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Grandmom’s yarns

How attractive is a compilation of fantasy tales written in 1907 to today’s young Harry Potter fans? A panel discussion at the Bengal Club on November 27 on “The Relevance of Thakurmar Jhuli” threw up answers to similar, and more questions.

The participants were Sukhendu Ray, who has recently translated Thakurmar Jhuli into English, academicians Sukanta Chaudhuri and Sanjukta Dasgupta and Rudrangshu Mukherjee of The Telegraph.

“In the early 1930s, when my father gifted me a copy of Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar’s Thakurmar Jhuli, I devoured it cover to cover. To me, it provided unalloyed pleasure and therein lay its relevance,” began Ray. It was much later that he developed an interest in folktales and mythology. “They are like wish-fulfilment and thus timeless and relevant to all generations,” he said.

The issue that folklore and fairytales are dying is, however, not a current one. Even Tagore had lamented it in 1907. Mukherjee, who anchored the discussion, chipped in that the Nobel Laureate had even wanted a school to be established where mothers could be taught fairytales so that they could go back and tell these stories to their children.

“It’s like questioning the relevance of the sun and the moon. Children’s mindset has not changed. So they will respond to fairytales the same way,” said Chaudhuri.

The conversation veered to how Thakurmar Jhuli, Thakurdadar Jhuli and Dadamoshayer Tholay (all written by Majumdar) were compiled at a time when the oral tradition had begun its decline. “Now it’s preserved only through books and translations,” added Chaudhuri.

Dasgupta was keen to introduce Thakurmar Jhuli in her classroom. “The tales offer an interesting study of patriarchy, gender issues, palace politics and restoration of order,” she said.

Tagore had termed the compilation “absolutely Swadeshi”. But has some Swadeshi flavour got lost in translation? Chaudhuri said some words like roopkatha had no close corresponding English term that captures its true essence. Similarly, Dasgupta felt, the Bengali chandrabindoo may have posed a challenge to Ray.

“Translation is an encounter between two cultures, not just two languages,” added Chaudhuri.

The discussion packed in a variety of opinions on gender issues and the limited creative freedom enjoyed by women in the early 20th century, Rowling and her modern fairytale, use of fantasy in Rushdie’s novels and how Thakurmar Jhuli is full of sweetness, lyricism and the feel-good factor.

Mukherjee also mentioned how certain books in Bengali were considered “not-translatable” for years. But more and more translators now have the confidence to take up the challenge.