An emotional journey into the world of Bengali literature (Book Review)

Book: The Greatest Bengali Stories Ever Told; Editor and translator: Arunava Sinha; Publisher: Aleph; Price: Rs.499; Pages: 288)

Editor and translator Arunava Sinha’s latest book is a bag of myriad emotions, with every story conveying some feeling. The translator has chosen 21 authors from different strands of life, different eras with different perspectives and distinct style who wrote in Bengali.

Sinha’s love affair for Bengali short stories is reflected in the very introduction, where he writes about how his mother developed in him a fondness for stories.

“My mother loved reading, but not aloud. She did not care for the drama that it involved. A short story, to her, was almost like a guilty secret, something she hugged to herself,” the translator writes.

For Sinha, Bengali short stories have been his companion in grief and joy and he shares a passionate relationship with them for some 40 years now.

His passion, he says, “has given me the courage, after all these years, to put together a selection of Bengali stories, that are, in my opinion, amongst the greatest ever published”.

He mentions that some of the authors he opted for are famous while some are unknown to others and that the story selection is based on what he loved and have made a deep impression on him.

After Rabindranath Tagore’s dealing of relationships with warmth and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s rare combination of satire on society and high emotional quotient, Sinha includes writing that portrays the real Bengal society – famine-driven, politically-upfront and stories of the freedom struggle that convey discontent, disillusion, anger and irony.

Sinha begins with Rabindranath Tagore’s timeless short story “The Kabuliwallah” that narrates a beautiful tale of a girl named Mini and a vendor Rahmat who hails from Afghanistan. Then comes “Mahesh” by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay that is emotionally attached to the translator. He was 10-years-old when his mother broke down while narrating the story to him – the tale of an ox and its miserable owner.

Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s “Einstein and Indubala” is another engrossing short story filled with light humour, while Ashapurna Devi’s “Thunder and Lighting” focuses on the patriarchal society and its impact on the life of Bulbul, also called Bula or Chhoto Bouma (youngest daughter-in-law).

Then, there is Satyajit Ray’s “Two Magicians” which highlights the relationship between a master and a trainee magician; Sunil Gangopadhyay’s “Post Mortem” a tale of ruthlessness in a city that abandoned a man to die on the streets of Calcutta (now Kolkata).

Other stories translated by Sinha are “The Offering” by Pramatha Chaudhuri, “The Music Room” by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay, “Homecoming” by Banaphool, “The Discovery of Telenapota” by Premendra Mitra, “And How Are You/” By Buddhadeva Bose, “Ras” by Narendranath Mitra, “India” by Ramapada Chowdhury, “Raja” by Ritwik Ghatak, “Urvashi and Johnny” by Mahasweta Devi, “News of a Murder” by Moti Nandy, “Ten Days of the Strike” by Sandipan Chattopadhyay, “Swapan is Dead, Long Live Swapan” by Udayan Ghosh, “Flapperoos” by Nabarun Bhattacharya and “Air and Water” by Amar Mitra.

The book ends with sketches on the lives of the authors.

Though the list ends here, what does not end is Sinha’s contribution to the literary scene by bringing the rural and urban stories of Bengal to a larger audience.

(06.05.2016 – Somrita Ghosh can be contacted at



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