The Charm Still Exists!
It is not for certain that people could remember Chuk and Gek… Alyonushka… Misha (also known as Mishka) bear, and many other characters. These formed an integral part of the books of Soviet Classics and Children’s Literature, being companions of the children, especially the Bengali-speaking ones, three-four decades ago, thanks to Bengali translations of those gems of literature. Those, who are in their 40s in Bangladesh and eastern Indian Province of West Bengal, still love to flip the pages of those books, as those take them to their childhood! It was while they grew up and attained teenage, they used to receive translations of works of Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gorky, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Gogol and Turgenev from their near and dear ones as birthday gifts. All these valuable resources of Russian literature found their places in the heart of Bengali children through Progress and Raduga Publishers…
In 1931, erstwhile Soviet Union’s Union of the State Book and Magazine Publishers (Sovnarkom) established Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in order to translate and promote Soviet literature across the globe. Later in 1939, the Co-operative emerged as Foreign Languages Publishing House. The House had a permanent Bengali Division in the 1950s and started publishing Bengali translations of Russian literary works under the banner of Progress Publication in 1963. Stalwart translators – like Nani Bhowmik, Nirendranath Roy, Shubhamoy Ghosh, Samar Sen and Bishnu Mukhopadhyay – arrived in Moscow from the eastern Indian city of Kolkata to join Progress Publication! Nani Bhowmik’s ‘Dunia Kapano Dosh Din‘ – the Bengali translation of ‘Ten Days That Shook the World‘ (1919), a book by the American journalist and socialist John Reed about the 1917 October Revolution in Russia – became famous in West Bengal. Bishnu Mukhopadhyay used to translate social or political literature… he translated Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy’s ‘The Lame Prince‘ in Bengali.
The Russian Fairy Tales
When Bangladesh emerged as an Independent Nation in 1971, the Foreign Languages Publishing House expanded its Bengali Division. While Arun Som and Mangalacharan Chattopadhyay reached Moscow from West Bengal (India); Hayat Mamood, Khaled Chowdhury and Dwijen Sharma joined the House from Bangladesh. They translated so many Russian language books on history, culture and science in Bengali.
However, the Russian children’s literature was the most popular among the translated works in Bangladesh and West Bengal. In 1982, the Progress Publications set up a children’s section, called Raduga (or Rainbow in English). Raduga introduced the Bengali children to Chuck and Gek, who boarded a train and travelled to a different place in order to find their father. Although the Bengalis still remember those Russian Fairy Tales, they have forgotten the translators who had helped them enjoy the Russian literature…
Chuk and Gek
After the fall of Soviet Union on December 25, 1991, publications dependent on Government grants were shut down, and the translators returned to Bangladesh and India. Readers of the Russian literature in Bangladesh and West Bengal carefully treasured their possession in their shelves!
In 2019, Suchismita and Somnath Dasgupta, a Bengali couple living in the US, got the Soviet-era books in their collections scanned, and uploaded them on the Internet. The couple and some of their friends also created a blog – ‘Soviet Books Translated in Bengali‘. Beholding this effort, Arun Som congratulated Suchismita and Somnath Dasgupta for their attempt to give an opportunity to Bengali book-lovers to revisit their childhood.
It seems that this effort by the Dasgupta family would certainly bring back the lost childhood of millions of Bengalis living in Bangladesh, India and other parts of the globe!
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