Book Review: Amita Ray’s ‘Treats in Translation’

Book Review by Gopal Lahiri (Poet and Critic)


Treats in Translation

Author: Amita Ray
ISBN: 978-93-89615-45-6
Publisher: Authorspress, New Delhi
Price: ₹ 295.00 INR

Translation Treats- A Rich Fare

Jacques Derrida says, ‘Every text remains in mourning until it is translated’. In her captivating book titled ‘Treats in Translation’ Amita Ray brings the nuances of the Bengali short stories written by the legendary writers into English language and makes it her own form. She signals that her expressions are not only shaped by the language but also the traditions of Bengali Culture.

‘Treats in Translation’ includes translation of selected stories by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay and Jibanananda Das. It is true that Amita Ray’s book contains translations of seven short stories written by the writers, all of whom are luminaries in Bengali literature.

Gopal Lahiri
Ray finds her vein of expression by attending to the minute details and offers new space that goes beyond the existing. The book is highly impressive, lively and imaginative work. The readers will feel the struggle and despair and the sweat and tears that flowers in the stories.


Sanjukta Dasgupta, the eminent writer and academician, has rightly said, ‘Translation is a process of disseminating cultures. By selecting seven canonical fictional narratives written by five superstars of Bengali literary world, the translator Amita Ray has provided a rich fare for readers which are indeed a rare treat.’

One of the translations most appealing elements can be the right choice of the words keeping the essence close to the original. Here the author understands that the translation of an indigenous language isn’t always the preservation, rather the work projects the needs of transferring the spirit of the culture into another language.

In her foreword, Professor Bharati Ray mentioned, ‘Translation from one language to another presents a crucial- that of the difficulty in conveying the fundamental nuances of the original language; yet translations are necessary. They give an idea of other people’s cultures, enrich the thoughts of the readers and help mutual understanding of the culture of different people.’

Ray’s selection of two novellas of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Radharani and Jugalangurio is laudable. It is to be noted that Bankim has brought in dreamy and romantic influence from the Western world into Bengali literature. The union of Hiranmoyee and Purandar at the end in ‘Jugalangurio’ after prolonged uncertainties and stress amplifies the emotion of life with grace and delicacy. Radharani is a simple love story told with stunning tenderness. Dreaming up passion, the author probes and sketches the relationship between the characters with skill and purpose.

Ray weaves in her own way in translation, the essence of the story, yet exploring how the idea of staying close to the original can bring you the desired consequence. Clarity and candidness are her watchwords for translation; her voice is not always one of grandeur or pomposity. 

‘For the first time the two of them looked at each other in broad daylight. With their eyes fixed on each other they started thinking whether anyone had faced such a situation in their life. In this vast world with oceans, sculpted by rivers and inhabited with multiple forms of life could there be an amalgamation of such contradictions like so embarrassing, yet delightful, so unsettling yet calm, so comical yet serious, so satisfying yet awkward?’(Radharani)

Ray has selected two gems of short stories of Tagore. In ‘Kankal’ and ‘Postmaster’ Tagore leans into desire and love as a means to heal wounds and empower thereafter. ‘Postmaster’ is a heart wrenching story of a young orphan village girl and a very compassionate postmaster. The postmaster comes to the village for work leaving his urban life but he feels lonely in this secluded place.

His only solace is his servant ‘Ratan’ who engages him with conversation and soon she finds an emotional bondage with her ‘new master’. But sadly, the postmaster quit his job at the end and decides to leave the village. Ratan is devastated and reconciles with her destiny, the short spell of loving moments does not last long and she understands at the end that she has to live with her fate and realises ‘in this wide world no one belongs to another’.

But in the grief-stricken innocent mind of Ratan there was no such revelation. Crying bitterly, she loitered round the post office probably in faint hope of Dadababu’s return to take her along. To her it was such a precious bond which she could ill afford to sever. Alas! How foolish the human heart is.’(Postmaster)

Ray has also translated another Tagore story titled ‘Kankal’ and the narrative conveys the right kind of emotion that the situation demands. The straightforward cadences of the original, paired with the signature story telling are beautifully expressed.

Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s story ‘Upasarpa’is a delightful exploration of  a man’s profound love for the image of Lord Krishna’. It can at times feel highly emotive, yet its ultimate effect is one of deep humanity. It’s true that the splendour of language is as much a matter of sound as of meaning. There is not much lushness to the language the translator uses, especially about the inward journey.

Saratchandra Chattopadhyay is one of the most popular novelists of Bengal. ‘Mahesh’ is a moving tale of a poor peasant’s love and affection for his bull and anguish at losing him. The story reflects the unevenness, the dismay all around in the society and is worthy of our intense gaze.

Jibanananda Das is a famous poet of Bengal and his prose writings are equally striking. Ray has selected the story ‘Somnath and Sreemati’ which is no less captivating and determines what happens next.

It’s impossible not to cheer the awareness and cognizance enacted by the protagonist ‘Sreemati’ in the story and to be stirred by her viewpoint. To paraphrase, ‘Sreemati’ is writing in her final letter the anthems of her generation.

‘Our life is like the clouds. From within the fumes of anarchy it becomes alive for a moment or two with likings ad desires of human beings…to think of work. It should be then enjoyed, changed, perceived…Or there is no harm if all these are undone. But the realisation that there is no harm is essential.’ (Somnath and Sreemati).

The writer is especially good at capturing its longings, those in this story being at once obsessive and incipient, and the mental and physical unravelling is evoked in chilling detail. It is poignant and the ending is tragic.

Most of the stories reside on the questions of who we are and where we belong- of what divides us and what unites us in the society. Those are the signifiers we are invited to discover in these evocative stories. One of the great strengths of this book is the detail with which Amita Ray expresses in her translation the emotion and shade.


The cover page is impressive. This immensely readable book offers us the chance to escape and at the same time forces us to engage and is definitely a worth buy.

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