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Book boom in Bengal

The recent flurry of translations is seeing Bengal's literature reach out. Benita Sen follows the trends.

books Updated: Mar 19, 2004 10:00 IST
PTI

The first printing press in India began in Bengal. That was just the right incentive to a rich literary tradition that dates back centuries and the advent of the printed word threw open the literary floodgates in this part of the literary world. In fact, Bengali literature includes, apart from the classics, some of the best children’s literature I have ever come across, full of wit, humour, thought and some splendid illustrations.

But while some Bengali literature has been translated to transcend the language barrier and make it accessible to book bugs the world over, more, much more needs to be done.

In recent times, some of the most interesting translation or transcreation work from this region has been done by respected publishers like Katha. Most of it, of course, is modern literature and all of it, the writing of talented women who otherwise often went unheard, unread.

Three years ago, Rupa and Company noticed the burgeoning demand for Indo Anglican writing and perceived the slot for translations from the east. Not too surprising, this, considering Rupa’s rich connections with this part of the country. The result is something rather happy for Bengali literature. Such an endeavour works both ways, benefiting both the publisher who can reach out to a larger readership and also the reader, who is served a rich a la carte platter of fusion cuisine.

But while some Bengali literature has been translated to transcend the language barrier and make it accessible to book bugs the world over, more, much more needs to be done.

Clarifies Barnali Roy, the woman who has been identifying all the regional literature that has gone into the series till now, “It was not only translation but everything Indian was brought under our publishing programme. Travelogues, great masters, children’s literature, in fact every genre of writing was given equal footage.”

It began with coordinating a project on Bengali poetry which resulted in an anthology that showcased some good verse since Independence. Edited by poet Prabal Kumar Basu, it was an exhaustive collection that virtually chronicled the development of the Bengali and Bengal after the momentous instance of Independence. The book’s worth and appeal were enhanced with one painting each from eight eminent painters.

The project was well received. So well received, in fact, that the publishers considered doing a first-ever for Bengal and then, the other eastern states. “After that, there was no looking back,” says Roy. From translations of masters including Tagore, Rupa is now setting its sights further east towards the rich and almost entirely unexplored literature in the seven sisters.

Today, there is a veritable cornucopia of literature for an eclectic readership that would relish just about anything from biographies under its Charitravali label, to travelogues and short stories. At the Rupa Kolkata Book Fair stall, the Charitravali series certainly drew a lot of reader attention.

A true case of what Bengal writes today, the world reads tomorrow.

First Published: Mar 11, 2004 10:40 IST