A Bengali in Africa
One of the greatest adventure stories hardly anyone has read
It is the early 20th century, well before the Great War in Europe. Our protagonist, an athletic young man of about 20, has just returned to his village from Calcutta after finishing school. His family expects him to become a clerk in the jute factory nearby, but he dreams of a less mundane life. He gets his wish when an acquaintance arranges a job for him in the East African railway.
Thus begins a great adventure that involves man-eating lions, black mamba, volcanic eruption, Kalahari, cannibals, a mysterious apelike creature that doesn’t fear fire, and a diamond mine deep in the heart of Africa.
I am talking about Chander Pahar (Mountains of the Moon — the legendary range in East Africa, long believed to be the source of the Nile). Unless you are Bengali, chances are that you’ve never heard of it. It is an adventure novel written by Bibhuti Bhushan Bondopadhyaya, a Bengali writer of the first half of the 20th century whose better known creation is Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road). That book is better known because it is the subject of the Satyajit Ray classic Apu trilogy.
Well, anyone who has read Chander Pahar would agree that this book deserves its own Ray. It deserves a better on screen version than what has been done so far. A Desi in the early 20th century facing an adventure like this — that kind of thing has so far been the white man’s monopoly, and it’s time we break the global colour line. We just need a talented director and an astute producer — perhaps Disney+ or Amazon can think about it!
Many years ago, I started translating the story as part of a writing contest. Some of the chapters were posted in the previous blog. As it happens, with the world moving beyond the pandemic, this Bengali is about to follow Shankar’s footsteps — okay, not literally so, as my work involves going from air-conditioned hotels to air-conditioned meeting rooms and back in tinted official vehicles, but the mind can wander, right?
Every Sunday that I am in the continent, I will post a chapter. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, a few things to read.
War in Europe hurts people in Africa.
April 28, 2022
Exchange rate management is tricky in Africa.
April 4, 2022
Logistics problems abound in the continent.
March 26, 2022
Still some places are transforming fast.
January 13, 2022
The Chinese are building lot of things.
February 19, 2022
Some are trying to resolve their debt issues.
March 14, 2022
There are lots of babies!
March 1, 2022
May 14, 2022
December 17, 2020
At least they can vote in (some countries in) Africa!
April 28, 2022
But Khaki is back too in many places.
December 28, 2021
If you really want to learn more…..
Nathan Nunn, Stelios Michalopoulos, Elias Papaioannou, Léonard Wantchékon
January 27, 2022
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And a different bunch of Bengalis in a different part of the continent.