By Arunava Sinha
How about banning this?
Here are two short passages from two famously funny plays written in Bengali several decades ago. For, they make fun of – without malice, in pure humour – one of the most revered figures of the Hindu pantheon, the mythically immortal Hanuman.
One possible reason for there being no clamour to have them banned is that they have not been translated into English. This has kept them out of the national limelight all these years, and confined to a regional readership which has historically been tolerant of diverse shades of opinion. Only historically, unfortunately – for, in recent times, the state of West Bengal actually banned a volume of Tasleema Nasrin’s autobiography on roughly the same grounds on which The Satanic Verses was banned.
It is unlikely, of course, that those who demand bans and those who capitulate to those demands have actually ever read the books in question. If English texts face the brunt of the protests in India, it may well be because of the language is somehow associated with an arrogant, callous elite that apparently cares not a jot for the sensitivities of different groups of people.
So, here’s my contribution, through the act of translation, to bringing these ‘offending’ passages to the attention of the lunatic fringe that believes in banning books. Do we hear the roars getting louder?
From Lakhhoner Shoktishel – The Mighty Weapon That Felled Lakshman – by Sukumar Ray
(Lakshman has been felled by Ravana on the battlefield. Immediately after which, Ravana has been caught picking Lakshmana’s pocket. But Rama’s camp is in turmoil, for Lakshman must be revived. The only hope is the wise old ape Jambuman, who has been woken up after a great deal of effort.)
Ram: You see, Jambumana, you’re a wise man – you’re bound to be experienced in such matters…
Jambuman: Yes sire… if only they had told me here… instead the fellows kept poking me – ‘Mantrimashai, wake up, Mantrimashai’ – are we being robbed, I asked myself.
Ram: Well yes, you have to do something about this now.
Jambuman: (addressing Hanuman) I’m writing down a prescription here, go get these medicines quickly.
Hanuman: All right, I’ll leave at first light tomorrow.
Jambuman: No, can’t wait that long. You have to go right now.
Hanuman: At this hour of the night? What if a snake bites me? What if a tiger gets me?
Sugreeb: He has it too easy, this fellow.
Jambuman: No, we need the medicines at once.
Hanuman: What the heck. Why not try homoeopathy?
Jambuman: Listen to me. Here, I’ve written down the name of a tree – Vishalyakarani Mritasanjivani – you have to get these roots.
Hanuman: I don’t know where the dispensary is.
Jambuman: Oh for heaven’s sake. Do you think this is Calcutta, with Bathgate & Co. waiting with its doors open round the corner? You know Gandhamadan Hill near Mount Kailash, don’t you?
Hanuman: Who on earth is this Doctor Kailesh?
Jambuman: Very sharp hearing. Idiot – don’t you know Mount Kailash?
Hanuman: Oh my god! THAT Mount Kailash! I can’t go all that way so late at night.
Jambuman: What do you mean you can’t go? I’ll whip you within an inch of your life. Go at once – and don’t you dare dawdle on the way.
Hanuman: I have an earache…
Ram: Enough now, go, no more of this – here’s a tip for you. (Hands Hanuman a banana.)
Hanuman: As you please. (Exits bowing.)
From Lankadahan Pala – The Sacking of Lanka – by Lila Majumdar
(Exhausted by his search for Sita, who has been abducted by Ravana, Hanuman stops to rest.)
Scene: Ashok Vana
Hanu: Aargh. I can barely walk anymore. I must rest. Uff. First to sit down behind that tree there and do justice to these monkey biscuits – then we’ll see. It wasn’t easy stealing the whole lot – there had better not be anyone claiming a share.
(Begins to consume biscuits behind the tree. A junior rakshas enters.)
Junior: Mmmmm. Smells heavenly, I want some, uncle.
Hanu: Who on earth are you? Get out of here. I’m not your uncle, your uncle’s visiting Ravana, you go with him too, there’s nothing for you here.
Junior: Then I’l scream… haaaaaa…
Hanu: Shhh… here’s a biscuit. This is a nice pickle I’m in now. What to do? There’s no place I haven’t looked for her, but I haven’t even spotted the tip of her tail. Once my feet stop aching I’ll search these woods with a tooth comb. But if I still don’t find her…
Junior: Have you looked under the bed?
Hanu: Shut up. How can I look under the bed, the beds are all sky-high.
(Sita enters in the distance in tattered clothes, with little or no jewellery.)
Hanu: Dammit. Who’s that there now looking hungry? She might want some too. Such a pain.
Junior: It won’t eat your biscuits. It doesn’t eat, doesn’t bathe. It’s Sitey. Give me another biscuit.
Hanu: What! What do you mean Sitey. Is that Sita? Oh yes, it is! That necklace around her neck is just as Ramchandra had described it.
Junior: Oh yes, that’s Sitey, my mother’s her guard, see, where are my biscuits?
Hanu: Take them all, I’m not hungry. So that’s Sitey? Was it for this that Ram and Lakshman are in abject despair? Tchah – you can find much lovelier women rolling on the roads of Kishkindhya… are you getting out of here or not?
(Arunava Sinha has translated much of the canon of Bengali literature, and can be found here.)
( More posts from Banned Books Week, here.)