Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bishabriksha - Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay



Bishabriksha (poison tree) is set in Bankim Chandra’s own time.
Nagendra gives refuge to a young widow Kundanandini in his own house, who is orphaned after the death of her father.
He becomes attracted to the girl and is torn between his devoted wife Suryamukhi and the beautiful Kundanandini. There are other characters like Kamalamani, Nagendra’s sister, Taracharan who is desirous of Kundanandini, etc...

The work paints an adequate picture of the Bengal society, its norms, traditions, conventions etc. during a bygone period. Huge Havelis, palanquins, many many servants and separate quarters for all people…

The pages are strewn with some literary splendour, some insights into human emotions and a definite story… but this one is not as good as Kapalakundala. Sometimes, some details get too painful… unlike Kapalakundala where there is absolutely no redundancy… the details could have been presented much better…

One thing from this novel that I could not gather was that a woman’s only identity was her appearance. Every woman is described using parameters such as complexion, shape of eyes, nose, lips, height, length of hair etc…when a man is attracted to one, it apparently is only because of the way she looks.
This certainly cannot be attributed to the author’s mindset but to the times in which he lived, the seemingly small role that women were perceived to be playing in a family (perceived by men & the society)and an aspect of sociology that prevailed during the author’s time.

The translation is disappointing. It actually surprised me. It would have been good if the translator had translated only the purport or intent of a sentence instead of doing a literal word by word translation.

Worshipping tobacco god, goddess of alcohol…and many such others…

Some metaphors and similes actually sound ugly post translation. They would sound very normal in Bengali or any Indian vernacular but in English, they seem nonsensical. A non Indian reading these lines will be perplexed.
Perhaps, one should keep all these in mind while translating a work and where appropriate, avoid literal translation and use their own words to convey the net effect/purport, the summary or the gist.

This work is a typical Bengali tragedy – the state of affairs continues progressively from bad to worse. There is progressive deterioration of a family until nothing is left except wretchedness. The reading has not a single protagonist to look at and feel Ah! at least this one is living happily…Everyone and everything is wracked. It becomes more and more saddening for the reader.

If you are a Bengali fan or a Bankim Chandra fan, do read. It does not take long…just a few pages.

And then, there are fragments of splendor. Read on…

Love ripens through estrangement…

The unchanging devotion that I have towards him remains and will remain for as long as this clay is not mingled with the earth...

Nagendra opened the window and clusters of insects came and entered his bedroom. Kundanandini, watching from the garden wondered what in this world was needed to be born as an insect!

There are many sensations in the mind which people call love. But it is the state of mind in which we are ready of our own accord to sacrifice our own happiness for the happiness of another is correctly called love. ‘Ready of our own accord’, that is, not because of knowing our duty or in the desire for virtue…

When the qualities of one who is an object of love are apprehended by the faculties of the mind, and the heart, becoming enchanted by these qualities is drawn towards that person and is moved, then the desire for union with that person who holds these qualities is born and devotion towards that person grows. The result is sympathy and in the end, self forgetfulness and self renunciation. This is truly love.

Fascination born of beauty is not so. The intensity of all the upheaval of the mind which arises from the sight of beauty becomes less with recurrence. That is, it is allayed by repetition. This is not so with what arises from qualities. For beauty is a single thing – everyday, it is manifested in the same way. Qualities manifest themselves newly day by day in new actions.



4 comments:

jose said...

It is quite interesting that most of the old classics are tragedies.What better example than Devdas? Maybe it is sadness which inspires art and literature more easily. Even when I go through your blog, I find a hidden tinge os sadness behind some of your most beatiful works... Is it just my imagination???

And about the woman factor, we can probably count the number of period Indian works in which a woman is portrayed just as a beautiful being... Even the exceptions have something to do with beauty... e.g. a beautiful woman getting disfigured and being disowned... I think it just portrays the general mindset of the society...
Considering the social point, I feel some of the classics of Jane Austen, George Elliot etc deserves more praise though fact remains that the protagonists there are still "beautiful women" :)

Sowmya said...

Hey Jose, its not your imagination... I started writing poems at a time when my heart was sinking... Yes sorrow is at the root of art and creativity... a lot of comedians are known to have had tragic personal lives...

Now I want to read jane Austen and others... to appreciate what you are saying...

jose said...

Feel free to borrow from me... I haven't met too many people who would like to read that generation of books...
In case you are in town this weekend, gimme a call... I'll leave my number on your yahoo chat...

akshay.aksci said...

Hi,
I believe in time, this comment cannot be new nor can this post be called old. I recently read Bishabriksha (The Poison Tree) translation by Mariam S, Knight (free on kindlestore). And I guess more than the rhetoric, it was the theme which kept the story wrapped around me for weeks, and I dreamed of the characters for days. I have no words to describe the story or the author. It was then I decided to learn Bengali.

I believe from the fragments you've posted, the translation I've read differs from the one you have. You might want to check this one out.

Great Post.

~Akshay