World Philologies Seminar
Do 19 Jun 2014 | 16:00–18:00

Folktales, Nonsense Rhymes, and the Translated Text of the Bengal Partition

Esha Sil (Zukunftsphilologie Fellow 2013-2014); Chair: Thibaut d'Hubert (Zukunftsphilologie Fellow 2013-2014/University of Chicago)

Freie Universität Berlin, Raum JK24/122d, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin

This seminar will revisit the textual scholarship of Bengali children’s literature through a study of Sukumar Ray’s anthology of ‘nonsense’ rhymes for children, Abol Tabol (Rhymes without Reason), and Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar’s Thakurmar Jhuli (Grandmother’s Bag of Stories), a written compilation of popular folktales, traditionally narrated to children as bed-time stories by older women in Bengali joint families. I will examine the philological mobility of these works against the historiographical backdrop of the 1947 Bengal Partition. For this purpose, I will comparatively critique the Bengali editions of Thakurmar Jhuli and Abol Tabol, published in Calcutta in 1907 and 1923 respectively, vis-à-vis their contemporary post-Partition translations into English: Tales from Thakurmar Jhuli: Twelve Stories from Bengal, by Sukhendu Ray in 2012, and The Select Nonsense of Sukumar Ray, by Sukanta Chaudhuri in 1987.  
Predicating my critical analysis of Thakurmar Jhuli and Abol Tabol upon the geopolitical repercussions of the Bengal Partition and their memorial legacy, I aim to explore the discursive and philological complications of translating these texts into English in a post-Partition West Bengali context. Through an intertextual reading of some prose and verse pieces from Thakurmar Jhuli, Abol Tabol and their English translations, I will thus unravel the transregional encounter between the melancholic West Bengali subject and his submerged East Bengali ‘other’ across the metalinguistic space of rendering oral folktales and nonsense rhymes into the written corpus of their edited collections, 'before' and 'after' 1947.
The following texts are meant to familiarize the audience with the subject of the talk, i.e. Bengali folktales and nonsense rhymes. However no specialist knowledge of the context or field is required for this purpose. These texts will not be dealt with, in exhaustive detail; rather I will briefly comment upon some of the stories and poems in the course of my presentation and in the discussion session afterwards.    

Tales from Thakurmar Jhuli

The Selected Nonsense of Sukumar Ray

Esha Sil completed her MA in Postcolonial Literary and Cultural Studies at the School of English, University of Leeds, U.K., in 2008, and thereafter commenced her doctoral study at the University of Leeds in 2009. She was funded for both her postgraduate and doctoral programs by the School of English Bonamy Dobrée Scholarship. Her research is based on the ‘quintessential’ Bengali leisure pursuit, adda, a long, informal talking session among friends, and takes its cue from Dipesh Chakrabarty’s acclaimed essay on adda to examine this social practice along the theoretical axes of radical capitalism and the 1947 Bengal Partition. She has presented her work at various conferences and is currently co-editing a special issue for Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, titled, ‘Re-evaluating the Postcolonial City: Production, Reconstruction, Representation’. Her Zukunftsphilologie fellowship project will revisit the textual scholarship of Bengali children’s literature through a study of Sukumar Ray’s anthology of nonsense rhymes, Abol Tabol (Nonsense), and Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar’s Thakurmar Jhuli(Grandmother’s Bag of Stories), a compilation of popular Bengali folktales.

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