classics written by Bengali Authors

It is difficult to foray into Indian literature without reading a few books written by Bengali authors. While most of us have read at least some of the books by contemporary Bengali authors who write in English, like Jhumpa Lahiri, Amitav Ghosh and Chitra Banerji Divakaruni, many of us may not have read early modern Bengali literature that was originally written in Bangla. From Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Anandamath, which inspired Indians to stand up against the British, to Mahasweta Devi’s After Kurukshetra, which gave a voice to the hitherto marginalised sections of society, Bengali literature has served as a touchstone for Indian society often calling upon us to examine our collective conscience while also educating us about a reality we may be unfamiliar with. Through this list, we invite you revisit classic Bengali literature, which has influenced and entertained generations of Indians.



Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Basanta Koomar Roy (Tr.)

Set during the Bengal famine of 1770, Anandamath played a crucial role in the Indian freedom struggle. The story follows a married couple, Mahendra and Kalyani, who are separated after leaving their famine-affected village. They are found by the sannyasis, a rebel group, whose members are willing to sacrifice their lives in the fight against injustice and oppression. As Mahendra is tempted to join their cause, he is told that he must give up his wife and child and dedicate himself completely to the service of Mother India. The book acted as a wakeup call for many Indians to contribute to the freedom struggle.

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Rabindranath Tagore, Radha Chakravarty (Tr.)

Rabindranath Tagore’s Gora is an unprecedented classic set against the backdrop of pre-independence Bengal when religious unrest between Hindu nationalists and the Bramho Samaj was at its peak. Gora is a story about the turbulent religious awakening in Bengal through the eyes of a young man. When certain events affect their personal life, two young men, Gora, a staunch orthodox, and Binoy, his best friend, find themselves rethinking their religious beliefs. Tagore’s book is a social commentary on various themes ranging from feminism and caste to class and religion.

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Shake The Bottle And Other Stories

Ashapurna Debi, Arunava Sinha (Tr.)

In this collection of 21 short stories, handpicked from over 3,000 stories written by Ashapurna Debi, we finally get a chance to read this prolific author’s works in English. Debi was known for her unique portrayal of the domestic lives of Indian women. Her stories showcase the imprisonment of these women in their own houses and point out the hypocrisies of middle class urban Indian families. In her stories, submissive wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters transform into strong and rebellious women as a result of the cruelty and violence inflicted upon themShake The Bottle And Other Stories is not an easy read but is an important one in order to understand the society we live in.

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The Diary Of A Space Traveller & Other Stories

Satyajit Ray, Gopa Majumdar (Tr.)

Even die-hard fans of auteur filmmaker Satyajit Ray may not know that his writing extended beyond detective fiction and into the realm of science fiction. In addition to Feluda, Ray also created a wonderful Bengali scientist by the name of Professor Trilokeshwar Shonku. This book collects the diaries of the professor, where he details his wonderful and fascinating inventions, such as, Miracurall- a wonder drug that can cure anything; Annihilin, a pistol that can annihilate anything; and Remembrane, a device that helps people remember. Using his inventions, he goes on wild adventures such as a journey to Mars, battling a killer dinosaur, and time-travelling to meet man’s ancestors.

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The Rhythm Of Riddles: Three Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries

Saradindu Bandyopadhyay, Arunava Sinha (Tr.)

The Rhythm Of Riddles serves as a wonderful introduction to Byomkesh Bakshi, a detective created by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay. Accompanied by his friend, Ajit, Byomkesh solves three cases in this book. In the first, ‘The Rhythm Of Riddles’, a man dies in the same building where Byomkesh lives and he must solve a murder that involves far too many suspects. In the second, ‘Byomkesh And Barada’, the case takes a supernatural twist, and in the third, Byomkesh is called upon to find an illegal arms ring in rural Bengal. Translated by Arunava Sinha, this a must-read for anyone who enjoys reading Sherlock Holmes.

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After Kurukshetra

Mahasweta Devi, Anjum Katyal (Tr.)

Set in the aftermath of the Mahabharata, After Kurukshetra is a short collection of three stories that centres around some of the female characters from The Mahabharata. ‘The Five Women’ tells the tale of five lower-caste widows who become the companions of Uttara, Abhimanyu’s pregnant widow, while ‘Kunti And The Nishadin’ acts a reminder of a sin from Kunti’s past. The third story ‘Souvali’ features a daasi and her reaction when Dhritarashtra, the father of her son, dies. Originally written in Bengali, After Kurukshetra gives us a new way to look at The Mahabharata, from the often-excluded viewpoints of women and the common folk.

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The Boatman Of The Padma

Manik Bandyopadhyay, Ratan K. Chattopadhyay (Tr.)

Originally published in 1936, The Boatman Of The Padma is the story of Kuber, a fisherman who lives in Ketupur and whose livelihood depends on the fish he catches from the river Padma. However, when a storm hits, many of the fishermen’s houses are destroyed and Kuber is forced to shelter his sister-in-law who becomes another mouth for him to feed. Soon, Kuber gets involved with Hossain Mian, a wily businessman who trades in opium, and while his financial troubles may be over, his life is changed forever. The Boatman is a powerful tale on the perils of poverty and of survival.

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Mani Sankar Mukherji, Arunava Sinha (Tr.)

First published in 1962, Chowringhee is set in 1950s Calcutta and is narrated by Shankar, an ambitious young man working at Shahjahan, one of Calcutta’s largest hotels. Shankar tells us the stories of the various guests, entertainers and visitors who come to the Shahjahan as well as its hotel staff and shows us the seamy underside of the city in the process. Featuring fascinating characters like Marco Polo, the manager; Sata Bose, the receptionist; and Karabi Guha, the hostess, this semi-autobiographical novel is not just the story of one individual but also an ‘incredible chronicle of a metropolis’.

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Pather Panchali

Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay, Rimi (Tr.)

Pather Panchali is a bildungsroman that depicts one family’s struggle to survive first in their village in rural Bengal and later in Varanasi, through the eyes of Opu and his elder sister, Durga. The book paints a vivid picture of village life – its simple beauty as well as what it means to be poor. It also highlights how differently Durga was treated by virtue of being a girl but how it didn’t dampen her spirit or her dreams. This poignant book is filled with raw emotion and simple yet layered writing that showcases the power of human will to overcome obstacles.

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Devanshi has been reading ever since she can remember. What started off as an obsession with Enid Blyton, slowly morphed into a love for mystery and fantasy. Even her choice of career as a lawyer was heavily influenced by the works of Erle Stanley Gardner and John Grisham. After quitting law, and while backpacking around India, she read books on entrepreneurship, taught herself web design and delved into social media marketing. She doesn’t go anywhere without a book.

She is the founding editor of The Curious Reader. Read her articles here.