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Hootum’s sting in English


Sketches by Hootum the Owl: A Satirist’s View of Colonial Calcutta — a translation of Hootum Pyanchar Naksha by Kaliprasanna Sinha — translated and edited by Chitralekha Basu, with an insightful foreword by Amit Chaudhuri, evocative illustrations by Sumitro Basak, and published by Stree-Samya was released by Nabaneeta Dev Sen recently at the British Council as a part of “Re-imagine: India-UK Cultural Relations in the 21st century” project.

Published in the 1860s, in the wake of two significant resistances against the British government, the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny and the Indigo Revolt of the exploited peasantry in 1859, Hootum... operates at many levels; Sinha used comedy and scatology as agents of subversion. Hootum... was, perhaps, the first publishing phenomenon of its time, giving an indication that the clash of the two civilisations was to be highly creative, leading to a “Renaissance” of Bengali culture that would dominate India for about 200 years. Showcasing the anarchy and variety of life that is synonymous with the rise, from the early 19th century, of Calcutta as a colonial and global metropolis, Chaudhuri observed that Hootum... ushered in modernism in Bengali literature, portraying the physicality of a city through the eyes of a loiterer. Although the tone is that of self-deprecation and general contempt for all that seems to be falling apart in the city, Basu and Chaudhuri pointed out that the city still resonates its unending spill of life that exasperates even as it overwhelms.

The launch was preceded by a rendition of puratoni songs by Devajit Bandopadhyay, including those written by Sinha, and readings from the original text by Abhijit Gupta and the translation by Basu, setting the mood for an interesting discussion of the book between Chaudhuri, Sujata Sen, Basu and Mandira Sen.

Dev Sen congratulated Basu for her bold and successful endeavour to translate Hootum..., which to her, seems almost impossible as the intoxicating mix of street lingo, Calcutta cockney, risqué expletive, peppered with Sanskrit, Urdu and English makes Hootum’s language an anachronistic milestone in the time of Victorian sensibilities that is difficult to emulate to the same effect.

Date with Corbett

To mark the completion of its centenary year in India, Oxford University Press organised a book reading of Jim Corbett’s tales by film critic and the vice-chairman of National School of Drama, Samik Bandyopadhyay (picture right by Arnab Mandol), recently. His audience was students and teachers of two schools in Salt Lake — Our Lady Queen of the Missions and Salt Lake School.

“Tigers are not normally maneaters. But when they can’t get enough wild animals they move into villages and attack human beings. Jim Corbett was a hunter who was often asked to kill such maneaters by locals,” began Bandyopadhyay. He added that Corbett’s tales were often sad and cruel adventures. “They are not happy stories but they have a lot of drama,” he said.

Bandyopadhyay read out adventures of Corbett from a OUP compilation — The Oxford India Illustrated Corbett. From Jungle Lore to The Thak Man Eater, the schoolchildren got glimpses of the wild, how animals hunt or are hunted and how Corbett mastered the sounds of the jungle to successfully shoot down several maneaters.

Earlier in the year OUP had released unpublished writings of Corbett in a compilation titled My Kumaon: Uncollected Writings, to mark its centenary year celebrations.