A tribute to Manabendra Bandyopadhyay
He was a recognized poet and a novelist too, but his prominence as a translator overshadows his other identities. He always stayed in touch with the latest publications in Spanish and English. It is safe to say that through his masterly translations, he almost single-handedly brought the gems of Latin American and Indian literatures to our doorstep.
It is not until much later that many translators have followed suit and broadened the horizons of translated literature in Bengali. That’s why Manabendra Bandyopadhyay is an unforgettable name for the impact his translations have left on the literary scenes of Bangladesh and West Bengal in India.
Manabendra Bandyopadhyay passed away on August 4, 2020 after he contracted coronavirus infection while undergoing treatment in a private hospital. He was 82 years old, and is survived by his daughter, according to a Frontline report.
Born in 1938 in Sylhet of erstwhile East Bengal (now Bangladesh), he passed his childhood days in Assam and Tripura of India. He did his graduation from Presidency College and post-graduation from Jadavpur University where he was one of the five students of the first batch at the Department of Comparative Literature. Then he went to Canada and pursued higher studies at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia. In 1965 he joined his alma mater Jadavpur University where he taught at the Department of Comparative Literature till his retirement.
His journey as a literary translator began in 1954 when he translated Jules Verne as a BA student. While studying in Canada, he took a course in Latin American writers and became interested in translating a few of their formidable fictional works. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Nicanor Parra and Juan Rulfo are among the Latin American poets and authors he translated into Bengali. Over the course of his career that spans half a century, his emphasis was on the literatures of Latin America, Caribbean islands, and African and East-European countries where anti-imperialist movements have had a glorious history.
Manabendra’s translations have contributed immensely to the shaping of comparative studies between postcolonial literatures from different continents. Translating literatures from different languages of India into Bengali is another of his many feats that enriched the study of comparative literature in Indian subcontinent. His anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist and anti-fascist political stance was a motivating factor in selecting what to translate. Translating works from languages other than English, he expanded the horizon of the Bengali readership and thus diminished the monopoly of the literature of the Anglophone world. His translations never lost the geography and climate of the originals. Retaining the essence, he could convert a text in such a way that it blended in with Bengali literature.
He was not one of those who would wait to appreciate the works of a writer till he wins a major award. According to an article published in the Frontline, back in 1971, 11 years before Gabriel Garcia Marquez won Nobel Prize, Bandyopadhyay suggested One Hundred Years of Solitude be included in the syllabus of the Comparative Literature Department at Jadavpur University. He has three Bengali translations of Marquez's books to his credit: Cornelke Keu Chithi Likhe Na (No One Writes to the Colonel), Ei Shohore Kono Chor Nai O Onnano Golpo (There Are No Thieves in This Town and Other Stories), Sorola Erendira O Tar Nirdoya Thakumar Obishshassho Korun Kahini (The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother). Latin Americar Chotoder Galpha Boroder o Parber (Children’s Stories from Latin America, for Adults too) is among his wonderful gifts to children.
In 1993 Manabendra Bandyopadhyay received Sahitya Akademi Award for Vaikom Muhammad Bashirer Shreshtha Galpo (The Best Stories of Vaikom Muhammad Bashir) which he translated from Malayalam. In 1998, he was awarded Vidyasagar Smrity Puroshkar. He was also the recipient of Khogendranath Mitra Smrity Puroshkar for his contribution to children’s literature.
Rifat Anjum Pia is Staff Writer, Arts & Letters, Dhaka Tribune.