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The Tale of Hansuli Turn by Tarashankar Bandopadhyay


The Tale of Hansuli Turn by Tarashankar Bandopadhyay

A terrifying sound disturbs the peace of Hansuli Turn, a forest village in Bengal, and the community splits as to its meaning. Does it herald the apocalyptic departure of the gods or is there a more rational explanation? The Kahars, inhabitants of Hansuli Turn, belong to an untouchable criminal tribe soon to be epically transformed by the effects of World War II and India's independence movement. Their headman, Bonwari, upholds the ethics of an older time, but his fragile philosophy proves no match for the overpowering machines of war. As Bonwari and the village elders come to believe the gods have abandoned them, younger villagers led by the rebel Karali look for other meanings and a different way of life. As the two factions fight, codes of authority, religion, sex, and society begin to break down, and amid deadly conflict and natural disaster, Karali seizes his chance to change his people's future. Sympathetic to the desires of both older and younger generations, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay depicts a difficult transition in which a marginal caste fragments and mutates under the pressure of local and global forces. The novel's handling of the language of this rural society sets it apart from other works of its time, while the village's struggles anticipate the dilemmas of rural development, ecological and economic exploitation, and dalit militancy that would occupy the center of India's post-Independence politics. Negotiating the colonial depredations of the 1939-45 war and the oppressions of an agrarian caste system, the Kahars both fear and desire the consequences of a revolutionized society and the loss of their culture within it. Lyrically rendered by one of India's great novelists, this story of one people's plight dramatizes the anxieties of a nation and the resistance of some to further marginalization.


Following the lead of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in her wonderful translation of Mahasweta Devi's Chotti Munda and his Arrow (2003), the dialogue of this Bengali novel has been rendered into a very distinctive, colloquial English creole. The experiment pays off handsomely. The work achieves a rare immediacy, and Bengal becomes a weird, thickly textured place. Baer gives us jagged dialects of regional orature never before heard; this roughness captures the unheimlich of Trashankar's jungle situations with transcendent dread. -- Henry Schwarz, Georgetown University Of the great modern Bengali novelists, Tarashankar is probably least known for his writerly skills. Rather, his rural novels have found a lasting place in the canon by the sheer density of ethnographic richness and the vivid and earthy realism of his characters. Ben Baer's amazing translation of The Tale of Hansuli Turn brings to a wider readership a slice of untouchable life in Bengal at a moment of crisis. In the process, it also reveals the surprising sophistication of Tarashankar's own efforts at cultural translation. This is a world of Indian subalternity rarely captured before in English. -- Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University Wow! There is no other word for this monsoon flood of a novel, bursting the banks of respectability, urbanism, caste, education and linguistic decorum. Nothing in the rages, lusts or profanities of its characters fazes its intrepid translator. Through the style andcreole he creates, Bengali language and literature leap into a wholly new sound-world, with rhythms that subaltern communities worldwide - and friends of those communities - can dance to joyously. -- William Radice, SOAS, University of London

About the Author

Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay (1898-1971) was one of India's foremost authors and wrote in Bengali. He wrote more than 50 novels and 200 short stories, more than 40 of which have been made into films. He received the Rabindra Puraskar Award, the Jnanpith Award, and the Sahitya Akademi Award, India's highest literary prizes, as well as the Padma Bhushan honor for distinguished service to the nation. Ben Conisbee Baer is associate professor of comparative literature at Princeton University.

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Book Info

Publication date

2nd August 2016


Tarashankar Bandopadhyay

More books by Tarashankar Bandopadhyay
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Columbia University Press


408 pages


Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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