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Classics in Translation

Anuradha Kumar

By Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. Translated by Rimli Bhattacharya
Puffin Classics, Delhi, 2006, pp. 190, Rs. 150.00

By Rabindranath Tagore. Translated by Radha Chakravarty
Puffin Classics, Delhi, 2006, pp. 96, Rs. 150.00


One of the drawbacks of rereading the same book, even in translation (though the translator’s name in this instance does not appear on the cover) is the unconscious urge to compare or to put oneself to a test: How much of the original is the translation able to recreate? Is the ‘charm’, the readability, the same? And reading—Making a Mango Whistle—is tougher because of the images that automatically follow every word the eye picks up, thanks to Ray’s immortal classic based on Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Pather Panchali. Not that this point needs emphasis, for the cover and the back jacket have two stills from the movie.   However this English translation by Rimli Bhattacharya has made possible a wider access to the book by children who may not be familiar with the original Bengali work. A fact that could not have come at a better time, for Bandyopadhyay’s book ranks among the greatest children’s classics ever. It would have helped if Satyajit Ray’s magical illustrations that are there in the original Bengali version of the book had been replicated. As it is, a glossary at the end of the book helps explain terms that would no doubt appear unfamiliar to most young city-based readers of this book.   It begins with an introduction by Sharmila Tagore, evocative, but more nostalgic about the old Bengal way of life, and not the Bengal village. The novel that Bibhuti babu wrote in the 1940s evokes the old Bengal village that is still ‘untouched’ and beyond reach of the railroad; the village of Nischindipur that Durga and also Apu, know inside out. The railroad functions as a motif for the book—signalling the limitations as well as the possi-bilities of village life. Durga and Apu go in search of the railroad and are unable to find it even by the time dusk descends. Apu chances on it when out with his father but they are too early for the train and cannot wait. And when finally Apu does see one, and actually travels in one, at the very end of the book when the family is leaving Nischindipur for a new life in Kashi, his sister is no more, having succumbed to malaria.   It is a book that has a small setting but deals with all the major emotions. Even as it makes wry observations of most of its ...

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