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Bengal’s bachelor boys

Book Bazaar

Rabindranath Tagore had once said that it is impossible to translate Chirakumar Sabha. For, Bengali nuances and relationships like that of a jamaibabu and shaali or dayor and boudi are above translation and can be subject to gross misinterpretation by other communities. But more than eight decades later, Sukhendu Ray has come up with an English translation of the satirical play, while keeping the humour intact.

Chirakumar Sabha: The Bachelors’ Club — a comedy in five acts (Oxford University Press, Rs 450) was launched before a roomful of academicians at Rabindranath Tagore Centre, ICCR, on June 25. The guests included Sushanta Dattagupta, the vice-chancellor of Visva-Bharati, Suranjan Das, the vice-chancellor of Calcutta University, and academician and the author’s wife, Bharati Ray.

Dattagupta pointed out how 19th and 20th century Bengali literature was replete with humour and satire. “Bengalis today have lost the ability to laugh at themselves but in the past, Bengali literature was full of humour… Chirakumar Sabha gives us a glimpse of Tagore’s humour that is subtle and understated. The play also scoffs at certain values of the contemporary Bengali society,” he said, going on to read a letter by Tagore where the poet himself expressed doubts over such satires being successfully translated into English.

Das emphasised the importance of the role of a translator in the modern context. “The role of a translator is also that of a mediator of culture… national heritage should be disseminated through translations,” he said.

The launch was followed by a conversation between Ray and Rudrangshu Mukherjee of The Telegraph. The author, who has many translations to his credit, said Chirakumar Sabha was a play close to his heart.

“I read it early in my life and was very impressed with Tagore’s sense of humour and his style of portraying social evils,” Ray said. He went on to add that he had seen four stage productions of Chirakumar Sabha but all had left him disappointed. “I thought the depiction of the main character was a total failure,” he said.

Left to him he would have renamed the book, ‘Conventions of Convinced Celebates’, he told the audience during the interaction. A diehard fan of P.G. Wodehouse, Ray enjoyed translating Tagore’s humour but his dream translation would be stories by Parashuram.

The talk veered towards the various characters of the play and its setting. “Rabindranath saw through the facade,” Ray said.

As the floor was opened for audience questions, academician Ananda Lal pointed out Tagore’s contributions towards professional theatre and how members of the Tagore family helped with props during the staging of the play.

Pakistan paradox

Has Pakistan made any progress in the last six decades? This was the question for the evening during the launch of T.V. Paul’s The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World (Random House India, Rs 499) at Oxford Bookstore.

“Many books have been written on Pakistan but what bothers me is that none of them explains why the country is the way it is. My aim was never to blame Pakistan… I wanted to diagnose the Pakistan paradox. In the book, I have tried to prescribe credible solutions for the complex state,” said Paul, James McGill Professor of International Relations at McGill University.

In his book, Paul asks two questions — why does Pakistan remain a weak state and why has the country pursued policies that make no profit? “The country has been cursed by its geo-strategic impotence,” said Paul.

Pointing to the Korean, Indonesian and Turkish models of economy, Paul said that Pakistan has failed to follow something similar. “They need to globalise, whether they like it or not... and in the right way,” he concluded.

Explaining the book’s title, Partha Pratim Basu, a professor of international relations at Jadavpur University, said that a warrior state was a variant of the “garrison state”, one that is preserved by military power and where military matters dominate social, economic and political matters.

“The expression ‘most complex’ used in the book is a pertinent phrase while referring to Pakistan,” said Rakhahari Chatterji, a former professor of political science and dean of the faculty of arts at Calcutta University.

Arpita Basu Roy, fellow at the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Calcutta, was also part of the discussion.