Posted in Books

Book Review: Dozakhnama by Rabisankar Bal, translated by Arunava Sinha

About the author:
Rabisankar Bal is a Bangla poet, short story writer and novelist. He has been writing for over thirty years and is a journalist by profession. He passionately follows literature, music, painting and world cinema, and has started writing his next novel.

About the translator:
Arunava Sinha translates contemporary and classic Bengali fiction into English. This book is his seventeenth published translation.

From the back-cover:
Exhumed from dust, Manto’s unpublished novel surfaces in Lucknow… is it real or is it fake? In this dastan, Ghalib and Manto converse, entwining their lives in shared dreams. The result is an intellectual journey that takes us into the people and events that shape us as a culture.

My thoughts on the book:
I don’t know what got me attracted to this book. Perhaps it was the praise I heard from one of my friends, who said in her review: “Have you ever been burnt by a book? Been trapped between its pages, gasping for air? Have you felt that if you read any more you’d die; but if you didn’t read, you’d die anyway? If you’ve not had the pleasure of such a pain, read Dozakhnama.” Urmi, I can’t help but agree with that assessment. Maybe even the tagline “Conversations in hell” was also something that piqued my interest, and I took up this book as one of my reads for this year.

This is literary fiction, and a translated one at that. Originally written in Bengali by Rabisankar Bal, and now translated by Arunava Sinha, this book is evocative in its poetry. This book is the conversation between two great poets, Saadat Hassan Manto and Mirza Ghalib and the conversation happens after their death, from their graves, and the story itself is the supposed translation of one of Manto’s unpublished novels.

If you are fond of only stories that move very quickly, or read just for fun, perhaps this book might not be that appealing. If you are willing to let the words seep into you and make you wonder, then this book would do that. When I first got the book, I opened to a random page and found a small verse, that translated to this:

I shall not give up on my desire if it remains unfulfilled
My heart will either reach my lover, or leave my body
When I am dead, dig up my grave, you’ll find my shroud
Covered in smoke, for the fire is still burning inside

That verse pushed me in to the book. For this verse can even be indicative of the passion of a writer as it does to a lover here. As I read on, I found many such verses, couplets and poetry that I could understand as a poet and a writer. Another couplet translates to say:

Like a kite, my heart had once
Yearned to fly to freedom

Oh indeed, it still does. It still does. This book is life and poetry in one single symphony. The lives might be Manto’s and Ghalib’s in the story, but yet there is something I could understand. This shall be one book I treasure and re-read.

Rated a 9/10
Rated a 9/10

Book details:
Title: Dozakhnama
Author: Rabisankar Bal
Translated by: Arunava Sinha
ISBN: 978-8-184-00308-6
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publishers: Vintage Books/Random House India
Price: INR. 399


This book was given to me for review by Random House India. This is not a paid review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.

Shared with First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.

(May 2nd, 2013)


Poetry and writing are to me, a breath of fresh air in a life that is sometimes covered by the smoke of sorrow or self doubt. They also become the sweets I share to celebrate when life offers me a reason to. But most of all, they are to me, my life. For each word I write is a piece of my heart, a thought that just had to find its way into the world.

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