A younger contemporary and protege of Rabindranath Tagore, Prabhat Kumar Mukherji (1873-1932) is best remembered for his novel, Ratnadeep, and short story, Devi, turned into major Bengali films by Devaki Kumar Bose and Satyajit. Ray respectively. The ten stories selected for the present volume represent in a way the range of his interests, especially his profoundly insightful view of Bengali women asserting themselves boldly in the first two decades of the twentieth century, and at times paying the price for it, as in 'The Beloved', in which a young widow in love with a newly married young woman is 'allowed' to die by a severely reproving in-law. A bunch of four stories are located in London at the turn of the twentieth century, recording transactions between young Bengali students (mainly studying law, like the author himself) and the English middle and lower middle classes, particularly caring landladies and working women!
Tagore found the 'charm' of Mukherji's stories in the way 'they move along unfettered-sail after sail catching the gale of laughter, the gust of imagination.' Nirad C Chaudhuri appreciated Mukherji's eschewal of 'that sentimental didacticism which is the bane of most of our novelists.'
Making her debut as the little Durga in Pather Pancbali, SHAMPA BANERJEE could have chosen the profession of an actress. With a Masters in English Literature, she became a teacher, an advertising copywriter, an editor (with Oxford University Press), a researcher and documentarist, a translator at different stages of her life; and even took a sudden and unexpected diversion into banking to ensure a livelihood when she moved to California. With her post-production reconstructions and translations of scripts of the New Indian Cinema from the 1950s to the 1970s-including Satyajit Ray's The Apu Trilogy, Ketan Mehta's Bhavni Bbevei; Jabbar Patel's Umbartha, and Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Elippatbayam, Mukbamukbam and Anantaram-she broke new ground in film studies in India, culminating in n annotated bibliography of One Hundred Indian Films.
She has translated from Bengali Ghunpoka (Woodworm) by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, and Hanyaman (Killing Days) by Joya Mitra; the former an obsessive psychological novel, the latter a searing remembrance of women in prison.
I came across Prabhat Mukherji in my childhood among the musty volumes of Bengali literature on our bookshelves at home. It was during the summer holidays. I had no other entertainment on hand-the radio bored me, we had no telephone yet, and football with the boys next door was only an evening pastime. I was wildly precocious in my literary pursuits. We had books galore, and my grandfather had decreed that nothing, absolutely nothing should be withheld from me as unsuitable reading for the young.
With boundless curiosity I waded through Bankim Chatterjee, Ramesh Dutta, Dinabandhu Mitra, Troilokyanath Mukherjee, Sarat Chatterjee, and somewhere in between reached Prabhat. How much of the subtleties and nuances of these authors I could grasp remains doubtful. But it formed my taste for the classics. I read and reread them all, again and again, and found something new to enjoy and admire each time.
Some years ago I rediscovered Prabhat Mukherji's London stories. One of them, 'Motherless', had a woman called Maud who had once been in love with a Bengali student in London. I remembered an old photograph of another Maud-a Scottish girl, chubby and cheerful, standing next to my handsome grandfather in Edinburgh in the early 1930s-another romance gone awry. After that I was hooked.
Se-arching for more information on a writer who has been systematically forgotten by critics arid readers alike, I'm still waiting to come across someone who evaluates Prabhat's contribution to Bengali literature without being a little on the defensive-because he did not write like Sarat Chatterjee or Rabindranath Tagore. He did not need to. Prabhat was one of the first short story writers of Bengal. He was also without doubt one of the finest of all times. And that is where I will begin.
Born on 3 February 1873, Prabhat Kumar Mukherji was a younger contemporary of Rabindranath Tagore. His family came from an area in Bengal that became part of West Bengal after India's independence from British rule. His father worked for the Indian Railways and as a government employee was routinely transferred from one place to another, often from one state to another. Young Prabhat spent his boyhood in Bihar, finished his schooling in Jamalpur and his college education in Patna. While still a student, his family arranged a marriage for him. His wife died six years later, leaving behind two sons.
To start with, Prabhat joined the profession of many middle- class Bengalis of his time-he took a clerical job in the government, initially in the hill city of Shimla, and eventually in the Kolkata office of the Director General of Telegraphs. Fortunately for posterity, he had already started writing and his career as a 'Baboo' was to be short-lived.
Bharati, a Tagore family magazine started by Jyotirindranath Tagore in 1877, was edited for seven years by Dwijendranath Tagore, followed by their sister Swamakumari Devi, and her daughter Sarala Devi Chaudhurani. Prabhat, a contributor to the magazine from his student days, met Sarala Devi in Kolkata and developed a close friendship with her. It was Sarala Devi's uncle Satyendranath Tagore who sent Prabhat to England in 1901 to study for the Bar.
Prabhat was a full-fledged barrister when he returned to India three years later. Although he practised law for many years in Darjeeling, Rangpur, and Gaya, his real interest lay in literature.
He continued to write. His stories were published in major literary journals of the time-Bharati, Prabasi, and Sahitya to name a few. He became the co-editor of Manasi O Marmabani, a magazine started by the Maharaja of Natore, Jagadindranarayan Roy. The Maharaja was also instrumental in getting Prabhat the post of a lecturer at the Law College in Kolkata, where he remained for the rest of his life. Prabhat Kumar died on 5 April 1932.
Late in 1911, in a letter to Prabhat, Rabindranath Tagore wrote from Bolpur, 'I received the two volumes of your stories after coming here. I have read them before, I thought. What is the point of reading them again? Like everybody else, I too perpetually yearn for what is new. It was evening. There was nothing to occupy me. I turned the pages idly-and before I knew it, my mind had fallen captive. It seemed as if, for a second time, I had discovered anew the charm of your stories. They move along unfettered-sail after sail catching the gale of laughter, the gust of imagination. It is quite impossible to discern any weight, any obstacle on the way. In the matter of writing short stories, you must be Sabyasachi Arjun among the five Pandava brothers. From your Gandiva the arrows fly like the sun's rays. There are others who are more like the second Pandava, with a club as their only weapon. That's really heavy. It can land on the head, but cannot enter the heart. Anyway, my own experience was evidence enough that the readers of your first edition will now gather in swarms to receive your second one.'
The endless variety of Prabhat Kumar's plots made it harder to choose the ten stories I would translate for this volume. But, as much as possible, I wanted to display the rich diversity of Prabhat's interests; his ability to cut across religious, class, caste and geographic barriers; and his marvellous insight into women -their work and their role in the family and the larger society. He presented his times faithfully, and critically, but with compassion and humour.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend