A review of Legends Speak: Bengali Women’s Narratives in Translation

Legends Speak: Bengali Women’s Narratives in Translation

Translators: Amita Ray, Chaitali Sengupta, Lopamudra Banerjee
ISBN: 978-93-90873-62-3 (Paperback)
Edition: 2022
Price:  550.
Publisher: Avenel Press.

Reviewed by: Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

        Throughout the centuries women’s voices have been muted. Women were/are considered to be the epitome of sacrifice and posited by society as carriers and preservers of culture and tradition and expected to bear the cross silently for ‘motherhood’ and ‘nationhood’. When women started speaking for themselves they were ‘labelled’. When they did start writing their writings were put into ‘brackets’. The Bengali women writers are no exception. In their writings, they have pointed out how society has failed to give them what they deserve.

       Three contemporary translators Amita Ray, Chaitali Sengupta, and Lopamudra Banerjee across three continents have successfully put in their efforts to represent Bengali women’s creative fiction straddling a wide-ranging trajectory from the colonial period and thereafter contemporary times. The translators have selected novellas written by Swarnakumari Devi (1855-1932) Ashapurna Devi (1909-1995) and Suchitra Bhattacharya (1950-2015). “The novella, as a literary genre, can be positioned mid-way between the concise short story and the expansive novel. The novella therefore can be described as a literary sub-genre, which borrows its structural uniqueness by combining the precision of short stories and the novel” writes Sanjukta Dasgupta in the Foreword of the book.

      Swarnakumari Devi’s Chinna Mukul—The Uprooted Blossom was published in 1879. Chaitali Sengupta has translated the multi-textured narrative with grace and élan. The story is about Kanak and her failed love for Hirankumar, a deputy Magistrate in Alipore Court. The plot is intriguing and full of twists and turns and keeps the readers glued to the last. The prose is gender-neutral there are no feminine effusions or emotions or use of proverbs or sentiments that are womanish. This shows the contemporaneity of the novella. The Clarion stated, “Remarkable for the picture of Hindu life, the story is overshadowed by the personality of the authoress, one of the foremost Bengali writers today.” (36, Thakhurbarir Andarmahal). Sengupta has succeeded in retaining the fervour and essence of the original writing. The novella laced with humour and wit makes strong jibes against systematic patriarchy with light-footed ease. Swarnakumari did not show any self-conscious cultural project to situate the historically and culturally grounded feminist concerns. But in Chinna Mukul, she raised questions that foreshadowed the future intellectual and political constructions of Indian feminism.

        The next translated novella Nachhor was written by Ashapurna Devi in the 1960s. It was later published in her collection of novels titled Shreshthya Panchti Upanayash. Nacchor translated into English effortlessly by Lopamudra Banerjee as The Incorrigible chronicles the emotional journey of Neera as she juggles between her marital life with Biram and her childhood love Kunal. Neera could never muster courage enough to proclaim her love for Kunal and lived on with the emotional baggage. The author deftly points out how Neera/(woman) is/are tamed into being the right fit for her family and society at large. Ashapurna had a keen eye for understanding the psyche of women and in a way, she was a game-changer and subverted the stereotype of the Bengali woman and portrayed her in a new light.

          Ace translator Amita Ray has translated Suchitra Bhattacharya’s novella Shunya thekhe Shunya published in 2010. Shunya thekhe ShunyaThe Void captures the essence and change in Bengali society over three generations. The little world of Bandana her son Sagnik, the new-age daughter-in-law Riya, and her grandson Rwik are painted in subtle deft strokes by the author. After her husband’s demise the world changed for Bandana and the void was a permanent one. Perhaps in the modern world, one has to live with fissures and voids. The story ends; it begins where it ends. Suchitra’s penchant for allowing her readers to find a reflection of themselves in her works and her beguiling presence in the novella makes her a favourite among her readers.

         Legends Speak resonates with feminine voices of resistance and resilience though they were written at different points in time. One can feel the pulsating grains of history laid across the pages of these three novellas. Conventional values of traditional Bengali society are closely interrogated as part of the reaction to changes brought about by the changing times. The readers are implicated in the novellas, which brings to the surface questions around where lie the boundaries beyond which women are condemned of transgression; in the private moments when they desire. When their desires burst male hegemony? When they are resolute and unabashed in their word? When their roars threaten age-old notions of middle-class Bengali sophistication? A volley of nuanced questions makes these novellas resonate across class, gender, and cultural contexts.

       Legends Speak (Bengali Women’s Narratives In Translation) evokes an intimate feminine space by revealing the truth one a woman’s stories lies in the plunge that these translators take while sharing them, in the intimate acts of transfer the readers are enriched, it is a collection where women (original writers and translators) wear themselves and the volume is bound to attract and connect global impulses of feminine voices.

Works Cited: Deb, Chitra, Thakhurbarir Andarmahal., Kolkata: Ananda Publishers, 1983. Print.


Bio: Sutanuka Ghosh Roy is an Associate Professor of English, at Tarakeswar Degree College, The University of Burdwan. The titles of her books are Critical Inquiry: Text, Context, and Perspectives, Commentaries: Elucidating Poetry, Rassundari Dasi’s Amar Jiban: A Comprehensive Study, Ashprishya (translated into Bengali, a novel by Sharan Kumar Limbale,). She is also a reviewer, a poet, and a critic. 

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