Home to numerous languages, written and spoken (122 among these being ‘major’ languages), India has rich literary traditions–classical and contemporary–in many of these. With translations into English as well as Indian languages, many of these are now (or are becoming) accessible to a wider readership. A couple of years ago, I’d done a set of posts exploring detective fiction in Indian regional languages (here and here; with an additional post on Indian fictional detectives in English works), something that I’m still looking to add to since I only found detectives mainly from Bengali and Tamil fiction. Today’s post is another foray into regional literature, though confined to one region since I’ve read a fair few of these in translation, and this time looking into children’s fiction in particular. This is just a sample of a few works I know or have been introduced to, so in no way an exhaustive list, but certainly a way to get a sampling of the genre in Bengali. These include fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, and humour writings.

Band of Soldiers by Sardindu Bandhyopadhyay (translated by Sreejata Guha)

Originally published in 1974, Band of Soldiers: A Year on the Road with Shivaji is a piece of historical fiction by Sardindu Bandhopadhyay who besides being also a writer of detective fiction and historical fiction was also a screen writer for Hindi and Bengali cinema. In Band of Soldiers, which is somewhat comparable to G E Henty’s fiction, we follow a young boy, sixteen-year-old Sadashiv, as he joins the band of Shivaji (the Maratha ruler who went on to establish his own kingdom at Raigarh and took on the Mughals among others), and has several adventures. Told in the form of five connected episodes, the book does over all read as a full story (reviewed here)

The Best of Tenida by Narayan Gangopadhyay (Translated by Aparna Chaudhary)

Tenida is the ‘leader’ of a group of four boys who live in the neighbourhood of Potoldanga and feature in short stories by Narayan Gangopadhyay. These include stories of adventure but also mostly of every day fun in simpler times, as also the tall tales that Tenida is known for. These boys also do a whole lot of eating, giving Enid Blyton’s books some stiff competition. The boys all have distinctive characters are are pretty likeable, but the humour doesn’t always translate entirely to English. Still, one does get some flavour of it.

Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne: The Magical World of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury (translated by Swagatha Deb)

My list of Bengali children’s fiction features authors from three generations of one family, that of the famed filmmaker (amongst many, many other things: my post here on only his literary talents–also more than one, including font design), Satyajit Ray. Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury, his grandfather, was a painter and writer, known for among other things for his children’s fantasy story Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. This features a singer Goopy, who is thrown out of his village because his singing is awful and a drummer Bagha, exiled similarly for playing the drum terribly. Both end up in a jungle where their ‘music’ actually pleases the king of ghosts, who gives them some boons including the ability to get food when they want, magic slippers that enable them to travel in the blink of an eye, and most importantly, the ability to actually sing and play, mesmerizing those who hear their music. This story went on to be adapted by Satyajit Ray into a series of films with plenty of fun adventures. In this volume are this and some of Ray’s other stories. I loved the film version of Goopy Gyne but am yet to read the story.

Wordygurdyboom: The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray (translated by Sampurna Chatterjee)

On to the next generation; Ray’s father, Sukumar, also similarly talented, was the author of among the first volumes of nonsense writing in Bengali which he also illustrated. In this translation we get to sample some of his pun-riddled, fun-fiddled, harum scarum world (penguin’s description) which have not only fun poetry but also satirize the state of society and the colonial administration at his time. This I am yet to read.

Professor Shonku by Satyajit Ray (translated by Indirani Majumdar)

And finally, Satyajit Ray himself, with one of his creations (his detective stories, the Feluda books were also written for younger readers), Prof Shonku. Shonku or Trilokeshwar Shonku is accompanied by his servant Prahlad and cat, Newton who is 24 on his adventures which are mostly science fiction. He invents several fascinating things including an air-conditioning pill and a space food for cats. This one’s also from my TBR and there are a few of these volumes avilable in translation.

The Adventures of Kakababu by Sunil Gangopadhyay (translated by Rimi)

These are adventure stories for younger readers, featuring Kakababu, a former (fictional) director of the Archeological Survey of India. While he is disabled, this is no obstacle for him going on adventures. On these he is accompanied by his nephew, Shontu from whose perspective the stories are narrated. Adventures include a search for a king’s lost ‘head’, a trip to the Andaman islands and the pursuit of thieves.

Adventures of Ghanada by Premendra Mitra (translated by Leela Majumdar)

Also science fiction stories, Ghanashyam Das or Ghanada entertains fellow boarders at the boarding house he lives in with tales of his fantastic adventures which have supposedly taken him to every place on earth and involved encounters with monsters, genetically modified creatures, and even aliens. Ghanada’s tall tales entertain both his fictional audiences and those who read his accounts!

So these are some children’s stories from Bengali literature one can sample in English. I hope to be able to track down more and do another post of these soon.

Have you read/ come across any of these? Would you like to? Also, if you know of any stories other than those on this list, as well as in any other Indian language, do let me know in the comments (even if not available in translation), because I’d love to both read (where possible) and put together posts for different languages.


6 thoughts on “Bengali Children’s Literature: Some Volumes to Explore-I

  1. My goodness such a collection of books! What a great idea to look for cultural books translated for kids. I’ve read many books set in India but never really thought about the need for translated kids books too – partly because I no longer have kids at home.
    Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t remember reading very many translated stories as a child, though perhaps I did read some. Emil and the Detectives was certainly a favourite and of course many folk tales from different parts of the world in collections–though I suspect the latter were retellings/adaptations rather than straightforward translations.


  2. I have read most of these, thanks to you, and I did enjoy them. As a child, one had no access to translated children’s literature, except for Russian tales, so I generally stayed with English stories, both from the UK and the US, supplemented with some written in Hindi.

    Liked by 1 person

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