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Vidyasagar’s first prose

Caleidoscope

The contribution of Vidyasagar to literacy in our country and the Bengali language cannot be overstated. But not all his writings are equally well-remembered. His first published writing in prose, Betal Panchabinshati, for example, is hard to get hold of. To make this book and other rare publications of the 19th century more easily available, artist Prabir Sen has recently launched Patabahar, a literary magazine, which will publish forgotten works in Bengali of the 19th century that have not lost their relevance. Three issues will be published every year, and each will be introduced by an expert in that field. Prabir Sen had earlier published illustrated limited editions of Bengali classics.

The first issue of Patabahar is dedicated to the memory of publisher Indranath Majumdar and contains the text of Betal Panchabinshati along with an informative introduction by Arnab Nag.

Vidyasagar’s first book, Basudeb Charit, did not see light of day as the manuscript was initially misplaced, and for various other reasons it was never printed. According to the first edition of Betal Panchabinshati, it was a translation of the Hindi book, Baital Pachisi, and was written at the behest of Major GT Marshall, secretary to the college of Fort William, where Vidyasagar used to teach.

But Vidyasagar did not do a literal translation of the Hindi book. His fascinating translation was a slightly bowdlerised version of the original, and he introduced radical changes in its structure and language.

Vidyasagar’s was not the stiff Sanskritised language of contemporary Bengali prose. He did not use the language of everyday speech either. He introduced a beautiful rhythm in his Bengali and rid it of long-winded words, and is therefore considered one of our most notable writers in this language who cleared the path for Bankimchandra and Rabindranath as well.

All serious readers of Bengali would love this collection of delightful tales. Prabir Sen says he will next publish Krishna Chandra Majumdar’s Sadbhab Shatak.

Silent Sita? Not her!

Shobhaa De speaks her mind at Taj Bengal. Picture by Anindya Shankar Ray

She walked into Taj Bengal’s Crystal Hall in a kaleidoscopic kaftan-tunic on August 1 and even as audience members and journalists wondered how they might ask her about her latest Twitter controversy, Shobhaa De went straight for the jugular.

“I have started speaking my mind years ago. But most women in our country are trapped in silence. This is not the era of a silent Sita or a suffering Draupadi. We should fight back,” she said.

On July 31 De had tweeted “Maharashtra and Mumbai??? Why not? Mumbai has always fancied itself as an independent entity, anyway. This game has countless possibilities,” drawing howls of protests and personal attacks — “divorce” et al — from Maharashtra politicians.

De was speaking on women’s role in a changing world at an event organised by Ficci Ladies Organisation (FLO). Quoting Tagore, “Where the mind is without fear...”, and poet-activist Anasuya Sengupta, “Too many women in too many countries speak the same language of silence..,” she drove home her views on how women are silenced by force from speaking their mind.

The writer said she had been swamped with mails and text messages from across the world over her tweet, “but I am only listening to the voices of my daughters,” she added.

Defending her constitutional right to speech, she stressed on the importance of empowering women.

And for the political leaders crossing tweets with her, De had a single message: “Concentrate on repairing the potholes in Mumbai and providing better services for both citizens and outsiders. There are ways to voice an opinion other than this dangerous brow-beating.”

De also felt the modern Indian woman was actually a nervous person, desperately trying to multi-task and please everyone. “Let’s not try to be superwomen. There is no superwoman just as there is no superman,” she concluded.

Drink tea, save rhino

If you drink tea at the Cha Bar at Oxford Bookstore, chances are you will be saving a rhinoceros in the process. The bookstore chain has tied up through its outlets across the country with WWF-India for the conservation of the one-horned rhinoceros in Assam.

“Customers have the option of paying an extra Rs 10 on their bill amount. The extra will be handed over to WWF-India. We’re planning to build a separate book section on rhino conservation here. We will also organise a weekly forum, Conservation Saturdays, where volunteers can meet and help spread awareness on the issue,” said Maina Bhagat, the director of Apeejay Oxford Bookstore.

Saswati Sen, the state director of WWF-India, welcomed the initiative. “The collaboration is part of our project called Indian Rhino Vision 2020. We want to increase the number of rhinos in Assam to 3,000 by the year 2020. At present the total number of rhinos found in Assam is 2,500,” she said after the tie-up was announced at the Park Street bookstore on July 29. A film titled The Jungle Gang — Meet the Rhino by Krishnendu Bose was screened on the occasion. It highlighted the dangers of poaching.

“Rhinos usually relieve themselves at the same spot every day. Poachers wait for them at these spots, place electric wires on their path and manage to kill them noiselessly. The horn of the animal is then sold in the international market at the rate of Rs 14 lakh a kg. The horns are smuggled out of the country along India’s borders with Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal,” Sen added.

Contributed by Soumitra Das, Chandreyee Ghose and Showli Chakraborty