Book Review: Byomkesh Bakshi by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay

Book: Byomkesh Bakshi

Author: Saradindu Bandyopadhyay

Translator: Translated from Bengali into English by Sreejata Guha

Publisher:Penguin Publication

Once you have read a book in its original language, reading the translation of it is always a little disappointing. It’s not always the translator’s fault though (like here) because she has given it her best shot. The disappointment is because, somehow, the flavour and aroma of the original goes missing in the translation. Given this situation, and also because the book is a classic, I have chosen not to review it.

My attempt here, and I thought it would be a fun exercise for my brain, will be too compare the two detectives of Bengali literature that are so famous and loved.

All of you out there, please feel free to share more pointers with me.

Byomkesh written by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay and Feluda written by Satyajit Ray are both equally popular detective stories even though the former was written around 1920-60 and the latter during 1970-90. 

While Bomkesh prefers to call himself ‘satyaneshi‘ or the ‘seeker of truth’, Feluda prides himself in being known as a detective – THE detective. In fact he even has a visiting card that says that he is a ‘private investigator’.

Byomkesh, I feel, is a more grounded person who solves many cases solely based on instinct. These stories make him come across as a humble person. On the other hand, Feluda, aka Pradosh Mitter, prides himself in the knowledge that he has (even though he does visit his knowledge bank – Shidhu Jyatha) and hence displays a holier-than-thou attitude at times.

Byomkesh, being the one who searches for truth, at times, even lets the culprit go scot free because he feels that the murder was committed by the person due to a very valid reason(!). Feluda does not do so. He means business and he catches the culprit and hands him over to the authorities.

As far as the physical attributes go, both characters seem tall, well built, and handsome :). However, Bomkesh, with his cigarette smoking, has taken ill in a few stories and has thus had to leave the city and go somewhere for recuperating. Feluda, is a fitness freak though – doing his exercise and even sharing his trivia about the same. The author even makes him do a few martial art tricks in some stories. The protagonists have been so portrayed that while Byomkesh is a person who likes to sit in a chair and think out the solution (the latest movie, ‘Byomkeah Pawrbo’ refreahigly shows otherwise though!) , while smoking of course, Feluda is more of a person who is in the midst of the action – often nabbing the culprit himself.

Both stories have their side characters. Feluda has his cousin, Topshe, and his friend, Lal Mohan Gangula aka Jatayu; and Bomkesh has his friend Ajit. However, while the latter does take advice from his friend, the former is often seen giving advice and protecting. This despite the fact that both Ajit and Jatayu are accomplished authors. Why the disparity in treatment, I wonder.

The female characters are not there in Feluda’s tales ( reminiscent of Tintin) but Byomkesh not only has female characters, but he is is also shown to be a married to a lady called Satyaboti (and hence comes in ‘married men’s scenes!)

Byomkesh stories are primarily set in Kolkata and it’s near about locales in North Bengal in a few of the tales. However, Feluda travels to even Rajasthan and countries outside India like Nepal and Hong Kong.

Satyajit Ray’s language is more modern and easy to read. It had to be since he was targeting the youth. On the other hand, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay wrote in a language that had tinges of the more ‘shadhu bhasha’ (for want of a better word, I’m calling it the language in its esoteric form) of the Bengali language. Given that the character Ajit, who is an author, writes these stories, the language usage seems apt though. Plus, in the age that he wrote in, authors then didn’t write much in the current colloquial form eitherways.

Feluda’s popularity is more with the youth – the younger crowd. The simplicity of not only the language but also of the flow and characterizations helps ( given Ray’s movies are so layered, the non complex detective story is a conscious decision on his part, I’m sure). Byomkesh, however, comes with the presence of politics and females – this being more popular with the adult. 

The differences in the characters, I feel, stems from the different people that the two authors were. While Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay was primarily a writer, Satyajit Ray was not only a prolific writer but even a film director. Also, while the former belonged to quite a middle class background, Ray was a part of the higher echelons of society.

All said, both are classics in their own form – written by geniuses. They are impossible to replicate. They are treasures that have been left behind for generations to come. And, just as time changes everything, so does the understanding of these stories. What I had understood when I had read these as a teenager is so different from what I fathom now. But one thing has remained constant – the fun of the read.

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