It’s all in the name. Mad and Madder — Abhijit Gupta’s translation of Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s Manojder Adbhut Bari — is exactly how it sounds. It’s about a crazy family living in a sprawling house in small-town Bengal, and other equally hilarious characters.
Manoj is the youngest member of this fantastic family, with elder siblings Saroj and Putul. Their father, Rakhohari babu, is a strict disciplinarian and everyone — including the cats and dogs of the house — is afraid of him. Except Thakurjhee, Rakho babu’s widowed aunt, an old woman suffering from an obsessive need to clean everything. (By the way, Thakurjhee is very fond of cow dung.) Then there is the children’s grandmother, Thakurma, whose sole occupation is to prepare lentil dumplings (bori) and protect them from thieving crows. In fact, Thakurma has strong muscles on her right arm as a result of whipping lentils all year through! Among others are two uncles — one a bodybuilder-cum-scientist and the other an expert shopper.
The household also comprises tutor Dukkhohoron babu — who cannot teach unless he sits with his feet up; music teacher Ganesh Ghosal — who tries to hang himself twice or thrice every month; family priest Satish Bharadwaj — a paunchy champion eater rumoured to own pet ghosts; and the elderly maidservant Kirmiriya — who bursts into loud wails at the drop of a hat.
Many more characters come and present their unusual habits. This goes on for quite a few chapters and you may wonder: where is the story? Before long, however, you find yourself in the middle of a mystery. And you realise that the main thread of the story had begun with the very first line of the book.
A prince had gone missing 10 years ago, and the search for him continues. That brings us to another character — bumbling detective Baradacharan, who loses his pistol soon after his appearance in the book. Manoj, Saroj and Putul go though a bizarre adventure dotted with hilarious episodes. The drama also has a good-for-nothing daroga, his equally clumsy constables, strapping dacoits and rampaging monkeys.
But ultimately, all the strands of the plot come together in a neat end, with the police and dacoits eating luchis fried in cow-milk ghee.
Even those who have read Manojder Adbhut Bari in Bengali will find a new book here. It’s true some expressions like lyaje gobore can’t be translated to English. But Gupta’s work leaves no lacunae; reading Mad and Madder is by itself a rewarding experience. And, after all, good literature must be shared in all languages.