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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 15.12.11

It is not Steven Spielberg who recalled Tintin for Calcuttans. Bengalis had never really lost touch with the young Belgian journalist ever since 1975, when Anandamela, the children’s magazine, obtained permission to publish the comic strip in Bengali. The comic was translated into Bengali by Nirendranath Chakraborty. It was the first Indian translation of Tintin, initially published serially and later published as books by Ananda Publishers. The second Indian translation of Tintin was in Hindi: it came in 2010, more than 30 years later.

Demand for Tintin has hardly died down among Calcuttans even in 2011, more than three decades after the Bengali version first appeared in Anandamela. Bengalis share a special, affectionate bond with the adventurous, brave and mischievous young boy and his companions.

One wonders what spurred this passionate bonding. Belgium is a country little known to the average Bengali, and not always do Tintin’s exploits take him to familiar terrains. He has come to India twice, and his creator just once. His character has no apparent trait that would endear him to a particular people. Even Hergé seems to have been surprised by the popularity of his creation in a city remote to him. “I receive... a lot of mail from India. Here, in the office, are two letters from Calcutta. Now, what can there be in common between a boy in Calcutta and myself?” he had once wondered.

Perhaps there is something uniquely Bengali in Tintin. And that ‘something’ lies in Captain Haddock’s “Jotto sob gneri-gugli-r jhnak (billions of blue blistering barnacles)”, Professor Calculus’s endearing, deafness-induced confusion that is strangely familiar, and of course, Kuttush, the Bengali Snowy. Chakraborty had not only translated Tintin into Bengali, but had also incorporated in the comic a ‘Bengali-ness’ that draws us closer to it.

Nirendranath Chakraborty is an important literary figure. He is one of those who created a unique poetic language. It is surprising that the Tintin series — which may have been ignored as ‘children’s literature’ — was appealing enough for him to put in so much introspection into the translation. Or maybe it is not surprising. Literary stalwarts of Bengal have always treated so-called children’s literature with gravity. Tagore himself is an example. But had authors such as Sukumar Ray, Satyajit Ray, Moti Nandi, Samaresh Basu, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay or Leela Majumdar not taken children’s fiction seriously, Bengali literature would have been devoid of much colour and flavour.

So, it is not entirely unexpected that Chakraborty should use subtle nuances of language to give the characters of Tintin, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus and Kuttush a Bengali flavour while avoiding any blatant provincial element in their behaviour. The language of the translation retains the inherent mood of the original, even when the expressions are changed to fit an audience not acquainted with certain cultural references. What is equally remarkable is the congruity that Chakraborty’s language managed to maintain with Hergé’s drawings. It seems as though the faces drawn by Hergé were meant to speak in Bengali.

Adheesha Sarkar