Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Sketches by Hootum the Owl

Review by Souvik Mukherjee in Biblio

Chitralekha Basu’s translation of Hootum Pecha’r Naksha brings a classic of Bengali satire to international audiences. The original written in 1860 by Kaliprasanna Sinha in the persona of Hootum is a series of sketches (Bengali: naksha) about Calcutta’s festivals and fairs; its people; random rumours and significant events in Indian history. Sinha spares no one and British colonial masters and Bengali peers are treated alike. The prodigal Bengali babu, typifying the rising educated middle classes and their degenerate tastes is seen as the epitome of the forces of cultural decline. Bathing the Goddess Durga in hot water instead of the holy water from the Ganges, indulging in frequent bouts of drinking, spending exorbitant amounts on trinkets and an insincere but fashionable association with the Young Bengal movement or the Brahmo Samaj seemed to be the chief traits of the Calcutta babudom. Similarly, Hootum attacks the colonial British indigo planters and their racist corruption. In the course of this commentary, the reader is taken to different parts of 19th-century Calcutta, jostling the festival crowd on foot and steering clear of the litter or racing through the streets in elegant broughams and britzkas.

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