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The Boatman of The Padma

The Boatman of The Padma
Item Code: NAG534
Author: Manik Bandyopadhyay
Publisher: Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9788125049340
Pages: 176
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 204 gms

About the Author


Manik Bandyopadhyay (b. 19 May 1908-d. 3 December 1956) was arguably 'the most completely equipped writer of fiction [Bengal] ever had' in the words of an eminent critic. He was born Prabodh Kumar Bandyopadhyay in Dumka in the state of Bihar into a family from Dhaka (now the capital of Bangladesh), Manik being his nickname. In a career of about twenty-eight years, he wrote novels, short stories, poems, a short play, and several fragments of his diary; he also wrote works for children. Some of his writings rank among the gems not only of Bengali but of world literature.


Translator's Preface


A writer par excellence, Manik Bandyopadhyay (1908-56) was a rare talent who had very consciously picked up the profession of a writer with full confidence in his abilities. He had willingly courted poverty by venturing into an uncertain territory forgoing the prospect of an assured career. He was stricken by epilepsy at the age of twenty-seven and this was to trouble him all his life. There is only one other writer in world literature, Dostoevsky, who was a victim of this fell disease, and of whom Thomas Mann, the Nobel laureate, said/His disease was his genius; his genius, his disease: The remark perhaps applies aptly to Manik Bandyopadhyay as well. His lifelong disease, his addiction to drinking to alleviate that disease, and his courting of premature death by inhuman labour propped up by drinking for the sake of literature mark a rare instance even in world literature, not to speak of Bengali alone. He was arguably 'the most completely equipped writer of fiction we have ever had .... He had both virtuosity and vision; he was both logical and magical; he seemed to be wanting in nothing ..; as the eminent critic Buddhadeb Bose once noted. He refused to tread the conventional path of Bengali literature; to appreciate his writings presupposes a certain degree of preparation and mental set-up on the part of the reader, which is why many critics prefer to call him 'a writer of writers.


The day and age when Manik was born marked the beginning of a long-drawn political turmoil thrown up by the liberation movement in the country. Like other middle-class Bengalis, he too was witness to the Great War and its inevitable fallout. He saw how in the aftermath of the war socio-economic and political crises shattered the hopes and aspirations of the common man, how his self-confidence was jolted, leaving his middle-class mind to flounder and his habitual assured life to be topsy-turvy. It was in this backdrop that he set out to observe people from close quarters with his exceptionally keen eyes and perceptive mind, and to act as a whistle-blower on the deception and hypocrisy of the prevailing system.


Born Prabodh Kumar Bandyopadhyay on 19 May 1908 at Dumka in the state of Bihar into a middle-class family from Dacca, Manik (his nickname) was free from all kinds of prejudices and refused to be hamstrung by a bourgeois mentality and outlook. Since very early in life, he had mixed far more intimately with the so-called low-born and marginal people outside the mainstream than he did with the high-born. From that experience he had felt the need to associate with people of all classes irrespective of their economic and social standing. He had witnessed the stark reality of the lives of the poor illiterate working class in towns and villages wherever he went with his father who had a transferable service. This served as an eye- opener to young Manik, seeing behind the veneer of respectability of the so-called educated and cultured people around him. He took up the cudgels to pull down the facade of hypocrisy and sentimentalism that had long been the staple of middle-class thoughts and feelings as well as literature. And with this viewpoint he chose the career of a committed writer forsaking the assured world of fame and prosperity halfway through his academic life while studying BSc (Maths) at Presidency College, Calcutta, one of the best-known institutions of the country.


Manik knew only too well that long, careful grooming is a sine qua non for becoming a successful writer. In his view, literature was not divorced from science; on the contrary, their coexistence was essential to the spirit of the times if only to identify and avert the many pitfalls of a sham spiritualism and vapid idealism. He had equipped himself adequately by reading the best works of world literature and was even envious of the fame of his established contemporaries in Bengali literature. To explore the caverns of the human mind he had meticulously studied the Freudian theory of people's subconscious sexual feelings. He held that sexual passion was a dark, primitive, biological instinct which might have undergone cosmetic changes with the advancement of civilisation but the basic libidinous instinct remained the same. This has been shown in the almost grisly realism of some of his stories, like Prehistoric and The Wife of a Leper. While seeking to explain the survival of a relentless passion, he became convinced that the true reason lay not in the Freudian libido but in the social economy. And that saw his initiation into Marxism which was to remain his credo till the last day of his life (3 December 1956). He was forever disabused of his Freudian persuasions, convinced that Marxism alone could direct the path of human progress; in it lay the deliverance of man. It was impossible, he held, without the keenness of observation offered by Marxism, to properly appreciate and analyse life.


His first literary foray was a story Atasi-mami (Aunt Atasi) (1928), which came out of a friendly challenge he had taken up casually during his college days, little knowing that it was eventually to launch him into a successful literary career. And when his Putul Naacher Itikatha (The Puppet Story), Dibaratrir Kabya (Poetry of the Day and the Night) and Padmanadir Majhi (The Boatman of the Padma) were published in quick succession seven years later, he was instantly catapulted into fame. He never had to look back thereafter, He wrote thirty-six novels, more than three hundred stories, a hundred-or-so poems, one short play Bhite-mati (Homestead), and several fragments of his diary; he wrote, besides, for children, thirty-two stories and a complete novel, in a full-fledged writing career of about twenty-eight years. If Dibaratrir Kabya, written when he was twenty-one, had established him as an etcher of the urban psyche, Putul Naacher Itikatha gave him the fame of a consummate artist of the human character. His Padmanadir Majhi falls in a different genre where he has painted the life of a community of fishermen, one of the most depressed classes of society. Some of his writings rank among the all-time gems of not only Bengali but world literature. Most of them including the present one have been translated and rendered into successful plays or movies. In view of his abject penury and persistent nervous disorder, this is an astounding achievement by any reckoning.


The topics he dealt with are bewilderingly varied: from the pre-Independence famine, communal riots, moral degradation, and peasant uprising to the post- Independence price rise, refugee rehabilitation, and social ills. Any political or contemporary issue was grist to his literary mill. His indoctrination into Marxism had infused a new life into his intellectual pursuit and left its imprint on his subsequent works. He rediscovered the various facets of life and living, delineated town life and country life with unmatched skill, and explored the human mind with rare acumen. He was deeply disturbed by the narrowness and artificiality of civil society, by its meanness both open and covert, by its hypocrisy and chicanery. He wanted from the very beginning to bring the cruel naked reality of life to the fore by tearing the veil of pseudo- sentimentalism and melodramatic nature-worship, he injected a potent element of reality into Bengali literature. He had very well caught the zeitgeist of the pre- Independence rural Bengal. The background of nearly a third of his stories is village life. The power of his writings mercilessly exposes the squalor of life under the unerring light of truth. His aim was to hold a mirror to the pockmarked face of society to startle it by recognition of its own effeteness, and to galvanise it to reform itself. Time and again he lambasted the bankruptcy of a middle-class mentality.




Translators Preface


The Boatman of the Padma



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