‘Harbart’ is a fictional novel written by Nabarun Bhattacharya in Bengali and published in 1993. It has been recently translated into English by Arunava Sinha. It falls under the genre of black humor. It was his first novel and it won him the Narsimha Das Award, Bankim Puraskar and Sahitya Akademi Award. This novel was adapted into a film by the same name in 2005, by Suman Mukhopadhyay.
The storyline revolves around the protagonist, Harbart Sarkar – his early childhood trauma with death of his parents before he could even walk, his upbringing in neglected circumstances, his eccentric thoughts and activities, his sudden rise to fame after an unexpected event which changed his life, the adulation in neighborhood for being someone who could act as a medium to communicate with dead people, the establishment of a business that brings messages from the dead to their near and dear ones left behind on earth, the steady rise in fame for his unique skill and the steady rise in his greed, the accusations from a rationalists organization on him of being a crook and the threat of being exposed publicly and handed over to police, the depression that leads him to commit suicide and then eventually, his cremation event which mysteriously turns into an explosive event. In a nutshell, the story is about an eccentric character, Harbart, his strange thoughts, his rise and his fall.
As often is the case with reading translated works, one is not sure if the charm and the essence of original work have been retained in the translated work. Since, I have read only the translated work, I would comment only on basis of that. Although, the book was just 147 pages long, I had a tough time completing it because of some inherent flaws in this translated version. I do not mean disrespect to the renowned translator, Arunava Sinha, as I understand that translating works and retaining the essence is not an easy task. However, personally I found the following defects in this translation which may or may not have been part of the original version.
Firstly, there was a lack of demarcation of indirect speech from the direct speech. Throughout the novel, the double quotes were not used to separate out the dialogues from the inner thoughts of characters. It became very difficult to keep track of a conversation due to lack of double quotes. Secondly, the translator seemed to be under the notion that using the words like “Fuck, Cunt, Tit, Cock” at regular intervals, like at least once in every ten sentences, would upmarket the novel for an interesting read for the urban English readers. I am not sure what the original words were in the original Bengali novel (published in 1993) which would translate to such words. And at places, he has translated some expletives based on their literal meaning to English, like “strands of pubic hair” which would make no sense to an English reader unaware of its Hindi or Bengali equivalent. And thirdly, the description of events and surroundings seemed to be abrupt and a consistent, interesting flow required for reading a novel appeared to be missing.
However, if I overlook these flaws, I would say the storyline is decent and I think the original version would have been definitely worth a read. My final words would be if you could read Bengali, then you should try reading the original version of this novel. However, if you don’t know Bengali, I would advise you to hold on to your bucks.