Bibhutibhushan Bandyopdhyay is one of Bengal’s most well-loved writers. I grew up listening to his name being discussed in circles whenever literary merit was discussed. Like a lot of other Bengali stalwarts of his time, his reach remained largely regional. But it was the genius filmmaker Satyajit Ray, whose adaptation of Bandyopadhyay’s work brought it due fame and recognition.
Unfortunately, I have lost my fluency to read lengthy works in Bengali, and so I must console myself with the translation. And after all these years, I decided to read ‘Pather Panchali’ (Song of the Road) to start off my 2022. The Folio Society edition is translated by T.W. Clark and Tarapada Mukherji and at the very outset, I must admit, how excellent the translation is. The decisions to write names phonetically, and place names in transliteration is the right one.
I grew up with stories of rural Bengal. My father & my grandparents grew up in villages and they regaled me with stories of the trees, the rivers & ponds, and the unique ways of village life. In this book, the reader dives into the lives of siblings Durga & Apu, siblings growing up in the village of Nishchindipur. Their father, a poor but proud Brahmin, struggles to make ends meet. Eventually he leaves the village in search of work prospects.
Their mother, uneducated, poor and with no agency, is left to tend to the house and the children. Through Apu & Durga’s eyes the reader journeys through the seasons and time. It is a reminder of the vicious cycle of poverty and the deep pits it throws its victims into. The innocent and sublime lives of children are moulded in ways that age them faster.
Through the book as the story progresses, characters come and go. But the family and the weight of their circumstances remain, shackling them to their poor luck. It would be condescending of me to say I loved this book. It felt more like coming face to face with a literary great, as one may speak of Marquez or Toni Morrisson. An immense work, and such a way to start this year’s reading.