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Biography of a City

Madhavi Apte

By Gangadhar Gadgil. Translated from the Hindi by Arvind Dixit
National Book Trust, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 640, Rs. 240.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 12 December 2006

Prarambh is a successful blend of history and fiction: a hi-story of the beginnings of Mumbai. The environment of the early 1800s is authentically depicted, the characters that are both real and fictional match quite well, and the story runs both as fact and fiction blended. The National Book Trust of India must be thanked and congratulated for bringing it out in English for the benefit of not only the non-Marathi Indian readers but also the international readers who will be able to get important insights into and information about the social-cultural-business renaissance that gave its initial shape to the internationally significant city, Mumbai.   Prarambh, The Beginning, is quite an authentic translation. While going through the English translation of the novel, one does not get a feel of reading a translation. It reads like it is naturally written in English. There are minor inconsistencies: at one place what is given as a Marathi term ‘drishta’ (p. 22), has been later described as “a ritual to ward off the evil eye”(p. 64), or sati (p.123) and wife immolation (p. 124). On the one hand, it is not possible to find a parallel for everything in the target language as the two languages are culturally poles apart, and on the other hand, arbitrary translation spoils the cultural charm. Arvind Dixit has been successful in keeping the balance between the two languages, by and large.   It is a novel of the Raj period from an Indian-Marathi point of view. E.M. Forster, Rudyard Kipling and Paul Scott wrote novels from the British point of view. The Bengali- English novel like Gora (by Rabindranath Tagore) was more of a social-political novel like the ones written by other Indian authors. But most of the Indian novels written on the themes from the Raj period (for example, the novels of Mulk Raj Anand, Sane Guruji and others), are stereotypes describing the tyranny of the British rulers and the political resistance and freedom struggle of the Indians. Though this novel is historical, it is more of a narration of the process of social-cultural, political and economic (business) change bringing about enlightenment. It presents details of how all the institutions of rule like administration, education, justice, trade and economic equality between the rulers and the ruled, equal rights of people of different religions and castes had to be sorted out by putting heads together. Hindus had problems of going against ...

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