`I had but that one arrow,' says Chotti Munda, the hero of this epic talc. A 'magic' arrow that stood for the pride, the wisdom, the culture of his society, a society threatened with inevitable disintegration as its traditional structures crumbled under the assault of 'national development'.
The wide sweep of this novel ranges over decades in the life of Chotti, the central character, in which India moves from colonial rule to independence and then to the unrest of the 1970s. It traces the changes—some forced, some welcome—in the daily lives of a marginalized rural community. And at its core, it celebrates Chotti, legendary archer, wise and farsighted leader, proud role model to his younger brethren.
Written in 1980, this novel raises questions about the place of indigenous peoples on the map of India's national identity, land rights and human rights, and the justification of violent resistance as the last resort of a desperate people. Although rooted in India, the novel addresses some of the most burning concerns across the world and is essential reading for those who ponder the con-temporary human condition.
MAHASWETA DEVI (1926-2016) was one of India's foremost literary figures—a writer and social activist in equal right. Author of numerous novels, plays, essays and short stories, she received the Jnanpith Award in 1996 and the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1997 for her 'com-passionate crusade through art and activism to claim for tribal peoples a just and honourable place in India's national life'.
GAYATRI CHAKRAVORTY SPIVAK is university professor in the humanities at Columbia University in the City of New York and author of numerous works including In Other Worlds (1987), The Post-Colonial Critic (1990), Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993), A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999), Death of a Discipline (2003) and Readings (2014), the last also published by Seagull Books.
GAYATRI CHAKRAVORTY SPIVAK
It has been my practice to underline the words in English in the orig-inal. It makes the text awkward to view. I do this because I prepare a scholarly translation, in the hope that the teacher/scholar will get a sense of the English lexicalized into Bengali on various levels as a mark of the very history that is one of the animators of the text. [In this edition, these expressions appear in italics.] This is the first novel where Mahasweta articulates tribal history with colonial and post-colonial history. Much of her earlier work was concerned with colo-nial history and precolonial history. After Chotti, the text of tribality frees itself from the burden of a merely 'Indian' history.
This is the first novel by Mahasweta Devi that I have translated. In the hope that the scholar/teacher will move to Mahasweta's racy Bengali with its occasional lyric simplicity, I have included page refer-ences to the original. I have used the first edition (1980) of Chotti Munda ebang Tar Tir, published in Kolkata by Karuna Prakashani.
One of the most striking characteristics of the novel is the sustained aura of subaltern speech, without the loss of dignity of the speakers. It is as if normativity has been withdrawn from the speech of the rural gentry. For the longest time I was afraid to attempt to translate this characteristic. Yet, as Barbara Johnson says felicitously, a translator must be a 'faithful bigamist'.' In the interest of keeping the faith, I had to try; straight slightly archaic prose killed the feel of the book. To my great delight, among the first things Mahasweta Devi said to me when I reached Kolkata was (in my translation, of course), `Gayatri, what I am really enjoying in your translation is how you've shown that dialect can be dignified.' Shown! It was she who had `shown' this in the text and created a test of faith for me.
I can only hope that other readers will echo the reaction of the first famous reader of Chotti Munda and His Arrow.
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