Vol. 5 Num 568 Sat. December 31, 2005  

The Bankimchandra Omnibus, Volume I
Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay was born West Bengal in 1939. In 1858, he became the first Indian to earn a BA degree. He served in the Indian Civil Service as Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Collector between 1859 and 1891.

Bankimchandra wrote his first novel, Rajmohan's Wife, in English. His first Bengali novel Durgeshnandini appeared in 1865. He went on to write thirteen more novels. Bankimchandra was the editor of Bangadarshan, perhaps the most influential literary magazine of his time. He died in 1894.

Often referred to as India's first modern novelist, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay fused the formal, Sanskritized Bengali with the colloquial idioms of the spoken language to forge a prose that everyone could read. His novels were at once instructive and entertaining. They fall into three genres: historical romances, novels of nationalist fervour, and those reflecting the social conditions in nineteenth-century Bengal.

The first volume of this collector's edition brings together five of Bankimchandra's best-known works in English translation: Kapalkundala, Bishabriksha, Indira, Krishnakanta's Will, and Rajani, the last being the first Indian novel where characters narrate their stories in the first person. The translations have generally been well done, though at times, perhaps to match the original Bengali's meaning and movement closely, the occasional awkward phrase surfaces: "the protectorless girl," or "smoking from the hubble-bubble" when instead of the Anglo-Indianism the word used could have been 'hukka.' Clearly written explanatory endnotes have been provided which should be invaluable to readers not acquainted with older Bengali customs and culture.

All in all, a valuable translation effort, which should bring Bankimchandra to those readers who have not been able to access him because of his 'difficult' language.

The Bankimchandra Omnibus, Volume I (Kapalkundala translated by Radha Chakravarty; Bishabriksha and Indira translated by Marian Maddern; Krishnakanta's Will translated by S. N. Mukherjee, and Rajani translated by Sreejata Guha); New Delhi: Penguin India Collector's Edition; 2005; 535 pp. Cover drawing is 'Flight to Egypt' by Jamini Roy.