Early light on the land of the rising sun | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 06, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 06, 2008

Early light on the land of the rising sun

Subrata Kumar Das is thrilled by an early Bangla work on Japan

The three people who had visited Japan before Rabindranath Tagore and written on their experiences in Japan or on Japan in general are Sureshchandra Bandopadhyay, Manmatha Nath Ghosh and Hariprova Takeda. Sureshchandra Bandopadhyay authored at least one book on Japan with the title 'Japane’ (1910). Manmatha Nath Ghosh had three titles on Japan to his credit, including 'Japan-Probash’ (published approximately in 1910 or before), 'Nobyo-Japan’ (the date of publication is yet to be assured but it was before 1915, no doubt) and 'Supto-Japan’ (1915). Hariprova Takeda had 'Bongomohilar Japanjatra’ on her experiences in Japan to her credit which was published in 1915, though she authored another book 'Swaddhi Jnandevi.’
'Sangsod Bangali Choritabhidhan’ (2nd volume, 2nd edition), published by the Sahityo Sangsad of Kolkata in 2001, has an entry on Sureshchandra Bandopadhyay. It notes that he was in Japan for long. The entry adds he received much fame for the book 'Japane'. His novel 'Chitroboha', published in the 'Kali O Kolom' obtained huge blame for obscenity. His other books include: 'Bonoshpotir Obhishap' (1922), Jibon 'Probaho' (Autobiography), 'Port Artherer Kshudha' (on China-Japan war) etc. Here it could be worth mentioning that Sureshchandra Bandopadhyay translated two English books by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (1890 1936) who also visited Japan in 1910. Dhan Gopal Mukerji's 'Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon', a children's novel, won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American Children's Literature in 1928. Sureshchandra Bandopadhyay translated that book along with 'The Chief of the Herd'. The other major writer on Japan in Bangla is Hariprova Takeda. This Brahma lady was married to Umen Takeda, a Japanese businessman then living in Dhaka. Hariprova Mallick (turned Hariprova Takeda after marriage) went to Japan in 1912 and stayed with her in-laws for about four months. Later on, in 1915 Hariprova's travelogue was published under the title 'Bongomohilar Japanjatra'. The recent production of Hariprova's book, manuscript of which is preserved in the India Office situated in London, from Sahityo Prokash, Dhaka has been a worthy effort by Monzurul Haq, a noted researcher on Bangla langugae and litearure now living in Japan.
Manmatha Nath Ghosh, son of Rasiklal, was born in Jessore. In 1905, he was influenced by the Swadeshi Movement. The following year, giving up his college education, he left for Japan to learn about celluloid. After two years he returned home and set up a factory of buttons, combs and mats. He did all the things for the factory, from setting up the machinery to teaching the workmen. Though he worked for a salary of only taka 75, he declined an honorarium of taka 1000 per month offered by the king of Mohisur. Later on, the products of his factory spread as far as Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Afterwards, he had to leave Jessore for Kolkata on medical grounds. There he established a factory of small machinery in 1919. To import machinery for cottage industries, he visited Japan for the second time in 1933. For the promotion of technical education in Bengal zone, he established Kolkata Technological College and Chucura Agriculture College. His affinity for literature was noteworthy and so he was given the title 'Bidya Binod'.
'Supto-Japan’ by Manmatha Nath Ghosh is one of the very few major books written on Japan before Rabindranath Tagore. The printer's line of the book, in my hand, is missing but the 'Uthsorgo' (Dedication) gives the Bangla year of its publication as 1322. The book was dedicated to Manishchandra Nandibahadur as 'Mohamohim/Manonio Srilo Srijukto Kashimbazaradhipoti/ Moharaja Sir Manishchandra Nandibahadur'.
The book has a two-page introduction (Bhumica). The writer of the introduction is not mentioned but it may be assumed that it was not Manmatha Nath Ghosh himself who wrote it as in it we get the reference of the writer of the book in the third person. An excerpt of the introduction reads as follows: “During the last fifty years Japan has developed much, and so many people are getting encouraged to know about the history of it. What are their manners and customs, and how have they been able to develop so much in so little a time? Manmatha Nath Ghosh has benefited us so much as to make ways for satiating that eagerness and desire. He has written three books on Japan....” At the end of the book some excerpts from the reviews on 'Japan Probash’ published in different dailies and journals can be cited here. The newspapers are The Indian Mirror, The A.B Patrika, and The Telegraph dated 21 September, 4 October and 20 September respectively, all in the year 1910. Two other English-language individual appreciations are by S.K.Agasti, the Magistrate and Collector of Jessore, and Mohamohopadhaya Pundit Haroprosad Sastri.
Agasti writes: “I have read the book “Japan-Probas” with very great pleasure. It is most interestingly instructively written and reads almost like a romance. The author Mr. Ghosh, I am sure, will be in a position to enrich our vernacular literature with other and more ambitious contributions in the near future. ...”
Pundit Sastri has this to say: “It is rarely our lot to read such a good book in Bengali as your “Japan-Probas”. The subjects of Japan, its inhabitants, its religion, its manners, and its customs cannot but be interesting and attractive. But you have made it more attractive by your appreciative spirit, your candour, and specially by your charming Bengali...”
The five Bangla-reviews on the book 'Japan Probash’ were published in 'Sanjibani’(19 Ashwin 1317 B.S.), 'Bongobashi’ (14 Ashwin 1317 B.S), 'Hitobadi’ (31 Bhadra 1317 B.S.), 'Bamabodhi' (Bhadra 1317 B.S). Japan Probash was a book of 179 pages with 12 photographs. Most of the articles of the book were published in Hitobadi beforehand. The Indian Mirror wrote: “He gained a true insight into the life and character of the Japanese people, which is reflected in the pages of the book that he has compiled for delectation of the countrymen.”
Supto-Japan comprises 134 pages of paperbook size with six photographs and eight pages on reviews. The chapters are 'Japaner Utpotti' (Emergence of Japan), 'Bornoved' (Class System), 'Samurai', 'Siju Hichi Gichi', 'Dhormo' (Religion), 'Obhyontorin Obostha' (Internal Condition), 'Kusongoskar' (Prejudices), and 'Samajik Obostha' (Social Condition).
'Emergence of Japan' illustrates the mythology that evolved around the land called Japan. What do the Japanese believe about 'Iganigi' and 'Ijanumi' has been narrated very clearly. But the most important is that the Japanese believe that Japan is the earliest creation of the world. Afterwards, a very short paragraph has been added on 'Emperor's Dynasty' which notes that Japan has been governed by the emperor's family for about 2575 years (in 1915) and the then emperor was the hundred and twenty second. The next part is on the early inhabitants of Japan. A very small paragraph called 'China and India' tries to find out the early similarities of the three nations Japan, China and India.
The chapter 'Class System' includes smaller discussions on 'Enemy of the Home', 'Governance', 'Classification' and 'The Emperor: A Wellwisher of the Subjects'.
The next chapter deals with samurai, a form of suicide through plunging the sword into the belly. Manmatha Nath Ghosh has comprehensively described the background of samurai. The long 20-page chapter called' Chiju, Hichi Gichi' is in fact a very common story known by the Japanese. The chapter 'Religion' is also a detailed portrayal of the religious system in Japan. The writer begins with: “There are in total three religions in Japan Shinto, Buddhism and Confucianism. Shinto i.e. worshipping the forefathers is a very ancient practice in Japan. It is, to speak true, the oldest religious belief there...”
The concluding articles like 'Internal Condition', 'Prejudices', and 'The Social Condition' are also very knowledgeable ones to dive into the world of Japan. All the historical, social, religious and everyday life are presented in the pages compiled together. The marriage system, agriculture, dress, beliefs, traditional stories are also jam-packed in the book to give a total picture of Japan.
The book does not appear to be very well organised. But we should not forget that this was one of the very earliest books on Japan, and possibly not a translation of an organised book written in some other language. Manmatha Nath Ghosh dared to take the initiative certainly he enjoyed doing it as he produced there books on Japan at random.

Subrata Kumar Das's web site is www.bangladeshinovels.com

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