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Durgesh Nandini
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Durgesh Nandini

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Durgesh Nandini

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's

B M Bhalla

Durgesh Nandini, Bankim Chandra's masterpiece that ushered in a fresh breath of air in Bengali literature is, on the surface, a tale of instant attraction and infatuation of two young hearts. But the most effective symbol of heroic-romance in the novel is the matchless Bimala whose inimitable character, sophisticatedly handled by Bankim, offers unusual and engaging possibilities of multiple readings and presents a vision that rejects narrow divisions and discriminations on the grounds of religion, caste and sex, in short, a world without social barriers.

In the words of Romesh Dutta, “When Durgesh Nandini was first published it was as if a new light flashed all of a sudden across the firmament of Bengali Literature … From Calcutta and Dacca, from the west and east, a joyous note of welcome arose, and Bengalis realized that a new era had begun … new ideas and new fancies had appeared in Literature, with Bankim Chandra at the helm.”

This masterpiece is brought to you in a superb and fluent translation by B. M. Bhalla, a poet, critic, educationist and translator par excellence.

Be transported to the eras of kings and nobles, of honour, courage and valour.


Book Review

Writer Par Excellence

Dr. B. M. Bhalla is a rare academic-ad­ministrator, scholar and poet. He has straddled both the worlds successfully and made a mark distinctly his own. As one of the long serving Principals in a Delhi University college with several teaching assignments and scholarships abroad, Dr. Bhalla has been active all along in his chosen field-literature. He has translated Betty Smith's novel Joy in the Morning into Urdu and won the .Delhi State Sahitya Akademi Award for his translation of Shiv Batalvi's Punjabi Play Luna. He had earlier recreated Punjabi love 'legends in English. His present forays into the world of trans­lation are P.C. Chunder's Seeds of Desire and Bankimchandra Chatterjee's Durgesh Nandini, an eloquent testimony to his scholarship and erudition. Both Chunder's novella and the Bankim's classic are tales of instant attraction and infatuation of two young heart; they offer engaging possi­bilities of multiple readings and present a vision that rejects narrow divisions and discriminations on the grounds of reli­gion, caste and sex—in short, a world without social barriers. Bankim's heroic romance, Durgesh Nandini, details the first encounter between Prince Jagat Singh of Amber and Tilottama, the daughter of the Chieftain of Mandaran on a tempes­tuous night, in an atmosphere of dark apprehension and mystery, inside a ru­ined temple in a jungle. Returning from one of his campaigns, the valiant Jagat Singh catches a glimpse of Tilottama's rare beauty, and instantly loses his heart to her. Both of them are honour-bound to follow the dictates of their hearts desire. The novel is a multi layered study of the tortuous ways of passion and pain in different settings and situations, cov­ering the romantic adventures and indis­cretions of three generations. This verti­cal exploration of passion on the ex­tended time· scale has a spatial dimen­sion also. The locale of events is ex­tended beyond Bengal, it touches Agra and Amber, and becomes Pan-Indian. Dr. Bhalla's translations capture the nu­ances of Bengali culture and ambience in bringing to life the myriad hues of both the works. The renderings are seam­less; they do not require any references or cross-references in order to under stand and appreciate what the original try to convey; they are flawless—the works of a painstaking perfectionist[ whose effect is all the more laudable because it appears effortless. Both the ventures convey the true spirit of the original Bengali treats; they have been elegantly produced and that, too, at a pocket-friendly price. Dr. Bhalla's versatility and multi-faceted talent comes to the fore again in his anthology of poems-surprisingly his first—Semblances. The poems included here have been composed, we arc told, "in the language of pulsation," recalling the poet's past loves and longings. He, however, succeeds "in achieving calm composure" with the passage of time but still keeps "an open house" for his be­loved. During the interregnum. he has been through the vicissitudes of life. :My heart is now a hard red rock," he say in a world where Business is now the only key, The only connection. The only gateway, To all affection, His heart however, melts at human mis­ery and afflictions: children begging at traftic signals, vulnerable teenagers, and .... the emaciated corpses of tribal children, Dying of hunger, In folded villages, In my dear country. But he essentially an incorrigible romantic at heart, dreaming Krishna like of the milkmaids in Bijwasan with "their bulging chests" and "their gyrating hips" in their mad pursuit of the eternal lover. Mythology and folklore are a part of him as the poet struggles with the present in "perfect stillness", contemplating the world around him and eventually coming to terms with it after a colourful and eventful existence. Life has come full circle. "And the cycle starts," — Shakti Batra
Bakimchandra Chatterjee, Durges!l Nandini, translated by B.M. Bhalla. New Delhi: Indialog, 238 pages, Price Rs. 195.
Bankimchandra published Durgesh Nandini in 1865 in Bengali. That was the time when Bengal was passing through a socio­-cultural and intellectual transformation under the influence of British ideas and culture and English language and literature had a great charm for the Bengali middle class. Our traditional ways were being questioned and a social reform movement was gath­ering momentum. The English education was opening up new avenues. Durgesh Nandini is a heroic romance. Bankim must have read Walter Scott and borrowed the idea from him but used the new form in his own original way to convey our own concept of heroism. He also modified the form to incorporate our classical tradition of love and story-telling. So when Durgesh Nandini was published, it was hailed as rare creation. It became an instant classic. Actually the publication of Durgesh Nandini marked a definite stage in the onward march of re-awakening in Bengal and gave it a new direction and content. It established that the native language could become a more suitable vehicle of socio-­cultured transformation. This potential of the novel was immedi­ately noted. There was an instantly enthusiastic response. Romesl1 Chander Dutta captured the popular mood when he said: When Durgesh Nandini was first published. it was as if a new light flashed all of a sudden across the firmam'ent of Bengali Literature, Filled by the glow of that tight. gladdened by the rays of that newly-risen sun and bathed in its radiance, out countrymen sang a paean in its praise. From Calcutta and Dacca, from the west and east, a joyous note of welcome arose, and Bengal realized that a new era had begun a new spirit had been born new ideas and new fancies had spread in literature with Bankirnchandra at the helm. (Bhabtosh Chatterjee, ed. Bankimchandra Chatterjee: Essays in Perspective. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, pp. 75-76)
Now for about 140 years Durgesh Nandini has remained a favourite text in the class-rooms and a subject of special attention for scholars. The novel was made into a popular film in the 1960s. But no English translation was available for a long time. Dr.

B.M. Bhalla has done a yeoman's service in making this classic available in English to the reading public all over India. He has also written an excellent introduction to explain how the novel is relevant to our situation in contemporary India.

Dr. Bhalla is a well known translator. He has already sub­stantial quality translation work to his credit. He has translated another Bengali novel, Samar Garal Khandnam by late P.C. Chunder into English. It was published under the title Seed of Desire. His translation of Shiv Kumar Batalvi's Punjabi verse-­play Luna published by Sahitya Akademi won an Akademi award, and his translation of Betty Smith's American Campus novel Joy in the Morning into Urdu was another landmark.

Dr. Bhalla's English translation of Durgesh Nandini is abso­lutely seamless and smooth. Its language is simple but crisp. It reads like an original work and one can't put it down once one has started reading it. This is an equal, rather greater, achieve­ment than his translation of Shiv Kumar Batalvi's Luna.

The introduction written by Dr. Bhalla throws new light on the novel. It shows how the novel is amenable to contemporary interpretations, historical and psychological, socio-cultural, dialectical and feminist and how the novel achieved the status of a classic by its exploration of temporal and spatial depth.

As a heroic romance, Durgesh Nandini is a story which rests on instant attraction of two young hearts but Dr. Bhalla explores the novel from a different standpoint. For him "the most effec­tive symhoi of heroic romance !n the novel !s matchless Bimala whose inimitable character, sophisticatedly handled by Bankim offer unusual possibilities of multiple readings. Extremely intelligent

and alert, wise and valiant, talented and educated, roman­tic and remarkably restrained, a manager par-excellence of do­mestic social and political affairs, her mysterious and eventful life provides socio-cultural and psychological insights, which seem to have contemporary relevance in feminist and socio-­cultural terms. Bimala's strength lies in being an epitome of hy­bridity, being a Shudra and a Bramin, a maid and a queen, a mother and a friend, an active advisor and manager-all at the same time. Being rational and traditional, pragmatic and idealis­tic, she becomes the symbol of awakened female power in resur­gent Bengal. Bhalla shows how Bankim's vision is modern and inclusive, which rejects narrow divisions, prejudices and discriminations based on religion, caste and sex. By extending the ancient ideals of heroism to medieval times and to all communities he has shown the unity of our composite' culture. Durgesh Nandini, therefore is quite relevant to our times. Dr. Bhalla has made an extraordinary creative and critical contribution to our literary culture. S.B.S. College, University of Delhi SUMAN BALA




In A Heroic VeinRadha ChakavartyThe Book Review/ July 2008 Ever since he arrived on the literary scene in the second half of the nineteenth century, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee has never been out of the news, for the right or wrong reasons. His critics accuse him of historical inaccuracy, cultural stereotyping, communal prejudice and romantic escapism. The lyrics of Vande Mataram continue to spark political controversy. Yet his place in the world of letters remains indisputable, and his defining role in the emergence of modern Indian literature is impossible to ignore. The recent Spurt of new English translations of Bankim's fiction reaffirms this centrality. The Bankimchandra Omnibus VOL 1 (Penguin India), Julius Lipner's translation of Anandamath (OUP) and Gautam Chakravarty's translation of Kapalkundala (The Book Review Literary Trust) were all published in 2005. These translations by diverse hands testify to Bankim's continued popularity among readers, even those not versed in Bengali. They also demonstrate the range of interpretations to which Bankim's works remain open, and the widely varying registers in which his texts may be translated. Brij Mohan Bhalla's translation of Durgesh Nandini may be read as part of this trend, for it exhibits both the possibilities and potential pitfalls of re-presenting an older text to an audience that belongs to a different time, language and social milieu. Durgesh Nandini created an instant impact when it first appeared in 1865. Romesh Chander Dutta declared: 'it was as if a new light flashed all of a sudden across the firmament of Bengali Literature. . . Bengalis realized that a new era had begun, a new spirit had been born, new ideas and new fancies had appeared in literature with Bankim Chandra at the helm.' Set in the times when Akbar was consolidating the Mughal empire while the Pathans fought to retain their dominance over Orissa, the novel has an intricate plot that intertwines several romantic adventures, spanning three generations. The ascetic Abhiramswami's youthful promiscuity in the past generates complications that lend the plot much of its element of mystery. In the next generation, the hidden relationship of Bimala and Virendra Singh unfolds a story of passion, secrecy, pain and loyalty. These earlier narratives provide the background for the youthful romance of Jagat Singh, prince of Amber, and Tilottama, daughter of the chieftain of Mandaran. Woven into this tale of adventure, passion and intrigue are the lives of Usman, the valiant Pathan who becomes Jagat Singh's alter ego, and Ayesha, the tragic female figure whose poignant, unrequited love haunts the second half of the novel. In Bankim's characteristic style, the swift-­moving plot piles event upon event in a breathtaking sequence. So dramatic are the developments, so brilliant the narrative's flow, the reader scarcely has time to notice that many of the happenings are improbable, the coincidences unrealistic, and most of the characters are static and unchanging, hardly any of them endowed with an inner life. History blends with fantasy in the construction of character and incident, for Bankim took liberties with historical fact to suit his own literary purposes. Most commentators place the novel in the realm of historical romance, in the tradition of Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, though Bankim claimed not to have read Scott's novel when he wrote his own masterpiece. But Bankim also drew upon classical Indian sources, especially in his use of the heroic tradition, his descriptions of female beauty, his portrayal of the lovelorn Tilorrama, and his incorporation of signs and portents signifying the future. What emerges is a narrative that underscores the link between the individual and society, the ways in which larger historical trends impact upon specific personal lives. Love, hate, jealousy, sacrifice, valour—all the grand passions are there in a telling measure in this colourful tale. Although it was not without predecessors—Bhudev Mukhopadhyaya's Anguri Binimoy (1857), Pyarichand Mitra's Alater Gharer Dulal (1858) and Kaliprasanna Sinha’s
Hutom Pyanchar Naksha (1862)—it was Durgesh Nandini, along with Bankim's next novel Kapalakundala, that established the Bengali novel on the Indian literary map. Coming after Bankim's English novel Rajmohan's Wife (1864), Durgesh Nandini also demonstrated that it was possible to create a successful novel in a modern Indian language such as Bengali. This early work paved the way not only for Bankim's later masterpieces, but also for future developments of the novel genre in the hands of his literary successors Rabindranath Tagore and Saratchandra Chatterjee. Given the historical importance of Durgesh Nandini, it was therefore with a lot of expectation that this reviewer approached the present translation. Would this translation attempt to revive the old-world charm of a bygone era (for, as a nineteenth century account of a sixteenth century tale, this text is twice removed from us in time)? Or would it emphasize the text's significance for readers of our times? In the Introduction, translator B.M. Bhalla claims both options. He provides the historical context for the narrative but also underscores the modern vision of this nineteenth century text. 'Bankim Chandra thus presents a vision which rejects narrow divisions, prejudices and discriminations based on religion, caste and sex. . . . This is the vision of modern India. Durgesh Nandini, though located in medieval India and written in the second half of the nineteenth century, is a work of great contemporary relevance' (p. 15). To keep the flavour of an old text while demonstrating its 'modern' qualities poses a difficult challenge for any translator, a challenge that this translation attempts to meet but with mixed success. The translator adheres faithfully to the extraordinarily symmetrical two-part structure of the original, chapter headings and all. For the most part, the translation is also able to sustain the pace of the Bengali narrative. Unfortunately though, despite sincere efforts at fidelity, Bhalla's translation falls short of approximating the spirit of the original. Bankim's Sanskritized, ornate prose is of course a stumbling block for any translator who wants to make his language accessible to twenty-first century readers. The task is complicated by the presence of different styles and registers of language within the same text, for Bankim here draws upon classical and romance conventions even as he experiments with a style of his own. He also combines features of the novel genre, imported from Europe, with elements of the Indian heroic tradition. The text is thus heterogeneous in more ways than one, and poses special problems for the translator. One wonders, though, why the translator has chosen the original single-word title Durgeshnandini would have done well enough. It is also difficult to ignore the awkwardness of expression we frequently encounter in this translation. One of the best-known passages in Durgesh Nandini is the description of Ayesha's beauty, in contrast with Tilottama's and Bimala's. In the translation, little of the original magic remains: 'Ayesha's beauty was like the blooming of the lotus in the morning, nectar filled, neither modestly contracting nor moistureless, comely and bright, bursting in smiles.' In contrast, 'Bimala's beauty shed the light of an earthen lamp, somewhat dim, wanting oil, though sufficient enough for domestic use' (p. 127). Elsewhere, the transla­tion falters in its account of night-time revelry: 'The bright girl was the object of Katlu Khan's eager eyes. She too was firing his bosom with her side glances' (p. 208). And a few lines later, the reader must grapple with the unwieldy and confusing syntax of: 'But who would tell Katlu Khan that these dagger­-like side glances that pierced his heart were fine but what about the other dagger?' (p. 208). Such passages in the translation reduce the brilliance of Bankim's prose to near-bathos.

It is unfair, though, to regard the original text as the sole touchstone in judging a translation. Instead of using fidelity as the main criterion, it is perhaps more productive to consider how a translation reads as a text in its own right, intended primarily for readers who cannot access the source language. By this measure, also, this translation works only up to a point. If it does not always capture the intricacies of Bankim's style, it does succeed in maintaining a clear story-line and a gripping, fast-moving narrative. But unfortunate grammatical lapses tend to mar an otherwise lucid translation, with expressions like: 'he jumped down his horse' (p. 20); or, '[a] fair damsel was lustily applying comb to her lush hair' (p. 185).

Lapses are inevitable, of course, for that is the way with translations. The perfect translation is a chimera, and the attempt to achieve it a self-defeating enterprise. In place of sterile perfectionism, it is more meaningful for a translator to set clear objectives regard­ing the purpose of the translation and its intended effects upon the target readership. For in a world increasingly in need of recon­necting with the past and with languages/ cultures other than one's own, the very act of translating remains a significant gesture beyond the merely literary. Translating Bankim for twenty-first century readers is a coura­geous venture that must be understood and appreciated in this special sense.

Radha Chakravarty is a translator and an academic. Her latest book is Feminism and Contemporary Women Writers: Rethinking Subjectivity (Routledge. 2008).

To read a review by Jagran CityPlus, click here
To read a review by The Book Review, July 2008 click here


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