Bakul Katha by Ashapurna Debi. Translated by Lopamudra Banerjee

Bakul Katha by Ashapurna Debi.
Translated by Lopamudra Banerjee
Avenel Press, 2021. Pp 335. ₹ 500/-

Reviewed by Nandini Sahu

The day my dear friend and fellow writer Lopa (Lopamudra Banerjee) messaged me regarding her translation of Ashapurna Debi’s third novel Bakul Katha from the stellar trilogy, I was overwhelmed. It was like a dream-come-true for me, though it may sound as bit of an exaggeration. I read Pratham Pratishuti and Subarnalata from the trilogy during my early youth; the stories of the two emancipated women. The stories conquered my collective imagination of Bengali literature, society and Indian literature at large at that point. This continued for two decades—and Bakul was always at the back of my mind. I was curious to know what happened of Bakul, but I never found an English translation of the book. I moved from place to place, I was exposed to many lands, but could not make Bakul a thing of the past. Ashapurna Debi is such! A powerful a writer she is.
The translation of Bakul Katha is certainly a milestone and a turning point in the literary career of Lopamudra. This is her major contribution to Translation Studies as well as to Comparative Indian Literature. 
The storyline revolves around the life of Bakul, Subarna’s daughter. Let me quote from the novel, “Bakul aka Anamika Debi, the unmarried youngest daughter of the spirited Subarnalata who stays on in this old ancestral home and evolves into a famous author, finds herself in the strange intersection between hard-earned emancipation and the abuse of freedom, the degeneration of values. Torn between the memories of her unrequited love with Nirmal, her neighbour, his untimely death and her highly eventful literary life as Aamika Debi (her pen name), which defines her as a woman of substance, Bakul’s tale is a tale of empowerment of resistance against various power struggles of the society and also of acceptance. Acceptance of unadulterated love that comes from her feisty, rebellious niece Shampa who continues to break her shackles and revolts against the double standards of her familiar world. Acceptance of the unnamed bond of love and camaraderie between herself and Madhuri, her past lover Nirmal’s wife. Acceptance also symbolizes the life of Bakul’s widowed elder sister Parul, a poet at heart, living alone.”
Satyabati was Subarna’s mother; she had the audacity of going against patriarchy in a pre-Independent Bengali joint family. Subarna inherited her mother’s rebellious pedigree and dared to call a spade a spade—but she too couldn’t realize her dream of a liberated, egalitarian society. Bakul, who represents the third generation of these progressive and fiercely independent women, has a life that Satyabati and Subarna would have dreamt of living. She has an enviable academic and professional career as a successful woman writer. But then, is this the kind life that Bakul had asked for? What are her existential issues? What does her inner voice say? What struggles does she have with herself? And what is her idea of ‘acceptance’? What are the post-colonial calligraphies of the character Bakul, painted by Ashapurna Debi? These are some of the issues and introspections that the novel deals with, and the translated version brings to life meticulously. For a non-reader of Bengali, the effective translation does sound like an original work—though Lopamudra has been extremely faithful to the original text.
Translation does not mean the reconstruction of lexicon after lexicon, it basically intends to bring home the culture—hence bestowing the ‘power’ on the translator. It won’t be an embellishment to create a discourse here that Lopamudra has assigned more power for the novel with this translation, taking it to the Western readers as well as non-Bengali Indian readers. The object of this translated text, to me, has been to deal with the issues related to the translation of a seminal, signature, challenging Bengali text with a focus on the following points: 

* Translation as a mode of representing identity
* Solving the problems of a difficult translation: linguistic, cultural, semantics, lexical
* Dealing with the language functions of Bengali and English
* Problematizing translation as loss: cultural essence, sonority, spirit 
* Translation: bringing home the culture 

Lopamudra, the translator, has finely grouped both the texts selectively under broad-spectrum heads including the title, the organization, the paragraphing and sentence connectives, shifts, metaphors, cultural words, proper names, neologisms, so-called untranslatable words, indistinctness, meta-language, puns, sound-effect, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, symbols, allegory—and made an assessment of the whole to accomplish precision. The translator’s preface, which is very important, attempts to consign the translation in a foreign atmosphere, and has interpreted the text linguistically as well as culturally. 

After reading the novel, I also felt good to read the Appendix with the pertinent and germane comments by Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta, Satadeepa Gupta, Dr Anita Nahal and some other admirable scholars. The book has a tone and tenure, it has a character of its own, and it is a comprehensive feminist discourse. The book has the power of creating history. 

Prof. Nandini Sahu, Professor of English and Former Director, School of Foreign Languages, IGNOU, New Delhi, India, is an established Indian English poet, creative writer and folklorist. She is the author/editor of fifteen books. She is the recipient of the Literary Award/Gold Medal from the hon’ble Vice President of India for her contribution to English Studies. Her areas of research interest cover New Literatures, Critical Theory, Folklore and Culture Studies, Children’s Literature and American Literature.

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