Almost a generation ago, the Mayurakshi river and the villagers of Shivkalipur on its banks were as much in Kerala as in Bengal, where Tarashankar Bandhopadhyay’s Bengali epic Ganadevata was set.
That is when sensitive translations of Bengali novels touched a chord with the educated Malayali, who went on to discover Bengal and Kerala shared many traits in common – love for fish, rebellion and young minds caught up between urbanity and the slow hum of rustic, laid-back life.
The one who helped characters of the Bengali literary world cross over to Malayalam was Ravi Varma, who was a freedom fighter and teacher before becoming a wordsmith.
The man worked so beautifully and peacefully with words that his colleagues in Mathrubhumi, whose Hindi periodical Yugaprabath he edited for a while, remember him as someone with such undying love for literature that his translations helped Keralites befriend not just Bengali authors but Hindi and Urdu ones, too.
Varma died in 2002, but the magic of his translations he left behind for posterity still lives. Avasanathe Photo is his latest book to be published, 10 years after his death.
The book is a collection of his translations that did not see light during his lifetime. The translations are of short stories from Bengal to Sindh. Each of the stories in this 253-page book has a marked regional flavour. Then there is the unique Varma touch in abundance all throughout that makes readers feel – what they felt about the Ganadevata and Pather Panchali translations – that the milieu, the characters and even the feel of stories are so nostalgically familiar. The book includes works of many writers, from stalwarts Ashapoorna Debi and Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay to Marathi novelist Datta Raghunath Kavadhekar. Varma’s view of the world is seen in the selection of the stories and in the way he works through even the choppiest of human emotions.
There is a lingering streak of melancholy in his narration, which is also subtle enough to contain the turbulences in human mind and present them with a silent finesse that probably Varma himself displayed all throughout his life.
It may be this ability of his that opened for him the doors to the hall of fame where the likes of Gregory Rabassa, whose translations made a little-known Gabriel Garcia Marquez known to the English reading world, occupy pride of place. The book is sure to be a trip down memory lane for the generation that now long for the life they left behind – when they had all the time to stand, stare, think, and dream.
Ravi Varmayude Asamahruta Vivarthanangal