Tag Archives: bengali fiction

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.

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The Great Unknown by Sankar

It did not take me long to finish reading Sankar’s “The Great Unknown”. I remember a time when I had to accompany my aunt to the court of small causes. I vividly recollect the experience and the sights and smells are still fresh in my mind – from the attitude of the peons and clerks to the lingering smell of disdain and disappointment. This book only brought back that day. It was long and I didn’t want the experience to be repeated ever again. I had had enough of court rooms in our country.

The Great Unknown captures many such experiences – sometimes sad and sometimes witty. The whole idea of the book being published I guess is to make readers rediscover certain writers and Sankar being one of them. It is the story of the many people that Sankar encounters as a young intern at an English Barrister’s office in Kolkata and their lives as they play themselves out for him. Some are seeking justice and the others are just standing by and watching the wheels turn.

What I loved about the book was the inherent fact that it makes you feel. For the people who are waiting and sometimes have to keep coming back till justice is served. The pathos and the comedy (sometimes) as drawn by the writer are magnificently simple and well laid out in almost all tales and vignettes.

For whosoever who has not read any Bengali fiction translated to English you have to read this one for the sheer poetry and prose that come together and trust me you will not be disappointed. If anything else you would only want to read more from this writer.

Great Unknown, The; Sankar; Translated by Soma Das; Penguin Viking; Rs. 350

What Really Happened: Stories by Banaphool; Translated by Arunava Sinha

It takes two things according to me to make a translated work successful: A Great Translation of course that depicts the authors’ original sentiment and ethos and second to be able to keep the translated version intact –  by being able to communicate the same chain of thought in a different language. Very few translators are able to do this and Arunava Sinha is one of them. At the same time, due credit has to be given to the original writer. I mean had the writers’ stories or novels not been that great, and then of course no matter what, the translation will fall flat and how.

Banaphool is the pen name of the Bengali writer, playwright, and poet Balai Chand Mukhopadhyay. I had never heard of him till I started reading this book. This collection of short stories is something else. While I can use various adjectives to describe the collection, the only word that instantly comes to mind is: Stupendous. Written skilfully from various perspectives – sometimes even that of a pillow, a bird and a butterfly, the stories hit the spot I guess they were intended to – make the reader think long after the story has been read and done with.

It isn’t easy to write a short story – and going by what Banaphool sometimes wrote – “the short short story” is even more difficult. I have always been a fan of short stories – the way a writer conjures an idea and manifests it in a reader’s mind through the use of a few words as compared to a novel or a novella is magical. And as I have said earlier, it is even more difficult to translate an author’s work as it has to be done with great caution – the sentiment, the idea and the emotion has to be correct.

I have too many favourites in this collection, however I am going to mention some of them – “Sunanda” – a story of a missing girl and what led to it, “The Master and the Servant” – depicting the relationship as the title suggests between a master and his servant and the boundaries that must not be crossed, “Through the Binoculars” – a little girl’s tryst with a grandfather-like figure, “A Chapter from the Ramayana”  – that makes the reader meet Ravana – in the guise of Ram, and “Tilottama” ­– a young bride’s story about marriage, loss and love.

Most stories revolve around the caste system, love, loneliness, unrequited love, and some of them are also about ghosts. Essentially what captivated me about these stories was the human condition depicted in each of them – the anguish of what cannot be achieved, to the joy at achieving what one wants to, to like I said earlier the loss and hope of it all.

At the end of it all, I am looking forward to reading more of Banaphool’s stories, considering he wrote close to 600 of them. I love how Penguin India and other publishers take the effort of printing such classic gems and ensure that the gap between the so-called basha literature and readers is lessened.

What Really Happened: Stories; Banaphool; Translated by Arunava Sinha; Penguin India; Rs. 299