How the Tower of Babel inspired me

Today’s post comes to us from the keyboard and computer (I presume) of Bhaskar Chattopadhyay, former analytics professional, now author, translator, art enthusiast and entrepreneur. Here he talks about a deep urge for telling stories, his mother’s face when he used to read to her as a child, and what translation has got to do with the Tower of Babel.

His latest book, 14: Stories that Inspired Satyajit Ray, is a collection of translated tales from Bengali that served as themes in many of Ray’s movies. Bhaskar is also the Founder of ArtSquare (www.artsquare.in) – India’s largest online art portal. He lives in Bangalore with his wife Sweta and sons Ishaan and Emon.

14 Stories Cover Image

I have often been asked the question: why did you write this book? (14: Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray). Now, I have to admit that towards the beginning, at book launches and interviews etc, I used to be stumped by the question. You never really think about why you’re writing a book. You just, you know, write it. But now, a few years after I’ve crossed out the last ‘t’ in ‘14’, I think I have realized it, finally. Let me tell you.

I grew up in a small town in Assam. I had quite a few good friends, but I was not so much of an outdoor person. I used to read a lot, but it was not enough for me to read something, enjoy it and move on to the next book. There was a very potent desire within me to share a good story with someone. I remember my summer vacations used to be spent in walking all around the house behind my mother, who used to be busy with her chores, and reading out to her interesting stories that I had just finished reading. I felt it would be a shame for her not to be able to hear something wonderful just because she did not have enough time to read.

Then when I was in college, I came across a Biblical story, that of the Tower of Babel. I think there are many versions of the story, but the gist is this. After the great deluge, when mankind flourished again, they started becoming very vain. They would not care too much about God and went as far as proclaiming themselves superior to God. In their vanity, they came up with the plan of building a very tall tower, one that would rise up to the heavens and let them be at par with God. They started working at full pace, and since they worked in absolute co-ordination, the progress on the tower was amazing – so much so that the angels saw the progress and reported their concern to God in heaven.

It is said that God descended upon earth and did something simple and clever to thwart humanity. You see, when they had started building the tower, man communicated with each other in the same tongue, so the coordination among them was supreme. But God came down and gave them something new: languages! Soon no one could understand what the other person was saying, and there was utter confusion; and the Tower of Babel collapsed, and God had once again crushed man’s surging pride.

What a wonderful thing it would have been had we all spoken one language, or at least understood each other’s tongue? We could truly enjoy what each culture has to offer. So much beauty, so much wisdom, so much learning would have been received, given and shared. But we don’t. And at least for some more time, we have to live with it. And as long as man would continue to look at each other with blank and confused faces, translators like me would continue to bend over sheets of paper and build a bridge between two languages – a bridge over the vanity of man, a bridge that would help them cross over and explore the wonders that lie on the other side.

That, in a nutshell, is why I wrote ‘14’. I wanted those who don’t read or understand Bengali to revel in the magic of its literature.

Deep within my heart, though, I am a story-teller. I remember the range of expressions on my mother’s face when I used to read to her. Perhaps the same expressions of joy, and sorrow, horror and glee would appear on my readers’ faces too? That is the hope we writers live – and die – by.

What about you, dear reader? What is that little thing that pushes you to write, sing, paint and play? What is that spot of light within you that does not let you rest until you’ve created some art? I’d love to hear what you think, so do tell me!

Image Courtesy: Harper Collins India

Comments

  1. Thanks for letting us know the story of the Tower of Babel. But I don’t think a single universal language or a single universal culture is going to help us any more. There is beauty in diversity – we learn something from every culture.

    But at the end of the day, we realize that truth is the same everywhere.

    Destination Infinity

    Like

    • Bhaskar Chattopadhyay says:

      That, certainly, is a point of view. A good number of people have told me the same. I have a different opinion, however, I think the harm outweighs the benefits when it comes to incomprehensibility, because man, like most other animals, tends to fear and alienate what it does not understand. There are exceptions, of course, but unfortunately, that seems to be the rule. Diversity is good, incomprehensibility is not. But I do agree, the truth is one, whichever language it is stated in – “Ekam Sat Vipr Bahudha Vadanti”

      Like

      • One thing that was closely guarded in our ancient society is knowledge. Not everyone were allowed to learn everything because some people are simply not ready to learn it or can use it to harm the society. At the end of the day, human beings are greedy and routinely abuse privileges given to them. Not their fault, they’ve just been designed that way. So, incomprehensibility may not be all that bad to certain people, after all.

        Destination Infinity

        Like

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: