Buddhadeva Bose, the noted Bengali litterateur, once observed that the greatest treasure of Bangla literature is its children's and young adult's literature. The acheivements of stalwarts as various as Rabindranath Tagore, Upendrakishore Ray Chowdahury, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Sukumar Ray, Manik Bandyopadhay, Bibhtibhushan Bandopadhyay, Sharadindu Bandopadhyay, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Satyajit Ray and many others in this realm enable it to match similar traditions existing anywhere in the world. Their best works also remind us that a good piece for chidren is also a charming one for the adult. Their efforts have made Bangla children's literature a treasure trove that can enamour any child –any child –or anybody –who loves to read. This unique anthology of thirty –four translated stories invites the reader to a feast that offers on the platter most of the sub –genres in the realm from fantasy , folk tales and animal stories to ghost stories, historical narratives, sports narratives and tales of social consciousness. Enriched with beautiful illustrations, bionotes of the authors, a glossary and an informed Introduction, the book would also be eminently useful to enthusiastic reserchers. Between its covers, the volume presents an enjoyable and fairly comprehensive picture of Bangla children's and young –adults' short fiction to the non Bengali readership for the first time in publishing history.
Dipankar Roy (b.1970) teaches at the Department of English, Visva –Bharti, Santiniketan. His doctoral dissertation, In Tagore's Own Country, was published in 2015. His essays on subjects ranging from Bengal Renaissance to Rudyyard Kipling's Kim have come out in reputed national/international journals and books. He was awarded the Isaac Sequeira Memorial Award for his article on Amitav Ghosh. Roy has translated works of modern Bangla poetry into English and Indian English poetry into Bangla. His other interests include Walter Benjamin, nineteenth –century Calcutta, terracotta temples and Hindustani classical music.
Saurav Dasthakur is Assistant Professor of English at Visva –Bharti. His areas of reserch include Modernist Literature, Children's Literature, Culture Studies and Translation. He has published academic articles in books and journals of national and international repute, including the Journal of Asian Studies, and co –guest –edited a special issue of Sangeet Natak, the journal of Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, on Rabindranath Tagore. His translations of poetry, short fiction and non –fictional pieces, between English and Bangla, have been published in several books and journals.
This project was initially conceived as a three –day national –level translation workshop at the Department of English and Other Modern Languages, Visva –Bharti, Santiniketan, way back in early 2014. As we have subsequently realised, this early conception was lacking in a clear idea about the implications of the project. It was more of one of those immature, enjoable ventures, or adventure, into the enticing world of translation, that too of Bangla children's and young adult's short fiction, with little concrete conception publishing the fruits of the workshop in the form of an anthology.
Since then it has been a very rich learning curve for us, in more ways than one, a journey in experience, in a way from a blissfully ignorant and exuberant innocence to a state of somewhat more tempered maturity.
First of all, we were clearly inordinatly ambitious in wishing to prepare for the non –Bengali English readership a 'representative' volume of Bangla children's and young adults's short stories in translations. It is only in the process of selecting stories for translation in the workshop, with the administrative ball of the event already rolling fast, that we came to realise the audacity of such a conception. There were so many notable authors and styles involved that it was impossible for us to dish out to target readership any remotely realistic perception of the incredible richness of the field.
We discovered with a pleasant but uncomfortable surprise, in the context of the job in pleasant but uncomforatble surprise, in the context of the job in our hands, that there has practically been no writer in the long history of Bangla literature who has not tried her hand, with considerable dexterity, in writing stories for children. Moreover, there were such a great number of genres to consider –from the late –nineteenth –century folk tales and fairy tales to the present –day sci- fi fantacies –that their representation in a single mangeable volume was unfeasable in any streach of imagination. Furthermore, it slowly dawned upon us that limiting the corpus of any cultural production bearing the epithet 'Bangla' to the western (that is, Indian) part of the Bengali culture –which we had been rather complacently doing so far –was, to say the least, grievously unfair and essentially self defeating. Paradoxically enough, it was also impossible to do justice to an equally vibrant and thriving Bangladeshi tradition of children's and young adults' short fiction wihtin the limited means that we could possibly afford. Problems compounded thenselves thick and we already, began to face the not –so –sweet music of experience, which taught us that the best we could possibly mange was not to produce a representative' volume in any sense of the term, but to provide out readership with a very tentative, essentially exclusive and fragmented glimpse into the colourful panorma of Bangla children's narratives. And that is precisely what this volumem aims at achieving with all its conspicuous limitations.
However, after the completion of the workshop, we had in our hands, twenty beautifully translated stories as an output of the intense endeavour of as many as forty participant translators –some more experienced and established in the field, others greenhorns but no less enthusiastic –form across the country. Ironically, the number of stories, to our great vexation, now seemed too small for a sizeable anthology. We had to other way but to approach individual translators, who gracefully accepted our request and, finally, helped to make the volume somewhat more reflective of the enormous and versatile reservoir of the domain. If the volume is appreciated by the readership, it would be largely because of the love's labour of the translator, close to fifty in number.
The stories in this anthology have been arranged chronologically, of course not according to the year of their composition or first appearancr, but according to their authors' years of birth. This may offer the reader an idea about the nature evolution of Bangla children's and young adults' stoires and even possibly a peek into the development of Bangla languafe, albeit through the prism of translation.
Chronologically the earliest writher to have been included in the volume is Troikyanath Mukhopadhay (1847 -1919), and the latest author is Adhir Biswas (born 1955). And there are a host of great authors –some more famous, some less so between these two whom we have failed to accomodate in the anthology. Yet, in the process of selection, we have tried to be both historical and cross generic as far as practicable in our approach. It may be appropriate to mention here that during the exercise we have realised that one could never reach a consensus as to what qualifies a story as a work of children's literature: the mere presence, or even the centrality, of a child figure in a story surely does not make it a part of this category.
The last, but by no means the least, eye –opener came in the form of copyright –related problems, which we so long were blissfully oblivious of, and that explained to us why a volume of such kind dis not exist in the market. Of the thirty –one authores, twenty –two had their copyright permission for twenty –four stories, which we did, thanks to the kind cooperation of the authors, their legal heirs and other copyright-proprietors. In the process, it has been an honour to meet and personally interact process, it has been an honour to meet and personally interest with some of the biggest names in the history of Bangla literature or their heirs and proprietors.
A word on the editorial policy now, we had ten groups of translators in the workshop, with thirteen more individual translators joining the fray later on. We tried to bring in a degree of parity to their works with regard to some outer aspects of language usage, without trying to impose any forced uniformity upon the very palpably variegated individual/group styles. We sought to be consistent across works in terms, festivites, and so on –and the usage of minor stylistic components, like upper and lower case, italics, inverted commas, and so forth. On few occassions, however we made minimal changes in the vocabulary in one or two odd works to make things smoother and happier –reading for our primary target audience –the children and the young adult. Apart from these minor changes, we have tried to retain the colourful diversity in authorial and translational creativity.
While we have preferred to leave ceratain culturally loaded terms untranslated throughout hte volume, and exhaustive glosssary has been added to acqauit the non –Bengali readers –and even some of their Bengali counterparts –with the implications of some more frequently used topical terms. We did not want to implede the flow of reading by inserting too many notes, which have been kept to the minimum, and used only to explain, as far as practicable, the intricacies of the more nuanced regional terms and expressions, and to enchance the interested reader's appreciation of certain cultural specificiites. We have also added an informed 'Introduction' with the aim of providing a somewhat detailed outline of the history, sociology and politics of children's and young adults' narratives in Bangla, which the interested, academic –minded researcher may find useful.
We earnestly hope that our efforts will provide both enjoyment for the young minds who are about to set sail for the voyage of life and brief anodyne for the adults souls who are caught in experience in an angst ridden world. We also hope that this book will encourage publishers to take up similar projects in future because stories for children need to be told.
A word on the editorial policy now. We had ten groups of translators in the workshop, with thirteen more individual translators joining the fray later on. We tried to bring in a degree of parity to their works with regard to some outer aspects of language usage, without trying to impose any forced uniformity upon the very palpably variegated individual/ group styles, we sought to be consistent across works in terms, festivities, and so on –and the usage of minor stylic components, like upper and lower case, italics, inverted commas, and so forth. On a few occasions, however we made minimal changes in the vocabulary in one or two odd works to make things smoother and happier –reading for our primary target audience –the children and the young adult. Apart from these minor changes, we have tried to retain the colorful diversity in authorial and translational creativity. While we have preferred to leave certain culturally loaded terms untranslated throughout the volume, an exhaustive glossary has been added to acquaint the non-Bengali readers –and even some of their Bengali counterparts –with the implication of some more frequently used topical terms. We did not want to impede the flow of reading by inserting too many notes, which have been kept to the minimum, and used only to explain, as far as practicable, the intricacies of the more nuanced regioanl terms and expressions, and to enchance. We have also added an informed 'Introduction' with the aim of providing a somewhat detailed outline of the history, sociology and politics of children's and young adults' narratives in Bangla, which the interested, academic –minded researcher may find useful.
We earnestly hope that our efforts will provide both enjoyment for the young minds who are about to set sail for the voyage of life and brief anodyne for the adult souls who are caught in experience in an angst –ridden world. We also hope that this book will encourage publishers to take up similar projects in future because stories for children need to be told.
Emile has a mind that is universal not by its learning, but by its faculty to acquire learning; a mind that is open, intelligent, ready for everything and as Montaigue says, if not instructed, at least able to be instructed.
My dearest young boys! You have no ideas how blessed you are. One English poet has stated that as the sun aries in the horizon of one country and sets in another, you too have risen in the sky of our world after having set in the world of gods where you used to dwell previously. Your qualities like innocense, honesty, magnanimity, belief in the goodness of fellow human beings, complete faith in your parents, ability to be happy all the time and your simplicity are truly heavenly! As man grows older he gradually loses all such qualities. In the upanishad, our cheif Shastra, we come across the advice, "Try to assume a boy –like attitude in life, shaking off all your scholarly pride.' The Hallmark of a truly wise man is that he is child –like in his demeansour. Therefore, i salute all you young souls out there. Hail thee! The young soul, the wiseat, the sage, the angel! I bow down before thee!
The idea of childish innocence resulted in two kinds of attitude and behavious towards childhood: firstly, safeguarding it against pollution, by life... and secondly, strengthening it by developing character and reason. We may see a contradiction here, for on the one hand childhood is preserved and on the other hand it is made older than its years: but the contradiction exists only for us of the twentieth century. The association of childhood with primitvism and irrationalism or prelogicism characterizes our contemporary concept of childhood.
David Lowenthal, in his famous book The Past is a Foreign Country, makes an interesting observation about time travellers. According to him, the golden age the travellers revisit bears little resemblance to any time that ever was. For him, they often end up creating a past out of a childhood divested of resposiblities and an imagined landscape invested with elements they find missing in the present –day world. Lowenthal's view can be uses as an entry point for a discussion on the origin and development of Bangla children's and young adults' literature. The reasons are more than one.
First, this strand of Bangla literature, like a few others, took definitive shape in colonial times; a period in India's history when creative artists were trying hard to come to terms with the ignominy of the foreign rule. Writers who started to write with the idea of children and young boys as readers in their minds were also, in a way, time travellers searching for the past glory of a precolonial India.
Secondly, as it so often happens in literature in many other parts of the world, adult individuals who took up pens to write for children in Bangla also gave way to a strong fantasy element and a desire to revisit childhood in their efforts to assume 'child –like' (in contradistinction to being 'childish') personae so that they could address their young readers in an effective manner. A return, through the creation of imaginative literature, to an almost irretrievably 'lost past' of childhood -'childhood divested of resposiblities' –as a kind of ' wish fulfilment' (something very Freudian in nature, one must say) has been a conspicuous motif in the world of Bangla children's literature since its early days. Thirdly, the foramtive years of this branch of Bangla Sahitya when the writers were trying hard to find their own voice and diction were also the same years in which this part of india witnessed an unprecedented inroad of the marauding forces of modernity into a culture steeped in millennia –old traditions. From the mid-nineteenth century to the early decades of the twentieth, Bengali subjects, to their great surprise, found the world around them changing and changing so fast. Changes in the spheres of political economy and governance, industry and technology, languages and education, rural and urban societies and so forth obviously resulted in the disappearance of a number of features and practices of premodern ways of life. So, the question might rise, can the evoling nature of Bangla children's literature be viewed as a means of creating an 'imagined landscape' where the missing elements from the bygone era can be accomodated? This is a significant issue because Bangla children's literature is really the field where we see the meeting of –or even an 'encounter' between –the age- old oral traditions of folk tales, rhymes and puzzles, myths and stories belonging to rituals on the one hand and the newly arrived 'print capitalism' on the other taking place.
Children’s Books (370)
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