Tagore Kathakal Kuttikallkku is a rare collection of 30 stories of Rabindranath Tagore translated from the original Bengali by Bhawani Cheerath-Rajagopalan, published on the occasion of Nobel Laureate’s 150th birth anniversary by the Kerala State Institute of Children’s Literature. Poet, playwright, painter, novelist and composer, the sobriquet Gurudev aptly describes what Rabindranath Tagore was to a generation of Indians. Projected as the symbol of the union of modern and ancient traditions of a land, he was for many the symbol of India, representing the beauty of its language, the supremacy of its philosophy, the durability of its wisdom and the infinite variety of its people.
The apostle of a new era of literary and social history, he pioneered the cause of forging the creative consciousness of an emerging nation that loved to imagine itself in the sublimities he offered it through his verse. However, many are not aware of the fact that he was also a writer who helped in conferring upon the short story the legitimacy and status befitting a worthy genre of Bengali literature, later on taking it into the larger literary landscape of India. He wrote over a hundred short stories, weaving the strands of romantic idealism into the warp and woof of social realism. Mostly written in the late nineteenth century they offer us some of the most interesting vignettes of the rural Bengal of his time, brimming with life and vitality, soulful and lilting in poignancy. But the most beautiful amongst these stories are the ones written for children. And 30 of these stories have now found their way into the vibrant terrain of Malayalam literature by offering themselves to the joys and pangs of translation.
The stories have been selected from the Rabindra Rachanabali. The very task of short listing these stories must have been a Herculean task for the translators, because when it is the prolific and gifted pen of the grand master one is often spoilt for choice, where each story might echo the feel of the quintessential Tagore. ‘Chelebela’ and ‘Kabuliwalla’ while appearing as natural choices, might have been daunting to translate, so powerfully are they etched in the memory of ordinary Indian readers. Yet the translation has a rare simplicity that is striking in its deep understanding and sensitivity towards the original.
The character of the Kabulliwalla, so familiar yet so imbued in the sentimental and the nostalgic, leaves the reader once again with a lump in the throat. The task of translating Tagore without either domesticating his world or losing the lyrical nature of his prose or its deep philosophical and metaphysical undertones would have been no mean task. One can imagine the struggles the translator must have undergone to retain the simple rhythm, tone and tenor, as also the cultural specificities of the original in the target text and keeping in mind the target Malayali audience. The selection of the stories also merit praise for it caters to all aspects of children’s literature, offering the rich fare a child yearns for, be it the fantastic (stories like ‘Rajakottaram’), or the innocent (‘Chitrakaar’ or ‘Bolai’), the exotic or the moralistic (‘Himalayatra’), the dramatic and the sentimental (‘Letters’) or the humorous (‘Gyani’). The universality of the themes easily surmount the temporal and regional barriers, and issues of un-translatability seem to pale in front of the necessity of making available these culturally vibrant landscapes to non-Bengali readers. Not much of the original seems to have been lost in translation and one can see age proves no bar in relishing the feel and flavour of these stories and echoes of the delicate beauty of Tagore’s poetic prose.
The book is a pleasure, both to read and to behold. The picture perfect hard bound edition, neatly printed in art paper with beautiful illustrations by Kabita Mukhopadhyaya, is a treasure that most children and many an adult would love to possess. The multi-colour pictures often border on an abstract and sometimes impressionist aesthetics, which while not easily palatable to a child might nevertheless confer a seemingly timeless quality of art upon the book, giving it the added value of a memento. It also reminds younger generations far removed in time that there was a world where street lamps were lit manually, homes had wondrous spaces of escape called barns, children played kings and queens on makeshift stages put up in gardens, where little ones of a bygone era seemed to have led magically charmed lives free of curricular overloads, lives which might appear today to be as simple and joyous as the song of a lark.