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# The Forgotten Stone: On Rabindranath Tagore and Latin America (essay)

Selected Short Stories of Rabindranath Tagore
ed. Sukanta Chaudhuri, Oxford, Pp:322, ISBN: 123-456-7890

Rajat Chanda

Rabindranath Tagore wrote almost 100 short stories. He was the first Bengali writer to elevate the short story to a serious art-form. Tagore easily intermingled stark realism and poetic idealism in his stories which reflected the contemporary life in rural and urban Bengal. Many of the stories portray conflicts or tensions between the new and the old, cruelty and sensitivity, solitude and crowd, male and female.

Rabindranath wrote most of his short stories in the 1890s. They were published in several periodicals, most notably, Sadhana where 36 of his stories appeared. Literary magazines played a critical role in the development of Bengali literature throughout the 19th and the first few decades of the 20th century. Rabindranath directed and edited Sadhana and published many of his best known stories, including Kabuliwala (kaabulioYaalaa) and Hungry Stone (kShudhita paashhaaN), in the pages of this remarkable periodical. Later, during 1914-1917, several of his great stories like The Wife's Letter (strIr patra) and Woman Unknown (aparichitaa) appeared in the monthly magazine Sabuj Patra.

Some of Rabindranath's short stories received strong criticism when they first appeared. The non-Bengali readers had to rely on translations, many of which were of poor quality. Thus, his genius as a short story writer was not recognized for years. Mary Lago in her work Imperfect Encounter searched for the reasons for these unsatisfactory translations. C. F. Andrews managed Tagore's relations with the English publishers rather badly, interposing himself between the author and potential competent translators, and turning off several of them in the process. Andrews had rather limited literary sensibilities but enjoyed a great deal of Tagore's confidence. He contributed a number of unsuccessful translations; some of them done in collaboration with the author. He also insisted on modifying and westernizing the stories to suit western taste.

Rabindranath himself weakened some of his powerful stories in translation by leaving out details of Indian life that he thought would be too foreign to non-Indian readers. Edward Thompson was an English poet and critic having long association with Rabindranath and a number of other luminaries of Bengali culture such as the philosopher Brojendranath Seal, the artist Abanindranath Tagore, and Prasanta Mahalanobis, the scientist. Thompson wrote in Tagore's obituary in 1941: "More and more he toned down or omitted whatever seemed to him characteristically Indian, which very often was what was gripping and powerful. He despaired too much of ever persuading our people to be interested in what was strange to them. His work will one day have to be retranslated and properly edited. I am sure that then there will be a revival of his reputation."

About a decade ago W. Radice's Selected Short Stories with an excellent introduction was published. It focussed only on Tagore's stories written in the 1890s. This followed his remarkable translations of Tagore's Selected Poems. These works indeed helped revive Tagore's reputation outside India.

The elegantly produced recent publication, also titled Selected Short Stories, is edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri. Sankha Ghosh, the noted scholar and writer, is the advisory editor who helped select the stories. This work attempts to capture the whole range of Rabindranath's short stories by selecting 26 of them, starting from The Ghat's Story (ghaaTer kathaa), written in his early 20's and beautifully translated by Supriya Chaudhuri, to The Laboratory (lyaabareTari), a remarkable story written in the last year of his life and The Story of a Mussalmani (musalamaanir galpa), first published years after his death. It may be mentioned that 6 of these stories, The Exercise-Book (khaataa), A Single Night (ekaraatri), The Living and the Dead (jIbita o mR^ita), Kabuliwala (kaabilioYaalaa), Grandfather (Thaakuradaa), and Hungry Stone (kShudhita paashhaaN), are also to be found in Radice's selection.

This volume is the first in a series called The Oxford Tagore Translations, a major project undertaken by the Oxford University Press in collaboration with Viswa-Bharati. The future volumes will include Selected Poems, Tagore's writings on Literature and Language, and writings for children.

A distinguished panel of translators has managed to convey the delicate beauty of the original. Many of the stories reflect Tagore's rural experiences, his love of nature, and his deep insight into human relationships. It is indeed a pleasure to come across such uniform and high quality of translations of these treasures of Bengali literature. In most of these stories, universal themes transcend regional and cultural barriers.

The introduction by Tapobrata Ghosh provides an excellent overview, background and the context of the stories. The notes at the end of the book, also prepared by Tapobrata Ghosh, are short and to the point. These notes provide keys to Bengali culture and customs.

Finally, reproductions of appropriate sketches and paintings by Tagore himself and by his nephew, the famous artist Gaganendranath Tagore, have helped set the mood and greatly enhanced the artistic quality of the production.

In summary, editor Sukanta Chaudhuri and the entire panel of translators must be congratulated for an excellent effort. Tagore's creations were obscured and partly forgotten for so long mainly due to inadequate translations of his writings. We hope that the future volumes of the Oxford Tagore Translations series will maintain the high standards set in this volume and will re-introduce to the world the multi-faceted genius of Tagore, perhaps the greatest Indian writer ever.

You can buy this book online at Amazon.Com

Further Reading:

1. Alien Homage, E. P. Thompson, Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 25. This book also discusses Edward Thompson's role in the translations of Tagore's stories.

2. The One and the Many : Readings from the Work of Rabindranath Tagore , by William Radice (Translator)

3. Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Short Stories , tr. William Radice

Reviewed by Rajat Chanda. Rajat Chanda is an ex-theoretical physicist now working at AT&T. He is currently based in New Jersey, USA.

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