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The Tamarind Tree – Shyamal Gangopadhyay

Jul 30, 2021 | Fiction | 5 comments

Translated from the Bengali story ‘Rakhal Karhai’ by Chaiti Mitra

At the Chakbere More the bus turned towards Chandaneshwar Bazaar, and continued towards Bhangar. The four wheeled swan sped across the slender road flanked by paddy fields. Khirode Pakrashi left the main road and climbed up the one by the canal, walking briskly, still holding the rolled up bus ticket in his hand. He has to cross the Bidyadhori marshes to reach Garanbere, and gather the men by noon.
From what he had gathered, the wood was solid; once seasoned properly, it could yield anything – low stools, doors, windows – anything. The tree –though a tamarind tree –was so huge that four men could barely encircle it, typical of trees that grew on the marshes. So what if it was just a tamarind tree – who could afford teak these days? Except a handful of select furniture stores in Bowbazar and Sealdah, all were using jamun, jamrul or tamarind indiscriminately. A glossy coat of good polish made everything shine – clothes-racks, cupboards, easy chairs- and be passed off as the real thing. He couldn’t resist the temptation of a good solid tamarind amidst all this duplicity. He had started off immediately, without waiting for his men.
Quite a few ayurvedic doctors had their chambers in the Srimani Market area, which were frequented by sellers of various medicinal plants, herbs and roots. It was at one such chamber that he came across the tamarind tree. Haranath Tarkabhushan had ordered a jumbo five shelf wooden cabinet to stack his jars of chavyanprash and brihat guggul last July. Khirode went there the day before yesterday, hoping to recover at least some of his dues.
From his father’s time the chamber was in Cornwallis Street. Haranath had never bothered to get an electric connection. Plopped in front of an oil lamp, swathed in woolen layers – comforter, blanket, monkey cap– he sat, huge and intimidating, like Yamraj. The cabinet was to be paid for in four installments; ten installments later, Khirode hadn’t succeeded in retrieving even half of his dues.
The kerosene lamp continued to emit soot. A patch of white beard peeped through a gap in the comforter. Khirode hadn’t been able to bring up the topic of money in the half hour he sat before Haranath. When he put his feet down, the dampness of the floor seeped up through the soles. Creepy! So this was what the old man was trying to save his potions and concoctions from when he held his hands and asked for a sturdy cabinet! Yet when it was time to pay, he kept him waiting for the winter to set in perfectly, when phlegm-infested patients would queue up before his chamber! He would then order four pairs of chairs too, and clear his dues, promised Haranath. In earlier times, Khirode would have given away two chairs to Haranath. For free! The old man didn’t have too many days left in him, anyway.
Just then, a man walked in from the footpath, straight up to the lamp-lit table and untied one end of the cotton wrap draped around him. There lay on the table, about 150 grams of tamarind, strands almost as long as medium sized tyangra fish.
“Here…couldn’t get anymore this time.”
About five feet tall, hair almost white, body bent so much that one could easily fit a small basket on the concave hollow of his stomach, Haranath Tarkabhushan spoke from behind his woolen cap: “Couldn’t you find some more?”
“Of course, there was more. But the Beduins’ pigs can’t wait to lick them clean the moment they fall off the tree.”
The Ayurveda doctor held up a strand before the light and sniffed, “Stunted growth, eh?”
“Been supplying since your father’s time. The tree’s ageing now, getting smaller, shrinking.”
Khirode could contain himself no longer, “How old is the tree?”
“Well, it has supplied wood for the pyres of seven generations in our family…now add up the years.”
Khirode had just started adding up when the man spoke again, messing up his mental math. “We can’t eat these, tart as hell. A mere bite makes you fall sick. Fever at first, then delirium, and finally, death.”
Haranath had, meanwhile, broken a pod in half, and was sniffing.
The man probably took pity on Khirode’s puzzled expression and explained, “It’s wild tamarind. When my great grandfather cleared the forests and settled in Garanbere, the tree was already there. What a lovely sight! I remember, when we were young … tamarind clusters hanging from the tree…”
“Sorry Gayen, these are too dry, they’ll be of no use to me. Take them back with you.”
The man straightened up. “No way, sir. You keep buying trashy herbs and plants throughout the day, and you’re rejecting my perfect tamarinds?”
“I have to, since they are of no use to me.”
“But I came all the way for…”
“That’s what you say each time. How long will I keep buying the stuff I don’t need? Can’t even use it for cooking, add it to daal or something!”
“Pests have ruined our crops this year… rice, jute, everything. Wouldn’t have come to you otherwise – keep these, will come of use sometime…”
Gayen started stacking the tamarind on one of the open shelves.
“Stop dirtying my shelf, Gayen. And stop bothering me like this.” Haranath stood up, and then sat down again. Gayen tied the tamarind to the corner of his wrap and stepped out onto the footpath.
Khirode left hurriedly after making some small talk about the cold winter and the steep price of radish, without even mentioning his dues. He found the two old men’s tussle over tamarind nothing short of absurd. He could make out the silhouette of Gayen, a part of his dhoti pulled to cover the upper part of his body, wading through the wafting smoke of the coal ovens on the footpath, used for frying fritters. Khirode almost ran to catch up with his long strides, “How far will you be going, sir?” The old man slowed down a little, “Where have I seen you before?”
“At the ayurvedic doctor’s chamber. Just now.”
He grabbed Khirode’s hands with his huge paws, the long window bar-like fingers almost touching his elbows.
“Used to supply tamarind, arjun-bark and such stuff when the old man’s father was alive.” Then he added, “There used to be many more patients then, Haranath’s not to be blamed.”
He let go of Khirode’s hands and started walking briskly again. Khirode ran to keep pace with him. “Will miss the bus if I can’t catch the 9:58 train. Don’t feel like walking two miles all alone in the pitch dark.”
Khirode didn’t have time to beat about the bush. “The tree is old…”
Gayen paused, “Which tree?”, before attempting to resume his sprint.
It was so difficult to hold a conversation standing on the footpath with people milling around everywhere. “Weren’t you speaking about a tree, sir? Seven generations…”
Gayen now stopped in his tracks. “Ah! Our Garanbere tree… quite a character! A real character!”
“Could I go take a look?”
“Want to come? You’ll come to Garanbere?”
“I could come tomorrow, early morning.”
“Not tomorrow. I’ll be going to Khalishpur tomorrow, with eight cartloads of hay. How about the day after? Catch the early morning train to Basulidenga, you’ll find me at Chakbere More. In case you can’t find me, just ask for Nilambar Gayen.”
Khirode couldn’t speak to him any further that day, Gayen had his 9:58 train to catch.
Khirode went back and rented three large hacksaws that very night. He’d need to hire people at Garanbere to load. He would do a railway booking from Basulidanga, and receive the consignment the next day at the Chitpur rail yard. A few trips of loaded trucks, the entire tree would be in the godown. And then he’d need the rented saws to cut, smoothen, polish. Such an ancient tree, how many thousand cubic feet would it come to? He tried calculating mentally, then gave up. Too complicated, one needed pen and paper for such complex calculations… He didn’t need to call out his name, instead, he spoke softly in his ears, “Gayen, Nilambar Gayen…”
The man stirred and stood up. Khirode had seen him from afar. There was a huge pile of dried water hyacinth by the pond. A mongrel and her puppies – about five or six – were basking in the sun on the heap. Gayen sat there, nodding, holding two of the puppies.
“Here already? Thought you won’t be able to start so early in the morning. Was waiting at Aghore’s, and then…” Reeking of alcohol, baring the eight remaining teeth in an otherwise toothless gum, Gayen grinned. “Aghore bought 10 bighas of illegally occupied land from the Mukherjees. I’ve murdered quite a few people for them, so the Mukherjees readily signed the papers, transferring the land to Aghore for just three thousand rupees. And Aghore got me drunk, first thing in the morning!”
Gayen started walking along the mudbank, Khirode ran to catch up. A farmer shared his lunch of fermented rice with his two sons. Paddy was being weighed and sold right off the field, atop a small hillock.Gayen snapped at Khirode’s enquiry, “No way to transfer the crops without paying levy – police pickets on the roads…”
There lay patches of land where the crop seemed to have been burnt down, where the poison- pests have wreaked havoc at the start of monsoon – not only was the paddy ruined, even the hay was useless.
As they walked, Gayen bent down to pick the tiniest green beans, greener than grass, and gave them to Khirode, “Try some – cowherds’ peas, used to survive on these in my youth, while herding cows, to fill my empty belly–they taste good when dried…”
“Had cows?”
“Oxen, mostly. Would often plough couple of bighas, all by myself, working through the day. Used to cover the land since evening, take the ox to the field while it was still dark, let it roam, and start ploughing at daybreak.”
“Snakes?”
“Hardly. Don’t find any these days…”
Khirode, however, continued to step cautiously. Snakes could appear from any corner of such huge open ten or twenty bigha plots.
“There are a couple, but they don’t come out till night. Extremely poisonous. There used to be many, I’ve probably killed 70-80 of these…”
“Clubbed to death?”
“Clubbed? Killed them with these bare hands…”Gayen stopped.
How far was Garanbere? Khirode longed to rest his tired feet on the clean floor of a proper home! Surely, there’d be no snakes in clean homes!
“Where we are standing now – used to be deep water, sixty feet deep, water from the Bidyedhori river. We would throw coins from the boat…”
“River? Here?”
“This used to be the middle, the 3 miles wide heart. I would load boats with rice, and deliver them to the Auddys from Chetla, sailing on the Kaliganga, via Dhosarhat. See those babool thickets there? They weren’t there even seven years ago, some bird must have carried the seeds and dropped them, as the river silted.”
Khirode didn’t need to speak for some time. Nilambar walked ahead of him. He continued to talk, addressing the empty space before him. Most of his words were blown away by the wind, Khirode could barely catch some, he needed to watch his steps.
“As new islets began to form on the Bidyedhari, fights for possession began. The lucky owners who found new land attached to their fields – it wasn’t uncommon to find 200 or 500 bighas added – felt like kings overnight. But the difficult part was to hold on to the land. Fights broke out all the time.” Here Gayen stopped speaking and laughed, clapping his hands.
Khirode, though he didn’t quite get him, laughed along. After all, the tree belonged to Nilambar and his family.
“I was quite a goon in those days. Stood face to face with my targets, hurled myself at them, cracked bones and tore muscles. I wouldn’t stop, ripped them apart. The elder Mukherjee offered to transfer hundred bighas to my name if I could grab the 5000 bigha islet near Naranpur for him.”
“He did transfer the land. I chopped up the eldest son of the Mondols of Hosenpur. Young chap, the color of his blood! There were numerous such land-grab murders!” Gayen paused to point out a spot in the middle of a field, “See the Rupshal paddy field over there? That burnt out spot? That’s where I killed him.”
The paddy was completely shriveled, the pests had sucked the sap dry. The two of them were following the bullock cart tracks till now. Now Khirode followed Gayen into the fields.
“The murder made me very depressed, but the boys were very young, who would look after them if I got hanged? So, I chopped up the body into small pieces, and flung them all over the field. The vultures! Every tiny bit was gone within three days. Not a trace.”
“Now, what would I do with hundred bighas of land? The soil was very fertile. Thick stalks of paddy started coming up in no time at all. But so did the snakes! The soft dug up soil would invite a cobra with her nest of hatchlings within seven days. They learnt to hide from me after I killed a few. I would force them out of their borrows, often peeling off their flesh as I pulled. Holding them by their tails, I would spin them above my head, then toss them away – the kids would beat them to death.”
“How far is Garanbere?”
“Almost there.”
It took them another half hour to walk across the riverbed and reach the other bank. There the dried up river lay, narrow and dry like an unused drain, not even a trickle. Some scattered wildflowers dotted the bank.
“This is the beginning of our ruin. The river took with it all we had – fish, trade – everything.”
Trees all around, so many of them, nothing to obstruct the view – open fields, huge lakes – ten or twenty bighas each, covered with thick carpets of breathtakingly beautiful water lilies, the air heavy with fragrance of bakul flowers – Khirode couldn’t resist a pinch of snuff.
“See that?”
Khirode looked up and stopped in his tracks. A huge green canopy, covering almost the entire sky, stood before him. The leaves were slightly different from tamarind. A single branch would cover half of a platform at the Sealdah station! It would take him at least a month to chop and load one on a bullock cart.
“Not been infested by ants? Pests?”
“Tons of ant eggs. No pests or insects. Or mites.”
Still staring at the tree, Khirode followed Nilambar into a square courtyard filled with people. About sixteen people were busy winnowing rice. He had to sit on a palm-leaf mat, next to a hunched old man, on an earthen floor that felt harder than brick. A barber finished shaving the old man and held Khirode’s chin next.
“Get a shave – you’re townsfolk after all“ Nilambar pushed the barber’s box towards him.
As Khirode offered his cheek, the tamarind tree caught his eye once again. A couple of broken hand pumps were lying about under it.
“The pumps don’t work?”
“Spent a lot installing. Within two years started pumping out sand.”
“How deep?”
“Seven hundred, seven fifty feet– the water level here is very low” – the old man jumped in – “It’s Sunderban soil after all…”
“Really?”
“Lolalmbar was a child then. His father and I have seen our uncle trying to plough the land – the plough wouldn’t even go in. Even if it did, it got stuck in the roots spread all over.”
“How come?”
“There was nothing but trees here. Our uncle’s father chopped down innumerable trees to start a settlement here. Tigers would wait every night under those scaffolds for the gourd vines. See that pond…they would hide there and come out stealthily when it got dark. Black as the night.”
“Didn’t they eat humans?”
“They did. But never one of us. Maybe because of our uncle’s grandfather…”
One of Khirode’s cheeks was done. The village watchman came in, wearing a brass buckled belt over a lungi. He announced that those belonging to classes A, B, C and D, should enroll themselves for their ration cards within ten days.
Nilambar pointed towards his uncle, “The rail lines were laid after he got married. His uncle’s father was some character; even tigers were terrified of him…”
Khirode extracted his face from the grip of the barber to look at Nilamber’s uncle. The old man explained, “Our uncle’s father had a tail…”
Nilamber confirmed, “Yes, he did. He could swing from one from one tree to another. Had a pig pen of his own. Could crack a concrete floor with one slap. Towards the end of his life, when he had lost all teeth, a pot of pork would always be boiling, he would gobble down semi-cooked chunks of meat. Once, a poor tiger, who made the mistake of hiding under the scaffold, lost his life to him. Skull split into two at one stroke of the club…”
“How long did he live?”
“People say he lived to be 200, but that’s probably not true,” Nilambar paused a bit, then added, “actually, nobody knows when he died.”
“What?”
“At the end, he had crossed the Karati river alone, and walked into the Sunderbans, never to return.”
Nilambar’s uncle said, “We were young then. Lolamber’s father had already chopped off a branch of the tamarind tree and hacked it for his pyre. My uncle’s father’s body was already deformed – ready for the pyre. His wife and children were long gone, grandchildren remained to light his funeral pyre. Then one fine morning he was gone. News reached us in the afternoon – some shepherds had seen Poro Gayen row a boat along the canals of Sunderban. That was the last time anyone saw him.”
Nilambar cut open a green coconut and held it towards Khirode, “So this is our grand old tamarind tree. Everyone in the family except my uncle’s uncle’s father have been cremated with its wood. My sisters –Mejdi, Shailadi – birds no longer perch on its branches, otherwise you could see flocks after flocks lying dead under the tree, having pecked on the tamarind.”
The centre of all attraction – Khirode noticed – stood still, except the leaves on its topmost branches fluttering in the wind. Nilambar’s eldest son was ploughing the fields, readying them for harvesting peas. The sound of buses plying on the faroff road, unseen, reached Khirode. He rose, “What will you do with such an inauspicious tree? Why don’t you let me take it?” One couldn’t be any more specific at the first attempt.
“How will you carry such a huge tree?” Nilambar’s uncle sounded surprised, “the fiercest of storms haven’t been able to budge it from its place.”
“People will come and get it. We’ll need about ten or so axes. Chop it down to smaller pieces. I’ll pay a fair price.”
“You’ll cut it down?” Nilambar interrupted his uncle and asked, “the rates…”
“At par with the market. Won’t cheat you. But I’ll have to check the tree first – such an old one – if there’s anything at all left in the wood…” A huge lie! If this tree is not worth it, then what is? Maybe that’s why his voice trembled a little towards the end.
“What use is it to you?”
“Nothing special. But if you let me, I’ll chop it down and send the pieces to Nimtala.” He could see ten thousand easy chairs, fifty thousand lamps, one lakh stools dancing before his eyes.
Nilambar stood still, staring at the tree. The barber crossed the square. The old uncle said,“Lolambar wasn’t born yet, our uncle’s father would row his boat diagonally across Bidyedhori at night. On moonlit nights, the solid darkness of the tree would guide him back home.”
He straightened a rolled-up sheet that he held in his hand,” Here, see these squares? These are houses. The vertical lines with designs on top – these are the trees. Here, this is our tamarind tree.”
“Settlement map?”
“1939. Here’s the signature of the then settlement Sahib.” He pointed out to the clump of dry babool trees on the barren fields, “The Sahib’s boat would be tied there during low tide, he was the one who clicked a picture of my uncle’s father. He offered a lot of money to PoroGayen to show his tail, but he refused.”
“Poro Gayen had no problem with his vision at night – could crossroads with ease – but during the day, he would go practically blind. Would take shelter in the shade under the tree, couldn’t feel the ant bites till they attacked him in swarms. Then he would get up and rub his body against the rough bark of the tamarind tree. When the bark would loosen and drop, he would lovingly caress the naked smooth tree trunk.”
He stretched the map before Khirode, “See, how wide the river used to be,” he ran his finger across a wide drain on the map. Khirode looked at the shorn fields, the slanted rays of the sun, the short shadows of cows standing alone in the fields, and Nilambar walking towards them, followed by five men, two of whom had axes on their shoulders.
The old man continued with his story, “Poro Gayen would swim across the wide river, and fall asleep after drinking some fermented rice with sour tamarind water. On waking up, he would start working at the field – the plough wouldn’t go in, so he’d dig up the soil with his hands, plant the paddy, removing the roots …” his voice trailed off on seeing Nilambar with the men.
“Let’s fix the rate, Khirode Babu, we’ll not keep the tree…”
The old man interrupted Nilambar, “Sell it? How will you cremate me?”
“There are other trees for that. What are the babools for?”
“But the shady haunt of the Gayen’s tamarind tree will be gone forever? The cool shades will be taken over by naked sunlight?”
“Let them. The crops are ruined. How are we going to survive the monsoons? On tamarind water?” He turned towards the men and barked at them, “Hurry, find out where to start digging.”
“Let’s settle the rate first.”
“Let’s not waste time haggling. It’s a 300 year old tree, give me 300 rupees.
Uncle finally found his voice, “I’m not selling my portion.”
“Don’t get in the way, uncle – you’re all alone, we’ll look after you – don’t we look after you already?”
Nilambar stood erect, the hollow of his concave stomach seemed to fill up with air. The cows were returning, dust from their hooves hung still over the fields. Nilambar’s daughter in law stood waiting with a plateful of rice for Khirode, her head covered.
“To hell with your portion. This is Sunderban, the trees belong to anyone who can grab them. Come, hurry up.” But only one out of the five men with axes stood up.
“What will you show to Poro Gayen when he returns, Lolambar?” Uncle cleared his throat and spat out a blob of phlegm.
“Three hundred rupee notes. Your Poro Gayen shall never return.” Suddenly he broke into a laughter, “How is he going to return? Certainly the 300 year old man can’t walk all the way back. He’ll have to take a boat. But the rivers – Bidyedhori, Karati – have all dried up!”
All that the old man could manage to say was, “He’ll come back. Don’t speak ill of him.”
There was something in his words. A sudden gust of wind in front of the tamarind tree picked up some dust, swirled, and dropped as abruptly as it had started. A few large pods of tamarind fell from above, noisily. The man lowered his axe immediately. Khirode, like the others, turned to look – a square patch of light fell on the cleared ground, the rest was shrouded in a watery, hazy darkness. The tree stood there. All watched in silence as a dark shape suddenly glided down its trunk. As it moved towards the light, Nilambar laughed “Khorichoch!”
The snake was quite long. It crossed the patch of light, slithering over the tamarinds. Khirode couldn’t bring himself to eat any more. It was quite late anyway. He filled his belly with water, then stood up and started walking towards the pond to wash his hands. Nilambar said, “The two of them would really bother the women when they went to the pond to wash the utensils. Stabbed one, the other must have escaped and taken shelter in the tree.
Khirode washed his hands in a corner of the quadrangle. The way things were going between uncle and nephew, he could easily bring down the price to two hundred fifty or even two twentyfive. The five men with axes had moved away from the tree, into the field. A squeaking bullock cart arrived, loaded with paddy. Women were smoking out mosquitoes from the cowshed, great clouds swarmed overhead. Nothing more could be done about the tree today. Khirode put on his shoes. The shrubs swung gently, touching the ground, in the soft evening breeze. The ox kept on going round and round, till Nilambar went and fixed its pole.
“You can’t think of leaving now. Poro Gayen’s family can’t let you go like this,” Nilambar’s uncle walked towards him. It was getting dark, the old man stood just below Khirode, and caught him as he tried to move. He had three hundred and fifty rupees hidden in the secret pocket of his shirt. Khirode didn’t like his attitude. The tree, the dried up marshes of Bidyedhari that Poro Gayen left behind, the abandoned bullock carts – he could never return to the familiar warehouses of Bowbazar and Sealdah from here. Even a while ago he could hear the noise of the buses on the highway, their honking. It was as if PoroGayen had silenced all at one sweep. As a moth eaten half moon rose over the marshes, Nilambar gave up reasoning with his uncle. He had tried to convince, cajole, and even tempt him with possible benefits of the three hundred rupees. His uncle had simply clammed up, sat through it all, without a single response. Khirode could see, in the pale moonlight, a tall shadow moving in circles in the quadrangle. The red crabs must have come out of their holes in the marshes by now.
“Okay then, show me the documents, I’ll calculate who owns what.”
The uncle stomped inside, “Come, bring the lamp, see the documents. I own more than one fifths, and you practically nothing, if your sister Shaila’s children stake claim…”
Nilambar shot in the dark room faster than a stone flung by a slingshot. At first a couple of words by his uncle reached the darkness outside, but soon turned into a scream. Even that didn’t last long. The first polish on mahogany, too, evaporates fast. The heavy breathing in the room seemed to choke the darkness inside. Reminded him of the old local steam engine breathing heavily after dragging the early morning train to Basulidanga, letting off dirty bluish fumes.
Khirode had his shoes on. The silt left behind by the rivers had soaked the last traces of water and turned harder than stones. Shoes tucked under his arms, he ran. The calluses on his soles were killing him. The clump of babool trees resembled a huge blob of black soot on the expansive fields. The settlement Sahib’s boat would be tied there. The moon had risen high up. As he ran, he thought he could hear Nilambar’s guttural voice coming after him “How could one control someone simply by his tail?” Now he had to find his way. There was the Rupshal paddy field. At least that’s what it looked like. Everything was looking the same. Even the moon. The pests had ruined the paddy this time. He could visit right before the monsoon set in, with an even smaller offer, and get the uncle-nephew duo ready with their axes, if the uncle survived this evening’s events. He would flood the Rathyatra fairs with yellow low stools made out of the juicy wood of the topmost branches.
He halted as he reached a downward slope. It was quite steep. A cool breeze blew over the marshes. Bidyedhori has dried up, wiping Karati off the face of the earth. There’s no way for the rainwater to flow. Nilambar’s eldest son claimed to have seen PoroGayen cross the marshes to return home. Effects of weed!
Khirode stumbled and fell. He had missed a step. Couldn’t get up after he had collected his shoes. The lost waters of Karati- Bidyedhori were rushing in. Silvery. He tried getting up, but his knees have long gone stiff. He dropped his shoes.Breathing in air, he bent into a crawling position and tried to sprint with all his might. Couldn’t even stand straight, let alone sprint. No way. Knees locked. If he had to stay there, he would no longer need his shoes. Khirode slowly lowered himself right there. There was no darkness anywhere. The marshes were flooded with moonlight. Poro Gayen, if he so wished, could return on his boat now.

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Glossary

Arjun: tall tree with medicinal properties, common to the Indian subcontinent

Bedouin: nomads

Chavyanprash, brihat guggul: Ayurvedic medicines

Chakbere, Garanbere: local dialects for Sunderban villages names as Chakberia, Garanberia

Daal: lentil soup, one of Bengal’s staples, taken along with boiled rice or bhaat

Jamun: Indian blackberry

Jamrul: wax-apple, a seasonal fleshy fruit

Lolambar: a colloquial “corruption” of Nilambar, as is Bidyedhori for Bidyadhori

More: Crossroad

Tyangra: a small fresh water fish, local to Bengal

Translator's Note

Shyamal Gangopadhyay’s layered texts are a serious reader’s delight, as much as they are a translator’s challenge. How does one recreate his nuanced language, his extremely subtle humour, or, as one finds in ‘Rakhal Kadai’, his effortless movement between stark reality and magical mythmaking? The story speaks of a small time carpenter’s journey to the mysterious marshlands in the south of Bengal, the mangrove forests of Sunderban, in search of a 300 year old tamarind tree. His encounter with three generations of settlers, and the legendary Poro Gayen, their ancestor with a tail, who killed tigers singlehandedly, rowed across rivers that have vanished with time, and had, one night, walked into the forests, never to return, transforms him forever.

An added challenge was to try to retain the regional flavor of the Sunderbans, while making the text accessible to readers unfamiliar with either Bengali language or culture.

Shyamal Gangopadhyay (25 March 1933 – 24 September 2001) was a renowned Bengali novelist and editor. He received Sahitya Academy Award in 1993 for the novel of Shahjada Darasukoh, based on the life of Mughal Emperor Dara Shukoh. His novels were translated and published in various languages. He won Bibhutibhushan memorial award in recognition of his contribution to the Bengali literature and Gajendra Kumar Mitra memorial prize, Sarat Purashkar in 2000.

Chaiti Mitra is Associate Professor in the Department of English, Ramakrishna Sarada Mission Vivekananda Vidyabhavan, Kolkata, and Guest Faculty at the Post Graduate Department of English, West Bengal State University. She has published several articles on narratives of trauma and resistance, and has recently published her first book, Boudoir to Bibighar: The Memsahibs and the 1857 Mutiny Narratives. She is a regular contributor to Bengali newspapers and journals on gender issues. In her spare time, she is an amateur translator, avid traveler and theatre enthusiast.

5 Comments

  1. Subarna Mondal

    The magic of the Sundarbans and the gripping plot woven by the author has been so precisely and beautifully captured by the translator that “nothing has been lost in translation”.

    Reply
  2. Sandip Mitra

    Excellent. Such a difficult story to handle. So fluently done, doesn’t even read like a translation.

    Reply
  3. Samir Kumar Chattopadhyay

    “Rakhal karai ” is one of the important story not only of author Shyamal Gangopadhyay but Bengali literature as a whole. The story concept , characters, background all are unique . The story’s another uniqueness is dealing with magic realism successfully. The translation of this story in any language seems to be difficult but Chaiti Mitra did it so perfectly that the essence of the story remains as original. Thanks to the translator Chaiti. Thanks to Antonym. Requesting Antonym to translate more stories of Shyamal Gangopadhyay because there is huge store of magnificent short stories in his volume of writings. Readers of other languages will come to know the treasure of bengali literature.

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  4. Sudakshina Gupta

    Very nicely written with simple words and readable English. The language is excellent. The choice of the story was also good. Waiting for mant mire such endeavours to come.

    Reply

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