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Of Ghosts and Other Perils

Of Ghosts and Other Perils
Item Code: NAJ283
Author: Troilokyanath Mukhopadhyay
Publisher: Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9788125052340
Pages: 288
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 295 gms

About the Book


Troilokyanath Mukhopadhyaya’s tales are excursions into fantasy and realms of the imagination, providing a strange and delightful amalgam of fact and the unreal. He belongs to the group of literary entertainers that includes Sukumar Ray, Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll and other luminaries who elevated Nonsense to an art form.


Of Ghosts and Other Perils brings together seven of the author’s stories which have not been translated before. ‘Lullu’ is a ‘civilised, modern’ ghost who steals a married woman from Delhi and hides her in a chamber below a lake, but Amir, her husband, with the help of a weaver-singer, an astrologer, an exorcist, and other ghosts, rescues her by making Lullu an opium-addict. In ‘Nayanchand’s Business’ we find a tale of a bull under orders of his ex-owner about to wreak havoc as he makes Yama, the god of the netherworld, and his assistant Chitra gupta run in panic to escape being gored. Some of the situations-as when the torso of a man is joined by a quack doctor to the rear portion of a cow after an accident (‘Another Story by Damarudhar’)-e-produce more fun and dramatic turning points than the reader usually expects.


Troilokyanath’s fiction also has elements of social criticism tinged with satire though with a light touch. And as the translator, Arnab Bhattacharya, points out in a scholarly Afterword, Troilokyanath has been called with some justification a pioneer of magic realist writing in Bangla.


About the Author


Troilokyanath Mukhopadhyay (1847-1919) was one of the foremost writers of fiction in nineteenth-century Bengal. An early proponent of the non-realist mode of writing, he was the prime mover of magic realism in Bengal according to some present-day writers. Kankabati, his debut novel, is considered a classic. His other novels include Damarucharit and Phokla Digambar, and he wrote numerous stories. Troilokyanath was also one of the trailblazers of independent, indigenous business entrepreneurship in India. He travelled widely in Europe, and wrote a travelogue in English called Visit to Europe which is a treasure-trove of information for postcolonial studies.


Arnab Bhattacharya is a translator and a critic based in Kolkata, and an author/editor of books. He has been reviewing books for The Telegraph for the last fifteen years, and has over 400 published reviews and articles and about fifty papers presented in national/international seminars to his credit. He is a member of the faculty of the post-graduate diploma course in translation studies at Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. Bhattacharya’s publications cover diverse domains which include feminism, nationalism, films, and art and architecture, besides literature and translation studies.




I remember the time in my early teens when I first came upon Troilokyanath’s novel Kankabati. It was almost like the discovery of an El Dorado. So many things happened there that I could have hardly imagined them unless I read it. I read through the novel almost in one sitting. Then I read some other writings of Troilokyanath, and felt that here was an author worth spending time with, an author who would ensure that you would never be bored with life. I noticed with astonishment that there was never a dull moment or a single dreary sentence in his writing. I felt at that tender age that this author was capable of constructing reality on his own terms, one that would run parallel to the one we inhabit, cocking a snook at it all the way through. I felt a keen urge to share my enjoyment with my friends and companions, which I did.


So many years have gone by since then. Late in 2011, suddenly I chanced upon a copy of Troilokyanath’s Damarucharit in a library. It was nearly a serendipitous finding. That very moment I rediscovered my childhood, and also the child that has refused to grow up within me. I found how quickly and how easily Troilokyanath made a mockery of the passage of time. And as in my adolescent days this time too I longed to share my experience with others. But now I wanted to reach beyond my immediate sphere of acquaintances. This book of translation is the result of that longing, and also a tribute to the rediscovery of my childhood. And in the end, this book does also intend to be a political message to those who are too scared to unlearn the very ‘adult’ ways of looking at life.


My gratitude to Orient BlackSwan for helping me get that message across.


And yes, a caveat may be well in place here-Troilokyanath’s stories are enjoyable to children, but that should not persuade one to look upon those merely as children’s literature. The child in the adult will have a field day reading these stories, but, at the same time, the reader may rest assured that the adult half in them will not be deprived.


My primary purpose for translating these stories certainly is catering entertainment, and sharing a magic world. But there is a secondary purpose which is not to be overlooked-this book intends to stimulate research on Troilokyanath. That is why alongside a biographical foreword the book includes a critical/theoretical afterword as well.




Troilokyanath Mukhopadhyay is one of the leading authors of fantasy literature in Bengal. The kind of literature that he produced is known as ‘ramyarachana’ (‘ramya’ meaning ‘pleasant’ and ‘rachana’ meaning ‘composition’ in Bengali). To what extent Troilokyanath’s literature can be called fantastic in the technical sense of the term will be discussed in the Afterword. In this section, I will discuss his life which was eventful and adventurous. Many of his experiences were later translated into fictional escapades that his protagonists undertake. Besides being a literary stalwart, Troilokyanath was also a socially committed person. Troilokyanath’s literature will only be half understood if not put in the perspective of his social activism.


Troilokyanath, born in 1847, was the son of Biswambhar Mukhopadhyay. Biswambhar lived in village Rahuta near Shyamnagar (a township about thirty km from Kolkata) in North 24 Parganas. Toilokyanath was a man of independent thinking and strong resolve. He was self-educated, and was a pioneer business entrepreneur. He undertook enterprises in agriculture and industry with a view to strengthening the Indian economy, and wrote reflective articles to kindle his countrymen’s interest in researches in these domains. He made whole-hearted efforts to generate people’s faith in indigenous products, and to convince them that they can earn revenues from their sale. And, amid all these activities, he was a prolific writer of stories. The kind of stories that he wrote was unusual and vastly popular in his time, and he was unrivalled in this genre of fiction writing.


As a child, Troilokyanath was restless and mischievous. A real menace to his neighbours, he commanded a large ‘army’ comprising lads of his age. Each member of this band was a paragon of naughtiness, being gifted in ideas of mischief-making. They stole fruits from others’ trees, and roughed people up if they ever dared to intervene or intercept. These rowdy boys would levy ‘taxes’ on boatmen carrying haystacks, or on other boys playing ‘unlawfully’ under a large tree, or even on persons cultivating sugarcane in their own pieces of land. If the ‘taxes’ were not paid, bullying was the inevitable consequence. They would even build ‘forts’ and dig trenches in the soil, which were their hideout when threatened by their teacher’s cane or chased by guardians. That a streak of mischief-making continued in the grown-up Troilokyanath is evident from some of incidents of his adult life, and some episodes and characters of his stories. A character that immediately comes to mind is Keshta in the story "A Story by Damarudhar" who is an extremely naughty boy, and who pesters Damarudhar by calling him names while gazing at trees, or bent upside down and walking on his hands.


But for all this mischief-making, Troilokyanath always stood first in class. His innovative bent of mind was apparent right from childhood. He invented a language and also its alphabets which he etched on blocks of wood and earthen discs, and composed songs, riddles and shlokas; he was only about nine at that time. Those alphabets bear a strong affinity with Pitman’s shorthand.


Troilokyanath’s early education started at village schools and pathshalas. Later on, he got admitted to Duff’s school in Chunchura, Hooghly district. In 1862, when he was fifteen, there was an outbreak of malana in Troilokyanath’s village. The disease carried off his grandmother, and then his parents as well; Troilokyanath was orphaned. And he was attacked by a disease that affected his spleen. He survived but his formal education came to a stop.


Troilokyanath’s father was a man of moderate means. Troilokya was the second of his father’s six children. Malaria was then raging in the village. Troilokya’s siblings contracted the disease. To make matters worse, whatever landed property they had was laid waste by a devastating squall in 1864. In search of a job, he left home in 1865. From then on, it was a long story of hardship, struggles, starvation and sickness for Troilokyanath as he travelled all over Bengal, and parts of Orissa too. Troilokyanath witnessed the horror of famine at close quarters. The sight of skeletal frames of men, women and children, of corpses strewn along the streets, shocked and disturbed Troilokya. He himself had to starve for days on end, and drink water to appease hunger. In Trilokyanath’s stories and novels, we come across characters who undertake, or are forced to undertake, long arduous journeys which are beset with numerous perils. These are mostly imaginative re-creations of the journeys that Troilokya himself undertook at various phases of his life. These journeys gave him a genuine understanding of his country and his countrymen. It was then that he resolved to do something which would ensure a square meal for penury-stricken multitudes. He worked as a school teacher in the districts of Birbhum and Pabna. Then thanks to the initiative of Harakali Mukhopadhyaya, the Deputy Magistrate of Cuttack, Orissa, and one of Troilokyanath’s close relatives, he was appointed a sub-inspector of police, and later was promoted to the post of inspector. It was during this time that he learnt Oriya, and read books in that language; he even edited a monthly journal called Utkal Shubhakari. In Cuttack, Troilokya met Sir William Hunter. They soon became friends. Hunter gave him a job in Kolkata. Troilokya joined the office in 1870. In 1875, Hunter left for England. He requested Troilokya to accompany him, but Troilokya declined. He joined as the head clerk at an office .of agriculture and industry in the north-western part of India, where Edward Buck was the director.


At that time there was a rich tradition of artisanship in north- western India. Silk embroidery and brass works of Kashi were famous. Fine needlework, and etchings on gold and silver were the specialties of Lucknow. Woodwork was an esteemed tradition of Nagina (now in district Bijnor, UP). These items were patronised by Indian royalty, but artisanship declined during British rule. Troilokyanath observed that many Britishers liked these objects, but were clueless about where and how to purchase them. The artisans, on the other hand, suffered economically for lack of patrons. Troilokyanath requested Buck to make an earnest effort to ameliorate the artisans’ plight. The latter borrowed five thousand rupees from the government, and Troilokya purchased high-quality articles from the artisans with that money and put those on display in a large hotel near Allahabad station. He befriended the hotel owner, and requested him to take an initiative to sell those articles. Britain-bound sahibs and their ladies used to put up there for a day or two. They took a fancy to those objects, and purchased them as gift items. The hotel owner learnt an object lesson in business entrepreneurship. The government loan was repaid, and under Troilokyanath’s initiative, shops selling Indian artifacts flourished near many big railway stations in India, and Indian artisans and craftsmen got a new lease of life.


In 1877-78, a famine broke out in north-western India. Having travelled widely in that region, Troilokyanath settled in Rajghat near Hardwar for some days. There he spent nearly all his earnings and bought food for the starving populace. He bought barley to feed them which exhausted his funds so much so that he did not have the means to go back to Allahabad. It was at that time that Troilokyanath learnt that the cultivation of carrots can be a solution to famines, and he wrote to the government about this. The government published his article in its official gazettes. After a couple of years, another famine struck at places like Rai Bareli and Sultanpur. It was the cultivation of carrots which saved lives then for there were no reports of famine victims in that year. Troilokyanth’s experience of famines and hardships of life are reflected in his literature also. In this translation, the tale of Gargari mahashay ("The Pearl Necklace") includes episodes of eating crow’s meat and drinking crow’s blood to appease hunger and thirst; though cast in the fantastic/magic realist mould, these episodes are likely to have been prompted by his experiences of famine and affliction of the impoverished population.


In 1882, Troilokyanath got a job in the revenue department of the Government of India. He had once tried to improve the state of industry in the north-western part of India. Now he started to push for industrial development in the whole of the country. He published a book containing information on what products were manufactured in India, where one might come by those, and at what price. The book opened the eyes of Europeans to the wide, productive and variegated Indian market. People from England and America purchased Indian artifacts worth lakhs of rupees. India was able to earn foreign exchange. Troilokyanath published a catalogue of Indian products too. His diverse domains of interest and activity are covered in many of the articles he wrote for the periodical Janmabhumi; he wrote on steel manufacturing in India and Europe, on cattle rearing and wool cultivation in this country, on gold mining and on other topics.


In 1833, a fair of Indian goods was organised in England. Troilokyanath went there to spread the network of Indian commerce. Scotland, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria and Italy were the other countries he visited. Troilokyanath recorded his experiences in his book Visit to Europe.


In 1886, Troilokyanath relinquished his job with the revenue department and joined service at the Indian Museum in Calcutta. While in this service, he wrote the tome Art Manufacture of India at the behest of the Indian government, which was immensely beneficial to Indian artisans and craftsmen. He retired from service in 1896 because of failing health; he was only forty-nine.


His ailment persisted even after his retirement. In order to recover his health he started living by the seaside at Puri in Orissa. On 3 November 1919, he breathed his last.








Translator’s Foreword



A Note on the Translation



Glossary of Non-English Words / Phrases









Nayanchand’s Business



The Pearl Necklace



Smile on Madan Ghosh’s Face



A Story by Damarudhar



Another Story by Damarudhar



Afierword from the Translator



Sample Page

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