By Nabanita Sengupta
Postmodern literature has shown a deep engagement and preoccupation with the city. A movement toward the city started right from the industrial period. The change in the means of production and setting up of industries also scripted the beginning of alienation among mankind. Poverty, too, changed its appearance. A new class of urban paupers rose, who came to the cities searching for jobs and earning a little more but got caught in the trap of city life. European literature has numerous references to the degeneration and squalor of urban existence. As capitalism and the industrial revolution spread across continents, with imperialism acting as a spur, maladies of cities soon became a universal concern.
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.” (“The Waste Land,” T. S. Eliot)
These lines by Eliot become the hallmark of a postmodern city in any part of the world, the ‘brown fog’ of London winter being a representative of the disillusionment that the city has brought to so many youths. Even in Indian literature, the squalor and grime of city life start receiving attention, particularly during the post-colonial period. Bitan Chakraborty’s novella, Haat Kata, efficiently translated from Bangla by Malati Mukherjee as Redundant, and to be published by Readomania, can be placed within this rich corpus of city literature.
Chakraborty’s novel talks about the anxieties, depression, and helplessness of two young men caught in the rush of city life. By talking about their everyday struggles and their sporadic moments of success in their otherwise doomed lives, Chakraborty brings to the fore a tribe of economically marginalized individuals for whom day-to-day survival becomes a challenge. The book cover, too, evocatively emphasizes this vulnerability of the individual in the face of the more significant force called the city by showing an alienated picture of a hand with a series of cut marks and a pair of scissors. The protagonists – Kanak and Shubho, fighting their way through the uphill battle of sales targets in their respective organizations, manage to earn just enough to pay for their living in the city. They are the people whom we see every day. Still, they remain invisible to us – one, a salesperson in an outlet of a chain of garment showrooms, and another working the day as a Commission Sales agent in a network marketing company by the day and selling lotteries in the evening. Both Kanak and Shubho, through their everyday struggles, their concern for each other, and their individual hopes and aspirations, become a prototype for the hundreds of Kanaks and Shubhos lurking in the various corners of this city. We see the city through their eyes and get acquainted with the lurking undercurrents of corruption, communality, and poverty hidden by the scintillating lights of the metropolitan Kolkata. The novella represents an essential section of the population that has been often ignored in Indian literature. In an increasingly consumerist society of a post-globalized world, many people are employed in the sales sector. For the average young Indian, lacking in any particular skill set, this sector has been a saving grace for many. But the intense competitive atmosphere prevailing in these sectors often leads to underhand dealings and inhuman behavior – as we see in Kanak’s showroom. Shubho’s lottery kiosk becomes the symbol of the poor man’s dream. While Shubho dreams of a well-paying job as he sells these tickets in the evening, his customers are running behind a mirage, which rarely turns into something tangible, some prize money once in a blue moon. Then that momentary success calls for a bit of celebration.
Any translation work raises the question, ‘why.’ As an individual interested in both theories and praxis of translation, the first question that came to my mind while reading Redundant was the need to translate this and the accomplishment of the translator. The importance of this novella lies in the representation of the lifestyle of the poor and lower-middle-class population of the society. It is a realistic representation of the community in which we live. The novella acts as a mirror, forcing us to look at our disturbing inertness, making these marginalized people all the more ‘redundant.’ As the translator rightly says in her note, “Never again will you be able to walk into a showroom without wondering if the counter salesman is struggling to meet a daily target and what will happen if he fails? Never again will you watch a young boy peddling lottery tickets at a railway platform without wondering if he’s managing to get a square meal a day.” Herein lies the novel’s success and the need to translate it. Translation helps achieve a wider readership beyond the confines of the source language. Millions of young men eking out a living in the streets of the cities in other parts of the country have a similar story. Chakraborty’s Haat Kata has the potential to be the voice of that teeming millions, and Malati Mukherjee’s English rendering as Redundant helps the novella to embark upon that journey.
Mukherjee has done a seamless translation and maintains the pace of the novella throughout. Some words, particularly those that refer to specific food and relationship, have been left as in the original. So we find the presence of words such as ruti, tadka, nadu, kakima, et al. It is interesting to see the translator retain the spelling according to the Bengali pronunciation — such as ruti and not the more pan-Indian version of it as roti. These help in maintaining the Bengali environment of the novella and keep it close to the original. Despite retaining certain words from the original, the readability of the text is not hampered. A successful translation reads effortlessly and does not interfere with the translator’s intention. This translation has achieved just that. Redundant tells the story of millions of those individuals who have just managed to retain the semblance of a respectable life and wait each day for a miracle that would change their lives forever. Though the book runs into less than sixty pages, it has the power to make readers think deeply. Also, despite all the characters’ anguish, the book ends on a hopeful note with a renewed faith in human relations. In a society like ours, where alienation and entrapment are increasing in epidemic proportion, Redundant, I hope, would reach a larger community of readers and sensitize them to their surroundings.
A translator of acclaim, Nabanita Sengupta is an Assistant Professor of English in Kolkata. She has translated A Bengali Lady in England (Shambhabi) and Chambal Revisited (Hawakal), co-edited a volume of critical essays, Understanding Women’s Experiences of Displacement (Routledge), and a poetry anthology Voices and Vision (Virasat). She has also authored an e-book of fiction, The Ghumi Days (Juggernaut). Sengupta has been variously published in journals, anthologies, and e-zines. She is the executive committee member of Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata.
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