Oh the joy of reading Moti Nandy again! Our gang of cousins grew up reading his wonderful stories, always on the theme of sports, that were published in Bengali children’s magazines. He would use the excitement and madness of cricket or football in tightly plotted, action-packed tales and cleverly weave in not just facts about sports but also social observations. His characters were colourful and genuine and spoke in true street lingo that made us giggle. And best of all, he would capture the Bengal that can go completely berserk over a single Mohan Bagan-East Bengal football match. Moti Nandy spoke for us.
In this book, we have young Kalabati Sinha of Class 11B of the Kankurgachhi High School for Girls – champion batswoman and state-level cricketer. She and her beloved grandfather Rajshekhar, the zamindar of Atghara village, face a new challenge. The annual cricket match with the neighbouring village of Bakdighi is coming up and it is of life-threatening importance that they win the match. The problem is that the captain of the Bakdighi team has refused to let Kalabati play because she is a girl.
Since they lost the last match because of some strange decisions by a very suspicious umpire, Atghara’s sporting reputation is at stake and Kalabati has to find a solution to the problem really fast. She is all ready to face the attack of Bakdighi’s highly dangerous pace bowler, Patu Mukherjee, but first has to find a way to sneak into the team unnoticed by the opposition. Not an easy job even for the ever resourceful Kalabati, especially when the opposition includes her school headmistress carrying a camera with a zoom lens.
Nandy captures the high-tension lunacy of a village cricket match with hilarious details. For example, the benches for the spectators have been borrowed from the Atghara Higher Secondary School, “on payment of fifty rupees as caution money,” as the year before the “umpire from Bakdighi had declared four of the Atghara players run out in a single over,” and the benches had faced the rage of the Atghara supporters. It had cost the school twenty-five rupees to repair them.
On the day of the match, things begin to heat up when Patol Haldar, the head of the Atghara panchayat, refuses to play “decadent” disco music on the speakers and chooses Rabindra sangeet instead. The next crisis is when the son of the local politician has a panic attack, pretends that he has malaria and refuses to bat. Then there is the vexed question of missing pots of rosogolla and Kalabati’s uncle’s bizarre habit of sticking out his tongue at the Bakdighi bowler as he hits a century.
So, clad in a full-sleeved vest and a floppy hat, Kalabati springs to the rescue and triumphs. Some mean opposition types wave suspicious photographs and protest, but who’s listening? The action never stops as the scene moves to a marriage pandal where the two groups sit around waiting for dinner to be served and the air is full of suspicions and accusations. There is also an eating contest with cauliflower-flavoured, heart-shaped sandesh that stink; cars that keep breaking down on muddy village lanes and a local leader planning a ‘revolutionary’ celebration by building a pillar that no one is willing to pay for. Kalabati has to get into action again.
Arunava Sinha’s translation is as always a pleasure. He is smooth and elegant and he captures the spirit of the book and the flavour of Bengal perfectly. I, of course, had the added pleasure of mentally translating some of the snappy dialogues into Bangla and laughing aloud. Here’s Kalabati confronting her headmistress:
“Go away… you cannot behave like a barbarian and an ape at a girls’ sports event…”
“Did you call me an ape?”
“Most certainly an ape.”
“Then where’s my tail?”
Later, we are given a list of apes that do not have tails!
Reading the book I kept thinking of how much we needed translations from Indian languages. These writers capture the idiosyncrasies of our world perfectly. They are not being self-consciously clever or following any western trend. They are just telling fantastic stories, set in a world we all know in our bones and we relate to. That is what good writing for children should be – funny, relevant, well plotted and with the tang of our land. I so want to read translations from Tamil and Marathi, Kannada and Assamese… Can I get some more Indian stories, please?
By Subhadra Sen Gupta
Author: Moti Nandy
Translator (from Bengali): Arunava Sinha
ISBN No: 978-93- 5103-133-8
Subject category: Fiction