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Bengali fiction translator Gopa Majumdar passes away

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

Renowned Bengali fiction translator Gopa Majumdar, best known for her English translations of Satyajit Ray's famous detective series 'Feluda', passed away on Monday afternoon following a cardiac arrest, her sister Indrani Majumdar said.

She was 64.

"She collapsed at our house in Hauz Khas around 2 pm and was taken to the Aashlok hospital in Safdarjung Enclave, where the doctors said she died of cardiac arrest," Indrani, also a translator, told PTI.

Gopa's death comes 15 years after she suffered brain haemorrhage in 2005, following which she slipped into coma for three months. "When she came out of the coma, she was not the same person. She couldn't think, and couldn't get back to writing," said Indrani.

Gopa's journey as a translator might have taken off when she was over 30, after she translated Ray's 'Two Magicians' from Bengali to English for Namaste magazine in 1987, but her sister said she was always "fond of languages", even as a school student.

"She used to translate Bengali stories into Hindi and English and tell them to her non-Bengali friends, and would translate Hindi stories for her Bengali friends. She loved playing with languages," Indrani said.

In her over two-decade long career, Gopa translated several of Ray's writings, including his 'Feluda' series, and several of his short stories. She also translated Asha Purna Devi's 'Subarnalata', Michael Madhushudhan Dutta's biography and Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's 'Aparajito', for which she won the Sahitya Akademi award in 2002.

According to Indrani, her sister was drawn to Ray's stories for their uniqueness, prose and language.

"Ray's stories are always so unique. There's a touch of humour, the bizarre in the lives of ordinary people. There are two generations who have grown up reading my sister's translations of Ray's stories, she said.

Gopa was married to British diplomat Ian Baker, who she met while she worked at the British Council here. Soon after, she moved to London, before returning to India in 2008 following her illness. In Delhi, she lived with Indrani and her four other siblings.

It was during her time in London that she translated Taslima Nasreen's autobiography 'Amar Meyebela' (2001), published by Kali for Women, which was being co-run by Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon at the time.

The Bangladeshi author recalls Gopa as a translator like no other.

Normally translators do not contact authors that much. They just simply translate. But, Gopa was very sincere. She used to call me and email and try to understand the things that I have written.

She understood me as a Bengali, she understood me as a woman. My Girlhood' (translated title) talked about how a Bengali girl felt, her emotions and her childhood, which wasn't always very smooth. She was very sensitive towards my story, Taslima, who currently lives in Delhi, said.

Urvashi, who now runs the feminist publishing house Zubaan, recalled Gopa as a woman of few words, and said the translator's calm reaction to her own illness was in the spirit of the kind of person she was.

Professionally, she said Gopa was very good to work with, admitting that she might have continued their publisher-translator relation further had it not been for her untimely illness.

"She had a natural reserve and that came through. She was a woman of very few words, but those few words would say whatever she wanted to say.

It was a great experience working with her. She didn't take the work of translation lightly. She got into the spirit of the book, she read around it, to absorb the atmosphere around it, which is how the best translators work, the publisher said.

She also translated many of the children's works by Ray, including, the children's editions of the popular Feluda adventures, as well as 'One Dozen Stories', 'The Diary of a Space Traveller' and other sci-fi stories, which now continues with Indrani who recently translated the final volume of Ray's 'Professor Shonku' stories.

Sohini Mitra, publisher, children's division, Penguin Random House India, did not work with Gopa directly but agrees that the world has lost a remarkable translator in her death.

"Deeply saddened to hear the of Gopa Majumdar's demise. She was a remarkable translator and most well known for her stellar work on the Feluda' collections.

"One of the major reasons for the popularity of the Feluda' stories beyond the Bengali readership has to be Gopa's impeccable and effortless translations. An entire generation has had access to these phenomenal stories thanks to her work, Mitra said.

The last rites were conducted at the Green Park crematorium in the presence of her immediate family.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Mon, May 18 2020. 21:56 IST