Another Jewel in the Bengali Literary Crown 

Manik Bandyaopadhyay "Not the novel, it's the name of the novel that confused everyone; from the critics to the writer of the ad script that appeared on the back cover of the book to promote circulation. The Puppets? Well, they all assumed that Bandyopadhyay must have portrayed people as puppets of their destiny. This was the conclusion of judging critics. But those who cared not to judge and kept the novel breathing for twenty odd years, knew better. They realised that it was a dissent against those who make people puppets. It's not a vigorous revolt; but a sympathetic mild and persistent protest."

The author's comment on his most controversial novel 'Pootool Naacher Itikotha' (The Puppets' Tale as translated by the UNESCO).

 Biographical Chronology 

19 June 1908 - 3 December 1956

Born 19 May 1908 at Doomka town of the Santhal Pargana of West Bengal (India) in a family from Malapdia village of Vikrampur (near Dhaka - capital of Bangladesh). He was his parents' fith son. Father Harikar Bandyapadhyay; mother Niroda Devi. Manik was his nickname - the formal name being Prabodh Kumar. Harihar was a Sub Deputy Collector and had a transferable job. So Manik's chilhood was spent in many parts of the then undivided Bengal - from Comilla in the east to Midnapore in the west. His writing creer started in his teens. The first short story was published at the age of twenty and his first novel at 21.

Bandyopadhyay matriculated from Midnapore in 1926. In 1928, after completion of his I.Sc. examinations from the Welleslyan Mission College in Bankura, he was admitted to the B.Sc. (Hons. in Maths.) course at the Presidency College of Calcutta. But the carefree young Manik never completed his degree despite much angst to his parents and family elders. He was'nt a conformist and miserabley failed his parents' traditional expectations.

In those days, income from publications could hardly support a household. Bandyopadhyay commenced employment in 1938 as the Headmaster of the Mymensingh Teachers Training School. That same year he married in Vikrampur's (in Dhaka district now in Bangladesh) Chatterjee family. He became the Assistant editor of the Bangoshree in 1937. He resigned from this position in 1939 to start his own (doomed) publishing business - in partnership with one of his brothers. He hardly knew that he couln't be a successful businessman.

During the Second World War, he joined the Indian National War Front, Provincial Organiser, Bengal as a Publicity Assistant. During this period he was associated with the Calcutta station of All India Radio and took part in many programmes including those related with War propaganda, at least up to the end of 1943.

Bandyopadhyay died a poor death at the age of 48 in 1956 after suffering from a long bout of bacillary dysentery. Some 4 decades after his passing, the West Bengal government in collaboration with that state's Bangla Academy published his life time contributions to Bengali literature - a commendable project indeed!

 Major Works 

Manik literally means gem and quite a gem he was to the Bengali literature. His short stories are woven from the rich threads plucked from the ordinary impoverished peoples' lives with a masterly crafted texture that always contains a vivid psychoanatomy of their conflicts and dilemmas of existence with an abundant supply of colours squeezed from their immediate and engaging natural surrounds.

Although, not unlike every other Bengali youngsters, still in his teens, he had written (hitherto unpublished and discovered later) some 100 odd poems, it is at the Presidency College, after a wager with his classmates, that Manik started writing short stories.

In December that very year (1928) he won his bet and Atosi Maami (Aunt Atosi) was first published in the popular Bichitra magazine. Soon after, in 1929, two more short stories Neki (The Ignorant) and Byathar Puja (The Anguished Adoration) followed. Both readers and critics alike acclaimed his skills as a short story writer.

Thus encouraged, Bandyopadhyay, then commenced experimenting with the longer story formats. The result was his first 'romantic' (serial) novel Divaraatrir Kavya (The Ode of the Day and Night) - a string of three apparently self-contained but continuing long stories (the author liked to call them allegories, instead of stories or novels. He wrote that the characters were metaphorical representations of people's thoughts, rather than the people themselves). The stories first appeared in 1934 in the Bangoshree, some five years after they were written (and 'collecting dust on the shelf').

A contemporary of Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay - author of the Apu Trilogy (directed by the Oscar winning film director Satyajit Ray), Pather Panchali, Aparajto and Apur Sansar), and to a lesser extent that of Saratchandra Chatterjee, Manik Banduopadhaya's first full-fledged novel Janani (Mother) was published in 1935 - his first, not serially published before. But it was not until his next two novels came out, would the reading public ever realise what treasure awaited them! Classed among the best of world literature heritage of the twentieth century were Bandyopadhyay's Pootool Naacher Itikotha and Padma Nodir Maajhi - both published in 1936.

Pootool Naacher Itikotha (the Puppets' Tale), first appeared serially in the clebrated Bharatbarsha in 1935. 1936 saw the publication of this, much debated and widely translated2 serial novel in book form along with his most popular and universally acclaimed Padma Nodir Maajhi (Padma River Boatman, tarnslated by Barbara Painter and Ian Lovelock3), which faithfully and lovingly depicted the rural life of his native East Bengal. Partly serially published in the Purbasha magazine, this novel, too, was translated in many Indian, Asian and European languages 4.

Consider this:

"The Puppets' Tale" belongs to the mainstream world literature in its sources of conflict: father against son; education against tradition; village against city; man against fate and the inexhaustible enigma of woman and man. In the context of Indian literature, "The Puppets' Tale" is yet another outstanding example of the enormous, amalgamative power of India through the ages.

- Introductory note on the novel's English translation under the auspices of UNESCO. Translator Sachindralal Ghose under the series editor Artur Isenberg.
Many short stories of the author have been translated to other Indian and European languages. The most notable of these enormous inventory are Pragoitihasik (Primeval), Sarisrip (The Serpent), Shinrhi (Stairs), Bou (Wives) and Mahakaaler Jotaar Jot (the Matted Locks of Shiva).

Even some of his shortest of stories could have his readers spell-bound with his supreme ability to dissect human minds through a X-Ray-vision psychosis, thus giving a compelling insight into his characters and the situations they found themselves in (often with no fault of their own) - each having harmony or conflict with the rest. Less able writers probably would require pages after pages to describe such profusely intense situations, but not Manik Bandyopadhyay. Here's a snippet:
Oh, star-studded sky of 8 O'Clock! Split into peices with a million thunders. The hungry children of (Bengal) have to fight their own helpless mother for a lousy peice of bread, for a few grains of rice!

[Translated text from the short story Aar Naa Kaanna - a tiny, only three-and-a-quarter page, short story, but heavily laden with an ordinary housewife's failing attempts at making ends meet with inadequate supplies. The young innocent kids can't fathom why their mother was saving flour when they are half fed and they all revolt against her! She has nowhere to hide. She wants the sky to fall apart!]

Emotionally charged, no doubt! Propagandist, no doubt! Politically encapsulated, no doubt. But this helpless cry does clearly demonstrate her dilemma when the half-fed children wants more to eat yet she has only a meagre supply of flour that must last the distance until their father can earn more to buy replenishment. She fails to make the ends meet!

In a short writing career that only lasted twenty eight years, dotted and burdened with financial, health (he suffered from epilepsy), addiction and psychological traumas, Manik Bandyopadhay wrote 39 novels, over 260 short stories, some poems, essays etc. A list of the author's publications follows:

Year>Short Stories /
(C)ollection thereof
(S)erial /(B)ook /(F)ull Form
1928Atosi Maami 
Byathar Puja
1934 Divaraatrir Kavya (S)
Padma Nodir Maajhi (S)
19355Atosi Maami (C)Janani (B)
Pootool Naacher Itikotha (S)
Divaraatrir Kavya (B)
1936Padma Nodir Maajhi (B)
Pootool Naacher Itikotha (B)
Jeebaner Jotilota (The Complexities of Life)
1937Pragoitihasik (C)
(Prehistoric or Primordial or
Premeval as variously translated)
1938Mihi O Motaa Kahini (C)
(The Fat and the Fine Tales)
Amritashya Pootra (B)
(The Descendants of Heaven)
1939Sarisrip (C) (The Reptiles)Ahimsa (S) (Nonviolence)
Sahartali (F) (Suburbia)
1940Bou (C) (Wives)Sahartali Vol.1 (B) (Suburbia)
1941Sahartali Vol.2 (B) (Suburbia)
Ahimsa (B) (Nonviolence)
DhoraBandha Jiban (B) (Preordained Lives)
1942Saharbasher Itikatha (F) (City Dewellers Tales)
Chatushkone (B) (Four Corners)
1943Samoodrer Swad (C) (Taste of Sea)Protibimbo (F)(B) (The Reflection)
1944Bhejaal (C) (Impure)
1945Haloodporha (C)(Fried Turmeric)Darpan (B)(The Mirror)
1946Aaj Kal Porshoor Galpo (C)
(Stories of Today, Tomorrow
and the Day After)
Poristhiti (C) (The Situation)
Saharbasher Itikatha (B) (City Dewellers Tales)
Bhitemaati [Drama] (Homestead)
Chintamoni (B)
1947Khatiyan (C) (The Ledger)Chihna (B) (the Mark)
Aadayer Itihaas (B) (Collector's Journal)
1948Chhotobaro (C) (Big and Small)
Maatir Maashool (C) (Earth's Toll)
1949Chhotobokoolpoorer Jatri (C)
(The Outback Passengers)
Note: Film Released: Pootool Nacher Itikotha
1950* 'Shrestha Galpo' (collection of best stories) publishedJeeyanto (B) (Alive)
* Manik Granthaboli Vol.1 (Best of Manik) published.
1951Peshaa (B) (Profession)
Sonaar Cheye Thaami Vol.1 (B) (Dearer than Gold)
Swadinataar Swad (B) (The Taste of Independence)
Chhandopaton (B) (Break in Rythm)
1952Sonaar Cheye Thaami Vol.2 (B) (Dearer than Gold)
Itikothaar Parer Kotha (B) (Tale After the Tales)
Paashaapaashi (B) (Alongside)
Saarbojanin (B) (Universal)
* Manik Granthaboli Vol.2 (Best of Manik) published.
1953Firiwalla (C) (The Hawker)
Laajooklata (C) (Modest)
Naagpaash (B) (Captivation)
Aarogya (B)(Recovery)
Teish Bachhore Aagey Parey (B)
(Before and After Twentythree Years)
Chaalchalon (B) (Behaviour)
1954Harof (B) (Glyph)
Shoobhashoovo (B) (Good and Evil)
1955Poradheen Prem (B) (Love in Captivity)
1956*Swa-Nirbachito Galpo (C) (Author's Own Selections of short stories) Maashool (B) (Toll)

If one has to pick his best literary contributions, one must dwell on Bandyopadhyay's early career. In the latter part of his career, he was dogged and tromented by nagging disease, revolting poverty and mental imbalance even though he continued to write unto his death.

His leftist and anti-Fascist ideology too, according to some critics, adversely affected the excellence of his latter day creations.

Much of the materials for this article was sourced from the Manik Bondyopadhyay Rachna Samagro (Complete Works of Manik Bondyopadhyay), West Bengal Bangla Academy, Calcutta 1998

    1. The biographical and publication notes were skimmed from poet Jugantar Chakravarty's Aprokashito Manik Bondyopadhyay : Diary O Chithipotro (Unpublished Manik Bondyopadhyay: Diary and Letters)

    2. Apart from English, Czech, Hugarian and Swedish languages, Pootool Nacher Itikotha has been translated in many Indian languages: Gujarati (1953), Hindi (1958), Telugu (1961), Malayalam (1972), Tamil (1976), Marathi (1979), Oria and Punjabi (1990).

    3. Queensland University Press, Brisbane, Australia, 1973 - published under the auspices of another UNESCO project.

    4. In addition to many Indian language translations, the Padma Nodir Maajhi was first translated to English in 1948 by Hirendranath Mukherjee. Other translations followed over the years: Swedish (partly) (1964), Czech (1954), Hungarian (1956), Slovak (1979) Dutch (1983), German (1985), Norwegian, Liathuanian, Bulgarian and Russian and Mandarin (Chinese) languages.

    5. During this year the author was first diagnosed to have contacted the perilous epilepsy disease.