Eminent writer, translator Manabendra Bandopadhyay dies of COVID-19

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Manabendra Bandopadhyay Photo: Sayan Kumar De

Manabendra Bandopadhyay, the man who introduced Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Latin American literature to Bengali readers, passed away after contracting coronavirus infection while undergoing treatment in a private hospital on August 4. He was 82 years old, and is survived by his daughter.

A towering figure in the academic world and a doyen on the subject of Comparative Literature, Manabendra Bandopadhyay was best known for his outstanding translation work. From the books of Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe to the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz and the books of Adalbert Stifter, his translations into Bengali covered a wide range of genres. But it was for his translation of Latin American literature, particularly the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, that he was best known. In fact, long before Garcia Marquez’s fame had spread across the world, more than ten years before he won the Nobel Prize, Bandopadhyay had introduced him to the students of Comparative Literature course at Jadavpur University by including his works in the syllabus as early as 1971. He had also introduced to Bengali readers literary treasures from all over India. As a writer he was prolific. Besides translations, he had published poetry, novels, academic books, and he even wrote on sports.

Born in 1938 in Sylhet (now in Bangladesh), Bandopadhyay did his graduation from Presidency College, and his postgraduation in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University. He was, in fact, a direct student of the legendary academic and literary giant Buddhadeva Bose, who had founded the discipline of Comparative Literature. After securing another degree from the University of British Columbia, Canada, he began teaching at Jadavpur University from 1965, where he remained till his retirement in 2003.

Widely known for his Left-leaning liberal outlook, Bandopadhyay’s death has cast a pall of gloom in the academic circle. The well-known educationist Pabitra Sarkar said that it was Bandopadhyay’s love for literature and culture that brought him to the fore of the cultural movement. “He was not only a translator, but also a person of progressive ideas,” Sarkar reportedly said.

The biggest tributes have come from Bandopadhyay’s students and colleagues. Chirashree Dasgupta, Associate Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, wrote on her social media page: “His writings introduced us to the best of Third World literature and its anti-imperialist moorings. I got him as a teacher in the space outside the classroom he offered in which I learnt the first lessons on the politics of culture from him in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. His generosity towards students, and his profound wit and deadpan humour were legendary. Today as the Fascist project of a Hindu Rashtra gets yet another foundation stone, maybe it is best that Manab babu does not have to bear this abomination. His teaching and writing will forever be a beacon for all those who were fortunate enough to imbibe those.”

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