Eons of Bengali youngsters have been weaned on stories from this definitive treasure trove of fantasia, which translated means "Grandmother's Bag" and we (my sister and I) were no different. For us however, more fertile memories are linked with the teller of these tales, our Thamoni (which is the nick/moniker by which we addressed our grandmother) whose bed time story telling sessions were a great hit with us.
This post is a long due tribute to one of my closest friends.
Dr. Rajlukhsmee Debee Bhattacharya was born in Mymensingh, Bangladesh in 1927. She did her schooling in Mymensingh and then in Calcutta. Being a stellar student and Gold Medallist in B.A and M.A from Calcutta University (which in her times for a woman, was a real big deal!!). She later earned her doctorate from Pune University in philosophy, and taught Philosophy at IIT Kharagpur, Fergusson College, and N.Wadia College,Pune , where she retired as the HOD of the Department of Philosophy. All this while she was also a very active Bengali poet , one of the few pravasi Bengali poets of note (Pravasi being the Bengali term for non-resident Bengalis-She was based out of Pune since 1952). She was a recipient of the Prestigious Bhuban Mohini Dasi Medal from Calcutta University for her contribution to Bengali literature. She was also a noted translator of poetry from Bengali to English and English to Bengali, and had traveled abroad extensively to many conferences where she shared her expertise and experience in the finer nuances of the very difficult but very critical art of translation.
She was tremendously dynamic,phenomenally creative, inspirational,a killer cook, brilliant, open minded, youthful and refreshing to interact with but most of all she was a very loving person. When I was doing my engineering at the College of Engineering Pune (from 1999 -2003), She was my confidante and counsel. Whether it was studies related advice, or guidance on extracurriculars or generally helping me sort out personal issues, from Applied mechanics, engineering drawing and quantum physics to texture of brush strokes in the artwork of certain artistes to heated discussions on whether R.K. Narayan deserved the Nobel prize in literature or not (I thought he did, she thought not), whether "Dil Chahta hai" was really the awesome movie I though it was (She felt that despite the well portrayed urban glitz the movie ultimately lacked substance). That there was almost a 60 year difference in our ages wasn't apparent to me at most times, when it did, it struck me with a mixed sensation of awe that said i-hope-i-have-half-the-energy-she-does-when-i-get-to-her-age.
And while this post is hardly adequate to convey the loss I or indeed most members of my family felt when she passed away on a February morning three years ago, it will serve to underscore that her memory lingers on, as does her legacy.
As I was rummaging through my files the other day I saw some handwritten translations of short children's verses by Thamoni. Interestingly, the illustrations for this work in progress were done by yours truly (and therein lies the weak link) way back during the run up to my Second Semester Exams at COEP. I searched the web to see if I could trace the originals which she translated them from. The source it appears might well be a work by Shel Silverstein dating back to 1964 a work comprising of a collection of illustrated children's verse called " Dr. Shelby's Zoo". Have given below the English originals of the verses along with scanned images of Thamoni's translations. Let me just say that the translations fantastically maintain the edgy humour of the originals as well as the extremely creative names that these beasts have, those of you who can read Bengali won't have to just take my word for it, and, ahem... my illustrations don't hold up too badly either.
The Man-Eating Fullit
Here is The Tail
Of the man-eating Fullit,
Let's not pull it
Don't pooh-pooh the Gru,
For if you do,
He'll bite you through,
And chomp and chew,
And swallow you.
But if you don't,
Don't Think he won't!
The Long Necked-Preposterious
This is Donald,
A Long-necked Preposterious,
Looking around for a female
but there aren't any
See the Graveyark in his cage,
His claws are sharp, his teeth are double,
Thank heaven he's locked up safe inside,
Or we'd all be in terrible trouble!
and my personal favourite...
The Slithergadee has crawled out of the sea,
He may catch all the others, but he won't catch me,
No you won't catch me, old Slithergadee,
you may catch all the others , but you wo--