Rabindranath Tagore’s 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature helped renew interest in modern Indian literature and in particular Bengali Literature However by the mid nineteenth century Bengali literature had already come into its own distinguished itself in the genres of poetry short story novel and essays of intellection and reminiscence It grew through diverse and varied channels in the twentieth century a period of social change and upheaval
The Oxford India Anthology of Bengali Literature celebrates the richness and diversity of the literature spread across 130 years The two volume anthology represents around 100 writers and includes nearly 250 selection form poetry, short fiction and non fiction The chronological dividing lone of 1941 between the two volumes represents not just the end of an era with Tagor’s death but the beginning of a new period marked by traumatic changes in both Bengals amply reflected in the literature
Beginning with Michael Madhusudan Datta and the constantly evolving Rabindranath Tagore this volume moves on to other celebrate poets like Sukumar Ray Jibanananda Das Akzi Nazrul Islam, Jasim Uddin, Bishnu Dey, Buddhadeva Bose, Sudhindtanath Datta, and Samar Sen Similarly the short fiction and non fiction sections are characterized by chronological and varied selections many of them translated especially for this volume Extraordinary in literature merit the 100 odd selections stand out as important social documents affording rare glimpses of the age the social ethos and the writer’s perspective
Carefully selected and introduced the chronological listing of works by authors helps readers get a sense of the evolution of various literary genres and sub genres across one and a half centuries of literary creation Placing the writings in their historical context the introduction affords a broad conceptual understanding of the social political and cultural more of the times
One of the most representative collections of Bengali writings to come out in recent times, The Oxford India Anthology of Bengali Literature will appeal to anybody who enjoys good writing as well as students and scholars of comparative literature translation studies and Indian Literature in translation especially Bengali Literature
Kalpana Bardhan a Ph D I economics has been involved in translating Bengali literature for the last two decades her era liter background in socio economic studies providing particular sensitivity to aspects of literature as social commentary She has produces six books including three collections of stories tow novels and Tagore song lyrics in translation one of their books received the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for best English translation in 1998
The Subcontinent’s many living vermicular literatures have thrived and evolved engaging readers in rising million despite mss illiteracy as regional populations grew and education spread They have cross fertilized to an extent through direct translation and re translation of English translation though not to the extent needed In the past country with greater command of the English language native translations into English into the reader have grown in quantity and quality to turn English literatures in the regional bhasas or modern Indian languages helped the regional literature through translations and made them available to readers in English without access to the source languages This in a way helped produce English language writers of the Subcontinent The vernacular literature rich and varied thriving on large regional readership nut lacking in good translation suffered obscurity relative to not only the English reading world but also languages scholars English translations from the vernacular literature have been done in great numbers if no consistently well since Independence mainly for internal use through the officially decided curricula for school and college level English These translations usually have sponsorship funding and eager publishers/ outside of school and college curricula English translation of bhasa literature has depended aside form market and author cooperation on translator’s talent urge and willingness to put a lot of time in low paid mental labor
Coming to Bengali literature the exceptional success in braking our in the worlds was Tagor’s self translated Gitanjali winning the 1913 Nobel having London Macmillan as publisher and being re translated form English into Spanish, Portuguese Chinese, Japanese, Korean and the Subcontinents’ other vernacular The private and public condition that combined to produce this exception were not easily replicable The inter wart generation of Bangla writers trying to come out of Tagor’s shadow produced and sheltered new kinds of writing focused on the stark realties of social crises and inner turmoil’s and consciously worked in a world at once opening up and tearing apart Some of them college teachers of English translated their writings into English this time published inside for internal appreciation and critical review and electively translated European writings into Bengali One of them Buddhadeva Bose started a university department of comparative literature to employ and turn our bilingual writers critics and translators Independence in 1947 coming on the heels of the 1943 famine and subsequent peasant brought with it the devastating partition its killings and uprooting In the 1950s while Hindu refuges speaking different dialects and accent struggled to reroot on the west of the Padma and Muslim Bengali East Pakistan started protesting the imposition of Urdu as national language
Disruptions of life to this extent was bound to change the course of literature make new channels and divergent streams the way Bengal’s rivers do in nature’s turmoil The strums evolved in the next tow decades reflecting yet other related convulsions and crisis and then came the varied influence of globalization The last three decades of the twentieth century saw major spurts in the English translation of Bengali literature old and new multiform multi stream multi perspective The nineteenth century bias against translators with first languages not being the target language grew less and less as understanding of the regional culture of source language was considered at least as important as readability in target language idioms and as the source language translator command of English improved
The postcolonial flood of translation of bhasa texts into English came form a variety of factors including the active support of national literary academies UNESCO series of representative texts and cultural exchange aid in the form of both US and USSR hiring vernacular language writers to co-produce translations A weightier sustained boost came from the proliferation of academic fields like comparative literature translation studies literary criticism study of texts in social context non western language departments in Western universities and English translation of vernacular literature There is also the growing interest of general readers of literature in other social cultures as reflected in vernacular language writings originally meant for regional readers and writers This editor is a special case in the last set Formally trained in socio economic history not in literature but well read in both languages and believing in the embeddedness of a region’s literature in its social history I formally turned into a Bangala to English translator in wanted to offer the less bilingual next generation of Bengalis and the non Bengali readers in English within Indian and outside selections from Bengali literature that I have loved the most learned the most from and truly enjoyed translating
The first volume of this anthology covered 1860s through 1930s a period starting with the so called Bengal renaissance in Literary culture among other things and winding with the nationalist struggle stepping up as world war Ii crept up British India’s eastern flank. The literary and cultural awakening was triggered by the social impact of colonial trade and land policy and the clash between tradition bound social mores and the liberal values of post enlightenment Europe. The process worked through leadership in social and religious reforms and through spread of English education. And the process worked for developing the language and literature in ways ranging form prosodic changes the forging of prose styles for novels stories and essays the use of secular themes and the questioning of entrenched social and religious customs to the introduction of subjectivity the first person singular especially in poetry.
The surge of literary creativity with simultaneous enrichment and simplification of vocabulary and syntax equals joined by rethinking of social values (women’s education, social, equity and rationalism) along with exploring of aesthetics subjective emotion and intellection. These would soon be reinforced by the nationalist spirit variously ranging form concern for self reform and social uplift to armed resistance.
The main achievement of the awakening process was of course in art and literature but or an extent also in the surge were important as readers especially of serialized novels and then increasingly as writers and journal editors.
A serious limitation of the nineteenth century reawakening was that it stayed confined to a small, educated mostly urban elite leaving out Bengal’s Muslim and low caste people in villages. The articles by Sibnanrayan Ray and by Abdul Wadud dwell on this issue.
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