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MUST READ | The Posion Tree, by Bankim Chandra

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, one of the prolific writers of Bengal, alongside Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra needs no introduction. The collection titled The Poison Tree includes three of his novellas (The Poison tree, Krishnakant's Will and Indira),each barely two hundred pages long, in translation.

india Updated: Dec 31, 2005 15:51 IST

The Posion Tree
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
Translated By: Marian Maddern and SN Mukherjee
Price- 250
Publication- Penguin India
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, one of the prolific writers of Bengal, alongside Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra needs no introduction. The collection titled The Poison Tree includes three of his novellas (The Poison tree, Krishnakant's Will and Indira),each barely two hundred pages long, in translation.

All three deal with predominantly ‘domestic’ themes and personal conflicts as opposed to his famous works like Anandmath and Raj Singha which are overtly historical, even patriotic.

The first two stories deal with love, marriage, infidelity, trangressive widowhood and death while Indira deals with marriage, separation, harem intrigues and the eventual reunion of lovers. To us,in the twenty first century Bankim's novels are both documents of an age gone by and ones which help us make sense of our own experiences.

While much is lost in translation, the Maddern and Mukherjee translations do retain a flavour of the Bengali language through the deployment of trope like the frequent use of onomatopoeic words jhan jhan, dhin dhin. The narratorial presence which is playful, dramatic, ironic and even sarcastic makes reading pleasurable.

The presence of the conventions are a repercussion of the popularity of translations and adaptations of English novels among the Bengali bourgeoisie (the Bhadralok) in the 19th century. However what grips the reader’s attention are the fascinating descriptions of the andarmahal where the women were confined, the observation of the zenana, the popularity of ladies journals, the division between the bhadralok and the chottolok.

Nineteenth century Bengal is a well traversed domain for many of us owing to movies such as Devdas, Parineeta and Choker Bali but none beats the vivid word pictures of Bankim Chandra.

While the novella’s, specially Krishnakant's Will dwells metaphorically on the passing away of the feudal order, social reality repeatedly creeps in: Sati, widow remarriage, child marriage and property rights and ownership were all at the centre of heated debates during this transitional phase in Bengal and the novels articulate and negotiate with many of these dilemmas.

“For what fault was I destined to become a widow while still a child” laments Rohini in Krishnakant's Will. The collection of stories testifies to Bankim chandra Chatterjee’s mastery as a consummate artist and proves to be a gripping read.

First Published: Dec 31, 2005 12:10 IST