The first time I heard about Professor Lipner’s intentions of re- translating the Anandamath was at a symposium organized by The Book Review Literary Trust, New Delhi, sometime in March-April 2003. Both Professor Lipner and this reviewer had spoken on that occasion, albeit for different lengths of time and with unequal authority. Now whereas Lipner appears to have no memories of that occasion (he does not mention it in his Preface), some of us present at the time still vividly recall the eagerness and enthusiasm with which he approached the project. As I recall, this was a time when Gautam Chakravarti had just begun his translation of the Kapalakundala1 , another well known novel of Bankim, and the post-tea conversation, predictably enough, produced some animated discussion on the challenges before a translator and what a translation might potentially do to a text.
Just how this symposium might have contributed to Lipner’s project is difficult to assess but I am happy that his passion, patience and perseverance has now borne fruit. What we have before us, is, to use his own words, a suhridic (friendly, faithful) translation and a work that is equally authoritative in the areas of editing, annotation and critical commentary.
Indeed, as Lipner points out, the novel Anandamath (1882) with the song Vande (Bande) Mataram included, have been characterized variously as ‘…the most inspiring, threatening or challenging utterances in the history of India’s birth as a nation’ (p.3). It is also, in a good measure, an enigmatic work. It speaks, somewhat ambivalently, of both a burgeoning provincial (Bengali) nationalism as also the pan-Indian. It invokes the Mother in a manner that is uncommon if not unprecedented in the Hindu-brahmanical tradition and inserts cultural imaginings that were to produce both solidarity and schism among the Indian peoples. Finally, even its great popularity cannot obscure the fact that in terms of literary quality alone, it compares somewhat poorly with some of Bankim’s other novels.2 Criticism of this novel was to emerge from several quarters, most notably from the Bengali Muslim intelligentsia that resented the use of Hindu religious imagery and several ‘unkind’ references to the community of Muslims. 3 And even at a time when the novel was popular with this class, Bengali Hindus were quick to point to the somewhat contrived nature of the plot. “Anandamath…..shows a decline both in art and creation of character though it is intensely patriotic’, observed the veteran journalist, Nagendranath Gupta, in 1901. Not surprisingly, the conservative Hindu press too took exception to Bankim’s depicting Hindu renouncers [in the novel, santans] in the role of social workers and militant warriors. Of this, the Bengali literary critic, Panchkodi Bandopadhyay, was to write with considerable sarcasm: “ In this novel we find the santans rob the Company’s possessions, murder innocent sepoys and feed the starving. I have to say that our scriptures and our religion never sanctioned such bizarre ideals of social service and political work”. Bandopadhyay also goes on to argue, not unjustifiably I think, that the all-renouncing yet domesticated santans bore closer resemblance to Protestant monks than Hindu sanyasis who were expected to sever all worldly and familial ties.
In hindsight it would also appear as though the political appeal of the novel grew only at a certain historical juncture. The civilian Romesh Chandra Dutt for instance, has aptly observed how the battle-cry of ‘Bande Mataram’, was seldom, if ever, used in the 1870s and 1880s when the song itself was composed and made public through the novel. Dutt, incidentally, was also to claim that the ‘evil notoriety’ that the song acquired in the Swadeshi days was far from the intentions of its author for, if anything, the novel ends on a strong note of reconcilia- tion and explicit acceptance of British rule. “That Bankim Chandra himself foresaw or devised any such use of it, is impossible to believe ”, he wrote.
Bankim Chandra consistently denied Anandamath the status of a historical novel and admitted introducing deliberate changes in plot, character or locale over successive editions. Thus the district Birbhum where the santans are seen to repeatedly clash with the Company’s forces was not the site where hordes of militant sanyasis and (Madari) fakirs were historically located in the 1770s and 1780s. In later editions significantly, santan vengeance is directed against Muslims, not the British which many have taken to be apologetic backtracking. Again, Bankim could not have been oblivious of the fact that by this time, Nawab Mir Jafar was dead and buried and yet it is his ‘misgovernment’, more than anything else that is seen to invite the wrath of the people. Naturally, the liberties that Bankim takes with historical details created a great deal of speculation about the possible geographical setting of the novel or the political inspiration thereof. In this work Lipner examines at length the more plausible theories such as that of B.B. Majumdar who believed santan rebelliousness to have been modelled upon the popular movements led by the Vasudeo Balwant Phadke in Maharashtra and that of Kishanchand Bhakat who located the uprisings in Lalgola (district Nadia, W.Bengal). My own understanding though is that beyond a point it is futile to historicize literary imagination and as the historian Amales Tripathi reminded us many years ago, the deliberate changes of venue, plot or character do not really impinge on Bankim’s overarching intentions. Here I might as well confess that for a time, I was inclined to take Birbhum (literally, the land of the heroic) as only a metaphor that Bankim employed to sharpen the sense of heroic resistance and contestation. And could it be that he brings in Mir Jafar, much against the grain of history only to further villify him ? Some Hindu Bengalis, it would be important to remember, shed tears for Siraj and took Plassey to be an abject betrayal of Bengal’s independence.
Lipner is justly unhappy with the three pre-existing translations of the novel though apparently not to the same degree and not quite for the same reasons. The translation by Basanta Koomar Roy (in the 1940s and recently reprinted)4 is, at best, an adaptation and a fairly tendentious one at that. Lipner demonstrates (pp. 120-22) how Roy’s translation not only glossed over vital details regarding plot and characterization but also positively misled his readers. Happily, this does not seem to be the case with the translation by Ghose brothers (Aurobindo and Barindra, 1909-1940s) or that by Naresh Chandra Sen Gupta (1906) Perhaps Lipner should have more explicitly stated the areas of disagreement he has with the two last named rather than leave present readers to form their own conclusions. Here it would also be relevant to add that possibly the earliest English rendering of the song Bande Mataram is by the philologist Harinath De that appeared in the November 11th 1905 issue of the Indian Mirror.5 My discovery of this particular piece too was purely accidental.
Organizationally, Lipner’s work is broadly divided into two parts– a substantive introduction followed by the translation. The introduction that exceeds the length of the translation itself is internally subdivided into five sub-sections. In essence, these seek to accomplish the following: to situate Bankim in his time, recapitulating the history of how the novel came to be written and finally, an intra-textual study of the three available translations. Personally I found the last two quite fascinating though the interested reader may be equally drawn towards the first. There is a critical apparatus appended to the translation that underscores Lipner’s very professional handling of the material. For the interested reader again, there are reproductions of select parts of some earlier versions of the novel. A word also about the way ‘Anandamath’ itself has been translated. Apparently, Lipner finds Sen Gupta’s rendering this into the ‘Abbey of Bliss’ unsatisfactory, presumably on account of this being a rather literal translation. Though Lipner rests his own case on fairly persuasive arguments, the problem I had with the present rendering is that the apellation ‘Ananda’ in the original Bengali is left untranslated. I could not also bring myself to agree with his view that Bankim was even handed in his judgments of the Muslims (p.69). It occurs to me that whether, rightly or wrongly, Bankim nurtured a deep-seated feeling about the Hindus (as a community) being wronged by the Muslim ruling classes and hence, even when deliberately diluting history for the sake of literary creativity he ends up by using the same to historicize collective memory. I have to confess that I was struck by the eerie similarity between events occurring in Part III chapter 7 of the novel where irate Hindus threaten to destroy a mosque and what we have witnessed in our lifetime. Of late, I have also begun to wonder if the vicarious anti-Muslim tirade of the Hindu Bengali intelligentsia was entirely drawn from Whig-Positivist history writing.
Ironically enough, it appears as though Bankim himself did not expect the novel Anandamath to sufficiently energize fellow-Bengalis. “Of what use is my writing Anandamath or even your attempting to propagate its underlying message”, he wrote to a journalist friend Kaliprosonno Ghosh in Dhaka, “I see no future for a self-seeking and a greatly disunited people as the Bengalis. Instead of the slogan ‘Glory to the Mother’ ([Bande Mataram) let us cry ‘Glory to the belly’ (Bande Udaram)!”
Lipner’s otherwise excellent work left me clueless about two interesting and intriguing aspects to the novel. First, I noticed that the novel differs from his other writings of the period in so much as it projects Hinduism as being founded in Jnan (Jnanatmak), not bhakti. The latter, surely, is the overarching message in the Dharmatattwa and Krishnacharitra, also produced in the 1880s. Could this be put down to revisionism or a deliberate play of paradigms in keeping with the choice of literary form and the mode of self expression? I raise this question for I found the latter to be very much the case with some near contemporaries like Vivekananda. I am glad that contrary to most scholars, Lipner duly acknowledges the use of both Sakta and Vaishnav symbolism in the Anandamath. The category of santan itself would warrant that. What I would have liked to understand better is why, in a seeming inversion of Hindu iconography, a Mother-figure is seated on the lap of a male icon, Vishnu. There is an error that occurs inadvertently on page 32. To the best of my knowledge, the figure Nabin Chandra Sen indicated in the text is not the older brother of Keshab Chandra (as Lipner claims) but the poet and civil servant who was also an admirer of Bankim.
On the whole this is an admirable and very enjoyable work—a lasting contribution I dare say, to our understanding of Bankim as a literary figure and cultural propagandist. Together with Hans Harder’s study of the Srimadbhagavatgita, Lipner’s is easily among the best scholarly works on Bankim that I have read in recent years.
Reference: 1 Published by The Book Review Literary Trust, 2005) 2 The printing history of Anandamath does not necessarily suggest that it was reprinted more frequently or even sold more copies. In Bankim’s lifetime, Kapalakundala underwent 8 reprints as against 6 for Anandamath. 3 A typical example is that of one Abul Hossain who reviewed some of Bankim’s later novels, including Anandamath. 4 A work quite inexplicably left out of the Bibliography 5 De also translated Part I, Chapter x of the novel where the song occurs.
Amiya P. Sen is currently with the Department of History, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.