Manmatha Nath Dutt is a name that we find on many century-old translations of Sanskrit texts into English. Bibek Debroy is the name we find on many contemporary translations of the same texts. So, it is natural that the latter is intrigued by his predecessor from another era. There are other translators like K. M. Ganguli and many British officers, but none as prolific as this one.
The book is about the author’s search for Manmatha Nath Dutta – his lineage, his works, and his life and times. Beginning with a family clue, the author tries to trace him to the well-known Dutt families of Bengal of the times. There was obviously more than one person with the same name. So, how does one reconcile which is one is the one we are trying to trace. The author takes us through the genealogy of known Dutt clans in both Kolkata and rural Bengal of those days that included current day Bangladesh.
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There is an analysis of the works of Dutt that are available along with the publishers who published them. This is an obvious source of information. However, what is interesting is the hidden information that one gets about the patronage that earlier writers had from kings and wealthy people, from societies like Asiatic society and early entrepreneurship in this space.
You get to learn a lot about the Kolkata of those times. You realize how the different parts of the city undergo changes as the new areas keep emerging and old ones move into oblivion. As the author reaches the old Bungalows close to the road named Manmatha Nath Dutta, he discovers crumbling old buildings occupied by random people. A case of abandoned buildings being occupied by abandoned people. How we tend to miss these forgotten parts of our own cities?
Through the author’s search for the translator extraordinaire takes us through the culture of Kolkata in Bengal as it used to be. When you read about the famous families of Bengal, you feel the smaller world it must have been for people to know each other. It tells us about the early translations of Indian scriptures by various people. We get to know about the earlier publishing industry which was run as much by the authors as by the publishers. It seems authors needed support then as much as they need now.
Read More – Finding Forgotten Cities by Nayanjot Lahiri
The author finds some correspondence with and about Dutt, which indicates how his works were received in his times. Eventually, there is something that we learn about Dutt. But more than that I enjoyed the process of discovery in the book. How you pick up one small piece of information available and create a path leading to your subject. The author has used not just the clues available but also the circumstantial evidence like what potential schools and colleges he could have gone.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this investigative search of an author with so much work but so little information. Not to mention that author is a gifted writer who keeps you engaged with his writing.
If Manmatha Nath Dutt Translator Extraordinaire intrigues you, read it.
If you need tips on how to research for a little known, little documented subject, read it.