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Lalkamal-Neelkamal in English

Heavy showers and the subsequent chaos on road could not hold back a large turnout at Oxford Bookstore on Thursday evening. A roomful of academicians and book lovers were transported to the enchanting world of Lalkamal and Neelkamal at the launch of the English translation of Thakurmar Jhuli: Twelve Stories from Bengal, published by Oxford University Press to mark its centenary year in India.

Translated by Sukhendu Ray, the compilation of fantasy tales for kids was released by historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharya. “Children of the Bengali diaspora has created a huge demand for such classics,” he said.

The historian went on to speak about the reasons Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar wrote the book in 1907. “Thakurmar Jhuli was Bangiya Sahitya Parishad’s biggest project at that time and part of an effort by the Parishad to collect old songs, proverbs and other sources of oral literature in Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote the introduction to the compilation, looked upon this book as a source of preserving national sentiments.”

Malabika Sarkar, the vice-chancellor of Presidency University, was engaged in a conversation with the translator. A chartered accountant by profession, Ray has been engaged in several translation projects. “When did this love-affair with literature start?” asked Sarkar.

“We grew up in the backward areas of Madhya Pradesh where we had nothing other than books for entertainment. And since then the love affair continues,” he said. Post-retirement, he has been engaged in translating various literary works inspired by his wife, educationist Bharati Ray. But it was his daughters who wanted him to translate Thakurmar Jhuli in English. “I was in love with the world of fantasy etched out by these tales. So I decided to have a go at translating it,” said Ray.

But it posed quite a challenge to Ray. “The stories read like they are being told to kids orally. They also have a captivating quality about them. To retain their essence in another language was difficult,” he said. Translating the rhymes was also a tall order. “The rhymes form the core of the stories. They cannot be omitted or written as blank verse. I tried my best to keep their flavour intact,” the translator added.

And he has indeed, the audience found out. With rain forming a perfect backdrop, Sujata Sen, the director of British Council-East read out the adventures of Lalkamal and Neelkamal in English while Ray read out a portion of it in Bengali.