Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Hardly the Wonder Years

I read the Bengali author Sankar's book, Jono Oronyo, while I was at Goa and was blown away by it.

The way Sankar set the character of the protagonist, Somnath Banerjee, in two paragraphs, right in the beginning, is a lesson in great writing. I felt very proud to belong to such rich literary heritage when I read the book.

Here I must confess that I actually read Arunava Sen's translation of the original Bengali book. It is called The Middleman in English. I have not read too many Bengali books and this possibly expalins my awe when I read the book.

I know a lot of Bengalis will take this personally and would consider me a snob for admitting that I don't read Bengali books. There is a simple explanation for this. I learnt Bengali after I came to India. Uninspiring teachers, Christian schools which espoused English and a general love for English books did not inspire me to explore Bengali literature. I never took to reading in Bengali, struggled with a few Satyajit Ray books (yes the master wrote too) and then gave up. Today I like to believe that there are many ways to connecting with one's culture. Eulogising Bengali food or supporting Saurav Ganguly (a lost cause most often) are my hooks.

And I am now getting a taste of Bengali literature thanks to brilliant translations such as Sinha's Middleman.

Enough about me. This is not an autobiographical post. Coming back to the book, it is about Bengali middle class angst, unemployment and corruption in the seventies. I could really feel the pain, frustration and desperation of Somnath Banerjee. Rarely have I read a book which gets so under the skin of a character.

The book is a telling commentary of Calcutta forty years back which appealed to the Sociological orientation that P R tried to instill in us in Presidency years back.

I recently wrote about parents who pushed their children into the rat race through the hidebound paths of medicine, engineering or management studies. "Where is the creativity and free thinking", I brashly asked.

Well, this book gave me a huge insight into the psyche of parents who had grown up in the job scarcity era of the sixties and the seventies. I realised that they would have gone through a lot to get a toehold for themselves and must have been very, very scared about what would happen to their children.

We have seen another side of India where there was a shortage of manpower till a few months back. Companies were in a hiring spree. And there were lots to do in emerging India. Things have changed a bit since then and I am sure that we are oceans apart from the bleak situation portrayed in The Middleman today.

I hope we never slip back.

It's sad that so few of Ray's films are sub titled well. And that so few of Indian books are translated well.

We can step into a video library and get a sub titled Kurusawa or step into a book store and buy a Murakami.

Hopefully someday someone in Tokyo can do the same with a Ray classic or a Sankar novel.

Any idea of where to get a copy of Satyajit Ray's film on the book, Jono Oronyo, in Mumbai? Ideally with English sub titles so that I don't have to do a simultaneous translation for K.


Scarlett said...

Have you read 'Chowringhee'?

The knife said...

Yup...loved it...but this one shakes you up...K thinks i have a soft corner for anything Bengali...