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The Bangla Legacy

Vasavadatta Sarkar

By Nivedita Sen
A Selection of Bangla Short Stories Translated with an introduction by Nivedita Sen
Sahitya Akademi, Delhi, 2010, pp. 184, Rs. 125.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 11 November 2010

A translation of Bangla children’s stories? My first reaction was one of excitement at the authors featured— Sukumar Ray, Lila Majumdar, Shibram Chakrabarty, Ashapurna Debi...a child’s staple diet when we were growing up in Calcutta. We would wait eagerly for the weekly and monthly periodicals—Suktara, Sandesh and a few others that slip my mind that serialized their stories for children. At last I thought, I could share with my children the treasure-trove of literature that existed in Bengali, brought up as they are on Harry Potter, Roald Dahl and a strange character called Captain Underpants. Enid Blyton is passe now. My second reaction though was one of confusion. Who was this book for? Adults? Students of literature, researching the psyche of children’s tales? Or for children to discover the magic of regional literature that is steeped deep in our cultural norms and traditions? The long-winded introduction, exploring the Bengali child’s personal space, essentially the protagonist of such tales, leads to some amount of fatigue and flagging interest. What pray does this mean?—‘The Bakhtinian adventure chronotype, applied to middle class Bengali child protagonists, offers him a release from anxieties about incarceration within domestic spaces and a rigid work discipline. The very notion of adventure becomes a credo or way of life.’ One would think, why just the Bengali child? Aren’t all children, in all children’s tales, all over the world, looking for escape through flights of fancy? And thereby hangs the tale? Indeed, one would have really appreciated it if the introduction had devoted some space and time to the celebrated authors of these stories, who ushered in a new genre of storytelling in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Till then, literature for children was populated by kings and queens, wicked stepmothers, monsters and demons, flying horses and bloodthirsty vampires, much as it was the world over and popularly known as Grandmother’s Bag of Stories (Thakurmar Jhuli), captured in print from the oral tradition. And then came the pioneers of a new era, most certainly beginning with Upendra Kishore Roychowdhury. The legacy was carried on by his son Sukumar Ray, the father of nonsense verse in Bengali, perhaps Indian literature; the creator of characters such as the wildly funny and selectively eccentric Pagla Dashu (Mad Dashu) and the series of hybrid animals like the Kumropotash, Ram Gorurer Chhana and Tyanshgoru ...

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