“Only novels can make people feel through words that they went through actual experiences. Depending on whether or not people experience those stories, their thoughts and ways of seeing the world should change. I want to write stories that will penetrate the heart. I have a lot of hope in the power that novels hold,” said Haruki Murakami, the seventy-year-old Japanese novelist, in an interview with Japan Times.
The interview introduces his latest novel, Killing Commendatore, where the protagonist, a thirty-six year old artistgoes into his paintings. He weaves the natural and supernatural to explore reality and admits that his protagonist is based partly on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby.
A popular novelist, Haruki Murakami was the sixth recipient of the Franz Kafka Prize in 2006, given in recognition of “humanistic character and contribution to cultural, national, language and religious tolerance, its existential, timeless character, its generally human validity and its ability to hand over a testimony about our times”. He has received many awards at both international and national levels and has three doctorates, including one from Princeton University.
So much of sci-fi uses science as a starting point and then uses fiction to fill up the gaps in our present knowledge. We use what we know today to imagine a different tomorrow –- a better tomorrow — for the world. Still, sooner rather than later, sci-fi that looks out-dated as science fiction becomes a scientific fact. Don’t we all know that Sage Valmiki wrote in Ramayana of the Pushpak Vimana ( mythical flying chariots in Hindu lore) and the giant bird Jatayu that clashed in mid-space aeons before the Wright Brothers wrote their names into aviation history or before the Central Science Laboratory in UK estimated that worldwide, the cost of bird-strikes to airlines had soared to US$ 1.2 billion annually!
But why does this possibility of fiction becoming a fact excite me? Admittedly because of my association with Me and I, which my father, well-known author and scriptwriter Nabendu Ghosh, had written for his two grandsons, and was translated by my son Devottam Sengupta for his grandpa’s birth centenary. Published by Hachette India, the novel breaks the barriers of space and time. Let me quote from the synopsis to give readers a glimpse of this. “They all had the same question for Mukul: ‘Why didn’t you recognise us? And why did you look so dark?’ Mukul was perplexed. The day had started as any other Sunday morning would, with him going out to meet his aunt, his friends and his mentor Noni Kaku of the Telescope. But when everyone, including his own parents insisted that he was lying about his whereabouts, Mukul had to look around for this imposter. And he found Lukum, who had travelled light years to meet his intergalactic ‘twin.’ Little did Mukul know that he had set out on the longest Sunday of his life…”
Our ascent to the mountain peak was predictably long and tortuous. I was sweating and blaspheming in my mind, trying to maintain my balance and resisting my inner urge to give up the climb. My snowboard grew heavy on my shoulders and it was painfully bumping against my spine. When we had left careless shrieks of the skiing crowd far behind, it suddenly started snowing. Fluffy snowflakes were melting on my face and infiltrating unpleasantly under my collar. I could hardly see Clara, purposefully making her way through the thick lace of the snowfall curtain enveloping the earth all around us. That is why, when she suddenly stopped, I bumped into her nearly causing us both to fall into the abyss below. She stood there immobile, her hand raised in a warning sign.
“I think I saw her,” she said in a low voice. “Who?”
This is the second part of the interview with Ratnottama Sengupta, national award winning journalist, writer and filmmaker, an exclusive, where she talks of not only legends like Meena Kumari and Utpal Dutta but also takes us on a journey of cinematic history and discusses the impact of social media on cinema along with more about translated books of Nabendu Ghosh.
A quick recap of the earlier interview leads us into the world of glittering Bollywood where the former Arts Editor of The Times of India, Ratnottama Sengupta, spent her formative years to emerge as a writer and filmmaker; her childhood amidst legendary stars; her observation as a curator of exhibitions which bring out the hidden voices of less known languages, art forms; her experiences as a biographer, author and translator.
Reader Ramashish Roy writes on our website: “Many thanks to ‘Kitaab’ for publishing this interview which portrays commendable work done by her( Ratnottama Sengupta) and most importantly it also depicts the nuances of the unforgettable golden era of Classical Hindi Cinema. Will eagerly wait for the next episode of this interview.”
Reader Antara Mondal writes: “Simply brilliant! Excellent and expansive interview…Loved the elaborate answers. Looking forward to Part 2 eagerly.”
Please enjoy the concluding part of Ratnottama Sengupta’s interview with Team Kitaab.
Team Kitaab: Your father, Nabendu Ghosh, other than being an eminent scriptwriter, was a well-known Bengali writer. Do you agree the he is a master storyteller with his pen on the pulse of the need for social, economic and political reforms? Can you tell us a little more about how relevant are the stories that you are translating to the current socio-political set up?
Ratnottama: In other words, the social, political and economic relevance of Nabendu Ghosh’s writings more than half a century after they were crafted.
Baba never let me do anything on his behalf, to ‘promote’ him. He’d say, “As long as I am there, you don’t worry about my writing. You concentrate on yours.” And by God’s grace, he lived to write till the ripe age of 90. But since he was in Bombay after 1951, and writing amid people who didn’t know Bengali, he came to be better known as a screen writer. Within a year of going to Bombay, Baba had taken a conscious decision to write screenplays on the stories and novels of other writers — if they had cinematic possibilities. For, celluloid lives only when it beams dreams and dramas of jubilation on a larger-than-life canvas. And since literature for him was ‘pointing fingers’ he continued to write about deprivations, injustices, inequities.
When I took to translating his stories, I was amazed at the wealth of social, historical, and economic documentation contained in them especially about the 1940s, which are the founding years of the nation. “Learn from those you admire but write from life around you,” his father had said to him when he started writing as a schoolboy. And he did just that and became the voice of 1940s. Quit India movement, riots before and post Partition, the Bengal Famine, these realities we more or less know about. But the rationing of clothes during WW2, the tribals’ fight for fishing rights in the wetlands of Chalan Beel now in Bangladesh, the thugees, the price paid by industrialisation in terms of family values, the corruption of morals in political life, the flights of science and the weakening of faith are some of the issues he addresses. Frankly I did not know so much wealth was lying to be tapped. And once I chanced upon it, I could guide a student of Banaras Hindu University who has just claimed a Doctorate for his work on “Contemporary Politics and the novels of Nabendu Ghosh”.
Jokha Alharthi, an Omani writer, is the first Arabic author to win the Man Booker International Prize 2019 for her novel, Celestial Bodies.She shares her award with the translator of her book, academic Marilyn Booth who teaches Arabic literature in Oxford.
This international award was initiated in 2004 to complement the Man Booker Prize that went to a book published in English in England. It was given every two years for the author’s “continued creativity, development and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage”. It recognised the writer’s body of works rather than any one title. It was only in 2016, that the award started being given for a single title and would be shared between the author and the translator.
The story of this year’s winning title, Celestial Bodies, revolves around the life of three sisters who marry and move out into the world. The chairperson of the panel of judges, Bethany Hughes said, “Through the different tentacles of people’s lives and loves and losses we come to learn about this society – all its degrees, from the very poorest of the slave families working there to those making money through the advent of a new wealth in Omanand Muscat. It starts in a room and ends in a world.” Bethany Hughes was joined on the judging panel byphilosopher Angie Hobbs, writer, translator and chair of English PEN Maureen Freely, novelist and satirist Elnathan John and essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra.
Title: That Bird Called Happiness – Stories
Author: Nabendu Ghosh; ed. Ratnottama Sengupta
Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2018
Nabendu Ghosh was born in Dhaka, raised in Patna, then a part of the Bengal Presidency, moved to Calcutta in 1945. In 1947, India woke up to its ‘tryst with destiny’, but this destiny had two heads, creating a splintered sense of national identity and geographical boundaries. On the eastern side of the country, Bengal was divided not just by a line but also, unnaturally, by language. With Urdu imposed as the national language on a Bengali speaking population, books from West Bengal could not be sold in East Pakistan. By then Nabendu Ghosh was already a prominent voice in Bengali fiction.
In 1951, when Bimal Roy asked him to script movies that would become classics of Hindi cinema – Bandini, Abhimaan, Devdas, Sujata, among others, he moved to Bombay. Though these films were based on stories by other literary greats, Nabendu Ghosh had already found his footing and the subjects that would preoccupy him in his own stories and novels: the social and political upheavals of the time, famine, Partition, riots, socio-cultural mores, and most significantly, love.
That Bird Called Happiness is a collection of translated stories of Nabendu Ghosh, edited by his daughter Ratnottama Sengupta, a national award-winning journalist, writer and film director. The nine stories in this collection are narratives of a newly formed nation, still nascent in its certainties and assurances, mindful of the social dogmas that were briefly subsumed by the larger ‘ism’ of nationalism. The writer’s stance is bold, reformist; it searches for language in which to explore the newness of thought, of an emerging nation-hood played out in individual lives, as in “The Path” and in social groupings as in “Full Circle”.
Ratnottama Sengupta is a well-known personality in the world of media and films in India.
Formerly Arts Editor with The Times of India, she has been writing for newspapers and journals, participating in discussions on the electronic media; teaching mass communication, writings books on cinema and art, programming film festivals and curating art exhibitions. She has written widely on Hindi films; served the CBFC, the NFDC Script Committee, the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National award. In recent times she has authored, translated and edited Chuninda Kahaniyaan, Kadam Kadam, Me and I, That Bird Called Happiness. In 2018, she debuted as a film director with And They Made Classics, a film that captures the journey of her eminent father, an award winning screenwriter cum author, Nabendu Ghosh.
Having grown up in an atmosphere surrounded by all the Bollywood greats, Ratnottama Sengupta gave Team Kitaab an exclusive with stories of growing up amidst Bollywood legends like Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari and Nutan, taking us with her through her unique journey to both penmanship and films. We present her journey to you in two parts…
Team Kitaab: What made you choose your calling that of a person who writes on cinema? From what stage in your life have you been writing, especially on cinema?
Ratnottama: Sometimes, life decides your choice of calling…
I was born into a household which had books on the shelves, on the table, on the bed, underneath the bed too. I grew up ‘playing’ with books, ‘reading’ books even before I knew the alphabet, looking at the illustrations and admiring the images. Since my father was an MA in Literature, he had the cream of world literature in his ‘library’. And because he was simultaneously writing screenplays (for most of the major names of Hindi screen through 1950s-60s), he would get the film magazines and cine broadsheets too. So I grew up symbiotically connected with the parallel worlds of letters and images.
Tagore’s bust at his ancestral home at Joransankho, Kolkata
Debendranath, Rabindranath’s father’s bust
On May 7 th, 1861, was born a man who left an indelible mark in the world of literature, philosophy, music, education and on the lives of many people. He wrote the national anthem for at least two countries, India and Bangladesh, and influenced the writer of the national anthem of a third country, Sri Lanka.
Rabindranath Tagore, the first non- European Nobel prize winner, was a remarkable man. Despite having his songs picked for national anthems and providing inspiration to other national anthem writers, he was critical of a system that drew borders among men and created hatred or intolerance. He withdrew from the politics of nationalism. He wrote: “…my conviction (is) that my countrymen will gain truly their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.”
Panellists from left to right: Aparna Sen, Gautam Ghose, Jagannath Guha, Saumik Bandopadhyay
People gathered at Oxford Bookstore, Kolkata, on the evening of the 3rd of May, disregarding the Meteorological Office’s predictions of the impending cyclone, Fani. The occasion was the book launch of the acclaimed film director, music director and cinematographer, Gautam Ghose, and the subsequent panel discussion lined with luminaries from the literary as well as cinematic circles. The book, Beyond The Himalayas: Journeying Through The Silk Route, has been co-authored by producer and writer Michael Haggiag.
The panellists for the evening included renowned actress and film-maker Aparna Sen; novelist Kunal Basu whose The Japanese Wife was made into a film; former diplomat and essayist Jawhar Sircar; critic and editor Samik Bandopadhay, who is also known for his translations of works by noted playwright Badal Sircar and celebrated author Mahasweta Devi; and film scholar Jagannath Guha. Guha had accompanied Ghose on his expedition along the famous Silk Route. Gautam Ghose had made his documentary in 1996 based on the journey he had undertaken. The film was also named Beyond The Himalayas.
Gautam Ghose, the recipient of many national and international awards, including a knighthood from Star of Italian Solidarity, thanked all the persons who had worked tirelessly with him to bring out the book. He especially mentioned his co-author, Michael Haggiag. Haggiag was not present for the occasion. Ghose said that the idea for the book came to him when he re-discovered the negatives of the Silk Route lying at the bottom of his cupboard. The 14,000 km journey they made in1994 took them through Central Asia, China and Tibet. They journeyed through a number of places like Bukhara, Tashkent and Samarkand.