‘The Bard and his Sister-in-law’, English Translation of Mallika Sengupta’s Bengali Novel ‘Kabir Bouthan’ Launched in Kolkata

The journey of a translator encompasses an artistic and literary quest involving not only the nuances of words and languages, but also the subtle layers of culture. It is with this quest in her mind that expatriate author and poet Lopamudra Banerjee published her English translation of a literary gem from Bengal, noted feminist author Mallika Sengupta’s ‘Kabir Bouthan’ (‘The Bard and his Sister-in-law). The biographical novel, published by Black Eagle Books, USA/India, was recently released in the city of Kolkata amid an eclectic gathering of eminent authors, scholars and connoisseurs of literature at Alliance Francaise Du Bengale, Park Street.
Among the esteemed speakers and panel members, there was Subodh Sarkar (noted poet and academician), the guest of honour, Dr. Sanjukta Dasgupta, Sulagna Mukhopadhyay, Ketaki Datta, Tanmoy Chakraborty and a panel of esteemed poets, readers of Kolkata. Subodh Sarkar, who is also the late author Mallika Sengupta’s husband, spoke about the emotional and intellectual journey of Sengupta in creating this masterpiece of a novel centered on Jorasanko Thakurbari, the illustrious birthplace of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, and particularly the excruciating battle of the author with the ‘emperor’s disease’ when she was giving shape to the novel in the isolation of the hospital room. The other special guests, Nicholas Facino & RJ Arvind added their own perspectives to the necessary act of translation as a bridge between cultures, while the panelists spoke in very insightful words, emphasizing on the overarching significance of translation as a significant cerebral and literary exercise and also how it impacts the global understanding of texts, contextualizing Lopamudra Banerjee’s work in the process.

Banerjee spoke about the journey and inspiration behind the creation of the book and what drove her to accomplish such a challenging task. The event was also enriched with a couple of melodious Rabindra Sangeet renditions by Srabana Bhattacharya and Sanghita Sanyal.

Among the various aspects of this biographical novel in translation, the way the narrative unfolds the history of the Thakurbari in the British colonial regime is immensely important. The narrative of this period piece that starts in the year 1866, depicts the Renaissance period of Bengal, the plethora of socio-political changes, reforms, upheavals taking place, and how all of this shaped Tagore’s persona directly or indirectly. Mallika Sengupta, in her original novel, also brings out the aspect of women empowerment in the social position of women depicted through the women in the narrative—Gyanada, Kadambari, Swarnakumari, Neepamayee, Prafullamayee, and other women in the Tagore household. The novel, seeped in the diverse cultural history of the Thakurbari, is historically significant in terms of gender and culture studies of the pre-independence era in India.

Some relevant aspects of the theme of the novel:

The diverse cultural history of the illustrious Thakurbari, the root of Tagore’s vast oeuvre of literary works (traces his childhood and very young days, till the time of his marriage with Mrinalini Debi)

The rich legacy of Bengal with Thakurbari as the home/nucleus of the societal changes, where the men of Jorasanko, including Satyendranath, Jyotirindranath took pioneering roles in being changemakers, in shaping the vision of the society around them.

The dramatic and inspiring transformation of women during the Renaissance period in India with special emphasis on Bengal.

From the spirit of empowerment that Gyanada Nandini brought to Jorasanko, to the fiery and subtle, complex essence of Kadambari’s persona, to the literary erudition of Swarnakumari, the revolting persona of Rupa or Rupkumari (foster child of Tagore’s mother Sarada Shundori), outside the Thakurbari, the narrative account of Nati Binodini and her immensely powerful role in shaping the theatrical history of Bengal—the narrative account of Rash Shundori Debi (a woman’s journey from sheer submission to patriarchal structure, to finding her own voice through documenting her story), the novel encompasses a huge canvas.

All in all—the novel is a huge kaleidoscope of human history, social history and such book releases in the city of Kolkata marks the passion to endorse quality literature and spread it among the readers to cherish its value in posterity.