Entitled “BLOOD DIAMOND“, this review appeared in The Statesman, Kolkata, on Oct 2, 2011.
“I first ran into Chander Pahar, the Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay original when I was helping my nephew with his Bengali. What struck me immediately was the resemblance to Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, a swashbuckling novel that Bandyopadhyay must have been familiar with. However, while Alan Quartermain is a great white hunter ready with his gun, Shankar, the main protagonist of the Mountain of the Moon is no such hero. Shankar is in his twenties, comes from the lower middle classes, and is determined to find at alternate exciting way of life to the one that he knows in rural Bengal. A neighbour finds him a job in Africa so he has the chance to indulge his dreams.
What he discovers is a world ‘red in tooth and claw’ filled with man-eating lions, live volcanoes and haunted by the mysterious, deadly three toed Bunyip and the Dingonek. The translator of Mountain of the Moon, Jayanta Sengupta, points out that apart from King Solomon’s Mines, Bandyopadhyay was probably familiar with J Patterson’s Maneaters of Tsavo. Though I placed the Bunyip in Australia, the Dingonek apparently did exist in African legend and was some kind of fearsome almost dinosaur with horns the head of a crocodile and the body of a hippo.
Shankar’s adventures in Africa are of the thrill a minute kind guaranteed to keep readers young and old compulsively turning the pages. Each chapter leads on to another encounter and people die, but the narrative continues without any false sentiment.
Like the great 19th century writers, Bandyopadhyay creates a ‘Dark Continent’ a blend of fact and fiction where Portuguese adventurers and lost treasure abounds and danger threatens at every step. Despite this inhospitable environment, Shankar sets out in search of a cave filled with diamonds located in the Mountain of the Moon.
The wonder of it is that Bandyopadhyay had never been to Africa and the story came out of his researches with his own descriptions of the stillness of the night and the hanging stars brought in. That in no way detracts from the fascination of his tale and the confidence with which he tells his story. It’s a very different one from the one he tells in his Apu stories that gave Satyajit Ray the script for Pather Panchali and Aparajito.
Jayanta Sengupta attempts to keep to the flavour of the original time by using phrases like ‘land of the Faerie’. However, early on in the book, he does retain words like ‘bedi’ and ‘pratima’ while describing a small ruined temple near Shankar’s home. These words could, one feels, have been given English equivalents to make the book accessible to non-Indian readers.
The other issue, which comes into the quibbling zone, is the matter of the title, Mountain of the Moon. The Mountains of the Moon with an ‘s’ are supposed to be the source of the White Nile and have been mentioned in ancient treatises. It’s a range familiar through legend to Africa hands and would certainly have been familiar to Bandyopadhyay. The Bengali word for mountain, ‘pahar’ allows for number flexibility. Therefore perhaps, Mountains of the Moon would have been a more satisfying sounding title.”
This was written by the well-known novelist, Anjana Basu, author of books like “Curses in Ivory”, “Black Tongue”, “Rhythms of Darkness” and others. You may want to catch up with her work here.
Incidentally, if any reader can send me a link or a scan of the review as it appeared in the Statesman, I would be most grateful.
[The book is available at various online stores such as Rupa, Flipkart, Infibeam, Bookadda, Crossword, Linuxbazar (!!), and at Rediff.]