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An Enigmatic Work

Amiya P. Sen

Introduced and translated by Julius J. Lipner
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005, pp. 281, price not stated.


The first time I heard about Professor Lipner’s intentions of re- translating the Anandamath was at a symposium organized by The Book Review Literary Trust, New Delhi, sometime in March-April 2003. Both Professor Lipner and this reviewer had spoken on that occasion, albeit for different lengths of time and with unequal authority. Now whereas Lipner appears to have no memories of that occasion (he does not mention it in his Preface), some of us present at the time still vividly recall the eagerness and enthusiasm with which he approached the project. As I recall, this was a time when Gautam Chakravarti had just begun his translation of the Kapalakundala1 , another well known novel of Bankim, and the post-tea conversation, predictably enough, produced some animated discussion on the challenges before a translator and what a translation might potentially do to a text. Just how this symposium might have contributed to Lipner’s project is difficult to assess but I am happy that his passion, patience and perseverance has now borne fruit. What we have before us, is, to use his own words, a suhridic (friendly, faithful) translation and a work that is equally authoritative in the areas of editing, annotation and critical commentary.   Indeed, as Lipner points out, the novel Anandamath (1882) with the song Vande (Bande) Mataram included, have been characterized variously as ‘…the most inspiring, threatening or challenging utterances in the history of India’s birth as a nation’ (p.3). It is also, in a good measure, an enigmatic work. It speaks, somewhat ambivalently, of both a burgeoning provincial (Bengali) nationalism as also the pan-Indian. It invokes the Mother in a manner that is uncommon if not unprecedented in the Hindu-brahmanical tradition and inserts cultural imaginings that were to produce both solidarity and schism among the Indian peoples. Finally, even its great popularity cannot obscure the fact that in terms of literary quality alone, it compares somewhat poorly with some of Bankim’s other novels.2 Criticism of this novel was to emerge from several quarters, most notably from the Bengali Muslim intelligentsia that resented the use of Hindu religious imagery and several ‘unkind’ references to the community of Muslims. 3 And even at a time when the novel was popular with this class, Bengali Hindus were quick to point to the somewhat contrived nature of the plot. “Anandamath…..shows a decline both in art and creation of character though it is ...

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