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Friday, September 24, 2010


Why haven’t I written for more than a week?

Fact is, I have been a little absent-minded. Alone at home for the largest part of the week, I was immersed in books and movies – in all the time that remains to myself after classes and marking homework and talking to visitors, that is. I have also been translating someone’s thesis on the influence of baul music on Tagore’s, and in the process listening to a lot of baul songs playing in the background while I was hammering away at the keyboard, and I was transported. Besides, I was reading up on the brilliant and hilarious literature for children written in Bangla by Premendra Mitra and Leela Mazumdar: old favourites whom I was visiting after a long, long time. And they didn’t fail to work their magic on me. How silly the world and its cares seem at such times, and how foolish of us to bother about them all the time! As long as a man has a roof over his head, his meals assured, and some time on his hands, he can find more than enough to entertain himself with, and pay not the slightest attention to the way the world goes. Our great creative artists have wrought miracles without end for us: if we forget them, the folly is ours.

Let me have Neverland, and others can make careers for themselves that will buy them Louis Vuitton bags and gold water closets… God bless them and their ‘success’.


Sandipan Chattaraj said...

Leela Mazumdar, Upendra Kishore Raychowdhury, Enid Blyton, J.K.Rowling and Co. simply transport us to another planet. They often make us wonder whether our world is real or their's. From their places, the Louis Vuitton bags appear miserably useless. Probably the best use to which J.K.Rowling can put them is making portkeys. Truly, a shelter, some time and a Magic Faraway Tree is all that we need to be happy(assuming that our meals are assured). So, why do most people dream of Lamborginis and Rolls Royces? Only a person himself can stem the rot of his capacity of imagination by nourishing it with works of the above-mentioned wizards. Lucky are those who are happy (in the true sense of the word).

Shilpi said...

Neverland is a miraculous place to be in...it's not always easily accessible though. Anyplace is better than a place with hideous bags and 'gold water closets' (what is a gold water closet?).

Good to know that the books and the music worked their magic...

I was wondering.

Let's see whether this comment goes through.

Take care.

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

Great to see you being busy yet entertained. Which books by Premen Mitra and Leela Majumdar are you reading?

At times I feel the younger Bengali boys and girls will probably never know about the beautiful treasures they have created for us.



Arya said...

Hello Sir, It was definitely good to read your article again after so long.Doubtlessly, I wish my mother could read this post of yours.(But then she believes nothing good can come from the Internet and shuns this form of media). This post would have definitely stopped her from pestering me when I take time out of the real world and escape to Neverland. But with all due respect to you Sir, I beg to differ slightly- I personally don't think that others make careers for themselves for the sake of materialistic pleasures alone. A flourishing career is often people's ticket to a certain degree of emotional and financial security. I have seen many people in and around my social circle suffering because they don't have a proper career. None of these people want an aristocratic standard of life. They suffer from acute identity crisis, inferiority complex and low self esteem. Their dream for a good career and success is just to do away with all such mental ailments and live a fuller and healthier life.

Moreover, isn't a permanent resignation to Neverland a sign of weakness and escapist characteristic? Once in a while escaping is definitely necessary to keep ourselves sane but making it an addiction, according to me, is as dangerous as the addiction to cocaine.

Yours faithfully,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Haha, Karnika!

Abhirup said...

Dear Sir,

Your post splendidly illustrates the reason why literature, especially fantasy and adventure yarns, are so important in our lives. Glum, ossified literary critics (who, more often than not, are failed authors who try to alleviate their bitterness by lashing out against popular writers) may forever sneer at such works. An open-minded reader, however, cannot but appreciate the consummate storytelling and rich imagination that is at work in books like 'Holde Pakhir Palok', 'Buro Angla', 'Chander Pahar', the Ghana-da stories, the adventure stories of Hemendrakumar Roy, 'Treasure Island', '20000 Leagues Under the Sea' and the Harry Potter series. I can add many more titles to this list, but that won't be necessary.

What's sad, as Sir has said, is that our authors have left so much for us to savour and enjoy, but we have rejected and forgotten all of that in favour of shopping malls, parties and equally frivolous ways of gaining pleasure. Reading is just so 'uncool' these days, and those who say such things as "Let's burn the books and party" on Facebook are adored so fervently! When I see such statements being made, it eerily reminds me of Heinrich Hiene's prophetic remark, "Where one begins by burning books, one will end up burning people." That is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany: the smoke created by the incineration of books was soon replaced by the smoke arising out of the chimneys of the gas chambers as people were slaughtered en masse.

Given the flagrant disrespect towards books that I see around me, would it be wrong to fear that something similar may happen in our country, if not in the near future, then certainly a hundred years from now? Philistinism and materialism, no matter what glossy trappings you adorn them with, have never yielded positive results. And both of these 'isms' are encouraged by our propensity to give up reading and indulge in debauchery of some sort or the other. Books represent knowledge, creativity, culture and humanism. The moment we turn away from them, we render ourselves vulnerable to the forces of de-humanization that lies at the root of all man-made disasters in history.

Sorry for this long-ish post. And sorry, also, for such a dour reply to what is essentially a blogpost on the joy of reading. My sadness, however, is caused by the fact that few people today know of this joy. And this sadness is only intensifying everyday; a few decades hence, I may not be left with anyone with whom I can discuss literature anymore.

With regards,

Abhirup Mascharak.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

You are sadly right, Abhirup, and I often feel thankful that I won't have to live as long as you do! I couldn't socialize with money-obsessed morons another fifty years, especially those who fantasize about becoming CEOs, and then become Rs. 20,000 a month cybercoolies and commission agents (have you seen how every mediocre student talks about CEOs these days? Yet the fact is that not one of my thousands of ex-students, not even any of the 'brilliant' ones, has become a CEO of even a medium sized Indian company yet, leave alone giant MNCs. And none has become a renowned teacher, writer, musician, painter, movie director or cabinet minister either. But they all insist on being called successful, because they have MBAs, have been to Umrica, hold mid-level anonymous managerial jobs, and have bought flats and cars!)

Leave alone serious literature, all studies have become so superficial and fleeting that, as I can see with my own eyes, postgraduate level students are having to be taught things (everything from parts of speech to good manners in classes for MBAs) that in our generation was adequately and permanently learnt in school.

As for the gas chambers, I fear, as all history-conscious people do (again, an increasingly tiny minority), that they might come into use again, and not too far into the future, by the very logic of the march of today's 'civilization'. You and I know how many authors, more or less serious, have drawn out very plausible sketches of a neo-fascist world dominated by a tiny techno-plutocratic elite (the Steve Jobs and Nandan Nilekani type, not their countless 'successful' minions with engineering degrees and empty minds).

Notice how somebody has scolded me for encouraging 'escapism'. By the pedestrian description of the word, everyone except a housewife and a shopkeeper is an 'escapist' - every scientist and artist. Newton was the greatest escapist of all, wondering, of all foolish and useless things, about the apple. But who will tell these people, who have read little and thought nothing?

Krishanu Sadhu said...

To begin with, the joy of reading is sublime. One who is averse to books will never know its pleasure. Reading habits are best formed in childhood; schooldays give ample time to indulge in literature.And once you start loving books , you can never neglect them.

However , times have changed a lot. Nowadays there are numerous sources of entertainment,or diversion ,if you say so. Scores of TV channels , the world wide web, shopping malls and multiplexes...each of them doing their best to attract the young generation . Facebook lures us to turn our face away from the book. Poor "old-fashioned" books seem to be losing the battle.

Speaking about Bengal,I think at present there's a dearth of good contemporary Bengali literature for young people. There are no Satyajit Ray or Premen Mittirs now.One rarely finds a good new publication. Just as an example , take a look at the popular children's magazines-Anandamela or Suktara- their present quality is appalling , to say the least.I still have copies of these mags ,10-15 years old , and I still enjoy turning their pages once in a while when I go home. I've heard from my father and uncles how they'd await eagerly for the next puja number of "Dev Sahitya Kutir" or the new adventure of Feluda when they were young. The frenzy over Harry Potter stories reflects the same phenomenon, magnified over a global scale. But will children be so eager to read HP books ten years from now? Maybe no.

Whether someone will read or not- it's their personal choice. But I believe that an unread mind is like an empty vessel- they make more noise.

Krishanu Sadhu
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Suvro Chatterjee said...

About the very tragic dearth of good new literature for children (of all ages!), I am entirely of one mind with you, Krishanu.

About your last point, I can say confidently from my own experience as both a teacher and father that those few children who are weaned into the joy of reading very early by their parents and teachers will become good readers, as always (though they might be reading mostly in e-book format: I have no problem with that). Most children won't read, because they never had the right sort of parents and teachers. For exactly the same reason, most children will never watch good movies, or admire beautiful gardens and paintings, or know the difference between music and noise, between good manners and bad, between merely having some money and being civilized!

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

I have heard quite a bit about Bengali Children's literature, are there any translations available for non-Bengali speakers? I loved the last line of the post, it reminds me of Giuseppe Verdi's famous quote, "You may have the universe if I may have Italy." (Although it does seem a bit out of context here). Hope you find Neverland Sir, whenever you want to :) And Sir, what is a gold water closet?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I am ashamed to say I can't offhand recommend good translations to you, Vaishnavi, though a net search might help, because I hear that lately some people have been busy translating all sorts of Bengali stuff.

Thank you for the kind wish. As our bauls have always sung, one can find Neverland only inside one's mind; the 'real' world doesn't hold anything so interesting.

And as for water closets, Shilpi and Vaishnavi, do you want me to believe you don't know what they are? As for wc-s made of gold, didn't you know that among the ultra-worthless-rich (such as the Beckhams, and certain Arab oil sheikhs), they are among the snazziest status symbols?

Shilpi said...

I can recommend one good translation to you, Vaishnavi. Try getting a hold of Tagore's Selected Writings for Children - unless you've already read it. The stories there might delight you and the translation (as far as I'm concerned) is perfect. The collection of stories don't read like translations - that's what I mean by perfect.

No, Suvro da, I didn't realise what a gold water closet was. I didn't even think it had anything to do with the commode seat and the commode-stand. The 'water closet' paired with 'gold' didn't ring the right bells in this instance...my mistake. What can I say.

Finding Neverland inside one's head?...maybe it wouldn't be so bad if one didn't feel such a blinding need to see and experience and create something in the real world that sort of resembled some of the grand and lovely and interesting things in other people's heads and even in one's own head. Surely there's got to be some of the lovely magic, some sort of meaning that's realised out-there....everybody can't be so utterly deluded and for years on end. Or are gold water-closets, expensive gadgets and silly preening of one sort or the other the only reality now alongwith the other sorts of grottiness and sickness - or is it me who's feeling sadly and suddenly cynical.

Take care, Suvro da. Hopefully there'll be a new essay to read here and ruminate over and to argue over in one's own head....and then write a comment about.


Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

No, I had absolutely no idea what a gold water closet was. I am somewhat shocked and the less I say anything about this the better. This is worse than any gimmick "the rich" have come up with so far!

And Shilpidi,

Thanks a lot! I will try to get hold of a copy somewhere!


Shilpi said...

Got around to reading Holde pakhir palok some/many weeks ago because of this post of yours, Suvro da, and I'm glad I read it. Been meaning to let you know with a 'thank you'. I can't quite remember the last time I read Bengali fiction - so thank you again.

The tale, the tales within the tale, the characters - especially the tale-spinner, the two children and the dog - the priceless observations about dreams, truth and fiction, goats(!), angry people and madmen, magic, love and pain, and other plain bizarre but hilarious or poignant observations about life and living or some very clever liners; the manner of telling and the not-really-knowing where the tale was going to end but a knowing too that it would end well no-matter-what made it a memorable read for me. The last liner of the book is something that I hope will linger even when I doubt the reality of magic and dreams of materializing in a meaningful way in the external world (no matter what I do and don't do): ...shotyi je kothaay shesh hoy, swapno je kothaay shuru hoy bola mushkil.

Should I translate that liner? I think I can do a better job than that barmy google translator: "It's hard to say where truth (reality) ends and where dreams begin"...I guess should suffice even if that doesn't sound half as poetic. Even 'miracles' or 'magic' could stand in for swapno, I guess, in the way it's used...Hmm.

I didn't know though that there were on-line Bengali books available. I just searched upon a whim on a Monday for books by Leela Majumdar and came across the whole book on-line at deshiboi.com. I can firmly say that reading an on-line book isn't half as satisfying - although I'm utterly glad that I don't have to lug a dictionary around the house - but I'm not complaining and this one was a short book (and yet she fitted in so many ideas and events and trails in it!). It's the first (whole) on-line book I've read in any language.

I probably sound terribly pleased with myself...I am a bit, and am sad and angry too.

A very big thank you to your daughter too for her very well-written and poignant blog-essay on 'Of Adorsho Hindu Hotel and other books'...it haunts me every now and again.

And Vaishnavi (if and when you read this - you're back in the blogworld, at any rate!), I don't know whether you were able to locate the translations of Tagore but I'm terribly sorry for not providing you with the complete information. I don't know how it slipped my mind. Selected Writings for Children. Oxford Tagore Translations. Oxford University Press. 2002. You will enjoy the stories and you might be pleasantly surprised.