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Sheikh meets Shakespeare

Would Caliban have been more at home in the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans than on the island in The Tempest' Or was Puck a 'pakhi' before he morphed into a fairy in A Midsummer Night's Dream'

The first few pages of Kalyan Ray's debut novel Eastwords give a glimpse of an enticing land and a fascinating narrative. Here, Shakespeare pops up on Indian shores and hobnobs with our own Sheikh Piru, straight from the pages of Parashuram's Ulot Puran.

Eastwords is a novel that the professor of English literature in Morris College of the US has written between semesters and bundles of answer scripts.

'In both The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream, there's a character of Indian origin. I have taken both plays and made them into one narrative where the history of those characters is explored. There are certain lines from Shakespeare in the book. If readers recognise them it's fine, or else it doesn't matter,' smiles Ray. The book published by Penguin was launched at Oxford Bookstore on Wednesday.

Apart from Shakespeare's creations and the Bard himself, some of those who make an appearance and interact with each other in Ray's novel are historical and mythical figures like Siraj-ud-Daulah, Lord Clive, Vasco de Gama and the deities of the Sunderbans. Sheikh Piru, the narrator, exists in both Parashuram and Syed Mujtaba Ali's works.

'The West has always dictated how to respond to literature. Mine is a story of the West finding their way into India. I have used the Pandavani narrative technique practised by Teejan Bai. It's the point of view of the marginalised... You can call my book a colonial tamasha and I had great fun writing it,' says Ray, who made his way into the literature classroom at Presidency College after quitting an engineering course at IIT Kharagpur. 'My parents, who were very angry, asked me to fend for myself and so I drove a taxi for a living,' he laughs.

After a Masters in English from Delhi University, Ray took up a teaching job at St Stephen's College before moving to the US, where he has been living for the past 30 years. 'But I make it a point to come to Calcutta twice a year, religiously,' he stresses.

Eastwords has been a year and a half in the making, but Ray's family is glad that he has finally given shape to his jottings.

'I am happy that it became a book. I have read it in loose sheets and I loved it... I am generally biased towards my parents' works,' said Konkona, after the book launch. 'We sort of whipped him around to finish the book,' added wife Aparna Sen.

Ray's debut has already been inducted in the popular culture studies syllabus at MIT in the US.

Words are all we have

The rich literary output by Bengali writers has always found pride of place in India's literary lexicon, but a recent award shortlist also shows how some of the best translated work ' from a regional tongue to English ' is done in this part of the country.

Bengal has bagged four of the six nominations for the Hutch Crossword Book Award 2004 in the translation category. These include Bani Basu's The Birth of Maitreya translated by Sipra Bhattacharya, Mahasveta Devi's In the Name of the Mother translated by Radha Chakraborty, Mahasveta Devi's Bait translated by Sumanta Banerjee and Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay's Waiting for Rain translated by Nilanjan Bhattacharya. The other two are Chandrasekhar's Astride the Wheel translated by Jatindra Kumar Nayak and Sharankumar Limbale's The Outcaste Akkarmashi translated by Santosh Bhoomkar.

This apart, vying for the award in the category of original works in English by an Indian author are two novels by Amitav Ghosh (The Brainfever Bird and The Hungry Tide), Shashi Deshpande's Moving on and Raj Kamal Jha's If you are Afraid of Heights.

Each category carries a cash prize of Rs 3 lakh. In case of translations, the author and the translator share the booty. Instituted by cell phone service provider Hutch and lifestyle bookstore chain Crossword, the award strives to recognise literary excellence in Indian authors. From 1999, the Hutch Crossword Book Award has covered the two categories of original works in English and translations from Indian languages. The prize for the best original work in 1999 went to Vikram Seth for An Equal Music, while M. Mukundan and translator Gita Krishnankutty fetched the other award for On the Banks of the Mayyazhi.

The 2004 awards received 42 entries for the English fiction category and 26 for the translation category. Two panels of judges, comprising academics, critics and authors, have whittled down the list from the long line of books published between the period January 2003 and August 2004.

The final awards would be held in Mumbai on January 27.

A little bit of Lillete: Stage show before screen splash

Sometimes it's supper theatre, sometimes a rocking campus fest. Whatever be the venue, Lillete Dubey takes the stage to woo the audience. Sunday sees the ageless actress stealing the show at Carpe Diem, the IIMC Joka fest, with the Mahesh Dattani play Dance like a Man at 4 pm. But if the fleeting appearances seem a tad disappointing, catch her playing a wine seller on the big screen when Anjan Dutt's Bow Barracks Forever releases later this year.

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