Friday, August 18, 2006

Lost in Translation

Due to my long (?) hiatus, anxious friends have started to enquire if there is any good news on the family front. The question is - how does the arrival of an insomniac tadpole constitute good news? Anyways...

What the rest of world knows as an abstract Phantom, people born in the Bengal of early 70's know as a glamorous Aranyadeb (literally, "Lord of the Jungle") or a sinister Betal (the Bong rendition of the organism that asked riddles to Vikram!). His epithet - Ghost Who Walks was translated as Cholomaan Ashariri.
The Anandabajar group (now known as ABP) had the comic-strip in its publications as Aranyadeb, while the erstwhile Indrajal Comics (distributed weekly by the Times of India group, I think) had Betal in its Bengali editions!
And our entire generation knew Phantom's lady love (Diana Palmer) had an uncle called "Dabhey Kaka". It was only after Star Plus came in and we put 2-and-2 together, that we found it was actually Uncle Dave!
On the topic of his cronies and entourage, his horse (Hero) was renamed Toofan (oooh!). His dog (sorry - wolf!) was no longer Devil but Bagha (grrr!).

Somehow, the jungle sayings completely lost their punch in English.
"Kruddho Betal-er thanda gola oti shahoshir rokto heem korey dei - Prachin Aranya Probad" would fall flat on its face whenever the English version tried to grapple with the difference between thanda (cold) and heem (ice-cold)! And of course, "Prachin Aranya Probad" had a venerable authenticity which "Old Jungle Saying" was unable to match.

Anandabazar Patrika - on its Page 2 - serialised the life histories of Aranyadeb through a 3-panel strip on the bottom left-hand corner. Just three panels meant that they were consumed by the time Aranyadeb mounted his horse. And to think, I followed the family trees of 21 Phantoms through these 3-panels and one page on the fortnightly magazine Desh!
The inventiveness of Lee Falk never flagged - the first Phantom was a cabin boy on Columbus's flag-ship Santa Maria, one married Shakespeare's daughter, Diana was an Olympic gold-medallist in diving who worked for the UN... cannot remember more! And in a show of comic-book solidarity, Mandrake & Lothar turned up at Aranyadeb's wedding to Diana!
The original base of Phantom was Bangalla (this, I read somewhere) - which threw up obvious complications when translated into Bengali. So, it was changed to Denkali.

As I meet despicable creatures (and sometimes, sweet ones too!) in various walks of life, I really miss the use of his two rings - one with the Shubho Chinho (reserved for good people) and the other with the Koroti Chinho (skull shaped ring on his right hand, which leaves an indelible mark on jaw of the baddies)!
Simple. Effective. Stress-busting.

Indrajal Comics folded up somewhere in the middle of my childhood and Betaal vanished, along with other heroes like Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Garth and our home-grown Bahadur.
Bahadur - India's first vigilante hero - was a handsome man, wearing a very with-it kurta (Fabindia?) with jeans. He had no super powers, but was a super-fit karate-expert who did not even use guns (to the best of my knowledge & recollection).
In a display of extreme maturity in depicting relationships, Bahadur had a girlfriend called Bela - and they had not got married till IC stopped. Cosmo readers would be shattered - even superheroes are scared of commitment... sigh!

As a 32-year old dinosaur, I see Pokemon cards and Beyblade competitions usurping the vocabulary of pre-teens, I get unduly hassled (as most old people are likely to get!) and wonder if the charms of the violet-spandex-black-briefs-on-top-two guns-in-holsters clad Phantom would have any impact in today's age.
Frankly, all we learnt about honour and duty was only from Phantom.
All our history is from Amar Chitra Katha.
And our generation grew up unafraid of kidnappers & child molesters because we knew we could sock their noses in - just like Aranyadeb did to the pirates of Wusaya.

The hyper-imaginative, kaleidoscopic world has given way to a more delineated world. Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and the movie adaptations of Harry Potter have left the kids with nothing to imagine. If Harry Potter had come out when I was a kid, I would imagined him to be my own replica. And Ron Weasley would have looked exactly like Yoshodeep.
But now, kids have to live with the reality that Harry Potter is actually a skinny, English boy.

All my uncles & aunts used to buy me the English versions of the comics and I used to buy the Bengali ones. Reading and comparing the two, I always thought too much was lost in the translation.
Now as a grown-up, I realise that even more has got lost in perception.


Dilnavaz said...

Insightful and beautifully written. I tend to agree with you. Leaving the written word to ferment in our minds helped our imaginations take wing, with no spoon-feeding from the visual media to spoil the fun.
I'm most amused about the translations in!

nilendu said...

Anandabazar still has the "Aranyadeb" (king of the forest) running -

There still are only three frames - but now, thanks to the web, you can read for up to past 6 years'.

After coming to USA, I ran to several comic book shops to try find Lee Falk comics. I still have not found any! That's distressing.

Among the Comic-book female characters, I liked (in order of preference when I was 12) -
(1) Narda
(2) Diana
(3) Bela
(4) Voluptuous "Chandmama" women - usually clad in purple sari and dark violet blouse.
(5) Dale Arden

I still remember some lazy summer later-afternoons - during that idle time after waking up and before eating Mango - ogling at Narda sun-bathing in Xanadu. Wikipedia says -"Narda is of royal blood; she is Princess of the European nation Cockaigne" (Ahem!).

About Diana, I always felt that Rex has a serious crush on her.

And - don't worry about present day kids. It's just that what we called "comics" is "manga" now. With a tad bit more blood and sex, they should be fine.

nilendu said...

Well, thanks to you - I spent my entire Friday afternoon researching on Betaal, Indrajal Comics etc. Here's a bumper site - - it catalogs our Indrajal Comics' issues too! Wiki entry on Phantom is pretty exhaustive (and contains lots of cool links). Here's Bahadur with his kurta -

Dilnavaz said...

@Nilendu: I know this is a long shot, but if you're ever passing through Scranton, PA, they have a comics store on Mulberry St. that has Phantom comics and sundry memorabilia. Of course, why anybody would go to Scranton, PA, in the first place is a valid question.

prash said...


rama said...

Illustrated Weekly used to carry Phantom (and Flash Gordon also) in the 1960s. I was quite hooked to Phantom till I was 10. Coming home from school, summer afternoon, having a few Phantom comics to read through lying in bed in the afternoon - who could ask for more! Best, rama

rama said...

Continuing ... I can't even begin to say what comics meant to me, and how much I've been nourished by all the many, many types of comics I read. Now of course we have the "graphic novel" genre, which has gained in respectablity. I have a small but rich collection of some of the classics of this genre. I recently bought the 1st 4 vols. of Osamu Tezuka's "Buddha". In 1985-86, while working in Orient Longman (publishers), I had the privilege of meeting Mr Purna Chandra Chakraborty, the author / illustrator of the Bengali Ramayana comics. He was a very old man. That was indeed a heart-warming occasion. Best, rama

Gautam Ghosh said...

check out the comic project at The Comic Project

Old Indrajal comics scanned and uploaded there