Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ponytale Books to publish Suchitra Bhattacharya’s Mitin Mashi in English

Suchitra Bhattacharya is one of those rare writers who became an instant favourite with her readers as soon as she took up writing. Although her first novel was Ami Rai Kishori (1988), it was with her next novel Kancher Dewal (1992) that she established her identity as a writer. The film version of her novel Dahan won several National Awards and with her Kanchher Manush, she became a household name.

Pragya Paromita (Mitin mashi of the Third Eye Detective series) had already made her first appearance as a detective in Palabar path nei, a novel for adults. So when the editor of Anandamela asked Bhattacharya to write a detective series for children she decided to retain the same detective with her young schoolgirl niece Tupur assisting her. That is when Mitin turned to “Mitin mashi” and Bhattacharya wrote several stories about the mysteries they solve together, with Partho, Mitin’s happy-go-lucky husband, lending his support in the background. Popular stories in this series include Sarandar shaitan, Jonathaner barir bhoot, Keralay kistimaat and others.

As a genre detective stories have always been popular in Bengali. But nearly all the major sleuths so far—right from Hemendra Kumar Roy’s Jayanto-Manik; Nihar Ranjan Gupta’s Kiriti-Subrata; Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s Byomkesh-Ajit and Satyajit Ray’s Feluda-Topshe—have all been males, the only exception being Nalini Das’ Gandalu, who are four schoolgirl detectives, and now Mitin Mashi.

The Mitin mashi stories are especially popular because the setting is very contemporary which makes the young readers identify with the characters easily. Unlike Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Mitin mashi is not an armchair detective. She surfs the Net, makes extensive use of her mobile phone, is adept with crossword puzzles and Sudoku and is always ready to rush to the scene of action.

There is something special about the themes of the Mitin mashi stories too. Bhattacharya skillfully brings in people who are a familiar sight and yet about whom the general reader doesn’t know too much—be they Armenians or the Chinese of Calcutta or the Jews of Kerala. She weaves in the information as an integral part of the story. Given that her writing style is conversational, it never seems superimposed. And the fact that both Mitin mashi and her assistant Tupur are females, give the series an added distinction.

Bhattacharya strongly believes that as women have already proved their ability to excel in every field and hold their own in a man’s world, there is no reason why they cannot become successful detectives as well.

Just as Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Kakababu is a successful detective despite being physically challenged because he has the brains, the knowledge, the ability to put two and two together and the courage that goes with it, Bhattacharya’s Mitin mashi is a successful detective, despite being a woman and a homemaker, for the very same reasons. Apart from her success as a detective, she leads a normal and happy life with her fun loving husband Partho and her four-year-old son Boomboom.

Mitin mashi’s priorities are humane. She is not after the money and is perfectly ready to help a client free of cost if she feels that he really cannot afford to pay, provided the case really interests her. She has a sense of humour and is quick paced in her work.

Arakieler Heere, part of the Bhattacharya's Third Eye Detective series, has been translated into English by popular author, editor and translator, Swapna Dutta, as The Arakiel Diamond, and will be published by Ponytale Books in February 2011.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Adventures of Kakababu

In a tradition initiated by Rabindranath Tagore, there is hardly an author writing in Bengali who has not written for children. And, noted litterateur and the current President of Sahitya Akademi, Sunil Gangopadhyay, has enriched this tradition with his enduring character duo, Kakababu-Santu.

Way back in early 1970s, the then editor of Anandamela, a Bengali children's monthly, Nirendranath Chakraborty, asked Gangopadhyay to write something for children for their annual Puja number. Gangopadhyay created a character called Kakababu—an antithesis of a detective—and penned his first novel, Bhoyonkor Sundor that appeared in 1974 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kakababu so captivated the imagination of readers that it has become a permanent feature of Anandamela annual numbers since then. Kakababu has found a place for himself in the pantheon of Bengali fictional detective characters, such as Satyajit Ray's Feluda and Saradindu Bandopadhyay's Byomkesh Bakshi, who have appealed across generations, been adapted into films and television and translated into different languages.

Kakababu's enduring appeal lies in his character.

Raja Roychowdhury, aka Kakababu, earlier with the Archaeological Survey of India developed a physical deformity as a result of an accident while working there. Kakababu is not a sleuth in the conventional sense—he does not detect a crime. Instead, he is on a trail to detect the mystery behind well-known historical facts or to protect our cultural heritage or simply in the quest of the unknown. He is much sought after by Indian authorities for the sheer width of his knowledge and analytical skills and ability to dig out a lead.

His work also leads to physical threats to his person, from which he manages to extricate himself by this sheer intelligence and indomitable spirit. Kakababu's disability is apparent, but his spirit and confidence is what leaves an impression on the minds of the young readers and adds an aura around the character.

Gangopadhyay's craft in his books for children and young adults is particularly striking. He takes his readers to exotic locales—like Kashmir and Andaman Islands—in an equally exotic and unknown quest. Till the last pages, one keeps guessing the outcome—and the outcome itself is quite the unexpected! In the process, the young readers get visually transported to the setting of the story and subtly get to know about our history, geography and culture. In fact, it is said that the legendary itinerant Bengali tourist started to put Andaman Islands onto their radar screens only after reading his much acclaimed Sobuj Dwiper Raja and after it was made into a film by legendary Tapan Sinha.

A lone ranger, Kakababu just wants to be left alone to work on things of his interest. He is always accompanied by his young assistant, his 13-year old nephew Santu, probably the youngest assistant to a detective, much younger to even Feluda's Topshe. It is through the eyes of Santu that the readers first got to know about Kakababu in Bhoyonkor Sundor. Santu is a keen observant who always keeps questioning Kakababu and doesn't mind sharing his candid views about the elders’ way of doing things! As a result, younger audiences connected with him quite well. Another reason for this connect for pre-teens is that Raja Roychowdhury is like a father-figure to Santu, his Kakababu, rather than someone immediately elder in age, the dada (elder brother) or da (Feluda, Rijuda, Tenida, Ghanada, amongst others).

Ponytale Books has published English translations of two of Kakababu classics, Bhoyonkor Sundor as The Dreadful Beauty by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee and Sobuj Dwiper Raja, as The King of the Verdant Island by Tridiv Chowdhury and intends to regularly publish more adventures of Kakababu and Santu.