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Book Review: Lopamudra Banerjee’s ‘The Broken Home and Other Stories’

By Wani Nazir 

Title: The Broken Home and Other Stories
Translator: Lopamudra Banerjee
Publisher: Authorspress, 2017

In Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, Salman Rushdie contends cogently: “It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained.” Rushdie’s statement holds water, no denying the fact. Yes, it is true that any task of translation comes with a host of onerous phantoms of challenge and it always remains an incomplete task. Can one feel satisfied after reading Fitzgerald’s English rendering of Khayyam’s Rubayat when one has already read the original? The answer is certainly a big “no”. But despite the deficiencies, it must be acquiesced that translation of any original text into any other language always rolls in with a harvest of gains as numerous great as well as less great writers are introduced in non-native corners of the world. Thereby a few global/universal literary tendencies are fostered all around the world.

The Broken Home and Other Stories, a laudable English translation rendered by Lopamudra Banerjee from Bengali, is comprised of two novellas of Bengal’s Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, and six short stories of Tagore’s ‘Galpaguchchho’, fictional narratives which are closely and intricately tied to each other. Together, the stories hold up a mirror of life, depicting the essential loneliness of the women, the sexual liaisons, profligacy, and the power of depravity that inevitably corrupts the essential nature of men and women. Given her linguistic canvas (knowing both the language of the original text and the target language), Banerjee proves to be an appropriate person to cudgel her translation experience and wrestle with such a difficult task.

However, coming back to the subject of translation, it is an arduous task to trap a language and decipher it in another language. Before translating a literary piece, it is vital that one should first immerse himself/herself into the language that he/she is translating. The translator needs to keep a hawk’s eye on every syntactical maneuvering of the text. Banerjee has fully succeeded in breaking the complexity of the original novella, ‘Nastanirh’, and making it a lucid text for the readers of the sub-continent. The lovers of Tagore owe her a lot, as she lets them unravel the jewels that India’s great writer has left in his books.

Tagore’s ‘Nastanirh’ takes place in late 19th-century Bengal and explores the lives of the Bhadralok, the genteel society Bengalis, who were part of the Bengal Renaissance and highly influenced by the Brahmo-Samaj. Despite his liberal ideas, Bhupati is blind to the loneliness and dissatisfaction of his wife, Charu. It is only with the appearance of his cousin, Amal, who incites passionate feelings in Charu, that Bhupati realizes what he has lost.

The book comprises of eight sections and every section contains different stories. The book opens with the title ‘The Broken Home’, reminiscent of the Tulsi home where Mohan Biswass undergoes all the experiences of his life, his life frisks away, engulfed by acute crisis. In ‘Nastanirh’, we see Bhupati, the Bengali Mohan soaring high but without a goal like the mythological Icarus, maintaining a blind eye to the loneliness of his wife, dominated by excessive hamartia, showcasing himself as a detestable character. His actions and speeches are laboriously caught in the mirror by the translator and the readers become fully aware of the impending disaster that is likely to befall the family.

Banerjee seems to be an invisible character in the novella and brings forth her aspirations and anxieties in such a well of loneliness, where the only option for her is to watch the scene without any whimper of complaint. The writer has created a truthful scene of the modern India, where women, in the words of Gayatri Spivak, are bestowed the status of a ‘subaltern’. She is the other, the citizen of the third world.

We hear an echo of The Dark Room, a novel by R.K Narayan in the story, ‘Dena Paona’ (The Dowry Death). Here Nirupama becomes Narayan’s Savitri. Both bear the brunt of the patriarchy and are treated as vendible commodities.

Savitri’s quest for her independent individual entity begins in a dark room of her husband’s house. It is her way of protest against the tyrannical behavior of her husband. At the end of the novel, she is equally powerless, as is obvious from her despairing questions to herself:

“But what can I do? And what have I?”

At one stage, she is determined that “she would dedicate her life to the service of God, numb her senses and memory, forget the world, and spend the rest of her years thus and die. No husband, home or children.”

Nirupama parallels Savitri as she goes directly against the classical traditional role of an obsequiously submissive wife. She asserts her individuality independent of her husband. Savitri revolts against her husband’s brutality and cruelty in a bold manner. She challenges the age-old authority of the husband as Narayan’s Savitri speaks in the novel before she removes her diamond studs on her nose, her necklace, gold bangles, and rings and throws them at her husband:

Things! I don’t possess anything in this world. What possession can a woman call her own except her body? Everything else that she has is her father’s, her husband’s…

The book contains few references to the historical novelists like Walter Scott to depict the truth behind these female characters. Some characters echo Jennie Deans who appears in the heart of Midlothian. The Broken Home mainly succeeds in exposing the nuanced gender roles, pertaining to the long strain of feministic approach. The collection also contains themes of female gender as followed by the British contemporary dramatist Caryl Churchill in her ground-breaking works, Cloud Nine and Top Girls. The book is a complete portrayal of the female world where material pursuits are considered as a shield for suppressed female gender to maintain a footing in a callous patriarchy. From Julian of Norwich (the first writer who is credited of writing the first female book) to the contemporary feminist big wigs like Helene Cixous, whose main concern is the role of female body in a female Literature, The Broken Home successfully finds an infallible place in this female literary cusp.

It has been said that a creative writer is like a monotheist who has to please one God, while on the other hand, a translator is like a polytheist who has to please umpteen gods. However, the fact remains that Lopamudra Banerjee displays the devotion that can cajole a hundred thousand gods (readers) to make her immortal. I wish she continues her literary pursuits and translation enterprise with an invigorating zest and passion.

A Kashmir University Gold medalist (2002) in English Literature, Wani Nazir, from Pulwama, J&K, India, is an alumnus of the University of Kashmir, Srinagar. Presently working as Lecturer-in-English in the Department of Education, J&K, he has been writing both prose and poetry in English, Urdu, and in his mother tongue, Kashmiri. He is a voracious reader and reviewer. He has contributed his poetry and prose to Kashur Qalm and The Significant League, and has been receiving laurels for his writings. He has contributed his writings to various national and international journals of repute. He has recently authored a book of poems, … And the Silence Whispered.


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Women as the ‘displaced’: The context of South Asia’, edited by Suranjana Choudhury, academic and Nabanita Sengupta, academic, India.

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