This delightful selection of eight short stories, two plays and eight poems is an excellent way to introduce the genius that is Tagore to non-Bengali-speaking children. The collection has been recreated from the original by Astri Ghosh, a native speaker of Bengali and a translator of notable repute. The omnibus is accompanied by an insightful introduction to the author’s life by Arunava Sinha, a well-known translator of Bengali literature into English.
Ghosh’s crisp, sensitive and child-centric translation of these classic pieces brings alive Tagore’s literary world, where we meet, amongst others, little Mini and the Kabuliwala in ‘The Man from Kabul’, and the Sanskrit teacher Kali Kumar Tarkalankar and the mischievous schoolboys in ‘The Rat’s Feast’. We are introduced to thought-provoking allegory in ‘The Land of Cards’ and the poignant tale of terminally ill Amal and eternal hope in ‘The Post Office’.
The collection also contains the translator’s version of the poem ‘Where the mind is without fear’ – slightly controversial perhaps as almost every Indian would have read Tagore’s own translation of his poem. But I think this works because the more modern turns-of-phrase will probably make it more relevant to the young reader, who might appreciate better the powerful sentiments behind the poem.
A part of Hachette India’s The Book Mine series, the book comes with some useful extras – a loose cover (which doubles as a miniposter) and twenty-five inside pages packed with trivia about Rabindranath Tagore, three pages of quiz questions and two pages with questions to help review the book. All this provides a great resource for the teacher in the classroom or for the more hands-on parent, who could use these facts to generate a meaningful discussion around Rabindranath Tagore, his literary creations and the context that he wrote in.
Given the enormity of Tagore’s legacy to Bengali literature and culture in particular and Indian literature and philosophy in general, this book should go some way in igniting the curiosity of the young reader to explore Tagore’s literary world and discover his other contributions to the country. Perhaps, after reading this collection with the excellent Book Mine Gems, the Indian schoolchild might sing the national anthem with extra pride, knowing that it was written by a man who had the temerity to renounce his knighthood after the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
By Mohua Bhattacharya
Author: Rabindranath Tagore
Illustrator: Debjani Mukherjee
Hachette India, 2013
Subject Category: Contemporary/Anthology