Writer in a democracy
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In my last vacation, I was working on a project of translation. I was translating selected parts into English from the writings from at least 70+ man and woman of letters of Bengali language. A friend of mine, a successful man by today’s standard asked : “Who shall read these old writings ?”. He is right. He has brought to words what always remains a part and parcel of democratic environment.
One of the writers in the pantheon was Promotho Chowdhury. Very few of Internet generation in Bengal even know his name. One of the finest craftsman of Bengali prose. More important – the only artist in Bengal whose prose reflects the clarity that only one language has most-plentifully : French. He was a master of that language and French did not remain foreign to him.
As I worked to translate, I found it is impossible to convey the “craft” into another language from Bengali. He was talking of Democracy and the role of writer-artist in such an age :
“..The noblest teachers of democracy wanted everyone to grow to the same level, but their disciples comprehended the opposite and each one aspires to be a man above all. “
“..The eternal stamp of aristocracy that Art has in her soul is something democratic milieu cannot comprehend and perhaps envies. It happened in ancient Greece that the society was democratic but Art was aristocratic. Because of this, Greek art is so immensely valuable that we cannot even separate its soul from the body through logic. I have a hope or rather false hope that Bengal will grow to play the same role in India where there will be a democratic society but aristocratic Art.”
The last sentence appears to be a direct translation of the soul of Democracy in America by Alex de Toqueville (published in 1833) and I am sure Monsieur Choudhury was a lone man of his time who had the capacity to read this in original and to appreciate the craftsmanship of the work. His 36 words in Bengali is something every writer in democracy keep in front of his desk all the time :
“...The writer in a democratic age has a grave responsibility and must draw people’s attention to the higher aspects of his being through Art because in a democratic age, the common mind naturally gravitates towards crass materialism.”