Reading literature in many tongues: An African Odyssey

Bandopadhyay is best known for Pather Panchali, but the story of Shankar Roy Chaudhury, the 20-year-old protagonist who travels to Uganda in search of the unknown has long captivated readers.

Written by Anushree Majumdar | Updated: May 19, 2018 12:15:08 am
But for many readers, their first real brush with adventure came with Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s 1937 novel, Chander Pahar (Mountain of the Moon).

Chander Pahar (Bengali)
Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay

If there are three subjects Bengalis as a community can go on and on about, they must be khabar and bodhhojom (food and indigestion), football, and bhromon (travel). In Bengali popular fiction, you could trust characters like Narayan Gangopadhyay’s Tenida and his friends to handle the first and second topics; the third was safely in the hands of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda, who during the summer and pujo holidays, grew restless in Calcutta, and took up cases in Gangtok, Benaras, Kathmandu, Lucknow, etc. But for many readers, their first real brush with adventure came with Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s 1937 novel, Chander Pahar (Mountain of the Moon).

Bandopadhyay is best known for Pather Panchali, but the story of Shankar Roy Chaudhury, the 20-year-old protagonist who travels to Uganda in search of the unknown has long captivated readers. Working for a railway company, the dangers of living in the wild in Africa is manifested through the different beasts — some real, such as a lion on the hunt, a black mamba, and some mythical, such as the bunyip. Born into poverty, Bandopadhyay had never stepped out of Bengal, but books were his escape. A voracious reader, he pieced together the plot and details of Chander Pahar from many different sources. It didn’t matter that the bunyip was actually a part of Australian Aboriginal lore: fear is as transportative and universal as happiness.

An English translation was published by Rupa in 2011, and 2014, a graphic novel version was published by Penguin Random House. A film version was released in 2013, but never mind that. There is greater joy in reading Bandopadhyay’s fast-paced prose and fully imagining a landscape and its creatures, line by line, page by page.

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