Putulnacher Itikatha (1936) tells the story of a village in colonial Bengal at a time of sharp socio-cultural contrasts: modern medicine versus traditional systems; rationalism versus age-old beliefs; city versus village.
Shashi, a Calcutta-trained doctor, returns to his village, Gaodiya. His wealthy, overbearing father expects him to stay, look after the lands and treat the villagers; Shashi would rather live in the city, or travel abroad. Shashi’s life is closely intertwined with the life of the village as a participant in its layered hierarchies, at the core of which lies the attraction of forbidden liaisons. Shashi struggles to cure not just diseases but also the superstitions, orthodoxy and inequities afflicting the village. In all this, he is often a compliant, if unwilling, instrument in the hands of destiny, even while moving to the ineluctable pulls of his own desires and attachments, like any of the other indelibly etched characters that people the novel: moneylender Gopal Das whom the village fears, but who secretly fears his own son Shashi; the vagabond, urbane and charismatic Kumud; the holy man Jadab Pandit; the impressionable Moti; the beautiful, at times childish yet wise Kusum, who remains until the end an enigma for Shashi.
Specifics of the rural Bengal landscape—Kayetpara hamlet, Gaodiya ghat, the palm grove where people go for private conversation or just some quiet—expand vividly into our horizons. A ‘heartfelt protest’ against those who play with human lives as if they were puppets, Manik Bandyopadhyay’s richly imagined and finely wrought world of The Puppets’ Tale has much to offer readers. In Ratan Chattopadhyay’s meticulous hands, this unforgettable chronicle of life retains both its timelessness and ineffable beauty.
Manik Bandyopadhyay (1908–1956), born Prabodh Kumar Bandyopadhyay in Dumka, Bihar, into a family from Dhaka, is considered a founding father of modern Bengali fiction and one of the most influential and original writers of Bengali literature. A prolific writer, in his brief and struggling life of forty-eight years plagued by sickness, death and poverty, he produced an astonishing thirty-nine novels, over two hundred and sixty short stories, poems, a play, diary fragments, essays, and also works for children; several of his writings have been published posthumously. His important novels include Dibaratrir Kabya (1935), Padma Nadir Majhi (1936), Putulnacher Itikatha (1936) and Chatushkone (1942). Padma Nadir Majhi was made into an acclaimed and award-winning film of the same title by Goutam Ghose in 1993. His works have been translated into both Indian and foreign languages—including Hindi, Assamese, English, Chinese, Russian, French, German and Italian—and are widely read even today.
Ratan Kumar Chattopadhyay, a translator from Bengali to English, is a graduate from the University of Calcutta. His published translations include Selections from Galpagucchha, an anthology of short stories by Rabindranath Tagore in three volumes (2010), and The Boatman of the Padma by Manik Bandyopadhyay (2012).
Samantak Das is Professor, Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
Manik Bandyopadhyay and Putulnacher Itikatha
by Samantak Das
Pronunciations of Bengali and Indian Names and Words
The Puppets’ Tale
Glossary & Notes