Seminar:"Translating the “World”: “Classics” and Canonicity in Postcolonial Bengali Children’s Literature" by Dr. Poushali Bhadury,Middle Tennessee State University
This paper investigates the idea of the Western (children’s) "classic," canonical text in India, delving into issues of adaptation and classic-remaking, as well. What may be considered the children’s classic, and what kinds of cultural forces are at work in the creation of such canons across transnational South Asian readerships? To answer these questions, I focus specifically on the translation series (the anubad series) published from the 1950s onwards by Dev Sahitya Kutir (DSK), a Kolkata children’s publishing house that greatly influenced key trends in the Bengali children’s book business since 1924. Under dedicated editor-translators like Sudhindranath Raha, DSK’s translation series—which had over a hundred titles—became a landmark in Bengali children’s literature, presenting to its child readers world classics such as The Time Machine, The Three Musketeers, and A Tale of Two Cities.
The cultural importance of these series publications cannot be overstated. DSK created a de facto canon of “world literature” via these series titles, and provided postcolonial Bengali children with their first staple diet of world classics (mainly European and American). Notably, although labelled “translations,” these are instead creative adaptations of the original tales, liberally altered to suit younger reading levels. The term “classic” thus becomes one that is inherently flexible and mutable in its many textual manifestations, while still conjuring up notions of “tradition”. This paper contextualizes the contributions of the DSK anubad series with respect to thorny debates about translation, transcreation, “new writing,” and adaptation in Indian translation theory. Further, it posits that these representations of various foreign countries via their literary/cultural output are a form of proto-globalization that is intimately connected with an emergent India’s new vision of itself in the world arena. The impulse to present world classics subtly framed within an Indian ethos places these texts within a contested literary landscape. These amalgamated, postcolonial texts enabled DSK’s child readership to observe the world with their feet planted on Indian soil, as it were.
Poushali Bhadury is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, Middle Tennessee State University. Her current book project, The Home and the World in Postcolonial Print Culture: Dev Sahitya Kutir and Bengali Children’s Publishing (1940-1975) investigates nationalism and global consciousness in Indian children’s publishing, focusing on the Kolkata-based publishing house Dev Sahitya Kutir’s literary output during the 1940s-70s. Her research and teaching interests include Comparative Children’s Literature, Postcolonial Literature (esp. South Asian), Media Studies, Book History, and Digital Humanities. Dr. Bhadury has been the recipient of national and international grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Children’s Literature Association, and the South Asia Institute, Columbia University, among others. Her peer-reviewed publications include articles in Journal of Lesbian Studies, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, South Asian Review, and The Lion and the Unicorn. She is especially invested in researching the dissemination of print/digital texts across various media (and cultural contexts), and past projects have focused on trans-media adaptations.