Alice's Adventures in the Wonderland (1865) and its sequel Through the Looking Glass (1871) by Lewis Carroll may be two of the finest pieces of juvenile literature to be published in the last 150 years, but it contains deeper waters than that. Carroll's beautiful storytelling allows one to ponder over broader philosophical questions through a 10-year-old child's lens, and this is what has captivated readers of all ages globally. The two novels were adapted into drama by playwright Jason Pizzarello. In February 2020, Professor Abdus Selim translated it into Bangla with illustrations by Sabyasachi Hazra, which was published by the University Press Limited.
Written as a play, Ajob Deshe Alice launches straight into action from the first line. It starts with Alice tumbling down a mysterious—now infamous—rabbit hole to enter a strange land where every individual is raving mad. With the help of a Cheshire Cat, an astute Caterpillar, and a righteous Humpty Dumpty, a confused Alice sets on the conquest of finding her way home.
We are given no context for Alice's background, or who Alice even is. This might confuse a young reader unfamiliar with Carroll's original works, but more notably it also creates a sense of delightful suspense to keep the reader going. The mystery unfolds itself gradually throughout the book, putting Alice in bizarre situations involving strange characters. One after another, these weird episodes help Alice connect the dots on a journey of self-discovery.
The intricacy of Carroll's work lies in how beautifully he crafts conversations—they are comic and philosophic; and they play with one's sense of logic as well as the unbounded imagination of a child. Alice's conversations with the Mad Hatter and Tweedledum and Tweedledee would be the finest examples.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee have a philosophy all their own—they oversimplify matters the way they want to, simultaneously confusing Alice and the reader. "There's no possibility of raining under this umbrella," they tell Alice, consistently reminding one of the diversity of thought among individuals. In front of the Duchess' house, Alice is told by the butler, "Knocking would make sense if there was any door between us. If you knocked the door from the inside, I could easily get you out." Such dialogues scattered across the text raise piercing questions about one's perception of reality, while the undercurrents of colonial sentiments are hard not to miss. Does one ponder over these sayings, or focus on why there are suddenly two Alices in this Wonderland?
Translating all this could be tricky. It involves initiating a new locality of readers into the world of the translated text, and in turn embellishing the text with the accents and quirks of their language (Bangla in this case). Professor Selim does a brilliant job in this regard. The dialogues he writes are simple and easy-to-comprehend for a young audience, and contain the subtleties of Bangla language and culture. Alice addresses certain characters just how a young Bengali would address their elders. And the language incorporates Bangla proverbs to localise the humour in Alice's encounters.
Sabyasachi Hazra's black and white illustrations certainly add to the aesthetics of this story. They are minimalistic yet intricately detailed. What stood out to me is how each characters' emotions are reflected vividly in the sketches, including Alice's wonder and her confusion, the comic elements of the plot, and the whimsy of wonderland. They set just the right atmosphere for storytelling for both a child and an adult reading.
Jason Pizzarello's adaptation reimagines Alice's wonderland experience by ending it with an unexpected twist. Translator Abdus Selim certainly keeps that twist alive in Bangla, making the reading experience smooth and enjoyable for all readers.
Nahaly Nafisa Khan is a contributor to Daily Star Books.