement (very loosely though) is Mahasweta Devi, with her epic, “Mother of 1084”. Fever on the other hand is a representation of the movement through the mind and memories of a broken man, trying to make sense of the past and the present. A read that had me thinking for sure.

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