This past May, I received a truly unexpected email message from Aniruddha, and along with it a sample of a dozen or so pages from a Bengali “translation” of The Lord of the Rings. I have to put translation in quotation marks, because further conversation with the author revealed that it’s not a translation in the strict sense, but rather a close re-telling. From the author’s description, this re-telling is much better than some of the Russian “translations” of Tolkien. He tells me, “I have used Tolkien's own words (translated into Bengali, of course) in 90% of my narration, [but] it can’t really be called a translation of the book, since I haven’t gone word for word and page for page of Tolkien’s book. So, it is technically a re-telling, with the Bengali reader in mind, with extensive illustrations and maps, all with Bengali captions.” Aniruddha’s illustrations, the ones I’ve seen, reveal a strong influence by the Peter Jackson vision, as you can see above.
The manuscript — all 550 A4 pages of it — has been in private circulation “between the author’s close friends and relatives” in Bengal since the beginning of this year. Aniruddha offered to send me a copy, but the shipping costs were prohibitive — and there is the minor hurdle that I don’t read Bengali! :) It has not been published, though the author is quite interested in publication. He had spoken with some Bengali publishers, but found them totally nonplussed. I pointed him in the direction of the Tolkien Estate, whom he had not yet thought of approaching. Last week, I got an update. Aniruddha was kind enough to send a photo taken of him in the Eagle and Child, on holiday in Oxford in June. He also told me he had heard back from Adam Tolkien, who directed him to contact HarperCollins in the U.K. He did so and awaits their reply — an unfavorable one, I would expect, for two reasons: (1) the financial consideration, and (2) the fact that this is not a direct, word-for-word translation. Still, you never know.
What a fascinating turn of events! I feel privileged to have gotten an early, and inside, look at the project. Even if this version never reaches a larger audience, as seems likely, one has to admire the effort. I myself would always prefer a literal, word-for-word translation, but it sounds as if Aniruddha’s Bengali version is very close, at least. And judging by the sentiments he expresses in his Foreword (below), he seems to be approaching the matter from more or less the right mindset. Of course, he has made some decisions I don’t agree with (for example, the invention of dialogue, or rearrangement of the narrative structure to put simultaneous events together in the narrative, further signs of the influence of Peter Jackson). Here is the Foreword, so you can judge for yourselves:
The objective of this book is to introduce Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ story to the average Bengali reader, young and old. And, in the process, bring out the great lessons the epic holds for the modern world: the value of friendship, the futility of war, the dominance and apparent invincibility of evil, which the forces of good find difficult to destroy, and the sheer will-power and determination which bring about such ‘eucatastrophic’ changes. That nobody is too small in this world, and sorrow can also be turned into great strength.
Unfortunately, Tolkien’s works are not appreciated in Bengal (and in India as a whole) as much as it should be. Not yet at least: Peter Jackson’s great cinematic effort and the wide English language readership in India notwithstanding. It is hoped that this Bengali rendition (or ‘re-telling’, if you will) will motivate erudite Bengali scholars to read Tolkien’s original books, and maybe someday somebody more skillful would find enough inspiration to do a full Bengali (or Hindi, or other major Indian languages) translation of Tolkien’s entire works.
Even though this Bengali rendition does not follow the original text to the letter, the underlying structure of the story has been essentially retained, and the Bengali reader is taken through the range and beauty and historical depth of Tolkien’s Middle-earth creation. As much as possible, that is, within the limited space of a (comparatively) short narration.
To fulfill these objectives, many illustrations and maps in Bengali have been added to enliven the story (altogether 135 illustrations and maps in the entire 50-chapter book in 3 volumes). Synopses (Sankhhiptosar) have been added before the beginning of the second and third volumes to bring the reader up to speed, which recapitulates the previous events of a complicated and evolving plot.
The ‘time-line’ of the story has been ‘matched’, so to speak, without taking away the suspense and mystery of the story-line. Especially in the second and third volumes, simultaneous events have been more or less put together, sometimes in the same chapter, unlike in the original books. So there is no need for the reader to go back and forth to understand the sequence of events.
For example, Tolkien’s ‘The Two Towers’ is divided into two ‘books’: the first tells the story of Aragorn’s adventures in Rohan for about 10 days after the breaking of the Fellowship, and then the second ‘book’ returns to Frodo and his journey towards Mordor at an earlier date. The Bengali rendition follows a more conventional approach, telling both storylines as they develop, rather than treating them as entirely separate. Similarly for ‘The Return of the King’.
Some tidbits of dialogue have been added here and there, and occasional adjustments made to characters to make the story more sensible to the Bengali reader. While these do not affect the progress of the fundamental plotline, they are nonetheless different from the original text.
For example, Aragorn’s initial ‘reluctance’ on Kingship and Arwen’s expanded role are adopted from Peter Jackson’s film version, as also Haldir’s army in Helm’s Deep and the Ring in Osgiliath.
I do hope you enjoy reading the Bengali book, and I look forward to your comments, free and frank!
Calcutta, February 2010