Chike and the river original author: Chinua Achebe, Translators: Kajal Bandyopadhyay and Ashis Achariya, Publisher: Jatiya Sahitya Prokash in July 2017
Liton Chakraborty Mithun comes across some fresh translations to unveil physical and psychological journey of an African boy
Chinua Achebe is called the Father of African Literature for his enormous contribution to the arts and letters of Africa. Thanks to his extraordinary command over the English language and immense understanding of the heart and nerves of African culture, society and history, he has created many literary gems, such as Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God. Out and out a committed writer and activist, Nigerian-born Achebe celebrates the spirit of the continent and gets it across to the whole world.
Along with other African literary greats like Ng?g? wa Thiong'o, Wole Soyinka and Kofi Awoonor, he is a spokesperson of the African as well as global wretched. He enjoys a huge popularity among Bangladeshi intellectuals, aficionados and students of African literatures and cultures. Dr. Kajal Bandyopadhyay, one of the leading lights in the campaign for promoting and studying African literatures and cultures in Bangladesh has written and translated many books and articles in respect to Africa, and Achebe is one of his all-time favorites.
Along with journalist and Africa enthusiast Ashis Achariya, he has translated an Achebe children's storybook titled Chike and the River into Bengali this year. In my opinion, Chike Aar Nodi, the Bengali version retains intact the powerful style and originality of Achebe's storytelling much to the credit of the translators.
Chike and the River is a perfect coming-of-age story of an African boy named Chike. How his dreams to cross the mighty river of Niger and visit the city of Asaba took him on a physical and psychological journey through various experiences of life is graphically described. Along the process, Chike met both bad and good guys. He faced difficulties and obstacles one after another in managing the required sixpence to get him across the river. He was duped by the village magician into losing his money as he wanted the latter to double it.
However, as soon as he reached the fancied city of Asaba following a lot of trials and tribulations, he got a reality shock as things were no better than where he came from. Worse was the situation when he found that the last ferry for the return trip had already left. Later on that night he was exposed to a further dose of bad luck. He went through a terrifying and nightmarish experience of witnessing up close a terrible act of burglary the whole night.
The blessing in disguise was that he proved crucial to exposing a theft racket the next morning. His courage shot him to fame with his name lionized in newspapers, and he received a hero's welcome back home. Basically, this is the storyline. There is, of course, much more to explore in the book.
However, what gives the book its charm and worldwide popularity is the fact that the story cuts across all boundaries: social, cultural and national. In order to help his school-going daughter launch a happy student life, Achebe felt the need to come up with an African-flavored storybook since most of the stories available in the country were Euro-centric and insensitive to African sensibility. The upshot was an internationally reputed children's book. As a matter of fact, I find the book quite relatable and enjoyable due to its pacy storyline, smooth prose and universal theme. Truly speaking, I finished reading the book in one sitting and relished it thoroughly.
Thanks are due to Dr. Kajal Bandyopadhyay and Ashis Achariya for their commendable job of translating this scintillating literary piece into Bengali. Their handling of cultural and linguistic nuances, choice of words and expressions, focus on stylistics, and employment of craftsmanship merits special mention. I tumbled nowhere while reading, and was carried along on a tide of enthusiasm.
On top of that, it brought up fresh memories of my childhood when I used to cock up my ears to hear any stories my elders occasionally told us since there were hardly any storybooks at our home. I have the gumption to say that this is a must-read book for all Bengali-speaking children. However, I must add that the translators could have done a way better job had they adapted the story to the Bangladeshi context and setting. For example, they could have changed the names Niger, Asaba City and Chike to Padma, Dhaka and Sikandar (Or any other Bangladeshi name for that matter) respectively. Nevertheless, they have done a remarkable job and we should give them a big hand for the feat.
To wrap up, Chike and the River in the original is simply marvelous and in the Bengali version as brilliant. Since Africa and Asia are sisterly continents due to their common colonial experiences, similar economic situations and identical socio-cultural make-ups, African Studies maps onto the Bangladesh context.
At this juncture, I would like to exploit the opportunity to share with my readers that Dr. Kajal Bandyopadhay and company are running the 'Center for Studies in African Literatures and Cultures' at the University of Dhaka with a view to spreading out African wisdom and knowledge to the welfare of our very own country. Bringing this particular book Chike aar Nodi out is also a part of the process. I hope this book will enjoy a huge circulation among the reading public and be considered as a gift item, especially, for the story-loving Bengali children.
The reviewer is a language freak and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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