Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore.
National Book Trust India, New Delhi.
Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.

Current Issue  Volume 2  No 1  March 2005


A translation of the same into English can retain the meaning without flavour, its cultural contours flattened out. Precisely, dialects such as this are untranslatable just as the differences between ch and chh or pronunciation of lebu as nebu meaning lemon, are also untranslatable. There can be so much of a cultural slippage between the two sounds - l is how the South Kolkatans, initially from the East-Bengal pronounce and n is how the North Kolkatans, the people of adi-Kolkata pronounce. As Narendranath Dasgupta in Pearychand Mitra: Samaj Chinta o Sahitya (Dasgupta 1989:17) points out - language that we utter reflects our intention, our background, our mental set up and how we wish to project ourselves. Language creates a dialectical relationship between human beings and their society. In translation, where dialectical differences cannot be retained, communication process is also faulty. While Tagore's predecessors experimented with shudha or chalti bhasha as their style, in Tagore we find both. Novels like Gora, Ghare Baire and Chaturanga are written in shudha bhasha with kariachhe, giyacche etc, but Shesher Kobita, Jogajog, Char Odhyay are in chalti bhasha and closer to the spoken language of the bhadralok class of our century. The modernization of Bangla in Tagore can be traced by comparing his earlier works with the later ones. Here too when the translator would set himself to the task of translating in another language or English, the hidden cultural history will be dismissed or has to be stated in notes or footnotes. In a film probably, the changing times could be depicted artistically as Rituparno Ghosh does in Chokher Bali. Asha, who is illiterate, uses her rustic dialect, where ascchi is aishee. Mahendra, her educated husband, a doctor by profession, in his arrogance puns at her aishee as I see, which bewilders the simplistic Asha. The dialectical difference brings out the complexities in their ill-matched marriage. Binodini's convent education, her knowledge of English is her charm. She is what Asha is not. Binodini is the new woman, while Asha is the typical one. So just by the sound of a word, so much can be told.

The 1920s are marked by an anti-Tagore modernity, which Tagore had anticipated in his characterization of Amit Ray, the hero in Shesher Kobita. This anti-Tagore modernity phase or the Bengal renaissance owes its source to the literary addas and little magazines around the time. In 1921, Gokulchandra Nag and Dineshranjan Das set up the Four Arts Club on Hazra Road, in association with Manindralal Basu and Sunita Debi. This was a kind of a prelude to the adda that grew up around the magazine Kallol, which was celebrated largely owing to Achintokumar Sengupta's Kallol Yug. It included writers like Shibram Chakraborty, Pramothonath Bishi, Premendra Mitra, Shailajananda Mukherji, Tarashankar Banerji, Nazrul Islam and others. Along with Kallol the other journals, which joined hands in their striving for anti-Rabindranath modernity, were Sanhati (1923), Uttara (1925), Kalikalam (1926), Pragati (1926) and Purbasha (1932). In the words of Premendranath, Kallol was "a rebellious wave risen from the sullen vacancy of the material and intellectual world after First World War … It was anxious to test all life and civilization for inertness and decay" (Chaudhuri (np): 230). Wedding Marx to Freud, the Kallol Yug saw the human entity as a combination of the biological man and the economical man. Possibly in carrying the Prufrockian strain to its extreme, the Kallol writers were charged with obscenity. Shanibarer Chithi, though no friend of Tagore's, began to criticize openly the Kallol writers on the ground of depicting the hyper-reality or the curry powder reality - the flaunting poverty combined with unrestrained lust. The modernization of the language initiated by Kaliprasanna Sinha comes a long way in the writings of these young men in the rapidly changing 1920s and 30s. Poetry, in the main catches the changing moods - the disillusionment, disgust, hope, despairs and hunger in the Kolkata metropolis. Jibanananda Das's Midnight gives us a glimpse of a nocturnal scene in a Kolkata street:

The leper licks water from the hydrant
Or perhaps the hydrant is broken.
Now midnight crowds upon the city:
A car passes with a foolish cough.

(Chaudhuri (nd): 253)

The poet in his hopeful moods, which is not, however without a touch of irony, utters what now has become proverbial: Kolkata, one day, will be a vibrant Tilottama. As time marches on, India is partitioned and we are pushed into the post-colonial realities. The changing phases of politics and cultural milieu continue to be the source of inspiration for the writers in 1946-47. Riots, partition, independence and the change of times find reflection in the writings of Jibanananda Das, Bishnu Dey, Nirad Majumdar and others. The poet Jibanananda Das records in his Dhusor Pandulipi (Bleak Manuscript), the strange darkness around him in those days:

'I'm Yaseen,
Hanif, Muhammad, Maqbul, Karim, Aziz -
And you?' Hand on my breast, his eyes upraised
In his dead face, churning the bloody river
He'll say: 'I'm Gagan, Bipin, Shashi, of
Maniktala, Shyambazar, Galiff Street, Entali …

(Chaudhuri (nd): 235)

Jal Dao (Give Me Water) by Nirad Majumdar weaves together the painful memories and afflictions of the partition years:

Everywhere see homeless men gasp in the shadows
In parks, camps, roadways, mansion porches, beds
On hard floors -
What do they think? Have they justify their homes to
Look for their country?
Where will they go? Perhaps to Howrah, perhaps to
Dhaka …

(Chaudhuri (nd): 236)

The romantic note of the Bengal renaissance continues in the writings of writers like Protibha Basu. Protibha Basu and Ashapurna Debi's stories and novels, and Maitraye Debi's Nahanyate beautifully depict the various facets of the Kolkata middle class society in these transition years - the phase marked by the colonial hangover and the post-colonial modernity. The writings of fifties and sixties continue to depict the influence of modernist writers/poets in the West. The Eliotsian strain continues in the lines of Subhash Mukhopadhyay:

On the lane the evening slowly falls,
The hawkers cry their old tunes on the way
The radio in the distance spreads a dream
The burning gas marks the end of a day …

(Chaudhuri (nd.): 254)

Sunil Gangopadhyay wishes to smother the Tilottama Kolkata in his arms:

Where can you find refuge Kolkata?
I shall turn round all the ships on the Ganga
I shall focus their giant searchlights
On the darkness of the Maidan:
I shall then smother you in my arms.

(Chaudhuri (nd.): 253)

However, the Tilottama is beaten up and abused again in the 1970s by the naxalite struggle, which devastates a generation of young intellectuals. This is depicted in the second and the third parts of Samaresh Majumdar's Trilogy: Uttaradhikar, Kalbela and Kalpurush and in Mahasweta Debi's Hajar Churashir Ma. Though the relationship between the poet/writer and Kolkata has always been a dialectical one, the language used from the 1920s onwards to the late 60s, unfolding the contradictory moods, dreams and realities of Kolkata, is the chalti bhasha of the middle class intellectual with permissible slang expressions here and there to add flavour to the conversation sometimes. The interplay of dialects signifying class division is not much noticed. The novel Kalpurush by Samaresh Majumdar depicting the post-naxalite phase, where the low and the middle classes mix and idealisms are crushed or renamed uses a play of dialects. The translated passage below attempts to capture as in the original the cultural and ideological premises of the speaker(s), and the ensuing conflict:

Arko entered the room with tea, "It's possible that Anu's mother will not last for much long" (tenshe jabe)
"Anu's mother?" The dialect tenshe jabe hit her in the ears.

(Majumdar 1985:14)

Here her is Madhabilata, wife of an idealist husband who has been maimed in the naxalite torture. They are compelled to live in a slum for economic and social reasons after the naxalite fervour dies down reducing their dreams and aspirations to ashes. Their son is Arko. So it is natural that the colloquial tenshe jabe, a slum slang which differentiates the bhadra samaj from the uneducated, coming from her own blood upsets Madhabilata.