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     Volume 5 Issue 96 | May 26, 2006 |

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Stranger: Stories
Satyajit Ray
Penguin Books

Satyjit Ray, the pre-eminent filmmaker, first picked up the pen in 1960 to contribute to the then revived children's magazine, Sandesh. From that point on he could never rest his pen. His successive contributions made him a famous name in the genre of children's literature. 'Stranger: Stories' showcases some of Ray's memorable explorations into the twilight territories of the peculiar as well as the supernatural. Among the twenty extraordinary tales there are few that will send shivers up the readers' spine, and there are some that will delight them with their trenchant wit. Gopa Majumdar felt the urgency to make these stories available to the English readers. Her translation is, in general, lucid and at times sparkling. This collection was first published under the rubric of 'Twenty Stories' in 1992; it has been republished in 2001 under the present title. And the latest addition includes 'Fatikchand', a novella, which was made into a film by Ray's son, Sandip.

Though a supernatural element runs through most of the stories, some of them are simple tales of duplicity, redemption and lapses in human action. In The Petrodactyl's Egg a swindler walks away with the protagonist's money by feeding him tales of time travel machine. In 'Load Shedding', a man erroneously enters the home of his neighbour to sense a burglary in progress in the impenetrable darkness brought on by load shedding. When the neighbour arrives the burglar takes off leaving the protagonist no other option but to slip out the house only to find out later that he picked up the wrong umbrella on his way out.

Though Ray has the ability to put a strange twist to even a simple tale; it is the tryst with the uncanny that makes him most impressive. Among the stories where the twilight factor matters the most is 'Bhuto', where a ventriloquist's dummy slowly but surely turns malign and more human than its master. And than there is 'Anath Babu's Terror' and 'Shibu and the Monster', where things get creepier. In the former a ghost-hunter finds himself stalked by his terrifying quarry; and in the latter a schoolboy has to figure out whether his maths teacher is really a demon or not, before time runs out. With their lucid prose the stories make easy and entertaining reading.

Picture Imperfect and other Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries
Saradindu Bandyopadhyay
Penguin Books

Written long before Satyajit Ray's Feluda series, Saradindu Bandyopadhyay's 'Byomkesh Bakshi' mysteries heralded a new era in Bengali popular fictions. Set in the old-world Kolkata of the Raj, these stories featuring the astute investigator and his chronicler friend Ajit are still as gripping and delightful as when they first appeared.

Byomkesh's world, peopled with wonderfully delineated characters and framed by a brilliantly captured pre-independence urban milieu, is fascinating because of its contemporary flavour. In the first story, Byomkesh works undercover to expose an organised crime ring trafficking in drugs. In 'The Gramaphone Pin Mystery', he must put his razor-sharp intellect to good use to unearth the pattern behind a series of bizarre roadside murders. In 'Calamity Strikes', the ace detective is called upon to investigate the strange and sudden death of a girl in a neighbour's kitchen. In 'An Encore for Byomkesh', he has to lock horns with an old enemy who has vowed to kill him with an innocuous but deadly weapon. And in the last story titled Picture Imperfect, Byomkesh unravels a complex mystery involving a stolen group photograph, an amorous couple, and an apparently unnecessary murder.

Available in English for the first time in a superb translation, these stories will captivate every lover of crime fiction, young and old alike. In order to capture and replicate the fervour of the original, translator Sreejata Guha had to make choices either to preserve the cultural flavour and topical references of the Bangla text, or recreate a corresponding echo in the Einglish language that nevertheless retains a neutral cultural space for the original. Guha's translation travel well from the source language to the target language. The translator admits that this journey was not an easy task but Guha accomplished it with flying colours.



Compiled by: Mustafa Zaman


The above titles are available at Pathak Shamabesh, Mobile: 011053937, 0189407146, E-mail: pathak@bol-online.com


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