In the grey monsoon dawn, the fishermen catch ilish on the Padma. Kuber majhi, Dhananjoy and Ganesh count their share of the catch that will be transported to Calcutta in rail wagons. But the money does not necessarily come immediately in return for the fish. Yet, paucity and poverty do not allow protests. Back in Kuber’s hut, a newborn’s cries greet him. There is his aunt (Pishi), his still-to-be-married daughter, Gopi, his two sons, Lakha and Chandi, and his crippled wife Mala; Kuber worries how to feed another mouth.
Contrary to this mundane everyday, Kuber has a secret life where he is happy weaving dreams around his ebullient sister-in-law, Kapila. And then there is the mysterious and powerful Hossain Mian, luring the unwary to his fabled Moynadwip. In the lives of poor fishermen like Kuber, greed, treachery and helplessness are countered by hopes, aspirations, also moments of joy and love.
An English translation of Manik Bandopadhyay’s Bengali classic Padma Nadir Majhi (1936), The Boatman of the Padma is a story of the lives of boatmen and fishermen in Ketupur, a village in Bangladesh (then, East Bengal), nurtured by the river Padma, the lifeline of the country. Written largely in the local dialect, it is a captivating portrayal of the Padma, of survival and predicament—of life.
Ratan Kumar Chattopadhyay’s translation is insightful and precise, masterfully retaining the nuances of the original. Detailed notes on some of the terms and cultural practices used in the context of the story also add to the read.
A timeless tale, The Boatman of the Padma is sure to make a place on every reader’s bookshelf and in every reader’s heart.
Manik Bandyopadhyay (b. 19 May 1908–d. 3 December 1956) was arguably ‘the most completely equipped writer of fiction [Bengal] ever had’ in the words of an eminent critic. He was born Prabodh Kumar Bandyopadhyay in Dumka in the state of Bihar into a family from Dhaka (now the capital of Bangladesh), Manik being his nickname. In a career of about twenty-eight years, he wrote novels, short stories, poems, a short play, and several fragments of his diary; he also wrote works for children. Some of his writings rank among the gems not only of Bengali but of world literature.
The Boatman of the Padma